Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Assuming your goal is shop order, the best thing to do when faced with an out of place item is put it away.  But shop order is not always the goal.  If you are changing the fork seals on an old motorcycle, the wrenches you would use do no good tucked safely into their cabinet, You'd rather have them next to you on the lift.  When juggling a complicated assemblage of parts, you may want each one to appear at the right moment in the hands of a helper, and when the shop floor is littered with detritus from the end of a long day, the broom is better off in the hands of an apprentice than leaning into the corner where it "belongs".

If we soften our focus, and widen our view to include a broader picture, we can classify the action of putting things away as an upgrade.  Upgrades can be applied to any situation, at any time, for any reason.  Getting something where it belongs is an upgrade to its position relative to the larger view of the shop at a given moment.  Learning to use a machine more efficiently is an upgrade to the current process.  Correcting the line on a thumbnail sketch is an upgrade to the design.  These upgrades are ever present, but they can be subtle and easy to ignore.

As new guy you will not know what these subtleties are.  Your job is to suss them out.  The most efficient way to do this is to be relaxed and open to the flow of energy in your environment.  This is not easy, and the regular attainment of this state is the subject of innumerable systems.  We will go into detail on this later.  

As an old hand, you may be aware of these subtleties, but unable to tune into them.  Like a radio with no antennae, it is possible that mental static keeps you from picking up a clear transmission.  The most likely reason for this static is the training you have received as a craftsman.  There are many factors that contribute to the narrowing of perception experienced by an artist or artisan.  At the root is the concept that self-limitation is a necessary precursor to creation.  The choice to explore a given medium is a self imposed limitation, and will naturally lead to others.

For me, this fact was made most clear by the ridicule some traditional smiths reserve for exploration of material.  "Let's see what the iron wants to be today."  is a phrase that will get you laughed out of many shops, and this is unfortunate.  By closing myself to the concept of free exploration, I unwittingly closed myself to the concept of constant upgrading.  We have all most likely heard the phrase: "If you don't do it right the first time, how will you find time to do it again?".  The phrase is meant to demean and ridicule someone into performing a task "perfectly"  but it ignores the natural flow of constant upgrading.   Taken to their extreme, these two concepts form a one-two combination that can knock our spirit out, leaving the mind and body to fend for themselves.  The result of this deadening of spirit is that we are left weak and submissive to the energies of the world; unable to fully engage in the process we are partaking of. 

You cannot break spirit, you can only break yourself against it.

Let me be clear:  I am not advocating that we all give up on technique and let nebulous unseen forces dictate our work.  I am suggesting that a mild shift in perspective lets us open ourselves to the concept of constant upgrade.  By making this perceptual shift, we leave ourselves open rather than closed.  In this way the question ceases to be "what does the iron want to be today?" and becomes instead "What do I want to be today?"

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