Did you know that fire fighters fight fire with fire? I didn’t know that much about it until recently. My younger son has been working in Yosemite National Park, but was recently evacuated due to the smoke from the Ferguson Fire, which has burned approximately 100,000 acres of forestland. I listen to the daily reports on the fire because I may need to help facilitate bringing him home at any time. Two fire fighters were killed working the fire, in addition to dozens of injuries and buildings destroyed. The tall smoke columns going up each day are a huge hazard to those in the area. I have immense gratitude for folks working the fires, and my heart goes out for the loss of life and extended impact from these fires.
From listening to the daily updates, I have learned how fire fighters use all of the elements of fire, water, earth, and air to combat the blaze. To fight fire with fire, they drew a larger boundary around the fire and start firing from the boundary in toward the big fire. They watched the area change by removing fuel for the big fire. They used infrared cameras from helicopters, they used bulldozers to move earth and create a line where there was nothing for the fire to eat up. They dropped water skillfully to mop up areas that flared up in somewhat controllable spaces. They watched for changes in weather patterns and worked with lower air currents to move hot shots, (highly skill fire fighters) into position to set water lines, etc.
As I reflect on these strategies, I’ve been thinking about events in my own life and how to use these tactics as metaphors that can be applied for my practice and community. In particular, I want to discuss the wise use of fire.
Recently, a friend posted a fiery rant on my Facebook feed and I spontaneously deleted it. It felt like a spot fire that I needed to mop out in that location. Spending a day going back and forth via text on my Facebook wall would have just fed the fire. Instead, I invited him over for lunch and served him the best hot sandwich I could make. Then, we discussed the topic of his rant. We still do not totally agree, but I understand more where we are in accord and where we are not.
Wise use of fire is looking around the perimeter and being open for opportunities to discuss and clarify issues with others. It means preparing to sit down and have difficult conversations. It means breathing deeply; offering kindness when you’d rather go off on a rant too. It means using fire in a wise way for the long haul to contain the spread of hurt feelings. It means using wise boundaries to include more folks in the field. It means going outside of your normal clique and seeing whom else you can introduce yourself to. It means bringing willingness to stop for a moment and offer empathy to a fiery debate, to really listen. This is wise fire, and it works to extinguish the fires of unhealthy conflict by keeping a watchful eye and a caring heart.
Using wise fire energy takes time, skill and patience. One of the best tools for this process is meditation. If we know our own minds and how they operate we can be useful and not harmful. When it comes down to understanding one another, and taking the time to do that, exploring the situation now, I feel like we are actually putting out some uncontrollable fire. I am learning more each day about putting out fire with fire and/or other elements. It’s not like a real fire fighter facing life and death, but we can do this process with each breath, and with our creative capacity and heart.
How can we use our wise inner fire of the heart to provide a wide enough space for the fire in the nation to expend itself, learn and burn out? How can we be skillful in finding solutions to work together for change that reduces harm? How can we work with the situation as it is changing now? What big fires are happening in you? How can you carefully work with those fires?
There are many other huge fires breaking out all over the U.S. today. You can check:
We can all add our caring hearts to the process that many individuals are engaged in with courage and skill.