The “Artless Art” of Being


Eugene Herrigel wrote in his classic Zen in the Art of Archery of how he managed to transcend technique to arrive at this unconscious awareness of the “artless art” of being.

In the intricate tapestry of existence, there exists an art that transcends the conventional definitions of accomplishment—a profound “artless art” known as being. This concept, often elusive in its simplicity, invites us to explore the paradoxical dance between willfulness and surrender. Eugen Herrigel’s wisdom illuminates this delicate balance: “The more obstinately you try to learn how to shoot the arrow for the sake of hitting the goal, the less you will succeed in the one and the further the other will recede. What stands in your way is that you have a much too willful will. You think that what you do not do yourself does not happen.”

Herrigel’s insight strikes at the heart of a common human predicament—the relentless pursuit of goals and the subsequent frustration when those goals seem to slip further away. The paradox lies in the very nature of willfulness; the more we strive to achieve, the more elusive the desired outcome becomes. It is as if the sheer force of our will erects barriers, obstructing the natural flow of the desired goal.

In the context of Herrigel’s teachings on archery, the analogy becomes vivid. The more we fixate on hitting the target, the less attuned we become to the subtle art of shooting arrows. The essence of the “artless art” lies not in the calculated aim but in the surrender to the present moment. It is a dance with the rhythm of the now, a harmonious blending of intention without attachment.

What stands as a barrier to this artless art is the often too willful will—the stubborn insistence that our goals must be achieved through sheer force. The willful will sees obstacles as adversaries to be conquered rather than opportunities for growth and adaptation. In its rigidity, it blinds us to the nuances of the journey and fixates solely on the destination.

The antidote to the willful will is found in the gentle surrender to what is. It involves a profound shift in perspective—a willingness to let go of the obsessive focus on outcomes and to embrace the unfolding of the journey. Surrender does not imply apathy; rather, it invites us to release our grip on the illusion of control and to attune ourselves to the natural ebb and flow of life.

To practice the “artless art” of being is to engage with life in a state of mindful presence. It is an acknowledgment that the more we force, the less we attain. The artless art invites us to shoot the arrow not for the sake of hitting the goal but for the sheer joy of the shot. In this, we discover a profound paradox—the less we strive to control, the more effortlessly the desired outcomes manifest.

Herrigel’s wisdom extends to the notion that what we do not do ourselves is not necessarily absent. It speaks to the interconnectedness of existence and the recognition that sometimes, in non-doing, we allow the currents of life to guide us. It is a surrender that does not imply passivity but a conscious choice to navigate with grace and adaptability.

In the tapestry of our lives, the “artless art” of being beckons us to step away from the relentless pursuit of goals and embrace the beauty of the present moment. It is a dance with willfulness and surrender, a delicate balancing act that unveils the profound wisdom that what we seek is often found in the very act of letting go.

By Christina Nikolovski,,  Contributor of //LIVE SIMPLY//