Sunday, September 09, 2012

Fire 101

By Cynthia Greenberg

This bioregional animist has been working to improve her relationship with fire most of her life. It’s only these last 15 months or so that I am beginning to really understand a thing or two about building fires...sacred ones. Some times you just have to figure out which questions to ask...

How does one really build a fire? How does one cultivate a relationship with fire? And why?

Start by making lots of fires is my recommendation. And I’m not talking about pyromania. To do this you will have to look at your relationship with earth. First you have to make a fire place and this place is on the earth. This means you have to touch the earth; the earth who holds in her heart the flame of creation.

So you make a fire place. However you want. It’s your fire place. Line it with stone people, dig it below grade a few inches, celebrate with mosaic tiles. Like I said it’s your fire pit. Me? I prefer to keep things simple.

And don’t forget to honor your tools which are your friends and perhaps helped you dig. Thank the tools especially if the tools were your own two hands! (After all you cannot build a fire without those.) Then take a moment, stand back and admire this place. The space upon the earth where the fire goes. It’s sacred space.

Fire, of course, does not burn with out fuel. I usually look to the standing ones to give me fuel. Some give better than others. Do you know which ones? Not because you read it in a book but because you read it the fire. Your fire. Well, it isn’t really yours...

Fuel for the fire requires relationship with the trees that give you wood for your sacred fire. Do you spend enough time among trees to have that relationship? After all, sacred fire: sacred wood. Talk with the trees? You bet I do. Trees liked to be talked with some times. But only sometimes. There are many ways to relate with the trees. When you have the proper relationships with the right standing ones you will never lack for fire wood. At least, that’s been my experience. Therefore a little respect goes a long way. It’s good to have tall friends, rooted in strong places.

So you have procured the sacred wood but Hold on! Don’t simply go about laying the wood in the fire place! The idea is that artfully, skillfully, mindfully you start to make your fire. With respect.

Did you check to see what time of day or night it is? From which direction does the prevailing wind blow? Did you even consider the wind when you thought about building a fire? Moisture? How wet or dry is the ground, is the air? Do you know what relative humidity is? Do you have water on hand in case wind kicks up and wreaks a little havoc (as wind some times does)? Do you know that water is also a by-product of fire? Chem 101--remember? Relationships--remember?!

Spark. The spark that lights your sacred fire is actually your intention! What is your intention? Okay a flint, a match or a bic lighter also help. So, again don’t forget to thank your tools. Thank all the hands that made those tools and if you look, really look you will see the entire universe without ever leaving your own back yard.

Once my fire gets going I like to offer it things like tobacco, palo santo, copal and others. I could write several pages about my relationship with each of these plant people. But I am getting ahead of myself...

Before the fire even gets going you must place the fuel in fire place with care and intention--even if you happen to be doing it quickly. Awareness is key.

How many sticks will you use to begin and why that many and how will you arrange them and by the way, did you even ask the sticks how they might prefer to be arranged? I only mention this because I myself sometimes forget to ask. You could learn a lot from a stick. That’s called humility.

Did you ask for permission (and you know from whom) before you lit your sacred fire? Did you state your intention once again? Did you face a particular direction? Did you sing to the fire? Do you have a song of your ‘own’ to sing to the fire? Did you remember to tie back your hair and observe basic fire safety rules. I hope so. “It’s no fun if someone gets hurt.” True, sometimes the burned hand teaches best. Still, I recommend learning one’s lessons gently whenever possible.

Do you understand the basics of combustion? I’m not saying you can’t truly appreciate the fire if you don’t understand the process but we are talking about relationships after all. Can you see how different woods burn differently? Can you hear, smell and feel it also?

Do you really know what the sacred flame is-what is does-what it represents? what it teaches? Do you know what it’s like to build your sacred fire only to have a guru, in the form of a 2kg feline, decide that your sacred fire place is the world’s finest litter box? Good grief, is nothing sacred?! Nothing, no. Have you built fire after fire, night after night until you are bored with building fires, bored with the whole thing? You beg the great mystery for rain and you question your intention for ever cultivating this relationship with the sacred fire in the first place?! And what makes it sacred anyway?!

Ah! now we’re getting somewhere...but there’s nowhere to get, don’t you see? You are simply left staring at your own intention, relating with your own experience. You begin to question your relationship with experience, in this case the experience of building a sacred fire. Build the fire to build the fire. Cultivate the relationship to cultivate the relationship and not because there’s somewhere to go or something to get, something to learn or even something to understand. Simply build the fire to build the fire. The practice is the goal is the path is the result.

Only this and nothing more. Then and only then you might finally begin to understand power. True power. Authentic power. Power that transmutes and transforms.

But that’s a story for another time...don’t worry, I’ll get to it.