Knifemaking: the things that get in the way and the Arrow

“The way we do anything is the way we do everything.”

-Martha Beck

……..

“I guess I’ve been carrying many small things.”

-Mina Tindle- “To Carry Many Small Things”

When I was nineteen I started lifting weights.  I didn’t have a particular destination or goal.  The only real goal that was there was to lift as well or better than I had the day before.  I paid attention to form, technique, and consistency.  I got better as time went by.

Ritual was crucial.  I would allow myself to be very quiet.  I had a taken some dance classes in college and would do these really amazing spine-lengthening stretches.  After my workout I would take a shower, sit in the sauna for twenty minutes, and then leave.  I did all of this without speaking to anyone.  It was like going to church: still, prayerful, and introspective.

I never made notes or kept logs.  I made sure my routines and circuits were simple enough to remember day to day and week to week and so on.  I kept up with this for eleven, maybe twelve years.  When I felt good, I went to the gym.  When I felt bad, I went to the gym.

Then about two or three years ago I noticed I was having trouble finding those quiet and still places.  I had trouble getting to the gym and staying present with what I was doing.  Actually I had trouble staying present in nearly all the things I was trying to do.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  I went to the doctor, got blood work done.  I talked to a therapist.  I was healthy.

My girlfriend noticed this, and put me in touch with a lady she had been studying with.  She said I was probably missing a physical practice and since the gym wasn’t in the picture anymore I should at least talk to this lady, who was in the practice of Ashtanga yoga.  I had watched her take a course of study from this woman to help her heal from a hip injury.  She was calmer, glowier, and looked fantastic with a sort of shimmer about her.  Ok, I finally said, I’ll give her a shout.

I made an appointment with this lady and we talked about what it was to practice yoga.  Her name is Leigh.  She told me that in this practice, if practiced diligently, transformation would occur.  She said that I would notice unpleasant things rise to the surface.  Things would fall away, she said, and those would mostly be the things that got in the way: bad habits, patterns of self-sabotage, and bad attitudes- the fun things. Afterwards I told my girlfriend that if I turned into some sort of New Age asshole who extolled the virtues of kale and hashtagged ‘namaste’, I would prefer she shoot me, bury me in the backyard, and tell everyone I left her.

(Quite a few months later I would find myself in front of a salad bar at a hillbilly barbecue buffet in North Carolina, and I would notice that my first thought was ‘where the fuck is the baby kale?’  My second thought had something to do with being shocked that my first thought was about kale…).

I started meeting with Leigh about every month or so and she was right.  Things DID fall away.  I found myself becoming very protective of my sleep and rest.  I started eating better and found myself desiring fruits and vegetables, which is something completely new.   I stopped going out and I didn’t miss it at all.  I leaned into life a little more.

Then I noticed all the small things I had been carrying.  In Ashtanga, I found that almost everything I didn’t like about myself was held out and dangled in front of my face whenever I was on the mat and often culminated in tears.  I wasn’t aware of all the prickly bits I carry around on an almost daily basis: guilt, shame, resentment, rage, and impulsivity.  I’ve always heard from my friends about how relaxing and grounding yoga was for them.  I have not had that experience.  I sobbed uncontrollably during the first week I started.  I wasn’t nearly as patient as I thought I was, and definitely more judgmental than I ever believed.  Sometimes I find I am so present with myself that it hurts.  Unlike the gym, there is no rush of endorphins for me.  I end with everything I start with and honestly, it really sucks sometimes.

This sounds like a ringing endorsement and you’re probably asking yourself “where do I sign up?”

The truth is that this is a practice that helps you to know yourself, all of yourself, and that is usually going to be painful.  The growth and transformation happens when you find the pain isn’t going to kill you (although sometimes you wish it would).  The idea is not to make the uncomfortable things go away- they aren’t going to.  It’s to create a space to be with them and to go about your life in spite of being uncomfortable.

This blade was a commission for Leigh, from her husband.  Both of them are incredibly loving and kind and supportive people.  Leigh herself is an arrow, piercing those things that get in the way and always doing so with love and encouragement.  She has become a very dear friend and making this knife was a pleasure.

I designed this knife for whittling.  She is built for a smaller hand:

Rough cut, from O1 tool steel stock:

Smoothed out:

Centerline scribed:

Rough grinding:

Hardening:

Tempered:

Laying down a hand finish:

Just a bit more:

Spalted Tamarind:

Bookmatched:

Ready for glue:

Glued and clamped:


Shaped to fit the hand:

The Arrow:

This knife comes with a prayer, the Prayer of the Arrow, to help with all the things that get in the way:

May I be kind to myself
May I be gentle toward myself and others,
And may I move through my world with elegance and grace
May I find a calm mind and go about my day with peace and serenity and
May focus manifest within that calm
Help me to let go of guilt and shame, and help me to be with my anxieties, and to
Lean into my fears and not
be intimidated by them or anything else
May I know that I have enough
Help me to see things for what they are, and to
let go of appearances and of what others may think
Help me to know strong boundaries and to act on them
Help me to not think so much or give so much weight to my emotions and desires
Help me to keep moving forward and to have faith in myself and those I care for
Please keep me safe
And let me know that I am loved

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