#686: Willful Wills at the American Indian Center

September 14th, 2016

The fan droned in what looked like a grade school gym.

Hardwood floors of the type that made sneakers squeak. Overhead fluorescent and steps to the back of the gym leading up to a stage perfect for plays about the importance of saying please and thank you.

The steps were riddled with holes.

I nocked an arrow, drew back the string and let a shaft of aluminum fly into a target tattered by all the arrows before.

It was archery at the American Indian Center.

The lesson-takers at the Native American cultural center Tuesday night were me, my friend Nathan and a young woman named Roxie who did archery in college but couldn’t find anywhere to practice until “Hunger Games” fever died down.

“Everybody wanted to be Katniss,” she said, laughing.

For a disturbingly reasonable price, we received endless arrows and a young man with a gym whistle, giving soft-spoken advice on how best to hit our targets.

Three whistles meant it was safe to retrieve your arrows from the target. Two whistles meant pick up your bow and go to the line. One whistle meant start shooting.

We did that for an hour. The three of us firing at blocks cobbled from Styrofoam and cardboard at paper targets stapled atop with golf tees. Whistles and foam and the instructor moving the targets back back back the better and more accustomed we got.

A loud, industrial fan blanketed the room with white noise. Foam scraps lay around the room. Plasticized tapestries of athletes hung on the walls. An old mural of headdress feathers hid in the background. A portion of wall behind us was missing, that insulation mascotted by the Pink Panther visible underneath.

It was tawdry and glorious.

Maybe it was the lights or the fan or the hypnotic whistle of the instructor, but soon the process became meditative, trance-like. I made attempts at chit-chat, gossiping between draws like how golfers trade stock tips and polo shirt advice between swings.

It felt wrong. This wasn’t a place for chat. It was a place for deep breaths, focus, stance, form and an almost preternatural relaxation. It was forced relaxation. You had to relax and clear your mind or else your arrow would shake and stir and fling past the target into the hole-riddled steps on the far wall.

I did that three times. When I stopped and breathed and didn’t think about what I was doing, that’s when I got it done.

A book I read in college called “Zen in the Art of Archery” has a quote that always stuck with me.

“What stands in your way is that you have a much too willful will. You think that what you do not do yourself does not happen.”

(Lest you think my quotery too impressive, I should mention I checked the book out of the university library after reading that quote in a Teen Titans comic book.)

Toward the end of the hour, the instructor held out a bag of small balloons. We each inflated one and golf-teed it to our target. It was a bit of fun for our last few minutes.

Two whistles, to the line. One whistle, shoot.

Thwipt thwipt thwipt, like had been going all night. A pop to my left. Nathan had hit his balloon. A pop to my right. Roxie hit hers. Thwipt and thwipt and twhipt. Nothing popped for me.

I was angry at that dumb balloon. Frustrated. Focusing my annoyance and willful will on that taunting bit of rubber and air as my arrows went above, below, left, right of it.

Last arrow.

I stood, I took a deep breath, I drew back the string and felt myself let go.

Across the room, something popped.

The fan droned on.

Zen in the Art of Juggling by the Lake

Zen in the Art of Throwing a Baseball

Zen in the Art of a Hippie on a Slackline in Union Park on a Darkening Summer Night

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You are currently reading #686: Willful Wills at the American Indian Center by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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