On the 1st January this year, I attended a retreat lead by Shaki Malan in the Cederberg mountains in South Africa. The first night there was a powerful lightning storm which struck the bushes near our tents and started a fire. Everybody scrambled to get their belongings as some went to fight the fire and others prepared to evacuate the camp. Thankfully there was no wind, but due to the average 40 degree daily temperatures at the time, the landscape was parched and the fire spread quickly. Eventually the fire truck arrived from a town about thirty minutes away and managed to put it out.
Ever since then I feel that fire has something powerful to teach me. I can feel it warning me of something I need to be aware of; something I’m not yet fully seeing. It’s showing me what needs to change, what I need to look at within myself and in my outer circumstances that I need to let go of, to release into the flames to be transmuted and refined.
It signifies to me the fire in the world today, the burning of the old systems that are under collapse. It asks me to choose what I most value to take with me on the next leg of the journey. Where do I want to be? Who do I want to be with? What do I want to be doing? It burns unapologetically through what no longer serves. It dances a fine line between destruction and transformation, and asks, is there really a difference? The mind says that fire contained is our ALLY and fire uncontained is HELL. It seems the collective has chosen to experience a version of hell right now. I wonder how much do we need to fear this. How might we use this fire and this fear as a warning signal to prepare ourselves. And how much do we allow ourselves to be consumed?
Sometimes being consumed is what is needed. Rumi speaks to this in his poem The Question (see below). What looks like fire is a great relief to be inside. In the Western Cape of South Africa there is a specific type of vegetation called Fynbos that actually needs fire in order for the dormant seeds to germinate. Fire is the crucial trigger that ensures the survival of this particular plant species. Bearing in mind the optimal fire cycle for fynbos is between 10-14 years, and anything shorter than this can wipe out slow-maturing species. Anything longer and species start dying, so as always in nature there is a perfect balance.
What does fire have to teach us in a world that seems way out of balance? Sometimes we forget that we are nature. We’re part of that delicate balance. Where do we need to step into the flames of our own transformation? Where might we allow ourselves to be consumed? And what dormant seeds might germinate if we jump into the light of the fire? We may not recognize ourselves on the other side, and that may not be such a bad thing. We may die in the process, and then again, we might just bloom.
God’s presence is there in front of me, a fire on the left, a lovely stream on the right.
One group walks toward the fire, into the fire, another toward the sweet flowing water.
No one knows which are blessed and which not.
Whoever walks into the fire appears suddenly in the stream.
A head goes under on the water surface, that head pokes out of the fire.
Most people guard against going into the fire, and so end up in it.
Those who love the water of pleasure and make it their devotion are cheated with this reversal.
The trickery goes further.
The voice of the fire tells the truth saying, I am not fire. I am
fountainhead. Come into me and don’t mind the sparks.
If you are a friend of God, fire is your water.
You should wish to have a hundred thousand sets of mothwings, so you could burn them away, one set a night.
The moth sees light and goes into the fire. You should see fire and go toward the light. Fire is what of God- is world-consuming. Water, world-protecting.
Somehow each gives the appearance of the other. To these eyes you have now, what looks like water, burns. What looks like fire is a great relief to be inside.
~Rumi, The Question (translated by Coleman Barks)