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Lessons From A Fire 12/18/23


Yesterday, I was working on a project that I wanted to set over a fire. It was a large project and required low, extended heat, so I thought a good bed of coals and a sturdy trough / bucket may do the trick. However, my fire had other plans…

It rained most of the night on Thursday and almost all day Friday, a nice steady rain that soaked everything. Although I knew the materials had been wet, it was now Sunday and they should have had some time to dry in the warm-ish winter sunlight so I set about building my fire.

I found some thin cardboard and some tiny sticks, built the little stick stack, lit the cardboard and VOILA! fire – as always.  It was on a very wet bed of ashes, but I can’t recall a time when I couldn’t light a fire on a rainy day or after so didn’t bother with it. I distracted myself for a minute, turned around, and the fire had become just smoke. Fire did what fire does, burned through what it had to eat as quick as possible and didn’t have anywhere to go – and I’d forgotten to tend to it for just a moment.

An hour later, I was still trying to re-light the fire. I’d already burned through the tiny sticks so had to get slightly bigger sticks, the cardboard I was using was coated in a plastic/paper lining and only burned if it wanted to ~or~ soaked up the water from the last fire’s ashes and didn’t burn at all. Found some paper towels – those burn hot and fast, but not enough to catch sticks on fire no matter how many you use lol. Couldn’t burn the leaves… too wet. Rearranged the stick pile a few times, trying to capture the air in just the right way to coax the flames out… Finally went and got some scrap papers to help light the fire – hearing my dad in my head the whole time wondering how I would survive if I was lost in the wilderness… Then I rearranged the sticks again! And used a whole stack of papers to help start the fire.

By now everything in the fire pit was wetter than when we (me and the fire) started as it had soaked up the water from the previous ashes. However, there was a lot of heat – there was fire in there somewhere even though I couldn’t see the flames. Finally encouraged the flames to come out and play, and spent another hour adding wood and fanning the flames to keep it burning on it’s own. I could hear the water bubbling and sizzling in the logs and there was a LOT of smoke, but it finally became self-sufficient.

Took two hours to get the fire to burn on its own, during which several instances occurred when my anger flared and I was tempted to say f*** this sh** and walk away. Had I done that, my project would have been put on hold for a while and I would likely have had to throw my materials away…. And I was now two hours behind on my project with the beginnings of a bad attitude.  And yes, halfway through the second hour I realized I could have saved myself a lot of headaches if I’d scooped the wet ashes out of the firepit first. That’s what happens sometimes though, when we jump in feet first without completely considering the consequences… I think sometimes I’m becoming an expert on how to change plans mid-stride when things like that arise, but then a little fire comes along and proves me wrong lol.

I learned a lot from this fire though! Although it never got very big and I didn’t get the bed of coals I had hoped for, it was probably the most intense soul-interaction I’d ever had with a fire. But first... Some notes on fires in general….

We, collectively, tend to think of fire as big and destructive and uncaring, all-consuming – as long as there are things to eat and it’s unobstructed, fire doesn’t care what it destroys or who it takes with it, and will travel as long as it can until it wears itself out or is acted upon by an outside force. In some cases, fires get out of control and people don’t even try to put them out, just try to keep them from spreading by taking away the food somewhere else. Once the fire is caged, it will rage and move wherever it can, but eventually will burn through its fuel and the flames will go out, leaving behind destruction and a lot of heat. The fire is still there for a considerable while inside of all that heat, lying in wait for a chance, for the right circumstances, to resume its activities. If those circumstances don’t arrive, the fire will eventually die completely.

We may also think of fire as nurturing – as long as we keep it contained, it can safely heat our homes and food while providing light and comfort. One misstep or overlooked detail in the containment and the fire may escape and burn everything down, but most of the time we have faith that it is there to provide for us as long as we keep it fed.

However, we rarely think of fire as being a finicky creature that requires compassion, care, patience, understanding, focus, and insight in order for it to blossom and grow.

What does a fire “need” to come into existence and grow? It obviously needs something to hold onto and to eat, so wood or some sort of fuel. The fuel changes depending on how long we want it to burn, right? Do we want large flames or good coals – lots of heat or steady heat? This will determine what fuel / food to use as well. The other things that fire needs kind of become second nature to those who work with it often and may not even be thought of at all by those who don’t….

