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Tending the Fires within and without (pt 1)
2 years, 4 months ago Posted in: ., Asian Medicine, Brighid, Climate Change, Decolonialism, Fire Magick, The Storm 0

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This summer has been an incredibly busy one for me, with an above average work week where I’ve been on the verge of burnout more than a few times. As a dedicated fire priest however, this is familiar territory, as I’ve been participating in extended fire rituals and festivals during the summer months most of my adult life while at the same time working as a self-employed entrepreneur. For me this is a natural part of the cycle of my year. Our society unfortunately,  tends to promote this pace of life as a constant, which is pathological. I am of the opinion that there are times when this intense burst of energy is healthy and appropriate- summer in particular being most suited to it. But balance is key here, and precautions need to be taken to insure that the fire which we naturally seek as fire creatures does not consume us and destroy everything we’ve work toward. I am not perfect at it, and like most, I occasionally need reminders.

A friend recently posted an excellent article on Facebook from the Harvard Business Review that caught my eye- and sparked this blog if you will. Now normally I’m not a reader of the HBR, but the title “Resilience is about how you recharge, not about how you renew”  spoke to something very critical about the immense challenges we now face in our world, and to how we relate not only to our work, but also to all the other responsibilities we hold, whether it be to our family/community/planet, or to the inner work we all must take on to transform the ingrained systems of oppression we inherit as children in this society. There are many fine points backed by solid science in this article that I recommend everyone read before going on with my own blog here.

The work is never ending- especially so in the Age of Information when we are increasingly flooded with images, whether real or imagined; when conflagration seems to be consuming world politics like never before; and when a sense of urgency underlies everything as our climate is pitched toward unpredictable extremes because of global warming, that in turn raises the heat on every other issue we face. Resilience is one of the most important attributes that will determine whether we weather the Storm that is raging all about us and within us, and threatens to burn the whole house down. The HBR article touches on some very important points which I have learned in my time working fire in myriad ways. There are however, some nuances in my mind that are missing from the HBR article which is mostly written from a mainstream business person’s perspective. It is not enough to simply be successful in our personal life and career, at least for those who might be reading this, but equally important is it to be able to succeed in our endeavors to transform society and establish anew systems to replace the old paradigms of oppression and colonialist imperialism. To be successful agents of change requires the same level of self-care and recharge as being successful at business. And to do this greater working which seeks harmony with all life ultimately requires stepping into tune with the cyclical nature of time and energy flow.

Now it is probably no secret that I am rather active on Facebook as a medium of social media- you probably found this article there. For some, this realm can be an overwhelming arena of bad news and angry arguments- which indeed is true. It takes a certain level of internal-armor and awareness to withstand the barrage of information that comes through social media. It can also be a source of hope, humor, and connection with our extended community and far distant kin. I see Facebook- and other social media- like I see a Fire. And I believe this is no accident, as there is strong indication that our brain processes information from PROJECTED light vs. REFLECTED light very differently. Media platforms like television, computers, and smart phones captivate us in the same way our evolving brains were captivated by the tribal shaman telling us stories by the firelight, so long ago in our collective ancestral programing.  Verily, Fire is one of the most important elements that makes humans distinctly different from other creatures on this planet.

But it is important to note that fire has a very dual sided nature- it can nourish and it can destroy, and the shaman can be as much a purveyor of truth as of lies. The stories we have told ourselves throughout human culture and history have held as much profound beauty and truth as they have manipulative falsehoods. On a constitutional level, the desire to express ourselves, to shine whatever light has been bestowed us, and ultimately accomplish great things comes largely from that fiery part of human nature. From a Taoist Medicine standpoint we would say this draws upon the Mingmen Fire- or the Fire at the Gate of Life which is rooted in the Kidneys. It is directed of course by the Shen- or Mind, which is housed in the Heart whose element is Fire. To work hard toward a vision of ourselves and the world is a healthy aspect of this Fire. But the degree to which we are driven in modern society often exceeds the limits of what is healthy, and taxes both the Heart and Kidneys creating imbalances that we acupuncturists know all too well. The word we use in common parlance for it is a direct reflection of the fiery aspect of overworking: burnout. As a life-long activist with a penchant for burning things- including myself- I am no stranger to this state. And while burnout is not something I actively seek, I acknowledge its presence as part of the price I pay for dancing with the flames- occasionally you’re going to get burnt. Such burns are reminders for balance and finding appropriate ways to handle the flame, which invariably involves adequate rest and recharge, as the Resilience article points out. In order to sustain extended periods of strong exertion and creative expression, adequate rest and down time are required to recharge for future endeavors.  

But therein, the paradoxical nature of fire is again revealed, for the term “recharge” is an important one because it implies restocking of essential energy of that primal Fire which drives our activity and ambition in the world. Recharge is not a passive word, but one which involves a transfer of vitality. And while the HBR article does an exceptional job pointing out the way in which adequate sleep, rest, and “Yin” activity are necessary for “Yang” activity to continue (which is true)- it misses that the Fire itself, in certain forms, can also be a source of recharge. There is a great difference between the Fire of the Hearth, which we all know an gravitate towards instinctively- though somewhat removed in our modern context of electric or gas stoves- whereas the fire of a burning forest or home (or world it seems) is one most of us are wont to avoid. Sometimes, even to myself who actively chooses to engage in social media as a means of addressing our social pathologies, Facebook and other social media can seem like a house on fire. 

It is important to acknowledge that fire also has an incredibly addictive quality. It is Power; raw and primal in it’s manifest form; capable of amazing and terrible things in both it’s overt and more subtle expressions. We love fireworks- but we could never live with them 24/7. This actualized metaphor bleeds into every aspect of our lives. The fireworks of new love are great, but not sustainable for long-term relationships. Nor are they helpful for global peace except in occasional celebratory rituals. For these longer-term goals we need the slow burn of careful and deliberate Hearth Fire- where we gather together to share ideas and support each other as evolving human beings. This allusion of course also applies to social media. I am not an advocate of abstinence from such forms, for the communication and discourse enabled through such media is vitally important in this time of global culture. And yet, at the same time, I am wary of becoming a slave to the screen and the many addictive apps that beckon for our attention at every corner- like such things as the latest craze of Pokemon GO. Some claim that it helps get otherwise introverted computer-gamers out into the world- but in a world where we’re already massively disconnected from Nature, I question whether this development will actually help us with our sense of isolationism, or merely be another distraction from reality. The true fire is in our hearts which yearn to connect with one another- the devices we create in increasing complexity to hold that fire easily separate us from one another if we’re not careful.  

In Taoist medicine, we speak of various forms of fire, not just the primal Mingmen Fire mentioned above, and the elemental fire of the Heart, but also various permutations of pathological fire that are at the root of different kinds of diseases. The later often manifest in the body as inflammation, which is well known be an underlying cause in pain, digestive problems, mental illnesses, and myriad others. One of the primary means of combatting pathological fire is of course water, and coolness, which we can do through specific acupuncture points, certain foods, and through herbal therapy. However it is my own personal experience, that when heat arises in the body, particularly when it has a mental/emotional component, another means of managing it is to redirect it into creative use. Fire is a force with which we cannot live without it seems, and yet we must be careful not to let it rule our lives, and seek to be the fire tenders of it in every way we find it manifest in our life.

In part 2 of this blog, I will delve more fully into methods I have found for redirecting pathological fire into something more helpful. 

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