Returning Fire

img_1854I could see myself standing on a mound of earth holding a gleaming red archer’s bow. I reached back to grasp onto an arrow and, one by one, I took aim and shot.

It occurred to me to look for a target and I couldn’t see one in sight.

As the arrows kept shooting away from me the ends started to ignite in flames.

There I stood. Grounded with a warrior stance. Shooting flame after flame out into nothing.

Where was the fire going? Was it landing anywhere?

I’m exploring my relationship to fire. The element of fire. That essential ingredient to being able to bring focus to anything. Transformation. The ability to have personal power. Will power. Drive.

In yoga fire is associated with the third chakra. The solar plexus. The sun. That great ball of fire that gives us heat; it gives us life as it simultaneously casts its light on everything.

In a kundalini yoga class yesterday we focused on building fire. Kriya after kriya focusing on the abdominals and the legs. With breath of fire thrown in there several times. Most of the sequences were two minutes long of repeating the same movement and breath. Some felt glorious. Others, painful.

Usually when a teacher says “we’re going to work with building fire today” my shoulders start to fall. I don’t want to do it. For the longest time I associated fire with anger and I didn’t want that most uncomfortable emotion to arise.

As anger and I become more comfortable with one another I realize that wasn’t it, really. At least not all of it.

I don’t want to build fire because for me it’s become quite hard. I’ve let it become weak in my system and so to try to light a fire exhausts me. Most of the time, I’d rather not even try (another sure sign that the fire needs more vitality).

Begrudgingly, I usually submit to the class, keeping an eye on just how much fire is built. I try my best to limit it. I’ve been afraid of the fire within. Afraid at how much it can be uncontrollable.

Yesterday though, it felt right. I was excited at the idea of building fire. At one point in the class I said to myself, as my body was shaking and I wanted to give up “you can do this”. “You can do this for two minutes. If you can’t do this for only two minutes, you can’t do anything else you want to do in life”.

And the thing is, I can do it. I can do all of it, even though it exhausts me. And, in class, I did. I have the strength and ability to do it. My energy was shifting so dramatically within that by the time I got home I was wiped out. I crawled into bed for about an hour. My body aching. All those areas I avoid engaging or using too much in my practice all necessarily sore. No wonder I avoid it; it’s hard.

I think the fire extinguishes in me it before it can even light.

More importantly, I think I do it to myself.

I used to have fire in spades. It was more wild. More forceful. It fed my will power which was so strong it carried me forward into anything.

And then one day it carried me forward and through something I really didn’t want to do. The sheer force of will is what led me. Because I thought I had to. I thought I had no choice.

And from that moment I gained a deep experience of pain and grief.

It was my own will that led me into those depths.

My own attempts at having power and control because I also felt completely powerless. My will stepped in to get me through the lack of power, as it always had before. Except I didn’t expect there to be such pain on the other side.

The fire that led me through got smacked right back as though the wind was knocked right out of it. As if it doubled back on itself in confusion and chaos.

From that experience I got to see the destructive side of fire. The side that rips through forests and kills everything in sight. At the same time that the fire was raging, turning and twisting destruction in every direction, I was also trying to put it out.

Extinguish it. Stop it.

In time, I became an expert at putting it out.

My will softened. This is not a bad thing. It softened and needed to stay soft. Not so forceful.

I needed the fire to be quiet for a while.

How was I supposed to trust the very same will power that led me down that path of destruction again? When I spark it up, how will I know it to be different?

A friend a few weeks ago mentioned that she saw a forest recovering after a fire. She saw the new growth on top of the ashes and decay. It struck her because she realized that not all the “old stuff” or the “destroyed” parts had to be gone before something new could take hold. The forest didn’t have to totally get rid of the “old” before there could be growth. The plants and life grew out of the ashes that were still present.

I kept enough fire within me to focus on surviving. To rebuild within all of those ashes. Discarding some of the former parts and keeping others. Blending them to become something new. It takes fire to transform. I have focused on transformation for these past several years, first and foremost. That takes a tremendous amount of effort and will power. It takes fire. It just didn’t feel like fire any more. Not in the way I used to feel it.

The element has gone flatter and wider in me. It takes more effort to get a spark to come.

Sustaining a concentrated amount of it will take even more effort. The thought of that effort then becomes exhausting. So I avoid it. I try to protect myself from aspects of something I also need.

Maybe that’s okay. Maybe it was okay to leave the fire burning quietly for these past few years.

After all, it is the nature of fire to change.

This moment is not any of those that came before.

As I saw myself standing on that mound, I wasn’t even giving the fire away to anything. It was lighting up and then being distributed out into the abyss so quickly it extinguished again.

It couldn’t collect. It couldn’t set anything else alight. It just fizzled out and disappeared.

At one point I realized what I was doing and the arrows flew only so far away from me and then started to turn back. They circled towards me, returning my fire. I wasn’t afraid. Instead I stood with ease and pulled the skin of my torso aside as if it were zipped closed in the front. I watched, with inviting comfort, as each flaming arrow entered. The fire blazed inside.