By Ignacio Dirdam
Metallurgy, which is the study of metallic chemistry and its elements, has a long history. From the European blacksmiths of the Middle Ages to the swordsmiths of ancient Japan, old school chemists would take raw earth materials and transform them into something new – something useful, beautiful, and lasting. Even though the process is much better understood these days, it’s not too hard to see how this ancient practice of transforming raw material can be applied as a metaphor for the journey of the spiritual seeker.
It’s certainly one way to describe my experience at Clear Sky, in the Three-month Intensive, a progam in which one lives at the center and does service (karma yoga). I came in raw, simply knowing that something needed to change in my life even if a part of me didn’t want to admit it. Although I’d met the teachers and these teachings beforehand, I still didn’t know what to expect from the program. Sure, I had assumptions. But I’ve come to realize that assumptions are never really accurate.
I guess I could give all the details of the day to day experience, the daily meditations, the chores, the structure and routine, but I’m not here to talk about that. I’m writing this to describe what I went through spiritually; the good, the bad, and the ugly.
No single word does it
I don’t honestly think there is one word that I could use to sum up my experience, because it’s more of a process. Or perhaps I’m wrong – is there a word in the English dictionary that combines challenge and gratitude, and the words joyful and transformative? This is where the metallurgy metaphor comes in handy as the best example I can think of. I’ll try to unpack it a little further, here goes:
- The forge is Clear Sky Meditation Center
- I am the iron ore coming into the space with all my fears, insecurities, and emotional hang-ups
- The fire, bellows, hammer, and blacksmiths are the teachers and community (Sangha) at Clear Sky
- The refining process is in the routines and structure of the center and the program itself.
If anyone doesn’t know the process of refining iron ore into steel, it’s lengthy. The blacksmith has to heat the ore to ridiculous temperatures to make it pliable, then beat and pound the ore to remove all the crud (known as slag) from the now molten metal, and they have to do it constantly and in a timely manner. Again, and again, heating, pounding, cooling, heating again, pounding and repeating, again and again. That’s the process in a nutshell.
Doesn’t sound very pleasant does it? Yet, this is the metaphor I’d use for my experience at Clear Sky.
Clearly, then, I don’t feel it’s my job to talk anyone reading this into doing the program. In fact, I want to share that the experience was, at first, very difficult for me. That being said, an intensive program, I feel, shouldn’t be easy.
But here’s where I want to rephrase my earlier metaphor. The Program doesn’t make steel from ore, it takes raw ore and transforms it into something far stronger than steel.
The teachers, Clear Sky, and the Intensive Program take the ore and transform it into diamonds.
Nothing short of magic
Like I said, I’m not trying to convince you, and I am not trying to sell you something here. And I’m not pulling any punches.
I had to explore places within myself that I didn’t want to admit existed (or even want to know about!). I had to resign my desires, depart from my comfort zone – completely – until I couldn’t even see where my comfort zone was. I had to accept and move against what I had been so used to in my life, all the while dealing with the emotional highs and lows of facing the ego. I had to push through all the triggers and the neurotic fears and face myself, again and again and again, constantly telling myself to shut the hell up and get out of my own way. It doesn’t sound like much fun does it?
If you’re considering the program, though, remember that as the hammer falls, so too does the slag fall away.
I think, if you are foolhardy enough to court spiritual awakening, then you can’t escape becoming honest with yourself. You are going to have to meet and face and explore and experience some places within yourself that are simply not enjoyable, whatever that means for you or however you want to label it. It will take courage because being truthful to oneself, about oneself, might be one of hardest things that any spiritual seeker can do. That is just the nature of it. If you want to grow and unfold spiritually, you will have to come to accept that growing and comfort get along as well as oil and water.
It’s easier with others!
You know, I embarked on this journey alone, no one really encouraged me or pushed me to sign up to be a Karma Yogi. I just knew that something wasn’t adding up in my life. But what I soon realized, once the work started in the program, was that I was not alone in my quest to lighten up. The blacksmiths at Clear Sky were there to help crack the slag off my molten iron ore. I look at my state now and it could not have been possible for me to reach these levels of insight, confidence and happiness, (in such a short period of time) if it wasn’t for their help. All the laughs, the patience, the compassion, the non-judgment, the understanding and the love that was shown to me as I drudged and waded through my own personal muck was unwavering.
It was in Clear Sky Forge that I was given the opportunity to break down, knowing that it would all be okay in the end because I knew that everyone there was willing and ready to help pick me up. The level of gratitude, I can’t begin to put into words.
And therein lies the reality of the program for me – the stability. I needed that clear, stable mirror, in the routine and in the challenge of simply being in community to really look at all my states of mind, the bad along with the good. The care and support from the teachers and the community was unflinching while I was facing myself in that mirror, and because of this I was able to see through fears and negativity that had kept me and my mind weighed down for so long and to finally laugh at the reflection beaming back at me.
Comfort isn’t all that comfortable
One of my teachers, Doug Sensei, told me when I arrived, “Your sense of comfort isn’t really all that comfortable, because it can be taken away so quickly”. I know exactly what he means now.
The program will test your ability to endure difficult emotional spaces within yourself but if you stick it out, you will leave shining and with a priceless diamond in your pocket called confidence and clarity and joy.
Now, I feel the next challenge begins as I transition and re-enter the city life. The new goal is maintaining the daily meditation practices and keeping alive the precious understandings that I’ve discovered from being in the program, while being outside of the support of the centre and the teachers. It feels daunting and that is more than okay. Finishing the KY program has tested me in ways I never knew, so I’m A-okay with anything the world throws at me (or anything I throw at myself for that matter).
Thank you Sensei, Catherine, and Clear Sky, thank you so much…
Ignacio Dirdam completed Clear Sky’s Three Month Intensive Program in July 2020