The Flight of the Arrow

In the art of Zen archery there is a kind of a spiritual level reached when the archer realizes that the most important thing isn’t hitting the target … the most important thing is the flight of the arrow.

There is a similar phenomenon in wilderness backpacking. And it begins with a bit of a paradox.

I plan my hikes very carefully. I have a Purpose Statement for each hike, maps with marks on them, waypoints inputted into my GPS, notes left with my wife about my route and my destination, etc.

I know where I am going, and I know why I want to go there.

So here is the (apparent) paradox. The flight of the arrow is about the quality of “a process enacted“. And that “process enacted” is based on solid preparation, deliberate practice, and a strong commitment to an abiding passion (in my case that passion is wilderness backpacking).

When I prepare, practice and commit … the destination (the target) is of vital importance. I need to know what equipment to take. I need to know that I have planned a reasonable timeline, and I need to know that the trip is within my physical and technical capabilities.

Daytrip from Basecamp, Tipperary + Mount Back, 2015

But once the actual journey begins, it becomes all about the flight of the arrow.

Up the Palliser River, 2015

If I have prepared and practiced and committed well … then the flight of the arrow will (almost) take care of itself.

My all-important planning and purposes become, for a delicious moment, background. What comes to the foreground is … each individual step that I take. Each footfall, each breath. Each sight, each sound. Each present moment.

To experience the arrow in flight is to experience Quality incarnate, Quality palpable.

Hiking the Mineral Pass — Ben Abel area, 2019

This has always struck me as an important concept — that a self-propelled wilderness adventure is nothing more than the movement of one foot in front of the other. And if I don’t enjoy the footsteps, I won’t enjoy the journey.

Each footstep is a “now“. Each footstep is a “yes“.

Ski touring in the Canadian Rockies 2017

A Metaphor

On trips, this concept strongly suggests a metaphor that I cannot ignore. The “destination” of my life, the end-point target, can’t be the purpose. The arrow finally hitting the target — it’s really important — but it’s not the primary purpose.

The primary purpose is to affect (increase) the Quality of the arrow in flight.

  • I would like to thank Bruce W. for taking most of the original pictures in this post.

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