The mindfulness magic trick

2020-01-06

My first time going axe throwing I was terrible at it. I only managed to sink the axe into the target maybe 20% of the time. I threw a lot of axes that went sideways and just bounced off. It felt ridiculous. I was so self-conscious about it that I didn’t even notice the same thing was happening to everyone else.

I realized toward the end of the session that when I was getting ready to perform the actual throw, a million thoughts were running through my head. Trying to calculate the exact angles of the axe, get my hand position just so, and throw with the proper force was sharing equal brain time with wondering just how foolish I looked to the people watching, what had happened at work that week, that time I dropped a bottle when I was eight, and how I really needed to remember to clean out the attic.

Once I noticed, I realized that this might all be getting in the way a little. I was tightening up and focusing too hard, which was making me throw even worse, which was making me even more anxious and focused.

I decided to try a new tactic for my next throw. I stepped forward, took the axe in my hand, and paused. I took a deep breath and lowered myself into meditation. I tried to meditate on the feeling of throwing the axe so that it stuck into the target.

I felt myself raise the axe and throw, and saw the axe stick. I was so surprised that I dropped out of meditation. I felt like I’d discovered one of life’s great secrets.

I didn’t have a perfect record after that, but I certainly got a lot more axes to stick.

This is one of the elusive practical applications of mindfulness and presence that people have so much trouble finding. Things get easier in a way which is hard to describe. You just become sort of generally, all-around more effective.