There is something mesmerizing about fire. Perhaps, it is the depth of colors flickering around, the sound of wood crackling, or maybe the heat produced by this element why people have been captivated by fire since the beginning of time. Over the last few weeks, I have written about water, earth, and air. Next week, we will talk about spirit—the fifth element—the ether and the heart. Each of these elements is magical in their own way, and contains simple but important lessons for our lives. But for now, for today, we will focus on the element that holds a special place in my heart. I have learned many personal lessons from fire. Some of these lessons have been painful, but they have all held nuggets of transformative wisdom. P.S. I dive further into this on my YouTube video for this week. You can check it out here: https://youtu.be/23kM61f6snE
Why are human beings intrigued by fire? Fire comes from a chemical reaction between oxygen and some sort of fuel (wood or gasoline) heated to ignition temperature. Several scientific reactions happen during this process that ultimately creates heat, light, and soot. In the unfolding of this process, we can see that fire is the element that both destroys and creates. Fire needs to consume something—wood, coals, or gas. Fire needs something material so that it can flourish. In the process, it creates energy for us to have light to see, a way to cook our foods, and heat to warm our homes. If we make the analogy that there is a fire within us—the eternal fire of our souls—we must therefore be careful about what we consume, and about what we allow to burn within us. From our consumption, we will also be creating. How are you tending to your soul at this moment? What are you creating from what you have allowed yourself to consume?
On a spiritual level, fire is transformation and the determination of our will. Fire represents passion, creativity, and purification. Without the pressures of the heat from fire, a diamond remains a lump of coal. Without the fire to create the process, the coal never reaches its full potential. Many of us have gone through our own individual trial by fire. So many times, we are encouraged to turn away from what is difficult, what is hard, and what appears to be an obstacle—but in doing so we are avoiding the process that is meant to polish us. Rabindranath Tagore said, “Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it.”
When I was four years old, I went through a very painful lesson associated with fire. My family was still living in Jamaica at the time. We were in Portland parish, which is basically like being in a tropical rainfall. Everything is lush, vivid, and so green that it is almost blue. In fact, we lived at the base of the Blue Mountains, which derive their name from that glorious green/blue color that stretches out as far as the eye can see. On this particular day, my grandmother—who was a teacher—was in our living room helping students from the community prepare for the Common Entrance exam so that they could get into high school. My mother was on the other side of the island, attending Teacher’s College, and my father was away from the parish working.
My grandmother had hired a young woman by the name of Jolly to watch me and to help with things around the house. I was a curious child; sometimes I climbed our cherry tree and sat up there for hours swaying in the breeze. Other times, I was wandering around the yard playing with our cat Frisky, or the dogs. Like most houses in the country, we had an indoor kitchen and an outdoor kitchen. Most people in the country prefer to use the outdoor kitchen because the food just taste better cooked over a wood fire. Jolly had been putting clothes on the line to dry, and I found myself in the outdoor kitchen area. A pot bubbled up with the scent of something heavenly, but even more intriguing were the golden orange flames flickering back and forth. I was mesmerized to say the least. I had some paper with me, and I ripped it up and threw paper bits into the fire. Eventually, I got too close and the yellow dress lined with lace that I was wearing combusted faster than I could scream. I was stunned—too shocked to react, and also conscious that I could get in big trouble.
Maybe it was because I had been quiet for so long, that Jolly came running to find me. She screamed, and ripped the dress from my body. She also suffered a burn on her hand. I will always have gratitude for her, because she probably saved my life that day. In the process, she got hurt as well. A fitting lesson for all of us is that when we play with fire, we might not be the only one to get burned. Everything happened so quickly after that. I remember people descending to the house to help figure out what to do. I remember smelling the burning of my own skin, and feeling immense pain. I cried until I did not think it was possible to cry anymore. And then, I slept.
In the community, we had a small clinic that had weird hours, and we were miles away from any hospital. I had to wait a few days, but my grandmother’s friend took me on a bus to Kingston. As the bus jostled, I felt everything on my wound. I spent four months in the hospital in Kingston. I had suffered second and third degree burns across my stomach, all the way up across my underarm and into my back. My parents came to visit me, and I could see their grief. I did not know what it meant at the time, but I blamed myself.
As I grew up, I was so ashamed of my scars that I always layered up so that no one could ever see them. Once in elementary school, I wore a sleeveless shirt and a boy in my class saw my scar. He made fun of me for weeks after. I got so ashamed, that I would wear a sweater even in summer time. It is amazing how one moment in our lives can impact us so deeply. Years later as I learned more about self-love, and healing from childhood wounds, I made peace with my scar and with the incident that caused it. Scars are a reminder that we survived something, that we healed, and that we are alive to see another day. Some of my favorite quotes are about scars. Rumi said, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” Khalil Gibran said, “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”
A few years ago, my aunt announced that she had a gift for my mom, my other aunt, and I. She was taking us to see the motivational speaker, “Tony Robbins.” I would have to use four days of personal leave, but she thought it would be worth it. My other aunt and I upon finding out the conference was in Secaucus, New Jersey, started planning how in the evenings we would go into New York City and have fun. We would soon find out that this was not that kind of conference. We were there each day from 8am to almost midnight. I was irritated, but the materials that we covered were interesting and I could feel the seeds of change being planted in my mind.
I found out that during the conference, each participant would have an opportunity to walk across hot coals. Having had the experience of being burned before, I felt anxiety take over. Hot coals? What? Were they insane? Apparently tons of people had done this before, so I knew that it was possible. We prepared our mind for this, learning a mantra that we would say during the process. We were paired with a perfect stranger so that we would not have our friends and family as a crutch. I was paired with a young man from Spain. We talked about why we were at the conference, and our dreams and hopes for the future. When it was time, we encouraged each other, and then just went for it. I wanted to cry so bad, but I could not let fear keep me prisoner. I made it across the coals, and then I just cracked open. I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders. I felt proud of myself, and I knew in that moment—if I could walk across hot coals, there was nothing that I could not do. I felt like the phoenix rising up from my own ashes. It was a powerful experience and one that has stayed with me.
So what can we learn from fire?
1. Just as fire consumes what it is fed, we too must be careful about what we feed the fire of our soul. We must feed ourselves with the things that nourish our spirit, and we must not feed the fire of those things that might consume us completely.
2. Purification is a necessary part of life. Like a forest fire cleanses away that which does not help the forest to survive and thrive, sometimes we must also purify our own lives.
3. Sometimes when we play with fire, we might not be the only ones to get burned. Think carefully about how your own actions in life might impact not only you, but also the entire ecosystem around you.
4. Sometimes you must walk through the fire—courageously, boldly, and without fear. This is your process for becoming polished, like the diamond that you are. This is where your personal testimony resides. What have you already overcome in your life? Let your scars remind you that you have already survived and healed from other things—you can do it again.
5. Like the great phoenix, you can rise again after everything goes up in flames. There is a great tendency placed on us by society to think that there is no future after something bad happens in our life. That is not true—you can rise again, and you should. Life is a constant cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Something is always ending for us, and with every end, there is a new beginning. No matter what phase of the cycle you are in, you will begin again.
6. You have the will, the determination, and the personal power to take action and to achieve your dreams. When I wrote about air, I mentioned your vision and seeing it unfold in your mind. Fire is the place of action—what steps will you take to manifest the vision?
Fire is a powerful tool for teaching us important life lessons. You are a courageous soul, with a love light that shines brighter than any eternal flame. As you move forward into this next week. Think about where you can take action. Do not be afraid to fail, for even if you do, you can rise up again! I have faith in you, and I believe in you. Have a wonderful week