Tag Archives: philosophy

Hunting Pillars vs. Zen Hunting Pillars

The Pillars of Hunting vs. Pillars of Zen Hunting

A few years ago I was fish-guiding a bright, twenty-something-year-old man named Cliff. He was eager to fish, but just as eager to converse about the wonders of nature. Throughout our impassioned conversation I laid out some personal Zen-like experiences I’d had in nature and how these experiences ultimately led to great success.

Cliff was fascinated with the concept of Zen hunting and asked me what the “pillars” of Zen hunting were exactly. I was a little dumbfounded by his question because, up until then, I’d never thought of Zen hunting in terms of ‘pillars.’ Long story short, I went home wrote down what I considered the pillars of Zen hunting to be.

Before we get all philosophical about hunting, let’s first examine the normal, non-Zen, hunting pillars, and then contrast them with Zen hunting pillars.

Note: The following isn’t an official list of hunting pillars, but rather a compilation of both personal experience and knowledge gleaned from experts in the hunting field.

Traditional Hunting Pillars of Success

  1. The right equipment
  2. Good physical conditioning
  3. Locating/scouting
  4. Stalking close
  5. Shooting accurately

Zen Hunting Pillars of Success

  1. Aloneness (quietness)
  2. Patience
  3. Letting Go
  4. Openness (humility)
  5. Oneness

(There you go Cliff! The pillars are finally written in stone.)

Hunting Pillars Compared

When we compare the pillars of Zen hunting with the pillars of conventional hunting, you can see they are very different; actually I don’t see any similarities at all. That’s because each list is a completely different approach to hunting. The items in the first list are mostly tangible and readily available, while the Zen items are more of a mindset approach to hunting. As we analyze the Zen pillars, you’ll see that each is really a step—one leading to the next—and completed in consecutive order. In other words it’s a path.

Obviously you can’t practice Zen hunting without including some normal hunting pillars, like stalking and shooting. On the other hand, you can practice regular hunting without using any Zen pillars at all—heck, most hunters already do. Either they don’t know what Zen hunting is, or they’re already applying some Zen to their hunting style and just don’t know it.

The concept of Zen hunting (or Zen-anything) is mostly foreign to Westerners because we tend to be results-oriented and gear-minded. We look at nature as a commodity—something to be tamed or dominated. Moreover, today’s society has a decreasing attention span, the byproduct of this hyper-information age and its constant distractions. We get bored easily and lose our focus. All of this leads to an impatient or aggressive approach to hunting, and more often than not, to failure.

The way we combat this is through Zen hunting. Zen hunting is all about using down time afield to focus the mind and reconnect with our natural hunting instincts. This is best done alone since another person often serves as a distraction.

The Zen Process

The first step is to free the mind of distractions and expectations through the natural mediation that comes from just sitting or walking in the woods. This takes time, so be patient. Letting go of expectations is the hardest part because human nature expects instant results. As hunters we expect to kill something. We have a goal in mind and are dead set on reaching it. In Zen hunting, our eyes are open to the bigger picture.

The simple pleasure of communing with nature is satisfaction enough. Our newfound appreciation for the woods softens our kill drive, and when this happens we connect with the energy of nature and the life force of the planet (hopefully you believe in such things). This is what it means to be “one” with nature, or to achieve “oneness.”

Nature lives and breathes at a slow, rhythmic pace. You can see that rhythm in the way things move: clouds, trees, and animals, and hear it in the wind and bird songs. Zen hunting helps tune us in to that rhythm. No longer do we push our ego-driven “kill energy” ahead of us, but instead, we move with nature. In effect Zen hunting acts as a natural camouflage.

Zen hunting also gives us a heightened sense of awareness. We become more attentive to the infinite supply of subtle clues which will eventually guides us towards our quarry. Simply put, we become better hunters by using Zen afield.

That’s the whole process; easier said than done, but attainable all the same.

Final Thoughts

The goal of Zen hunting is to become a part of nature rather than apart from it. Since humans are nature in the first place, it only makes sense to reconnect with Nature to meet our needs. That is the goal of Zen hunting, and also the mission of this website: To reconnect modern-day hunters with the timeless rhythms of nature and to guide them towards a more successful and fulfilling hunting experience through Zen hunting principles.

