why do we bow drill?



Veteran, Male

I have been thinking about this question for a while. After four years in the field, hundreds of personal embers and who knows how many more witnessed, you would think it would be easy for me to answer that question. I have been a long-term proponent of bow drilling because I have seen it work miracles. I have seen tears of anger, joy, and triumph. I have seen bows broken in rage and then re-crafted with delicate care and love. Of all of the things we do out there in the woods, nothing can elicit the full range of emotions quite like bow drilling.

But that is not why we do it. Not entirely.

The first ember I ever busted was achieved because I let go of fear. For me, I saw bow drilling as a metaphor for my success as a field instructor. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was hinging my self-worth on whether or not I was able to achieve an ember. And I was failing. Over and over and over again, I tried and failed. I felt angry. I felt powerless. I felt hopeless. I felt like a bad staff. It was was cognitive distortion, though I didn’t know that at the time. Fortunately, I had supportive team members around me, coaching me in form and technique. And trusting, so absolutely, that one day I would bust. It would happen. I was the only one who didn’t believe that. And I was the one attaching my own worth to something outside of me. I stopped letting the ember drive me. I focused on the process. I breathed. And I busted an ember.

This is similar to what most of our student’s experience. Some staff would say that the reason we bow drill is to teach how to be comfortable with failure. And I agree with that. A huge part of bow drilling is being unsuccessful. It can be hard, and discouraging and in those moments it can tap into our own perceptions of self that we have been hiding and bring them to the light. Those are the moments that teach us to be okay with ourselves even in the face of failure. Continue

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