The other day at work a co-worker was talking to a group about how they were coming along on working with each other. After a member of the group made their comments my co-worker remarked that it sounded like the group was definitely “tempering” themselves. When a member of the group asked him to clarify what he meant my co-worker remarked that they appeared to be working out the things they had to in order to refine themselves as a group.
I immediately had an epiphany in the idea that this is exactly what I have been going through lately. Not only lately, but at various times in my life, and I really don’t believe I’m the only one. Of course, me being me I had to go and read up on the process of how swords are forged (because that’s where my mind went). I also didn’t just read up on swords, I read up on Japanese swords because something in me told me I also had to understand the folding process that was used in the forging of their swords. While my knowledge is far from “deep” as I’ve only read a small amount, I did find what I needed to gain a better grasp of the things that were going on in me below the surface of awareness.
I found it interesting that in my eyes the overall process comes into three things. The metal is fired so that it can be worked with, it is folded many times to get rid of the impurities, and then there is a true final forging in which the sword’s final form is set. On top of that there are also three types of steel used in the swords. There doesn’t have to be, but it is usually the case. There is soft steel, medium steel and hard steel. Each has a role to play in the overall effectiveness of the sword.
I found it pretty amusing that there kept being sets of three popping up, but then again when I look at a person the same holds true. We are (in my mind) beings composed in simplest terms of a mind, body and soul (or heart if you prefer). For me this also extends to the three kinds of steel used in the sword. Of course, you must decide which aspect of you is your soft, medium and hard steel.
A point that I found interesting was that before the final form of the sword is forged the separate metals are worked with and some of the metal is purposely broken in order to free it from slag. You see, for me sometimes things need to be broken. It’s one of the ways you find weak points, deal with them, fix them or use those pieces in order to form something stronger, as with the sword. Does all of this metaphor end with the different types of steel and how sometimes elements of the sword must be broken before it can achieve its final form? No. Not even close.
A friend of mine used to refer to the things in life that can push us, hurt us and make us question ourselves as “life’s fire.” At least that is how I always took her references to “life’s fire.” Unfortunately I won’t be hearing her expansions or understanding on that concept anymore, but for now I’m using what she shared and finding how it applies in my own life and this metaphor.
We must be fired. We must be heated. Unfortunately we aren’t metal. When we are placed into the heat of life’s fire we are uncomfortable. We are burned. We are sometimes hurt. Still, that fire is something we must be exposed to just as the elements of a sword must be, because we cannot be folded until we are fired.
Once fired and in the proper state the metal of the sword becomes malleable so that it can be pounded, stretched and folded. The folding removes the impurities in the metal. The same can be said of us. We must be pounded, stretched and folded so that the “impurities” in our body mind and soul can be worked out. Again though, we are people. We are alive, and so this process is not comfortable in the least. The pounding hurts us, the stretching feels as though it will take us to our limits and pull us apart, and the folding can feel as though it will crush us. And we go through this process over and over. It never gets any less painful, but I do believe it can become more tolerable. It’s comes down to a Buddhist proverb, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” Now that we have been fired and folded we have one piece left, being forged into our final form.
In the final forging the sum of all the sword’s parts are put together. The same is with us. However, as I said before we are human. As such we have a choice of which elements of us will be where. Our mind, body and soul can work together in the fashion we wish if we take the time to look and understand ourselves. If we don’t take the time to understand ourselves then when we finally pull ourselves together we may not “work” the way we had hoped. Then where do we go? Do we give up on our potential and what we can do? Do we discard ourselves as a flawed being? Do we admit that we are not done and that despite the pain and discomfort we must once again be fired and folded? That elements of us must perhaps be broken? What are the consequences if we don’t experience the process again when we find we are not what we hoped to be? Worse yet, what happens when we find we did not become that which we KNOW we can be, or should be?
For me, this is where I am now. I have been fired. I have definitely been burned and felt the pain. I have been hurt by the pounding, felt the as though the stretching would pull me apart and felt crushed by the folding. I had tried to pull my pieces together and found I was not happy with what I was seeing come together. For a time recently I felt as though discarding myself by giving up on my potential. I had let my pain become suffering. Worse yet, at a time when I was hurting the most I lashed out. It was only an instant, but it was there. Ironically it was at the person who taught me about “life’s fire” in more ways than one. Finally though, things snapped back into place. Within that I will share one more thing I learned about the firing process of the sword.
If the steel cools too quickly after being fired it becomes very hard, but brittle. That’s where I was. I had become hardened, and interestingly I had also become brittle…and I was well aware of it. I didn’t like that brittleness, and that’s why I lashed out. I blamed. There is also the other aspect though. What happens when the steel cools too slow? What happens when the heat of life’s fire continues too long? The steel bends easily and it cannot hold an edge. I fear there may be some people in my life that have gone to this place. Life’s fire is no longer helping them forge themselves. They are bending easy to things they could stand up to. They cannot hold the edge they wish to hold.
In either case (me or those I know) we are not who we thought we would be or who we know we are. I am lucky in that I have once again chosen to embrace the firing and folding process. It’s not easy. It is uncomfortable. It can be painful on so many levels, especially as one of the elements of firing is gone. It was something that I really thought was helping to bring out the “better” in me. Still, I know I need this process as it is. Life’s fire isn’t about what we want, it’s about what we need. It gives us the opportunity to let us work out our “impurities” and our flaws. We just have to embrace what comes with the process. It’s not comfortable, not in the least, but it can bring us closer (or back) to who we are and what we want and need in our life to be truly happy.
I just felt like writing all of this down because something in me tells me that some of you out there that read my thoughts and ramblings might find a little something in it that helps you. If that helps you find the right fire or cooling process, then all the better. In the least I hope it was entertaining.