e-Essay: Transformation through Fire

Every year since the one in which I traveled across the Kalahari Desert, I have had a measure what hot truly feels like. It’s not the damp, humid days of an exceptionally warm New England summer. Rather, the feeling of a truly intense heat is one of suffocation, as if your lungs would turn into ash if you were to breathe in too deeply. Summertime temperatures in the Kalahari average 40-degrees Celsius or about 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Life stirs only in the early morning hours and then after dark. Every living thing is driven by the need to stay just cool enough until the sun goes down and a reprieve sets in.

Fittingly, in between traveling throughout the southern part of Africa and moving back to New England, I found myself living in another desert environment. The city of Phoenix is named after the mythical bird that dies in a burst of flames and then rises again from the ashes. It is a symbol of transformation, rebirth, and regeneration. Looking back now, I realize that many of the places, people or things I had attracted into my life at that time were somehow indicative or associated with fire and rebirth, renewal and regeneration. I didn’t realize it then, but I was in the process of sloughing off old ways of being and stale thoughts about how I would contribute to the world for a life more open and, admittedly, still not completely formed.

Fire is an element—a thing—and yet it is also a process of transformation. It includes within it the potential for both destruction and creation. It literally burns through the old to make way for the new. Fire is the element associated with the third chakra or manipura chakra, the energetic center located in the solar plexus and responsible for such expressions as “a fire in the belly.”

It is our manipura chakra that allows us to take action in the world and that empowers us to bring our creative ideas into fruition. It is the ability to take action out in the world that leads not just to our survival, but to our ability to thrive. If we do not allow for the destruction of the old, we can never create room for the new. This is as true for our personal lives and for the experiences we allow ourselves, as it is for nature, too.

Certain plants embody this innate knowledge of the cycle that constitutes growth—namely destruction, creation, and regeneration. For instance, protea, the national flower of South Africa that grows wild throughout the countryside, have adapted to wildfires by creating networks of dormant buds underground that bloom after the original plant is destroyed by fire. And more famously, the giant sequoias of northern California depend on fire for their continued survival. Fire releases seeds, recycles nutrients in the soil, removes undergrowth, and lessens competition from other trees.

Fire changes things immediately and irrevocably. Fire symbolizes our willingness to completely let go of something or someone, since once destroyed by its flames it can never be reclaimed. As humans we often fear fire and the power associated with it. But, by learning to harness its innate energy we can allow ourselves to benefit from its transformative properties.

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