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.
Last night was the first night of the “Growing Through Loss” support group series in Roseville, MN. The speaker, Ted Bowman, gave an overview of common misconceptions about grief:
a- That there is a right way to do it.
b- That there are predictable stages.
c- That there is closure.
d- That some people don’t grieve.
We all grieve. We all have some form of suffering in our lives, whether it is the loss of a physical capacity, the loss of a loved one, or the loss of a job. Life is not easy; we are all in some form of acceptance for working with our feelings and our lives.
We need to acknowledge our grief. While painful memories are difficult at times, they can help us come to terms with loss when we honor our grief process.
In my work with those in recovery, there is grief in letting go of addictive behavior and opening to life in a new way. Fear, sadness, anger and grief are feelings that we need to know. To find support for this process is a gift for our emotional health.
The group breaks out into a variety of specific small groups depending on death of a spouse, child, sibling or other issues. In this way, folks connect with those in similar circumstances and know they are not alone.
I’m grateful to be a part of the series and presenting on October 2nd, 2017. My talk will focus on being aware of the breath and the body, and how to find some openings in one’s grief process with breath awareness and body wisdom.
One of the core practices of my work is simply sitting and noticing. The idea behind this is to pay attention to the changing qualities within the mind and body, to see that they are ever flowing through us. In this practice, I pay special attention to the thoughts and desires that want to control this natural process. The example I want to write about today concerns the feelings of grief related to a loss that can arise throughout our life. I have been blessed to work with many people around this issue, as I have worked with it myself for many years.
Recently I was going through some books from my early studies on working with grief, and I began reflecting on the persisting cultural beliefs about loss and the grieving process. Many of us are taught that grief follows a specific path before vanishing from our life like smoke. When we lose someone, we might be given space for a time, but eventually we may be guided towards a sense of closure. In fact, we might even have a desire to be over it ourselves, which might then lead to the arising of guilt and shame. I was deeply touched by the story Patrick O’Malley told in his 2015 Op-Ed for the New York Times, in which he described a client named Mary. Having spent six months of despairing the loss of her child to infant death syndrome, as Patrick writes, “she had diagnosed her condition as being ‘stuck’ in grief, believing that a stubborn depression was preventing her from achieving acceptance and closure.” But Patrick offers a different perspective, as he writes, “I suggested to Mary that there was nothing wrong with her… She was just very sad, consumed by sorrow, but not because she was grieving incorrectly. The depth of her sadness was simply a measure of the love she had for her daughter.” By believing that she needed “closure,” she was attempting to control the natural process within herself that was calling out with sorrow.
There is another way. It is important to remember that we each have our own style and way of working with loss. Some of us are more intellectual, some have a more emotional center, and some are more kinesthetic and action or movement oriented. I find that we need to balance our way of working with the head, the heart and the entire body for inner peace while touching our inner pain. If we are grieving, the feelings of anger, sadness, shock, overwhelm, or despair can come in different degrees and in different order. We may discover new ways of working with old grief that can provide insight and new forms of release.
Ultimately, this idea of closure is at odds with my teaching and practice because of the way it constricts the mind to only one way of being. My practice focuses just on what is present. I have worked with many people, including myself who have felt a shift come after some time. Sometimes you feel lighter after working through some grief and that can go on for any length of time, but we never know when the memory of that person meant so much to us or the loss can come back and hit us in a new way. So it’s important to work with just whatever is coming up without judgement.
I have found that grief is a natural part of life. When I know about how many species are becoming extinct each day, and see many people dying from various causes, learn about wars being waged, my heart aches for all sentient beings. When I acknowledge my sorrow and meet it with compassion, just pause and sit still for a bit, I feel this glimmering light that grows into love. I see how much love is available, a love so large that I cannot even hold it. It holds us all. And, in this process, with each breath, and each step, there is just this, whatever needs to be faced right now, with love.