The Warrior Archetype - Masculine Embodiment Mastery
I was recently in a health coaching session 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. 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 require 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.
For a blade to be shaped, the metal must be made soft enough to be malleable and accepting of the shaping blows of the hammer. This softening is created from the heat of the furnace where the blade rests, awaiting the time for further forging. To me, this time in the warmth of the furnace represents the time in our lives of comfort and ease. It’s when things are going well and there are few challenges before us. We integrate the previous life pressures, rejuvenate and ready ourselves for further forging. Another way this can be considered is a rest day in a rigorous training program. It is vital to our continued performance growth that we have the periodic respites.
In this working metaphor, 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 continues taking its shape and becoming 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 are in great challenge 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 as a teacher guides 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. We can allow 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.
There is another angle from which I can look at this relationship of Swordsmith to sword. It is a story of worry. It is a story of patience. It is a story of surrender and Mastery of self.
There is a legend within Japanese Swordmaking that a truly worthy blade will have an edge that is so sharp and keen that under it own weight it will cut through a bamboo wall. For a master Swordsmith to place his name on a sword, it must show this quality.
Apparently the blade to be tested will be thrust into a bamboo wall in the evening and by morning if it has not reached the ground under its own weight then it is unworthy of the Swordsmith’s name. Such a blade will have to be discarded and with it, many days of effort.
This offers us a beautiful opportunity to consider the internal space of the Swordsmith during this long night of the sword’s testing. Perhaps in the comparison of our own internal processes to this very simple principle we may find a cure for our worrying…
The great question here is what happens in the mind of the Swordsmith during this long night?
We must appreciate that this night of testing comes after many days or even weeks of determined effort in forging the blade. The night is the testing ground for both the blade and for the Swordsmith.
During the long night of the swords test, how well does the Swordsmith sleep?
I imagine that the Master Swordsmith will sleep restfully during this night whereas the novice will be listless and, will toss and turn in worry. The novice Swordsmith has not yet refined his skill enough to trust that the blade will reach the floor. If the blade does reach the floor it will be a great sense of success and relief to the novice and he will believe he has attained the state of Master. For surely the evidence is in the blade reaching the floor, right?
It doesn’t matter if the blade reaches or not.
If the blade does not reach the floor, the novice will feel defeated and small. His skill was clearly insufficient to create a worthy blade and he will grudgingly return to his workshop to begin a new blade. His work will be difficult and tiresome.
The difference between the novice and the Master is not in the blade reaching the floor. It is in what he does with the information of the blade reaching the floor or not that will determine his state of Mastery.
The Master trusts in his effort, not in the outcome.
The Master Swordsmith will trust that he has done his best to create a perfect blade. When he awakes in the morning it will not concern him whether the blade has reached the ground or not. If the blade has reached the ground it is a blade worthy of his name. If it has not, it is a blade that is unworthy of his name. Either way, the Master will return to his workshop in contentment that he has done his best and will continue to do so. He will continue the endless process of perfecting his art.
I believe that we can use this story to help us claim our own space of Mastery. For it is not in the results, or destinations that we reach that determine whether we have attained mastery of life. It is in bringing our fullness to each moment. Whether we succeed or fail in our endeavors, we will learn valuable information about how to proceed. Yet, it is in the way in which we proceed that is our indicator of mastery.
Mastery is yours for claiming, right now if you choose.
To proceed as the Master Swordsmith does with acceptance, patience and equanimity, allows us to experience life’s richness of the ups and downs, the challenges and the ease, with Grace.