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.
When I found Alanon, it became my whole life, going to meetings and working the steps became second nature to me. It included a way of being and operating in life that made sense, was moral, and allowed for all things to be included in it. So, my whole world was Alanon, then whatever happened, happened in Alanon. What I see happening with others around me is that they see “their” world. What “they” have to do, what “their” family is like, and what “they” think, and then they try to squeeze Alanon into that.
Alanon, or sangha or community or This way of walking is too big to squeeze into a myopic way of seeing the world.
I have some friends in Alanon and I’d usually ask if we could get together over the holidays, but was told by each of them that they are just too busy, things are too hectic and stressful. They have family obligations and such things, and this told me that Alanon still isn’t big enough, it still isn’t a big enough umbrella to support doing things in a different way.
I realized this year that this has been an annual occurrence. However, this past year, early in the holiday season, a different group of friends invited me to get together to support one another in the hardships that we each experience during the holidays. Wow! It was so refreshing to be with others that felt that being in Alanon DURING the holidays would give them the strength they needed to be with and support their families. They needed to put out that umbrella first.
I found that I had to allow Alanon to get so big that my entire life could fit into it. I thought for a long time that I had to squeeze Alanon into my busy life, but Alanon is bigger than that. Alanon has room for anything. I have found that there really isn’t any need to compartmentalize life to such a degree that spirituality is over here and family is over there. It is all spirituality.
If someone told me this years ago I might think I have to “make a bigger commitment” and that seems heavy because it feels like then you have to go on a diet or something. All I’m suggesting is to ask yourself if there is any stress in working the program the way you are doing it. Can you see that your life is IN God every minute and in every step? Trying to isolate yourself from Alanon (or sangha or community) will create tension because running around, trying to please, keep things together, and orchestrate special events all alone creates an ongoing havoc and strain.
Some old friends say, “Well, I’m glad you see that there are different ways to work a program and you have your way and I have my way.” That’s true! What do I know? For all I know their unwillingness to come together during the holidays is their process of expansion. I don’t know. It isn’t my business.
My experience tells me that we can see that it is already being taken care of, we are being cared for in God, as a child of God, there is no need to worry about anything, we can lighten up by being IN the program and letting the program grow in us. So in one sense it is all okay, but on another level there is a conscious shift that may need to happen.
So, how big is your sangha, your home group, your family, your community?
I’m so grateful that when I started to go to a meditation center and start meditating there, (and they have all these rituals and all), my sangha felt very large. That way when they did things that didn’t work well with what I needed to do in order to live in balance, I could see that AND continue to walk in the shoes that I had to walk in, and do the things I had to do. They had a program for study and it didn’t work with being a mom and doing what I needed to do at home, so I was able to go to the center and let go of the regimen that they advocated for practice and work out my own schedule and way of being because what I saw felt VERY BIG, and therefore more flexible.
And, when times got tough, that was a reason to go to meetings (meditation center for silence, retreats, or Alanon groups) more often, and speak with people that were available.
When someone says something is coming up and it’s going to be a tough time, and then, they go on to eliminate the sangha or community from the process: my experience has shown me that this is a sure way to suffer.
And, I know even still, that suffering will also lead, in time, to more suffering and eventually bring one closer to realizing that which is always available and being shown all along. So, it’s not all bad. It’s all good in an underlying way, because whatever you do or wherever you are–you are IN. It is bigger than most realize; so why not allow your way of being to widen now instead of later? Why not embrace the world as your community?