Trophy Hunting: Good or Bad?

mule-deer-5

The Ethics of Trophy Hunting

I’m a trophy hunter. On average I spend around 23 days a year beating myself up in the mountains just for a shot at a giant trophy buck. Most years I come home empty-handed or with a “settlement” meat buck. What can I say; I just love giant bucks! I love big bucks primarily because for the great challenge they provide to a seasoned hunter like myself. I also think they’re beautiful, cunning, and beyond exciting to chase with a bow.

Anti-hunters hate trophy hunters. They think we target big bucks strictly for their headgear and with little regard for meat or sustenance. This may be true of a misguided few, but for me every ounce of meat is considered sacred, and great pains are taken to pack it off the mountain.

This negative attitude towards trophy hunters isn’t just held by ignorant liberals, but by some hunters as well. I was conversing with a hunter last year about the decline in big bucks over the years. Knowing that I was a ‘trophy hunter’ he said, “Well, if people wouldn’t shoot all the big ones, there might still be some around.” At first I thought he was kidding–which he wasn’t–and then responded, “Uh, isn’t that the point? To take the biggest buck you can?” I don’t remember the ignoramus’ response…

Anyhoo, this got me thinking. While in the woods last season I asked myself, “What are the pros and cons of trophy hunting? Overall, is it more beneficial to target trophies, or more harmful?”

As it turns out, trophy hunting is very beneficial, both to the deer herds AND to non-trophy hunters. Here’s the list I came up with:

Trophy hunting does all of the following:

  • Provides larger, more mature animals which better fills the freezer and feeds the clan.
  • Removes old, declining, and territorial bucks from the herds which allows greater opportunity for younger bucks to mature. In effect, this allows greater opportunity for non-trophy hunters AND expansion of the deer herd.
  • Research shows that 80% of bucks 5 years and above will die of old age, NOT harvest. Since these bucks are essentially un-huntable, then trophy hunters don’t compete with non-trophy hunters.
  • Trophy bucks provide a far greater challenge to seasoned hunters who choose to pass up small bucks–often every single day–for an opportunity at a trophy. Since trophy hunters are most often UN-successful, this leaves more animals in the woods which means greater opportunity for other hunters. This also allows younger deer to reach maturity. It’s a win-win situation for everyone!
  • Instead of shooting the first buck he sees, a trophy hunter passes up many bucks. Consequently he spends many more days afield. This equates to a longer season and many more deer encounters, and in my opinion that’s the best part of hunting.
  • Don’t be a “baby killer!” Being a trophy hunter means you’re not killing yearling or two-year-old bucks. Young bucks haven’t gained enough experience to effectively evade predators and hunters yet. It doesn’t seem entirely fair to kill these “babies” before they have a fighting chance. Several years ago there was a kill-anything mentality around our elk camp. On the last day of the season I had a young elk calf approach me unsuspectingly at 20 yards. I drew my bow, but then took one look at it’s cute, fuzzy face and just couldn’t release the arrow. I got some razzing back at camp, since “calves have the most tender meat,” but for me it just didn’t feel right.
  • Oh, and let’s not forget the greatest benefit of trophy hunting: A big, beautiful rack displayed on the wall in magnificent glory to serve as a lasting reminder of an unforgettable hunt! Nature really is the BEST art.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I can’t think of a single disadvantage to trophy hunting; well, other than frequent failure. But oft-found failure is easily overshadowed by the occasional harvest of true monster-buck.

Happy trophy hunting this year!

Finding God in Nature: Part 3 of 3

fogntrees

Finding God in Nature: Part 3

In this final section, I’d like to examine one last quote by Emerson:

Undoubtedly we have no questions to ask which are unanswerable. We must trust the perfection of the creation so far, as to believe that whatever curiosity the order of things has awakened in our minds, the order of things can satisfy.

What Emerson seems to suggest is that the answers to our seemingly infinite questions about life and purpose are accessible through the simple examination of nature. Unlike the previous quotes we’ve examined, this one is an affirmation of what I’ve already learned from nature.

