Stories & Reflections
By Paulo Coelho
During the last fifteen years I remember experiencing only three overwhelming passions – the kind you read all about, talk compulsively about, seek out people with the same affinity, go to sleep and wake up thinking about. The first was when I bought a computer, abandoning my typewriter for ever and discovering the freedom that this allowed me (I am writing this in a small French town, using something that weighs less than 1.5 kilos, stores ten years of my professional life and can find whatever I need in under five seconds). The second was when I got into the Internet for the first time – by then already a library bigger than the biggest of all the libraries.
The third passion, however, has nothing to do with technological breakthroughs. I am talking about … the bow and arrow. In my youth I read a fascinating book with the title “Zen in the art of archery,” by E. Herrigel (Ed. Pensamento), which tells us about the author’s spiritual journeys by means of this sport. The idea stuck in my subconscious until one day in the Pyrenees when I met an archer. We talked for a while and then he lent me his gear, and ever since then I have not been able to live without practicing archery almost every day.
In Brazil I built a shooting stand in my apartment – the kind you can disassemble in five minutes when the guests arrive. In the French mountains I go out every day to practice, and that has already made me bedridden twice with hypothermia, caused by staying over two hours exposed to a temperature of 6o C below zero. This year I took part in the World Economic Forum in Davos, thanks to very strong painkillers, because two days before the Forum I had a painful muscular inflammation due to positioning my arm wrongly.
So where is the fascination in all this? There is nothing of a practical nature in aiming at a target with a bow and arrow, arms that go back 30,000 years before Christ. But Herrigel, who aroused this passion in me, knew what he was talking about. Here are some extracts from “Zen and the art of archery” that can be applied to many activities in daily life:
“At the moment of holding the tension, concentrate only on what you need to use. Save all the rest of your energy, learn from the bow that in order to reach something it is not necessary to make gigantic movements, just focus on your target.”
“My master gave me a very stiff bow. I asked him why he was beginning to teach me as if I were a professional. His answer was: “If you start with easy things, you won’t be prepared for the big challenges. Better to know right away what kind of difficulty you’re going to encounter further ahead.”
“For a long time I shot without managing to open the bow properly, until one day the master taught me a breathing lesson and everything became so easy. I asked him why he had taken so long to correct me. He answered: “If from the very start I had taught you the breathing exercises, you would have found them unnecessary. Now you will believe what I tell you and practice as if it were really important. Those who know how to teach act in this way.”
“The moment for releasing the arrow happens instinctively, but first you have to know well the bow, the arrow and the target. The perfect stroke in life’s challenges also uses intuition, but we must not forget the technique after we master it completely.”
“At the end of four years, when I was already capable of mastering the bow, the master offered me his congratulations. I was happy and told him that I had reached the half-way point. “No,” answered the master. “So that you don’t fall into any treacherous traps, it’s better for you to consider half-way the point you reach after you have traveled 90% of the road.”
ATTENTION! Using the bow and arrow is dangerous, in some countries like France it is considered to be an arm, and it can only be practiced after receiving your license and only in places that are specially authorized.