by DCH Park
“26 April: I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”
– James Joyce
“You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one.”
– James Anthony Froude
“Nothing splendid was ever created in cold blood. Heat is required to forge anything. Every great accomplishment is the story of a flaming heart.”
– Arnold H. Glasgow
I was watching some random television the other day when one character said something to another about a stretch of desert called “The Forge” and how crossing it would prove fatal. It suddenly connected for me how life is in many ways a forge in which we temper our spirits.
There are many teachers and authors who espouse the value and virtues of success, wealth, and joy. No doubt, these are worthwhile things. The ability to open to joy in our lives directly determines how much joy we can have in our lives. Likewise, financial success will at best be difficult to achieve and maintain for someone who believes that rich people are somehow dishonest or less honorable than poor people.
Nonetheless, I have found that it is dealing with the challenges – the difficult things – in life that have led to the most potent lessons and often to the greatest joys. It has been said that what we look at disappears and that by noticing and holding silent presence with those parts of ourselves that are in pain, anger, or discomfort, we allow them to open like a seed softens in water, and lead us to the heart of our pain.
(Although doing so is a whole practice unto itself. Being able to be aware of something without creating or echoing any blame, recrimination, or judgment is a skill that is not taught, much less widely practiced, in this society. Hence it is easy to get lost in the first step – noticing what is there, how you feel. When you get lost and enlarge the emotion, you can never experience all of it. You make it larger all the time, so you can never find the edges or the center.
When you take the opposite approach and notice yourself feeling whatever is there, you are both inside the emotion, feeling it, and outside the emotion, noticing yourself feel. You are bigger than the emotion and you experience that you are bigger. The emotion is thus limited and you can experience it completely. Then you can follow the trail it’s a part of all the way back to the wound it springs from and heal it.)
It has also been said that in order to lessen the influence of undesired or “negative” thoughts and expectations our best course is to redirect our focus toward things that we would prefer. The intention is to allow the undesired experience to dissipate as we gain momentum with our preferred experience. This is an alternative view that, although popular, runs counter to the idea of turning into the pain.
To be fair, it does seem to lead to financial and/or romantic success for many people as they define it. However even when it does work, it is relatively slow (often taking 20 years or more) and it fails to consider the question of whether the game we find is the game we “should” be playing. In other words, it fails to recognize the existence of defining beliefs, much less ask the questions of what existential beliefs we have, how those beliefs shape society, and what beliefs we would prefer.
Consider the image of the forge. Sword makers in ancient Japan were able to produce steel blades of remarkable quality using techniques and materials that were very primitive by today’s standards. They successfully married two disparate qualities of steel (characteristic of different types of steel) into single blades. Thus, their blades were flexible (a quality of ductile, low-carbon steel) while also being hard and able to hold edges (a characteristic of brittle, high-carbon steel).
At no point does the steel resist the process. It accepts the intense heat and the plunging cold as silently and gracefully as it accepts the pounding hammer. Each blow of the hammer and each calorie of heat energy is felt and shared by the entire billet. As they are accepted, they induce a change in the steel itself. These changes are shared throughout the depth of the steel and accumulate to transform a jagged piece of ore into a shining blade. This transformation is as critically dependent on removing impurities as it is on strengthening and interconnecting parts. Too many impurities and the blade is fatally flawed, just as not enough of the right steel or a weak inter-layer bond ruins the blade.
Do not resist, analyze, or otherwise try to contain, control, direct, or buffer your experience. Doing so will only prolong the process and possibly weaken or damage the final result. Be humble. Be accepting. Be the blade. Allow the heat and the hammer to do their jobs. Bring your whole self to the moment. Be honest with yourself and with your experience. As impurities burn off, let the smoke go. Let new connections form, recognizing that each new link changes the potential and dynamic of your whole web of connections, allowing you to bend or cut as needed.
More of the book, The Circle of Existence can be found at www.smashwords.com.
© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.
”The Circle of Existence: Chapter 9 – The Forge” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.