The transformative power of fire is so. . . permanent. As we are reeling in the wake of the worst fires in West Coast history, I write these words with tenderness and grief.
I am reminded of a well-known story of the Hindu deity, Krishna.
Krishna is wandering around with his principal devotee, Radha, and comes to the house of a rich merchant. The merchant is rude to both Radha and Krishna and treats them with disdain as if they are beggars. Rather than inviting them into his large home, he makes space for them in a dirty corner of his stable, with some straw for a bed. In the morning, when they are leaving, Krishna says to Radha, "Tomorrow, his wealth shall be multiplied four-fold."
That evening they happen upon a poor man's hut. While the man spends most of his time praying and practicing and has very few possessions, he has a cow he milks daily and loves very much. He welcomes in Krishna and Radha with open arms and makes them food from his meager stores. The man insists they sleep in his own bed while he sleeps outside the hut. In the morning, when they are leaving, Krishna says to Radha, "Tomorrow his cow will die."
Radha questions Krishna on the fairness of the unkind wealthy man receiving more riches, and the poor kind man losing his beloved cow. Krishna responds, "The rich man is so attached to his wealth, that it will be multiplied. The poor man has only his cow as his last remaining attachment. When the cow dies, there is nothing else to hold him back from attaining oneness with all that is. It is, thus, a huge blessing for the poor man to lose his cow."
How can we let the transformative quality of fire move through us in a good way? It is tempting to focus on the dramatic evidence of loss all around us, yet these are changing images in our mind's eye.
I write these words from a place of significant personal loss caused by the Redwood fires last year. This is not coming from a theoretical place, nor is it an instance of lofty spiritual bypassing; rather, I am sharing my own journey in finding my way through all the destruction and smoke.
How do losses shape the person I am becoming?
It’s a question for all trauma, really. Because, it's not what happens to us that's so meaningful, it's how we let it move us. It’s who it is we become - not in spite of it - but because of it.
When I first became a full-time single mom, people consistently posed the same question: "Do you have the support you need?" I found myself answering this question in a variety of ways, all running the spectrum from yes to no. What I noticed, is the answer didn't depend upon who showed up to support me in my life from one week to the next; it actually depended more on how I felt inside myself.
What saved me during that first year was a moment-to-moment practice of gratitude. This was not about making a list each morning of the things for which I felt grateful. It was a feeling I committed to cultivating inside myself - an immersion in the experience of gratitude. It was not about why I am grateful, or what I was grateful for. It was an invocation of a state of gratitude in myself that transformed my life from a toxic experience of bitterness and resentment to one of increased love and grace.
It was a year-and-a-half later, during the eclipse, that I offered a prayer, asking to feel supported in my life. Just as with the gratitude practice, it was not a process of looking for evidence of the ways I was supported or not supported, either with my daughter or my work, as I could easily find evidence for both perspectives on any given day. Just like the gratitude practice, it was a commitment to emanating the energy of being supported throughout my entire being. I knew this was the only way I could shift my experience of running around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off in my daily hustle to enjoying this one wild and precious life alongside my beautiful daughter.
When I observe myself feeling unsupported, I connect the energy to what I experience as lack, loss, abandonment, and comparison, as well as to what-ifs and missing out. I experience this as the most uncomfortable space in my consciousness and find myself challenged to stand in it when it arises. It is a space I have run from my whole life. I have treated this space as though it is a hole, and thus tried to fill it with sex, substances, yoga, and 100+ healing modalities. I have written poetry about a "black hole between my shoulder blades". I have tried to fix it, patch it, mend it, heal it, all the while trying to do the same for my clients. However, it is only when I let myself surrender into it, that I realize it only looks like a hole - a lacking, a badness, a not-good-enoughness. In fact, it’s not a hole at all, rather an energetic film - a layer around me that prevents me from seeing the truth of myself.
I had actually never been able to fully meet that layer. Not because of a lack of sincerity or purpose but because it truly seemed to be a badness and something that needed fixing, healing, resolving, and changing. The impact of years of various traumas left me with an unsupported feeling and I ran around in a self-reliant manner doing my hustle and making a lot of things happen. The trauma created energy of nonsupport and this kept being reinforced by the illusion of my past projections.
My work now is to sit with the uncomfortable in a non-verbal space, without interpretation, quietly feeling the sense of darkness, emptiness, lack, and badness. When I meet this feeling fully I realize it has no substance and this is how it dissolves and liberates me from its grip. Actually, it is not even personal to me but rather a human experience that I see over and over in my sessions with people. With the being with the uncomfortableness quietly as it dissolves comes the sense that all actually is the LIGHT - even that which seems to not be - and this changes everything. It is the end of running from this misconception about the reality that has been supported by our collective consciousness. When I find myself in that place of feeling unsupported I recognize the opportunity to stop, drop, and immerse in it as a way to find the light over and over again.
In the moments when I am awake in this realization, I remain in the joy of the feeling of support and trust even when there seems to be no external evidence for it. Polluted air, fires raging, hurricanes, the list does go on forever. When I focus on the feeling of trust there emerges a deep sense that all is well, and always has been and that the whole non supported feeling was a projection of a core trauma that ultimately is not real. The previous misconceptions of non-support empty out and what is left in me is a deep feeling of wellness and love. As my friend Patrick reminds me, "Seeing this means no longer projecting anger, negativity, hostility, non-support, non-love, rejection, abandonment or anything that is not sweet and beautiful - and this gradually becomes one's world. . . the real world."
My heart and love go out to all those affected by the fires in such deep and irreversible ways. The love in the air is thicker than the smoke. This is a time when we all are coming together and offering our love in a profoundly moving way. My prayer is that the transformative power of the fire allows us to find a deep surrender to the support all around us in ways we hadn't even dreamed possible. And that we make the changes necessary for a more sustainable future rooted in indigenous ecological practices and halting climate change.