Satori is the illumination of spirit, a sense of effortless effort in which the physical, mental, and spiritual converge in a state of harmony; a moment of insight or perfection. In Zen in the Art of Archery, Eugen Herrigel describes the process of shooting an arrow:
If the shot is to be loosed right, the physical loosening must now be continued in a mental and spiritual loosening, so as to make the mind not only agile, but free: agile because of its freedom, and free because of its original agility; and this original agility is essentially different from everything that is usually understood by mental agility. Thus, between these two states of bodily relaxedness on the one hand and spiritual freedom on the other there is a difference of level which cannot be overcome by breath-control alone, but only by withdrawing from all attachments whatsoever, by becoming utterly egoless: so that the soul, sunk within itself, stands in the plentitude of its nameless origin.1
Herrigel undertook the study of Zen by spending years learning the art of archery from a Zen master, who told him that he must learn to let the arrow shoot itself:
Only after a considerable time did more right shots occasionally come off, which the Master signalized by a deep bow. How it happened that they loosed themselves without my doing anything, how it came about that my tightly closed right hand suddenly flew back wide open, I could not explain then and I cannot explain today. The fact remains that it did happen, and that alone is important. 2
When I was in college I swam for four years on the synchronized swimming team. This was no great feat; anyone who wanted to be on the team could be, just by showing up for practices. We weren’t very polished; we were the ones who came up from under water gasping for air, and we were often at least a little out of synch.
But we tried, and we did practice. Diligently. One day, I was practicing a move called a dolphin; in it, the swimmer begins by floating on her back on the surface of the water, and then sculls with her hands over her head, pulling her body forward, hands and head first, under the water. The idea is to make a slow, wide, graceful circle underwater and then re-emerge, hands first, curving back until the swimmer is once again outstretched on the surface of the water. This move is particularly nice when four or more swimmers are linked together, each one with her feet around the neck of the person in front of her; it’s like waving a ribbon on a stick in a big circle, and having the ribbon trace the shape in the air.
Anyway. It takes a lot of work to make your body follow this particular path slowly through the water, especially if you’re trying to make it appear graceful and effortless. During one practice and only one time, I had my singular experience with satori; alone in the water, I felt pulled through the figure. My coach noted what must have been superior form, and shouted over to me, but I couldn’t explain what I had done. For that one moment, everything had clicked, and it was perfect.
It was wonderful.
Source: Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery, Vintage Books, Random House, 1971.
1 page 38.
2 page 60.