Especially in recent years, I’ve observed a definite clarity achieved only through aloneness and meditation in the woods. Early in the hunt the incessant chattering and inner workings of the mind comes to a crescendo while sitting out the long hours of day. Whether out of boredom or lack of entertainment, the mind delves deeper and deeper into the psyche as it searches for meaning and purpose to all things. After a couple days it begins to quiet down. As the fragmented puzzle congeals and the bigger picture begins taking form. It seems infinitely big, blurring at the edges as you pull back further and further to see it. It surprises you because you so rarely see so much at once. Eventually there are no more questions. All of life makes sense.

clouds

All this transpires while staring blankly at stick or a rock or a leaf or stream. But the answer isn’t written under a rock or in the bark of a tree, but rather inside you already. You have the capacity to comprehend the universe because you are part of it. You are a microcosm of the universe, for to comprehend yourself is to comprehend everything. Nature is only the catalyst. The meditation necessary to achieve clarity and enlightenment is facilitated by nature.

Finding God in Nature: Part 1 of 3

Finding God in Nature: Part 2 of 3

Finding God in Nature: Part 2 of 3

Finding God in Nature: Part 2

Now that we’ve tackled the nature of man, good versus evil, and the entire Universe, I’d like to explore another quote by Emerson:

The stars awaken a certain reverence, because though always present, they are inaccessible; but all natural objects make a kindred impression, when the mind is open to their influence. Nature never wears a mean appearance.

When I read that ‘nature never wears a mean appearance’, I wondered what it meant exactly. Certainly I’ve seen some ugliness in nature. I’ve seen one animal killing another, and I’ve seen many-a-decaying carcasses. Surely these are ugly things, right? But, if my perceptions of these ‘ugly’ experiences are set upon the rule of nature—the rule that states that nature is neutral and therefore neither good nor bad—then perhaps I simply failed to see the beauty in death–death being a integral part of life–and instead projected my own negative emotions or misunderstanding of death upon nature. Then I remembered a photograph I made in 2010. It is the rotting carcass of a dead pelican washed up on the shore of the Salt Lake and encrusted with salt.

saltybird

When I encountered and photographed this bird, I remember feeling rather neutral about it; it wasn’t sad nor ugly, but not beautiful either. Later on I found myself admiring the beauty and composition of the naturally arranged bones and feathers. Indeed, it was quite beautiful; as beautiful in death as in life perhaps. In a neutral and open mindset, there really isn’t any meanness or ugliness in nature.

Another example is my annual ritual of butchering a deer carcass on my kitchen countertop. Some people may cringe at the thought of cutting up an entire animal in ones house, as I probably cringed long ago. But amidst the blood and guts and bones and sinew, there’s a certain admirable order of things inside that deer. Even Mother Nature, as cunning as she is, surely could not create the miraculous complexity of this animal’s internal structure on her own. From snout to tail, the intricacy of this deer’s inner workings is brilliant beyond comprehension. It continually attests to a higher intelligence.

Each hour that I dissect the sacred meat and package it for future use, I feel closer to my maker. I come away from the butcher block glowing with insight and appreciation for the food I harvest. My role as a hunter and predator becomes clearer; it is a necessary and beautiful symbiosis with the planet. It inspires me to be a better conservationist of nature and preserver of our hunting heritage. Without fail, I am inspired to be a better person. In the thoughtful killing and butchering and ingesting this deer, there is never any meanness.

Finding God in Nature: Part 3 of 3

Finding God in Nature: Part 1 of 3

fireclouds

Finding God in Nature Part 1

And so it starts again. Each year around this time, just before springtime, I find myself chomping at the bit, ready to reconnect with nature and the woods. Throughout the spring and summer I will rebuild my mental and physical strength, and come autumn I will be once again focused and ready for the great hunt. But the cycle always begins around this time. Some call it “spring fever,” but for me it’s just a long-awaited reunion. Outside or inside, I’m at home. But too much time inside leaves me quite homesick for what I consider my real home.

