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Zen and the Art of Shooting…

About a month ago or so, I had my first experience at a firing range. My good friend and dharma brother, Jeff, had been trying to get me to go for a while and finally we made it happen. It was the two of us, his older brother, Steve, and my dear friend, Susan. So can ya’ll picture me firing gun? Go ahead, try… and now try a littler harder!

Susan and I arrived at Jeff’s house and his brother gave us a very thorough tutorial of do’s and do-not’s (mostly do-not’s). Some of it was fairly intuitive, while other aspects definitely made you stop and think. We went off to a range in Everett, armed with a .22, a .45… AND, a .44 Magnum revolver. Yes, you read correctly… a Dirty Harry-style hand-cannon! Bullets for this madness cost $1/piece (see pic below). We ammo-up and gear-up with eyes/ears protection. Jeff makes it a point to let me know that the guy behind the desk seemed to be in a good mood that day… and that often times he’s a bit of a bastard. Comforting, right? A normally very grumpy individual armed to the teeth!!

Jeff and I are in one lane, while Susan and Steve are next to us. We start with the .22. He shows me how to load the clip, puts up a target and sends it out down the lane (not too far). As the clip is loaded, and the safety is switched off… things are really starting to come together as to what a mindfulness practice this really is. Nothing quite like having a loaded weapon in your hands to lasso you in to each and every moment. I do pretty well at remembering all the do’s and dont’s. One of which (an obvious one), don’t have your finger on the trigger unless you’re going to shoot. So I have the gun in my hands, loaded, safety off, and then turn my head (not my body) to ask Jeff a question… still with my finger on the trigger! Now since we’re in a range and the gun was still pointed down the lane, not such a big deal. BUT when not in this controlled setting, I can certainly appreciate how important it is to REALLY pay attention to every thing you are doing. Already lots of good zen-practice and I haven’t even fired the thing yet!

When it comes to accuracy and shooting, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to anticipate the “kick” from the gun. We are taught to line up the sights, settle into our breath, and gently… slowly… press the trigger. I kinda-sorta appreciated this with the .22, but it wasn’t until the .44 Magnum that this teaching made itself quite self-evident. This is a gun that takes thumb-sized bullets (ok, I’m exaggerating, but not by much!)… and a noise that could wake people up in China! With this magnitude… I was very quickly handed the lesson of what letting go is all about. We may go through our lives trying to “be in control”, holding tightly onto our opinions, preferences, and expectations… and then when it comes to actually perceiving our situation with clarity and precision, we often times miss the mark. But if we can show up with openness, softness, and simply allow the situation to be what it is… allow it to appear and disappear, then our mind can have laser precision. So not having an experience of the .44 Magnum, I came into it with as much of a beginner’s mind as one could. My first pull of the trigger was slow and gentle, and fairly accurate. This was short-lived. My body and mind then started catching up to the earthquake that just occurred within me. Each subsequent shot got worse and worse, as I began anticipating the noise and the kick. My mind had already started creating “stories” as to what the experience was going to be like.

Susan and I switched lanes… so she got to fire the .22 and the bazooka. I got to work with Steve, and his .45. The .45 certainly bigger than the .22, but certainly less than the .44 Magnum. I had a similar experience as far as accuracy goes. Then Steve lined me up, had me put my finger on the trigger as he put his finger over mine. He told me to just relax and feel HIM pull the trigger. They were micro-movements, I tell ya… and then the gun fired. Wouldn’t you know it… a very accurate shot resulted! With some practice, I started to have groupings of shots that were closer together.

In the end, we all had a great time, and I look forward to going back. I very much appreciate the zen-teachings that came along with the experience. Most of you know, I’ve ridden motorcycles for the past handful of years… and the teachings are similar. Riding a motorcycle, like firing a loaded weapon… forces you to pay meticulous attention to what you’re doing and the situation all around and within you. The more tension you hold, the more your mind is attached, the higher the propensity the situation will have an unsatisfactory outcome. Well, I’m grateful to Jeff and his brother, my friend Susan, and all of my teachers… both in human-form and inanimate!

Here is some recommended reading for ya: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Zen in the Art of Archery

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