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On the Fly: Zen and the art of fly fishing

Autumn Brown Trout
Kirk Webb |

Recently I had attended a seminar called “Developing Consciousness” at the Aspen Chapel. Consciousness and the potential to expand one’s consciousness has always been an interest of mine since I read “Captain Trips,” a biography of Jerry Garcia, in the eighth grade. “Either you’re conscious or not,” I thought as I pondered this enigma. I pursued this question of consciousness via numerous avenues including but not limited to short stints in an ashram, a Zen Buddhist monastery, and an intentional community in California, the Esalen Institute. I pursued it through literature, reading Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, Alan Watts, Ken Wilber and Ram Dass. And I still pursue it as I stand in the frosty depths of the Roaring Fork River casting fly line to suspecting trout.

The idea of consciousness and how it pertains to fly fishing is worth giving some thought to. These days it seems there is a “Zen and the art of” just about everything; painting, motorcycle maintenance, even underwater basket weaving. Yet, it seems more of a marketing ploy than a match made in heaven. I would contend that Zazen (Zen Buddhist meditation) is closely aligned with techniques employed in fly fishing. Zen and the art of fly fishing is apt.

In Zazen, one sits in a focused state allowing thoughts to drift by without participating in the drama that these thoughts might incite. Allowing your flies to drift down the river while intently focused on them produces a state of mind similar to Zazen. The clutter of the work week recedes and leaves you more present in the river. You can choose or not choose to react to a cluster in your line, a lost fish, or a slip in the river that has left you cold, bruised and on your ass.



I think it follows that meditation can facilitate the expansion of consciousness. When your mind is free of the stress-inducing chatter of everyday life, the environment and your participation in it comes into clearer focus. You notice the bald eagle perched in the evergreen evaluating your fishing technique. You appreciate the winter snow pack as it runs coldly over your wading boots. You’re conscious of the source of the river and where it flows. You are aware of how your participation in this environment is impactful and how it may contribute to or detract from the experience of future generations.

So next time you find yourself with laser-beam like focus on a little plastic bubble or tuft of fuzz floating down the river, consider the possibility of expanding consciousness and give a little nod to good ol’ Jerry Garcia.



This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or taylorcreek.com.


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