The recent cold snap has kept me indoors lately, but like a good student of nature I’m preparing myself by reading some of the great literary masters like Alan Watts and Emerson. I’ve always admired and revered the writings of Thoreau as well. But it is Thoreau’s predecessor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, with whom I feel a kindred spirit. Here’s Emerson’s back story:

Emerson was born in 1803. He was a brilliant man who studied at Harvard College at the age of fourteen. He was also a pious man who attended Harvard Divinity School in 1825 and became a religious pastor in 1830, a year after marrying the seventeen-year-old Ellen Louisa Tucker. In 1831 his young wife died, leaving Emerson and his faith in shambles. Unable to reconcile his conventional faith, he headed off to Europe where he met up with some other naturalists and started the movement known as transcendentalism. Following his newfound enlightenment, he spent the rest of his life writing about individualism and the art of living in harmony with nature. His most famous work is simply entitled Nature.

The basis of transcendentalism is the melding together of nature and God and common sense. It is not a strict “religion” per se, but similar to Eastern Zen in that it is a way to balance yourself. Think of it as a religious parachute. If for whatever reason your religion leaves you feeling a little unfulfilled, don’t despair, you can always find God lurking in nature; nature being the entire universe from the dirt to the trees to the ocean to the clouds to sun to the stars.

Humans are strangely compelled to search for God and meaning all throughout life. Some humans are compelled to enter into a direct relationship with a human-like being who is God, while others only need to find a little objective truth oozing out of their existence. Either way, the path toward God and goodness is a path towards nature, and away from evil and materialism.

In today’s Sunday-school lesson…uh…I mean thoughts on nature, I’d like to end with a quote by Emerson that has stuck with me for some time:

…let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds will separate between him and vulgar things.

This quote sticks with me because of my own personal observance that my annual assimilation into nature rejuvenates my spirit, answers my deepest questions, and makes me a better person. I always come out of the woods with more patience, love, and understanding than when I went in.

As a general rule, evil doesn’t exist in nature. Nature is always neutral. It has no soul or mind; it’s simply an environment and set of physical laws. Evil is a man-made concoction created when we act upon selfish impulses. Now, humans aren’t inherently evil. After all, we are nature ourselves and therefore can’t be inherently evil. But unlike nature, we have a consciousness, and a consciousness allows us to make good or bad decisions. Therefore, we are not neutral. To do good or evil is always a decision that we are responsible for.

Now, the premise of this article isn’t to suggest that people in nature won’t make bad decisions, but only that that a person in harmony with nature will make better decisions. He makes better decisions because nature inspires goodness.

The danger that modern society faces is that he is drifting further away from nature with each generation. And the further mankind gets away from nature–through selfishness, busy-ness,  technology, or other distractions–the further he gets from goodness.

Finding God in Nature:  Part 2 of 3

Dealing With Failure in Hunting

Dealing Failure in Hunting

Whenever you fall, pick something up. –Oswald Avery

If you are following this blog, then I apologize for my absence. My last post was over a month ago. Work obligations are somewhat to blame, but more than that, it’s been my lack of inspiration following a long and difficult hunting season.

When the general season ended with no new venison in the freezer, I was somewhat perplexed. What did I do wrong? Going in, I was convinced I’d unlocked the secret to bagging big bucks. But try as I might, I couldn’t do it. Immediately following the hunt, I  felt deflated and uninspired. Five weeks later, I’m just starting to realize that failure is exactly what I needed to keep my ego in check. How can a person ever fully understand big bucks in the first place? It’s impossible. They are brilliant, highly adaptable survivors!

All told, I spent 13 days hunting hard all over my prescribed unit, but never drew my bow on a buck. At the same time, I could have shot at least a dozen small bucks–mostly 2- and 3-points–but I was holding out for a trophy. This is what caused me so much grief. No matter how much ground I covered, and no matter how high I went, I was disappointed by the low numbers of mature bucks. I knew I could find them if they existed, but they were almost non-existent. Of the 50+ bucks I saw, only two were mature bucks in the 170-180″ class range; barely trophies in my book. Long story short, these bucks were either inaccessible or the stalk failed for one reason or another. Either way, the problem is with how few big deer there are anymore.

In observing so many deer in the wild, I was blown away by the sheer brilliance of the modern mule deer and the ways in which it’s adapted to avoid modern hunters.  Their survival tactics seem well thought out and highly effective. For instance, some of the largest bucks would keep does between them and the timberline as a sort of security fence. Basically, a bowhunter would have to get through a string of does to get to the bucks, making it nearly impossible to hunt them. This and many other evasive tactics were documented and will be covered in my next blog-post.

