As we emerge from the clutches of Winter- the Water cycle in Taoism- and enter into the rising energies of Spring and the Wood cycle, I look around and see our nation wrapped in turmoil and heated political debate, as well as friends and family struggling to maintain balance and hope during the tumult. As a martial artist, one particular skill set I am passionate about that embodies the essence of Wood (and Wind which is associated with Wood) is archery. This practice as I have developed for myself is particularly applicable as a means of coping with the intensely turbulent times we face, and has a “spring” like energy that is useful for moving stuck Liver qi. In just over 6 years of very consistent archery practice, I have achieved a considerable proficiency which is due in large part the mediation/mantra that I developed for myself. This mindfulness exercise is applicable at all times of the year of course, but particularly useful during the onrush of new activities that Spring inevitably brings, and particularly in a major election year.
I engage in archery as a leisure “sport”, a martial practice, a meditation, and eventually as a means of acquiring food. Archery is an amazing actualized metaphor for so many things, if not everything on a certain level, but particularly the process of healing. What do I mean by actualized metaphor? An actualized metaphor is a physical, manifest activity or process that we engage in that teaches us something about ourselves or benefits us in other areas of our life not directly tied to that activity or process, and archery lends itself to be a prime example of this. As perhaps one of the oldest technologies in human experience throughout the globe, independently arising in disparate cultures, the act of pulling a bow to launch an arrow is woven in the very fabric of human consciousness. We admire the archetype of the archer, not only because it meant food and protection to our primal ancestors (although it could also mean death if you weren’t on good terms with the archer), but the act itself can only be mastered by mastering the body and the mind. This is really the goal in my professional opinion of any form of healing- to achieve a state of ease and mastery in our life.
Clear the Mind. It is no stretch to say that we are living in extremely stressful times, and stress first and foremost affects the Liver, which is the Yin Wood organ of the body (the Gallbladder being it’s Yang counterpart). Stress affect the whole body of course, but mental/emotional stress that many are currently experiencing is the kind that tends to hit the Wood organs first and the hardest. It is perhaps because of this that the Liver, apart from all other organs in the body is able to regenerate itself quite effectively. In the anthropomorphization of the internal organs and their relationships, the ancient Chinese associated the Liver as the General. The General is first and foremost concerned with making sure that the the operations of the body (i.e. the “qi”) flow smoothly as possible- and when things don’t flow normally, the General is quick to anger, the emotion associated with the Liver. While all forms of anger can negatively impact the body, it is important to recognize that anger has a place in our lives and we must differentiate between righteous anger and pathologic anger. The later is exemplified by the road-rage fits that people can easily be thrown into sitting in a car during rush hour traffic. Bureaucracy can also be a source of pathogenic anger. This is the kind of anger where stagnation has occurred, slowing down or stopping a process which in turn may cause other problems in other areas. In these kinds of situations there isn’t anything you can do about it but be patient. As most people hopefully know by now, the best way to find patience in a stressful situation is to breath. In this way, by engaging the Lungs- Metal, which controls Wood- we have an important though often forgotten tool for anger management. More importantly, if one breaths deeply with intent to empty the mind, the pathologic anger dissipates. Negative-self talk is also pathologic anger that has been turned internal, which is perhaps the most destructive kind of anger. Like a crowded thicket or dense dry forest, the hyper-accumulation of Wood can drive us into a state of excessive Fire, the element of the Heart which houses the Mind/Spirit, which results in headaches, manic behavior, high-blood pressure, and poor judgement.
Focus the Intent. Anger at centuries of oppression, cruelty and environmental destruction at the hands of empires and tyrants is what I would call righteous anger, and it is also for this reason that the Liver is considered the General. Righteous anger can still negatively impact the body, starting with the Liver, and induce all kinds of pathogenic anger. But righteous anger, if properly channeled and managed, can fuel a fire in the Heart which leads to the Heart’s emotion of Joy. What I mean by this is that if anger that is born from witnessing the rape of the world is given purpose to strive for a better tomorrow by engaging in struggle rather than avoiding it, that anger can dissipate through the positive action of pursuing justice. As the Black Lives Matter movement has repeated many times, when there is no Justice, there can be no Peace. Only through healthy expression of righteous anger will the injustices of our society be mended. Of course being engaged in struggle necessarily means we will be confronted with more sources of anger-triggers. In order to achieve our purpose and not be overwhelmed by the challenge of whatever struggle we are engaged in, we must cultivate focus and mindfulness. In order to do that, first see step one, and then as an archer does, bring your attention to your target, fading out all else from your vision. This focus is a constant process, as clearing the mind is, and through repetitive practice the mind and body become honed to achieve our goals more effectively and precisely. You will undoubtedly fail, in which case see step one. Again. But failure is inherent to the path to success which brings Joy- the non-pathogenic kind.
Open the Heart. The final step in my meditation involves the actual act of drawing the bow- while still practicing steps one and two- by physically taking a proper, open-chested posture which is critical to delivering an accurate shot. The physical posture here however also has a metaphysical application in that I’m feeling the object of my focus, sensing it with that inner knowing that we might call intuition or instinct. Like throwing a ball, instinctive archery requires not precise knowledge of how far one is from the target, but rather a trained memory of the trajectory needed to land the projectile there as well as the proper posture and motion to attain that trajectory. This process feeds into all areas of life, and particularly with regards . While we can calculate our days all the various potential outcomes of the events in our lives, which we do when we use focus, we must also always be listening with that inner knowing to what is happening in both the external and internal world. This is critical whether we are shooting a bow, endeavoring to heal a chronic illness, or engage in social and environmental justice. The inner wisdom that comes through this kind of cultivation is what enables true flow through our lives- which in turn supports healthy Liver function. Opening the Heart also involves a softening, which is helpful in dealing with all kinds of anger, particularly when it reaches and excessive level.
This three-part mediation weaves itself through my life, whether I am loosing arrows, putting needles in someone (often to help facilitate healthy flow of Liver qi!), or engaging in political action and dialogue. I have found particularly that my archery practice- again, itself an expression of Wood and Wind- becomes increasingly relevant and enjoyable in the Spring time. I am in the process of developing classes around this practice, combining both archery and acupuncture to help work through trauma and stress by cultivating a warrior-healer mindset. Stay tuned.
This entry was posted on Thursday, March 24th, 2016 at 17:11
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