Joel Millican
3 min readSep 1, 2018


Thoughts on “Zen In The Art Of Archery”

I was reading in “Zen in the art of archery” this morning. I had just finished my meditation (Day 29). The author was describing the six years he spent in Japan studying with one of the great Kyudo masters. In Japan archery and Zen are intertwined. He was discussing the total elimination of the self necessary to be able to practice this art. Four years into it he wasn’t sure he hadn’t been wasting his time. Then into year five it started to happen. The arrow released itself. The book is short. I would say it is a quick read but I don’t think that’s true. It is pithy, very much worthy of rereading.

As I was reading the book this morning though I naturally began to draw similarities in my own life. I have felt there are many “me’s” that vie for attention within. The one that is fueled by ego is strong and demands attention. My daily ZaZen practice helps me to let go of it, but I would be lying if I said I had eliminated this dragon within. It is like an enemy within the walls of a city, seeing my every move, knowing where I am weakest, knowing when to surface and attack to do the most damage. Dealing with this will take more years than I have left I think, but what choice do I have. This is the path I walk.

So I finished my reading. I was sitting by a lake near our house. People walking, jogging, and walking their dogs were going by. Water fowl were in the lake doing their thing. The whole setting was quite peaceful and conducive to such contemplation that I had been engaging in.

It seems in contrast with the week I had just finished. I work two jobs to make ends meet. Ageism is alive and well in the IT industry and I have enough gray hair that I have become unemployable in my profession, so I work two lower paying jobs. I work hard, am always tired at the end of the day, and sleep well when I can. Ego relentlessly whispers to me that this isn’t fair, that life shouldn’t be this way, that I deserve better. For some time I believed it and darkness and unhappiness surrounded me. It is only when I restarted my practice of Zen and remembered to let go of everything and strive to just be in the moment, accepting it for what it was, not wishing it were something different, that I began to approach equanimity once more.

The Zen concept of no self has been foreign to me, even though I have practiced and read for some number of years now. I will note that I don’t pretend any level of knowledge or competence here. Sitting by the lake this morning though I had a glimpse of what letting go of self would feel like, and what would remain. It is enough.