So the hunt was a failure, but only because I failed to provide meat for my family. At the same time, the hunt was a huge success. The countless hours spent sitting alone in nature, watching sunrises and sunsets, creeping through the dark timber, and observing innumerable animals going about their business–all these things stirred my soul and rejuvenated my being. Life’s daily problems  and stresses melted away. I saw the hand of God through all his creations, and all questions about the purpose of life were answered.

Fortunately the hunt isn’t over yet. The extended hunt began where the general season ended. Now, the extended hunt can be extremely difficult due to high hunting pressure, dry and noisy leaves on the ground, and the low numbers of scattered deer. At the same time, the odds go up when the snow flies and pushes big bucks down from the high country and concentrates them on the lower elevation windswept slopes. This occurs in mid-November, and that’s where my hunt will resume.

Yes, I failed to harvest a deer, but the season isn’t over yet. I still have an unused deer tag and an elk tag in my pocket, and I will succeed in providing meat for my family. I have learned humility through failure. I have found my inspiration and I’m full of hope. I still believe in Zen hunting, and through the process of Zen hunting, success is still a decision.

Hunting: Right or Wrong?

esther

Hunting: Right or Wrong?

In the past two years I’ve had the unique opportunity to teach hundreds of people basic archery. Because of the nature of the organization which I’m affiliated with, many of my first time students are left-wing oriented, if not out-right liberals and even anti-hunters. Although this hasn’t been a problem, I’ve had quite a few impassioned conversations concerning the morality of hunting.

As it turns out, many anti-hunters are regular meat-eaters. In conversations about the ethic of hunting, the very first point I make is: “If you eat meat then you are directly responsible for the killing of hundreds of animals. You just have someone else just does the killing. I prefer to take that responsibility into my own hands.” This almost always brings the “offended” into the realm of reality and diffuses any potential negative redneck argument.

Learning the art of archery doesn’t mean you’re suddenly expected to go hunting. It’s just a fun skill to have. But I have to wonder, what drives a flaming anti-hunter to pick up a bow-and-arrow in the first place? In my studies I have learned that almost every culture around the world has used the bow and weapon as their primary source of food and protections for thousands of years. The reason—I think—that so many people from so many diverse backgrounds are inclined to pick up a bow-and-arrow is because it’s already deeply ingrained in their bodies, minds, and instincts. In fact, one in ten of my students becomes masterful at archery within five minutes of shooting, as if they’ve been shooting their entire life, but having never picked up a bow before.

Many first-time archers view bows and arrows as recreational toys. Often times, if I didn’t insist on teaching safety first, people would just grab a bow and start flinging arrows. Consequently, at the beginning of every session I stress the importance of safety. One of the very first sentences out of my mouth is, “The bow-and-arrow was designed for one thing and one thing only—killing!” At this proclamation you can see the slight discomfort in a few faces, but it never deters a person from shooting.

At the same time, I never push hunting on anyone; I won’t even bring it up unless someone asks—but someone always asks. Without getting too much into it, I explain how bowhunting has always been my greatest passion, how it provides the majority of meat that my family and I eat, and that shooting a bow-and-arrow proficiently has nothing to do with hunting well.

Many people from the big city have a skewed view of hunting. They are conditioned to believe that killing an animal is as easy as pulling off the side of the road and shooting some helpless creature to death. And so I go on to explain that hunting is a completely separate skill from shooting, and the hunting aspect requires a lifetime to master.

In the end, I don’t want to kill anything; I don’t glory in shooting some poor creature to death in cold blood. But I don’t want to starve to death either. Nor do I want to wander down the meat aisle at the supermarket and sift through a pile of carefully packaged, hormone-infused, mass-produced, inorganic farm-garbage-salmonella-burgers. What I prefer to eat is purely organic, super-lean, free-range, healthy meat that walks the earth freely as God intended. NOW, I digress.

Overall my arguments for hunting have been met with surprising respect, even from those who “agree to disagree.” Even more, the relationships I’ve developed with many anti-hunters have been mutually beneficial. I’ve been forced to honestly and deeply consider the ethical and spiritual nature of the sport I love so much, and at the same time I’ve witnessed a change in the hearts and minds of those who were previously misinformed about the evils of hunting.

