This past week was our 7th annual Castle Staudinger archery tournament. For me, this has become the biggest event of the year. The single occasion that I look forward to more than my birthday, more than Christmas, even more than Halloween… which is huge.
In Eastern Washington there is a small castle. Some kids get tree forts, some kids get castles. Well, no, I got a castle. Let’s not dwell on it. This little hamlet has become the stage for one of the most important things Tawny and I do every year. We let our imaginations run wild. For a weekend Castle Staudinger becomes an adult summer camp. While archery (and the medals that come with it) are the facade we use to coax ourselves to this place, the true ambition is to remember the spark that keeps us going. It is a time to celebrate the glorious phenomena we call friendship.
Don’t be fooled by the fact that most of us wear animal hides and chainmail, the true aim of the tournament isn’t live action role playing, but camaraderie. We don’t come to pretend to be someone we’re not, we come to celebrate who we really are. This is the key. Each tournament starts with the archery tournament itself. For me, it’s a form of meditation. Archery requires you to focus your whole self into a single moment of release. I stand, feet grounded, and eyes focused on the target. I have to drown the world around me out until only the small circle 20 yards away is all the remains. Push out the anxiety, the deadlines, the vanity. I have to push it all out and drawn the bow (50 lbs. of tension) and hold it.
And hold it.
Keeping the focus, the grounding, the aim, and in a single moment let it all go. You don’t shoot a bow, you focus all its tension into a point and let it go. If you are still and disciplined the arrow will do the rest. It’s a challenge against your own self. As Confucius says,
“Archery enshrines the principles of human relationships. The Archer perfects his form within himself. If his form is perfect, yet when he releases he misses, there is no point in resenting those who have done better than him. The fault lies nowhere but within himself.”
Life is like an archery tournament, we are all in it together, but all competing against our own self the whole while.
We open the tournament with meditation, force ourselves to push away everything but the core of who we are and what we want. And then, we drink. We drink to celebrate life and one another. It’s easy to take for granted our existence. Isn’t it? We get so caught up in the process of living our lives that we forget to celebrate the incredible achievement of having made it this far. When you think about it, it really is an amazing feat to have come this far. We should all toast one another’s conquest over the myriad of trials and snares the act of living presents daily more often.
It is the social aspect that makes this tournament what it is. It’s hard to take yourself too seriously when you’re sleeping in a campaign tent in the shadow of a castle. The constructs of life we build up don’t make as much sense in that context and you’re forced to focus on the now, the people, your actions. For me, this is what’s important. A weekend with good friends and good beer is suddenly the most important weekend of the year.
For seven years now we have set aside the time to celebrate one another. For me, I can’t think of a more important holiday. Friendship and fellowship are such undervalued commodities these days. Too often we mask them with other celebrations. We put the focus on the wrong target and miss the mark. Sometimes the reason for seeing your friends should just be your friends, or your love.
“The superior man has nothing to compete for. But if he must compete, he does it in an archery match, wherein he ascends to his position, bowing in deference. Descending, he drinks the ritual cup.”