What do archery and anxiety have in common?

I am an anxious person. I always have been, but really became aware of it a few years ago. In addition to medication and seeing a therapist, I have somewhat feebly attempted to practice mindfulness. Mindful.org defines mindfulness as “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” I am...not great at this. My mind tends to run a mile a minute and I am typically thinking about at least 3 or 4 things at any given moment. So slowing down and focusing just on the present is quite a challenge for me. For some people, yoga is a wonderful mindfulness practice. For me, not so much. All I can think while doing yoga is, “This is terrible. It’s too hard and I hate it. How long until this class is over?” Not so peaceful.

When I started taking traditional archery lessons this past summer, I didn’t expect it to become for me what yoga is for so many - a mindfulness practice. As soon as I began my first lesson, though, I knew two things:

1. My personality is not suited for this so if I want to do it I’m going to have to work very hard.

2. I need to do this on a regular basis because I can tell it’s going to be really good for me.

My archery teachers are very peaceful people, and I tried to absorb that energy when I was around them. The tagline for their business is “The Art of Letting Go,” which is exactly what I needed to learn to do, both in archery and in life.

Archery is all about controlling tension. The tension in the bow and string is what pushes the arrow forward, but you have to control that tension to make it do precisely what you want it to. There is a burst of energy and tension when drawing the bow, and then immediate relaxation as you release the arrow. Without the tension, the arrow can go nowhere. But if you never relax, and release the tension, the arrow never fulfills its potential.

Stress and anxiety work the same way. The qualities inside me that make me anxious are the same ones that make me very good at what I do - I just need to control it. If I allow myself to feel the stress and anxiety only in the moments where it’s the most relevant, and completely let go afterward, that is when I am most effective.

When you release the arrow, there is nothing more you can do to change where it is going to go. It’s kind of a freeing thought - that you set yourself up for success as best you can, and then all you can do is let go, notice where it lands, evaluate your success, and adjust for next time. You don’t try to chase the arrow down the field to the target so it doesn’t go to the wrong place, and get frustrated and discouraged if it wasn’t exactly right. You simply note where it landed, pick up another arrow, and try again. That’s what mindfulness is - it’s not the lack of anxiety or stress, it’s simply noticing what you’re feeling without judgement, and using that information to adjust in the future.

The quiet, almost meditative focus of archery has become very valuable to me. I have noticed that as I practice more and more, I am able to take that mindfulness and practice it in other situations. I am slowly getting better at “The Art of Letting Go”, in that I try to do my very best in every situation I am in, but try to find peace afterwards, no matter how it turns out. Then I simply note the results, pick up another metaphorical arrow, and line up another shot.