Deer Hunting: Art or Science?


video_Still_007

Deer Hunting: Art or Science?

Is deer hunting an art or a science? What a great question!

A year ago I had a really interesting conversation with a non-hunter about art and science and how it relates to hunting success. Now, this non-hunter has a friend who loves hunting more than anything, but his results over the years have been very poor. The hunter is not only a scientist by profession, but a scientist in just about every other facet of life. Almost everything he does has to be calculated and planned out, with little left to chance. In other words, he’s an extreme left-brain oriented person.

In contrast, I’m a real right-brain oriented person. I’m an artist not only by profession, but in every other way as well. So, my only common ground with the scientist is our love for hunting. This got me thinking.

If you aren’t familiar with the difference between left and right brains, maybe this comparison will help:

Scientist-hunters tend to be left-brained. Some characteristics of left-brainers are:

  1. They tend to be numbers oriented.
  2. They are very rules oriented
  3. They are facts oriented
  4. They tend to be less open to abstract ideas such as religion, mysticism, romance, etc.
  5. They are more confident, but also more close-minded
  6. They tend to be politically conservative
  7. They tend to be more financially successful

In contrast, abrainers are:

  1. They are art oriented
  2. They are more intuitive and open-minded
  3. They have distrust for science, facts, and numbers
  4. They are more hopeful and romantic
  5. They have more politically liberal views
  6. They are more visually oriented

Ideally, a person is perfectly balanced between the two, meaning the two halves of their brain work together rather than one dominating the other. Mbalanced somewhere between the two extremes, but a lot of people aren’t. Being extreme one way or the other is actually dangerous because it means we are close-minded and prone to mental disorders.

How does being left- or right-brained affect hunting success?

When a person bags a giant buck, the scientist will immediately begin assessing the situation. Where, when, and how did this hunter come to arrow such a great trophy? If the scientist can just answer these three simple questions, then the formula can be implemented and success can be repeated, right? But in real-life hunting, it doesn’t always work that way. For instance, what if the hunter just wandered into a section of unknown woods on a hunch and stumbled into a big buck. Miraculously, the buck didn’t notice the hunter who immediately sent an arrow sailing perfectly into the buck’s heart. End of story for the hunter, but great mystery for the scientist. None of the scientist’s questions were answered so there can be only one possible explanation: sheer, lethal luck. And the scientist knows that absolutely nothing can be learned from luck, so all the data must be dismissed. Could it be that the scientist is asking the wrong questions?

In contrast, the artist views hunting is art. Yeah, there might be a little science thrown in, such as knowledge of deer behavior and physics-optimized weaponry, but the true artist-hunter glides fearlessly along a path of infinite variables and gut feelings. He might begin the day with a basic plan or direction of travel in mind, but almost immediately veers away from preconceptions, and ends up in mysterious places he never thought of. The scientist may do this occasionally, but it’s usually avoided. Scientists tend to stick with the plan at all costs.

As an artist, I’m probably a little biased. I see the purely scientific approach to hunting as a triple threat to success. The first problem is over-planning. The scientist has probably stared at a map for so long that he just knows where the deer will be the next day based on a number of physical factors, and nothing can lead him away from his plan. The second problem is over-packing. He is aware that the woods are full of infinite problems, variables, and dangers, so he overfills his pack which in turn slows him down and makes him noisier. The third problem is ignoring intuition. As a predator-animal, the scientist is prone to intuition and a heightened sense of awareness just like every other hunter. The problem is that he resists acting on hunches, premonitions, feelings, etc. This narrows his vision both physically and metaphorically. If your vision is narrow, you will ignore the gentle prodding’s of Nature.

Game over. The results are in and the winner is…

The Artist.

But scientists, don’t despair. Anyone can change. The first step to becoming more artistic in hunting is to realize you’re a left-brainer. This in itself can be a challenge since left-brained people tend not to buy into the whole left-brain/right-brain idea. To help identify your bias, simply review the traits listed above and make an honest assessment of your priorities. Do you love math? Great, you’re left-brained. Now that you’ve accepted this title, read back over my previous blog-posts entitled Zen in Hunting: Part 1, 2, 3. The left-brainer is bound to scoff at such Zen-nonsense, but that’s exactly why he experiences such limited success in the field. So read it again.

