Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Centering Without a Center: Zen In the Art of Archery

Today is Reading on the Beach's A-Z Wednesday, with Z the starring letter. Every week bloggers are invited to spotlight a book starting with the letter of the week. You show the cover, tell the title, give a synopsis, and post a link. Just to be annoying, I like to actually read (sometimes just finish) the book on that day, so I include my little review. Makes things more interesting. Then I sign up on her page to see what everyone else came up with.

This week things looked grim. Nothing from the library started with Z. I searched through my kidlit to-read shelf, but came up empty. I searched the fiction shelf -- nothing. I searched the highbrow shelf -- zilch. I searched the piles of books around the bookcase -- zippo. Finally, after reading something else (due tomorrow) I poked through the non-fiction shelf, which I had ignored because I figured they were all too thick to finish anyway. And I hit treasure! And I read it! Zen in the Art of Archery, by Eugen Herrigel.

This thin volume helped popularize Eastern philosophy in the west, probably because of its unassuming tone and welcoming prose. Herrigel was a German philosophy professor who passionately wanted to understand mystical experiences, but he realized that by definition it was something to experience rather than study. When he spent six years teaching in Japan, he and his wife seized the opportunity. Told that the best way to learn to be without doing was to study an art, he chose archery and his wife took flower arranging (although they also studied with each other). He spends the next sixty pages detailing his slow unlearning and gradual learning until he came closer and closer to understanding the practice and art of Zen. It was a chewy read; one that had me stopping to gaze into space every few pages. I enjoyed it, and I'll leave it around for my kids to stumble over in a few years. A.


Anonymous said...

I love reading books like this.

Thanks for playing!

Unknown said...

Wow...two 'A''s in one week. You are getting soft.