18 April 2013

The Forge

Every morning, I run through the Forge.  The Forge is not a physical location in the neighborhood where I run;  it is a temporal location which can manifest itself anywhere.   My morning runs always start off easily enough: I am immediately awakened by the bliss of moving swiftly through the universe, my legs churning beneath  me. But soon enough they weaken,  and my resolve to effect will into action is tested. This is the Forge. This, the place wherein I am most weak, is where I find my strength.  For in those moments when the joy of running evaporates away and I know only the work of exercise,  I am not merely laying the groundwork for easier running tomorrow. True, my stressed body is being tilled for growth: the message to my brain is being communicated, invest resources here. Build muscle. Strengthen bones.  But more importantly, I am exercising the power of my mind, my will, over my emotions, over my body.  I am pushing aside any inclination to laziness, to procrastination. I'm disciplining myself, forcing positive changes. I am applying a steady hand to the rudder of my soul, turning the ship of my being in the proper direction.

Exercise, running or cycling on my part, aren't the only places where the Forge is present   although I experience it most tangibly there when I gallop down the road, focused only on the distant telephone pole I have chosen as my goal. It as though I am on a conveyor belt  of ore, passing through a smelting fire, where the impurities are burned away and on the other side, behind the telephone pole, only gold emerges. The Forge is where weak things become strong, where iron becomes steel. We can all experience it:  the Forge appears when we're raking leaves and think, "I'm tired of this;  why don't I go inside and watch TV now, and do this tomorrow?" It appears when we're working on taxes, and tired of math, or when confronting other people and we wonder if maybe we couldn't just let the matter slide "this time".  But nothing improves without effort, without energy, nor is anything maintained without the same. The best-built bridge will, in time, decay and fall.  The most meaningful relationships will fade, the most beautiful garden will wilt,  the best-toned muscles will soften without regular attention, without the chronic effort to turn will into action.  And the effort has to be regular; the Forge works best when we pass through it repeatedly.

I don't regard the Forge with anxiety, or trepidation. Adversity is my ally, not my opponent.Because of the Forge,  I can run faster, farther, longer, day by day. Because of it, I can spurn temptations. As Seneca wrote..

We see wrestlers, who concern themselves with physical strength, matching themselves with only their strongest opponents, and requiring those who prepare for a bout to use all their strength against them; they expose themselves to blows and hurt, and if they do not find one man to match them, they take on several at a time. Excellence withers without an adversary; the time for us to see how great it is, how much its force, is when it display its power through endurance. 

And similarly, from the same source:

Fortune lays into us with the whip and tears our flesh; let us endure it. It is not cruelty but a contest, and the more often we engage in it, the stronger our hearts will be: the sturdiest part of the body is the one that is kept in constant use. We must offer ourselves to Fortune so that in struggling with her we may be hardened by her; little by little she will make us a match for her; and constant exposure to risk will make us despise dangers. So the bodies of mariners are tough from the buffeting of the sea, the hands of farmers calloused, the muscles of soldiers strong to enable them to hurl the javelin, the legs of athletes agile: in each case the part of the body exercised is the strongest. It is be enduring ills that the mind can acquire contempt for enduring them.

Both of those quotations are taken from Seneca's essay, "On Providence".

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