When I was tiny, my grandfather told me stories from the Ramayanam and Mahabaratham, two of the major Hindu epics. They’re told a little differently, I think, everywhere in India, and even across the ocean in Southeast Asia.

There are many smaller stories within the Ramayana, one of which is about Arjuna, their finest archer. It’s a story about a test that his teacher gives him and his compatriots. They’re all asked to line up and aim at a bird in a tree.

One by one, their instructor Drona asks them to describe what they see.

The blue sky, the other students. 

The leaves on the tree, the branches. 

The bird, its feathers. 

And one by one, Drona sends his students away, without a single arrow fired.

When it’s Arjuna’s turn, he says, “I see the iris of the bird I am about to shoot.”

“What else?” says Drona.

“Nothing else,” says Arjuna. “I see the iris of the bird I am about to shoot.”

And Arjuna is allowed to shoot. The shot is fired. The bird is felled.

Every now and then I think about this story and what it says about focus. Laser-like focus, focus on the thing that matters to the exclusion of all else.

I thought that’s what I had to do while I was running, for instance. But focusing on getting to two miles, three miles, hasn’t been working.

What’s been working is cutting my mind loose from the process of running, from the burning of muscles and taking a full breath.

So which is better? Focusing, or just taking it one second at a time and letting yourself enjoy the process?

I don’t suppose each has to exclude the other, but I do wonder: did Arjuna enjoy the space between breaths as he lined up the shot? Did he enjoy the sing of the arrow as it hit the mark? Or was he just… the arrow?


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