As mentioned in part 1 of this blog, there are numerous “Yang” forms of recharge that I think are equally valid methods of cultivating resilience as more “Yin” forms like adequate rest and down-time. This is not to say that the former are any more recommended than the later- on the contrary, we cannot have Yang without Yin. At certain point in a long-stretch of intensive work or study, the only remedy is deep, dreamless sleep. And I say dreamless very specifically because within the overall Yin state of sleep, there is a Yin-Yang axis where REM-dream sleep is a more Yang state of consciousness than the deep sleep in which healing and rest most strongly occurs. In REM-sleep where our neurons are firing similarly to when we are awake, that Yang “fire” they express in the form of images and experiences, as noted in centuries-old Chinese medical texts, can in excess amounts deprive us of the rest and nourishment we seek in sleep; and yet, in appropriate amounts, dreams can also provide healing and recharge as our unconscious mind work out aspects of our psyche we might not otherwise when we’re awake. So even at our most Yin state- in sleep- we find a fire that consumes and a fire that nourishes.
But it is these more Yang, fiery states of recharge that I would like to focus on, because while there is much written on sleep, meditation, and other forms of Yin renewal, understanding Yang recharge is vital, in my opinion, for cultivating more resilient and capable people who can weather the Storm. In my years as a naturalist, a fire tender, a martial artist, I have found a number of ways of engaging with the fire, whether real or metaphorical, that help me maintain my drive, release pathogenic forms of fire when they begin to rage, and stay resilient through whatever life throws at me. I would like to emphasize that nothing that follows should be interpreted as a primary remedy if you suffer from serious forms of depletion such as chronic fatigue, hypothyroidism, chronic insomnia, or similar diagnosable and treatable imbalances. Such medical conditions are best treated by a professional, in tandem with the following practices. All that follows are suggestions for life habits that can bolster an already moderately healthy constitution, while being augmentary to more serious medical conditions.
Shifting the Focus- the fires of social media
With regard to social media, and the sense that the world is on fire, while a media fast or complete abstinence can be very helpful, these Yin forms of “turning off” may not always be optimal or timely, particularly for a self-employed, engaged person who chooses to participate in the social experiment of our times. When the Facebook feed seems to be full of bad news and angry comment sections, it can be especially heart-warming to see posts celebrating people’s successes, posts of particularly creative and inspired works, and of course the humor that accompanies social media. If you’re feeling particularly burdened by how awful things seem in the world, it can help both yourself and others to focus instead on these aspects to help shift the conversation from what’s wrong, to what’s right. This is not a recommendation to stick your head sand however, as we need all hands on deck to help move transform our world. I have watched my self at times and noticed how when bad news strikes, there is an addictive quality to focusing on the negative that should most definitely be balanced by an awareness of the positive and joyful as well. When addressing issues of oppression, environmental devastation, and the various other plights of the world, it should be phrased in terms of solutions as often as possible. It is in the approaching of a solution that we begin to direct the fire into a creative and constructive path.
Return to Nature
With regard to being involved in social/environmental activism, the tendency toward burnout is high, and perhaps one of the most critical ways of recharging is to find source again and inspiration through immersing ourselves in the non-human world for a bit. While this isn’t necessarily an aspect of fire- it certainly is an active form of recharge. Along with scientific evidence that interaction with nature has various ways of supporting our psychological health, whether it be the microorganisms in the soil that help promote positive feelings, or the sound of bird chatter that alters our own consciousness, nature is essential to our sense of JOY- the emotion connected with the Heart and the element of fire. As one of my early influences in environmental activism, Ed Abby, put it this way: “Devoted though we must be to the conservation cause (or any other cause), I do not believe that any of us should give it all of our time or effort or heart. Give what you can, but do not burn yourselves out — or break your hearts. Let us save at least half of our lives for the enjoyment of this wonderful world which still exists. Leave your dens, abandon your cars and walk out into the great mountains, the deserts, the forests, the seashores. Those treasures still belong to all of us. Enjoy them to the full, stretch your legs, expand your lungs, enliven your hearts — and we will outlive the greedy swine who want to destroy it all in the name of what they call GROWTH. God bless America — let’s save some of it. Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet!”
― Edward Abbey,
Spiritual and martial practice
In terms of tending the fire, one of the most important fires of all is the inner fire, which we access through spiritual practices such as meditation, qi qong, yoga, and martial arts. Though these practices span the spectrum of Yin to Yang respectively, one unifying factor in all of these is breath. The essential function of breathing air, just as with any other form of fire, is a critical element in maintaining a healthy fire burning in ourselves. It is said in 5-elements theory, that Metal, the element of the Lungs is controlled by the Fire of the Heart. However, I believe this control goes both ways. Indeed, the original observation of this in real world terms is that fire is essentially to moulding metallic objects to our will- and yet at the same time we have developed many metallic objects with which to control that fire. That the lungs and the heart are housed in the same chamber is no accident. There is a school of physiology which I am partial to that says that the heart is not actually a pump, but rather a dual-sided vortex that is simply being stirred by the rhythmic action of the lungs, which is mediated most properly by the diaphragm. Of course the diaphragm and other muscles could not continue to function properly if it were not for the adequate supply of blood from the heart as well as electrical stimulus from the brain. And thus we have a feedback loop between these organ systems- so take a deep breath, and enjoy stoking that inner fire which keeps you alive and can be a source of healing and solace.
The practices mentioned above teach and entrain us back into proper relationship with our breath and cultivate the inner fire. In doing so, we retain our inherent and healthy relationship with fire. I have found in my own experience that at the hardest of times, and at the most exhilarating of times, both regular meditation and repetitive martial practice help me maintain center and poise through it all. It also provides me with the energy toward creativity, which is required in both the high and the low times. The difference between a more yin form like meditation vs. martial arts is the former is more of a cooling process, whereas physical meditations involving martial training are excellent outlets when anger, frustration, and creative madness turn up the heat in our system, and facilitate a way for that excess energy that comes with such strong emotions to vent.
The Fire of the Hearth
And finally, no conversation about healthy fire relations would be complete without discussing our core relationship with actual physical fire and it’s place in our lives. Evolutionarily, bringing fire into the center of our social groups was a pivotal point in our journey toward what we are today. As mentioned in part 1 of this blog, those of us in industrial society no longer have as close of a connection with fire in our daily lives through the advent of gas and electrical cooking devices that ultimately relegate cooking to a dead flame. I say dead flame because I think most people would recognize a significant difference in experience to cooking on either a gas or electric range vs. over a campfire on the ground. In the case of gas, of course there is actual flame, but the fuel that creates it has been dead for millions of years, whereas the fire produced from wood was most likely alive within your lifetime. So how do we reclaim this sacred relationship with Hearth Fire since it is no longer practical to have it in our daily lives (unless you are luck enough to live in the backwoods with a kindling-fed stove)? One of the other essential functions of the hearth place in traditional societies was as a place of gathering, celebration, and ritual. And to that end, I can think of no better means of recharging around the hearth than through the Sacred Firecircle Tradition of which I speak to more fully here. In challenging times such as these, one of the most important tools we have for survival and perhaps just as importantly, the ability to thrive, is each other. The network of support, witnessing, and encouragement we create for each other has long been facilitated around the fire, and it’s place in our lives is still as potent as ever.
This entry was posted on Saturday, September 17th, 2016 at 14:34
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