By now you’ve probably concluded that the author is a pompous jerk; pointing fingers and calling names. Nothing could be further from the truth. In life, money, and relationships I’m really a big failure. There’s only one thing in life I’ve been great at and that’s bowhunting. So, bowhunting is all I can give back to the world.

Happy Hunting!

Zen in Hunting: Part 3

Beaver05

Zen in Hunting Part 3

By now you probably have a pretty good understand of what Zen is. But how does a person go about channeling Zen-energy?

Students in traditional Eastern Zen generally spend many years in painstaking study to learn how to achieve Zen. But since most of us don’t have the resources to travel to Japan for a formal study in Zen, my goal today is to sum up some of the key steps the best I can:

  1. Concentrate on your breathing. When you concentrate only on breathing, you are brought into the moment. I’m not talking about shallow breathing, but deep breathing to the bottom of you stomach. Since breathing happens in real time, focusing on it will bring you into the moment, which is the only thing that is real. To make way for Zen you must not let your mind wander, neither into the future or the past. This is the key to meditation.
  2. Make your activity a ritual. Whether you’re sitting down to play the piano or picking up a bow to shoot, take your time and make each preparatory movement deliberate and meaningful. Break it down into many, small steps and concentrating solely on each step. Think of nothing else. By making a ritual out of your activity, you are preparing your mind for greater awareness.
  3. Practice makes perfect. Think of Zen as pure inspiration. Inspiration is useless if you don’t know the fundamentals. In archery, for instance, you shouldn’t pick up the bow for the first time and riddle the target with arrows until you hit the bulls-eye. Instead, practice nocking an arrow, setting your feet, breathing in while drawing, exhaling during the shot, and making a surprise release. Then shoot at nothing. For the beginner archer, there should be no intended target, just a blank bale of hay until the basic foundation is firmly set. Another example is a musician. The first time you sit at a piano you should not expect to play a symphony, but a single note. Zen will happen ONLY after hours and hours of practicing the basics. Only then can you conduct pure, enlightened inspiration.
  4. Let go. The Zen-masters will encourage you to stop trying. In archery, stop aiming. If you believe the skills you’ve acquired after countless hours of practice resides inside of you alone—internally rather than externally—then you can learn nothing more. You’ll fall into ruts. Your progress stifles. Zen happens by letting go of your ego and allowing a stronger, greater, faster force to take over.

Is that all there is to it? Did I miss something? Like I said from the start, Zen isn’t something to be explained, but experienced.

Practical Zen doesn’t always require you to go through a specific ritual and meditation. These are just guidelines to help expedite the process. Zen is actually more common than you think. In fact, I am certain that just about everyone has experienced Zen at one time or another. Have you ever said to someone, “Man, I’m really in the zone today?” What you mean is, you’re really in the Zen today. For unknown reasons you suddenly feel unconquerable, like you can do anything. But it’s fleeting. The problem is that most people don’t reflect back on what factors led up to that moment of fleeting enlightenment, in which case they can’t repeat it. Or they call it ‘luck.’ But luck can’t be repeated so it’s dismissed.

The goal of Zen enlightenment is to summon those powers at will and use them to our benefit. The famous virtuoso guitarist Steve Vai explained it like this: Every once in a while a person latches onto a fleeting moment of inspiration. For no conscious reason, he can suddenly play guitar beyond his normal abilities—beyond anything he’s ever practiced. But a moment later it’s gone. Vai states that his unwieldy virtuosity is the result of learning how to hold onto that moment—to summon it and use it at will. Incidentally, Vai is also an adamant student of Eastern philosophies. He is speaking of Zen.

Unlike specific religious practices, Zen is universally available to everyone. It’s your birthright. It comes with the gift of consciousness. Personally, I only at the beginning of Zen understanding. But lately I find myself making more frequent, conscious, ritualistic efforts to channel those forces. I can also recognize it when it happens and hold onto it longer.

What I’m attempting to do here is share this understanding with you. Through Zen practices we can achieve more in whatever art we wish to explore.

Zen in Hunting: Part 1

Zen in Hunting: Part 2