I was moseying about at the market the other day when I overheard a comment about how in the zen of archery a mole is to aim beyond the target. It stuck in my mind because I find targets and goals and endpoints rather forbidding. They become bigger the closer you get to them, so big that the concept of beyond becomes entirely obscured; so big that it is much more comfortable to stay where you are than get any closer. But if you were to focus on the space beyond the target, well then it would shrink back down to a gentler scale and, who knows, it might that you pass it without even noticing.
Had I been a less inquisitive mole, I might have wandered up to the nearest hill, taken up a lotus position and pondered this thought for a while, allowing it to seep into my being. Over the next week or so I might have brought the thought to life and put it into practice. I might have seen whether diminished targets lost their ferocity, whether I felt more courageous about approaching them, whether the far blue yonder (now visible) drew me on.
But I never can leave well alone. I decided to do a little digging, and soon began to think I had rather got the wrong end of the stick. For practitioners of Kyūdō, or the Way of the Bow, the target is seen not as a destination at all but as a mirror of one’s intentions. The archer is not shooting to hit the target. Hitting the target is a result of one’s right intentions. More than that, it is the result of a selfless alignment between heart, arrow, movement and the natural world. And each time the arrow is raised, drawn, and shot, it is done with such singleness of purpose, with such preparation, that it might be crowning point of one’s life.
This required even more pondering.
I thought about it when I lay under my doona last night, when I moseyed about on Knocklofty this morning, and over my banana and walnuts at breakfast. And it filled my mind when I was practicing Qi Gong in my weedy garden, especially in the second movement in the eight brocades when a mole takes an archer’s stance and is asked to draw the string of the bow back past its ear.
The intention has to begin long before the raising of the bow. You have to discern the target, distinguish the false from the true. As Zen master Torei says, ‘If the target isn’t right, it’s not even right if you hit it’.
I still want to ponder my first impression, to think about seeing the world beyond the work I am trying to complete, to see an afterwards and a broadening out. I want to breathe deeply, not freeze in fright as ends draw near. But I also want to go deeper into right intentions, smooth alignment and giving the moment its own life.