What burns. What rises.
Last year, I decided to burn my life down. I left a career I had poured years of effort, sacrifice and financial resources into. I uprooted my family and moved across the country to Charlottesville, Virginia, with little more than the sense that something about this landscape was calling me. As we approach the summer solstice, I’ve found myself contemplating the element of fire. Fire is light and heat, what Richard Feynman calls “stored sun,” a natural component of the carbon exchange between biosphere and atmosphere.
Although we may think of it as destructive, fire is also generative. In the wild, fires often support new growth and contribute to healthy ecosystems. Fires can remove alien plants and eradicate pests that harm natural vegetation. Their ashes release nutrients stored in dead or decaying trees and return them to the soil. At the same, fire consumes and can quickly shift from nourishing to devastating, especially if left to blaze unchecked.
From a bodily perspective, metabolism, the process by which we “burn” fuel for energy to maintain our bodily functions, is often likened to internal fire. Fire is evocative of passion, energy, and motivation. In Chinese traditional medicine, healthy internal fire (in balance with the other elements) enables us to effectively regulate internal temperature, fluids, and digestion and is also reflected in our ability to experience joy, to give and receive warmth, and to expand into with a sense of abundance in our lives.
Any Boy Scout will tell you (or at least mine will) that a proper fire needs tinder, kindling, and fuel wood to burn effectively. Tinder is the stuff that burns easily and quickly—think dried grass, twigs, or paper. Kindling is slightly more substantial—smaller sticks and branches. Both tinder and kindling must be completely dry, or they won’t burn. Finally, fuel logs keep your fire burning. They don’t have to be massive logs, but these are the most substantial materials.
It took a lot of fuel to burn down my life. Some things were easy to set alight. Like tinder, they blazed up with a satisfying flash of light and heat. However, to keep that fire going, I had to add kindling, the more significant elements of my world added to the fire to give it structure. For a while, I thought I could stop there. Maybe this little flame is all I need, I thought. Maybe I won’t have to torch it all. Eventually, I recognized the truth: this wood was dead. Any life-enabling nourishment that remained was trapped inside these decaying limbs and the only way to release it was to set it on fire. I put the most significant parts of myself on the fire—my career, my friendships, my home. Everything that had previously given me a sense of passion, warmth, and joy went up in that awesome blaze.
And after it was all over, I was left with… ashes. For the last year, I’ve been sifting through these ashes, searching for the seeds of new life. Sometimes I’ll find a charred remnant of that old life, an almost unrecognizable fragment that I no longer have use for. I wish I could tell you that I’ve risen from those ashes like a triumphant phoenix, more brilliant and beautiful than before. But I haven’t. Yet.
Somatic movement educator Linda Hartley likens the bone marrow to lava, a flowing inner fire within the bones. This molten marrow provides bones, tendons and ligaments with nutrient-rich, life-enabling blood supplies to nourish the deep internal support our bones provide. These images invite me to attend to the deeper fire in the core of my being. As I dance with and through the fire in my bones, I sense the ways in which this blaze has created a clear space, removing weeds and underbrush that have blocked my access to sources of nourishment. I can move differently in this fire-enabled space. I can release the ashes of my old life into the soil of my new home, trusting that that which is truly nourishing will return to me in abundance.
As we approach the summer solstice, how do you sense the element of fire at work in your life? How does the image of fire in your bones invite you to move? Is there anything blocking you from sources of nourishment that needs to thrown on the fire? What wants rise from the ashes?