I was recently on a coaching call and an interesting metaphor for life came up in our conversation – that of the forging of a blade. It really had me pause and enjoy the parallels to my own experience of the ever-changing ebb and flow of life to this apt metaphor.
This metaphor is of a Samurai sword being forged - being taken from raw material through a refinement process into one of the most beautiful and effective tools in human history. I imagined the sword itself as our personality, the Swordsmith as our higher self and the various processes of forging (heating in the coals, folding (forge welding), the hammering on the anvil and the cooling in the oil or water) as the various events of our life that pose unique challenges.
The Sword is us, the Swordsmith is our Higher Self and the forging process is Life.
When the Swordsmith begins the process of crafting the blade he knows that the sword must go through a rigorous forging process to bring out its full potential. He realizes that to make the keenest, strongest and most flexible blade that holds its edge long into the battle, it will requires great skill, effort and time.
During the process the Swordsmith lovingly uses his keen eyes and other senses to find the tiniest ‘imperfections’ lying hidden inside the metal. He stays present with the process of the sword knowing that the folding, beating, heating and cooling are essential to bring out the hidden places where the blade will show weakness under the strain of use.
Life offers us times when we become ‘soft’ from comfort and ease.
Part of the forging is to heat the blade by placing it into a furnace. This heating process is designed to soften the blade readying it to be malleable to the strikes of the hammer. To me, this represents the time in our lives of comfort and ease. Things are going well and there are few challenges for us. We ‘soften’ as a result of this time away from challenges.
For me this is when I have low financial stress, my work is going well, I have easy relationships and my overall experience of life is pretty ‘cruisy’. It is not unusual for me to think during these times, “ahh.. life is going to be like this forever! I’ve finally made it to the ‘other side’!”
The sword is of course drawn out of this cozy warmth and placed squarely on an anvil where it is then struck repeatedly with a hammer. As a result the blade edge begins taking its shape and becomes more defined. The rough edges are exposed and brought back into alignment with the initial vision of the Swordsmith.
Life can sometimes seem like you are being beaten by a Smithy’s hammer!
This is quite a graphic depiction of what it has often felt like going through some tough times in my life. Feeling the pressure of not only a tough life situation, but also the experience of my own internal stories of self pity, victimhood and mistrust becomes plainly evident.
In Japanese swordmaking, the metal is also folded on itself many times and then hammered together again in a process called forge welding. To me, this process is like the moments in life when we experience truly great challenges and stress. It is when we have to completely re-shape ourselves to fit our new environment and these pressures of life force us (sometimes with great suffering) to ‘bend over backwards’ and also bring out latent qualities of our personality allowing us to find our unique gifts.
This process continues with the tempering, sharpening and so on.
Life’s journey, like that of the sword, is complex, intensive and demanding for many of us, much of the time.
My question is whether we can trust that the Swordmaker holds a vision of our unique and beautiful self that we are coming into? Can we surrender to this ebb and flow of ease and challenge in life with the deeper understanding that it serves purpose – our purpose? What if life is the process of refinement of our raw selves into the beautiful product of existence’s forge?
Can we choose in the moments when our blade is resting on the anvil after being heated to near melting point and then being repeatedly hammered, in those moments when it can seem like all the forces of existence are working against us, that in fact we are in a beautiful, perfect process designed specifically for our own becoming?
Can suffering have purpose?
Finding purpose in suffering appears to be the key to these questions for me. When we can see how our suffering is a teacher guiding us to the very parts of self that are holding onto a story that no longer serves us, we can then surrender to the Swordsmith, allowing our shape to be defined and redefined, to be softened and hardened precisely in the ways that we need for our true self to emerge and know itself as perfection.