Fire needs air to breathe, just as humans do. But not too much and not too little! When we’re blowing out a birthday candle, we have a small flame on a small wick – we purse our lips just right, lean in, and “whoo” blow fast and focused at the flame. Too much air and the flames will go out. Of course we still go put that candle in water, just in case, right? In one way or another, we know that the heat is still there, lying in wait again, and if the air settles the flames may come back. Submerging the candle in water takes the air AND the heat away, keeps the fire from coming back.

If we think about that though, it’s not just air that the fire needs. It’s the focus behind the air that it craves. We can blow on a bed of coals to our heart’s content, but if we blow across the top of the coals what happens? Nothing. We purse our lips just so, lean in, and “whoo” blow slow and steady in one place… and flames bloom! For those who don’t like to lean over a fire, we use a pipe or something to blow the air into the coals – something to bring focus to the air.  

What else does fire need? Earth – you guessed it.  Earth is the main thing that can put a fire out and / or keep it contained, but Fire also uses it as a base just as humans do. Earth provides support, guidance, and helps Fire stay somewhat under control even when it doesn’t appear that way. Earth also provides a safe space for Fire - when buried lightly with enough food a Fire can maintain itself underground for a considerable amount of time.

And given the right circumstances, Fire CAN grow on Water. Water can remove air from the Fire and put it out, but do we realize how much Water it takes? Water evaporates when subjected to the Fire in small quantities, impedes a fire in large quantities, and takes enormous amounts to put it out completely.

If we put all of this together, what do we have? A complex creature that can only exist with the right conditions… A destructive – crazy – seemingly uninhibited – and unpredictable force that barely maintains a balance and may lose its showy parts in a matter of seconds if conditions change just right. When we build a fire on purpose, we determine what fuel to give it, and how much air, and what base to build it on, and what materials to have on hand to put it out if it “gets away” – but we still need to understand the fire to help it grow.

Building a fire requires patience – time to make a “good” fire so that it serves the purpose we are asking of it. It requires compassion and understanding – knowing if we build it when and where it’s too windy, it may either get blown out completely or blow away and become chaotic. It requires focus and insight – knowing what fuel to give it and when, where to add air or when to fan the flames so it will grow, insight to know when the setup doesn’t allow the flames to grow and you may have to take it apart and start over.

Thanks for sticking with me so far!


Lessons learned:

We have an internal flame as well – our inner spark, our passion, our Divine guidance, our soul, our life force – doesn’t matter what you call it, it is the driving force behind our lives. It gets us out of bed in the mornings, helps us find our perceived purpose, provides passion to the things we do, and fuels our emotions and actions. It helps us fight for what we believe in – to stand up for ourselves – to move forward in life.

This Fire, just like the one in the pit, also requires compassion, care, patience, understanding, focus, and insight in order for it to blossom and grow.

How often do we forget to feed our Fire? It will blossom and grow and provide nurturing, comfort, and fuel for us, but this relationship is very much symbiotic. If we don’t feed and carefully maintain our Fire, it will not be as accessible when we need it….

Sometimes we let life’s storms in, and a large amount of Water and too much Wind take away the flames and we’re only left with the heat – lying in wait for the right conditions to come around again before becoming a burning fire.

And sometimes we feed it just the right amount of fuel and wind and Earth until it grows as large as we can make it, and we take a big deep breath and let it out and create an all-consuming inferno. And are left with emptiness as it rushes across the spaces, eating everything in its path, as we sometimes forget that the heat is still there, again lying in wait for the right conditions.

And sometimes we forget that allowing the inferno to exist within is necessary to burn away all that we no longer need to carry and gives room for new growth. Just as there are tree seeds that will lay on the ground for thousands of years and only grow when they are touched by a fire, we too have seeds that will grow when we maintain a good relationship with ours.

I will leave you with these questions, to ask yourself if you so choose…

What am I feeding my Fire?

Do I want my Fire to burn hot and fast, or slow and steady?

What do I ask and expect of my Fire, and do I allow the expected results to happen?

How do I restrict my Fire? Why do I restrict my Fire? How can I make a change to bring passion back into my life?

When was the last time I was comfortable with my Self and my passions? What can I do to bring that comfort back if it’s been “too long”?

I’m sure you will think of other questions :) 

As you move through life, discovering who you are and what you want (as we invent ourselves everyday), I wish for you to find new growth in whatever form that takes that reminds you to live life passionately. And if you’re playing with the Fire, respecting the flames reminds us we don’t have to be afraid of getting burned.  

“Time is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire.” – Jorge Luis Borges

“The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.” – Ferdinand Foch

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