Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tending to the fire

In this article, I would really like to talk about fire in how it applies to practice and reaches beyond me to shape communities and the globe. At it's very foundation, I think that the question of heat cannot be addressed without looking at the equally important question of how to cool things down. The question of quelling the fire is perhaps even more important, especially globally as we need to figure out ways of cooling things down if we want to continue to thrive on this planet.

I'm getting ahead of myself though. Let me first begin by explaining something very important that I continue to learn through the study of ecology and the philosophies of yoga. Our actions, while they may seem separate actually unravel outward from ourselves like spirals. They affect us on a personal level, extend to our close friends and family, reach beyond to our geographic and chosen communities and in an increasingly globalized world, our actions reach far and wide to other people and ecosystems that we may never see or encounter in our lives.

It is easy to recognize and understand the more direct impacts of what we do in our bodies, family and community but in order for us to thrive, we must hold space in our awareness for all the disparate and challenging effects of what we do that may not appear to be so obvious.

Here, I chose to approach the topic of fire in a very linear way but know that it is best to consider this idea of how our actions have heating or cooling effects more like a web. No place, person, breath, orchid, garbage truck, television set, siberian tigre, banana tree, jelly fish, wooden chair, pair of sunglasses, convertible sports car, child's laugh, machine gun, violin or Beatles song exists on its own... yep, we're all in this together and I, for one, love living on this planet and want to continue to do so for a long time.

The role of fire in yoga practice, as far as I understand it, is simple enough. I aim to burn through or to digest what is no longer needed. Fire is built through movement and breath. Digestion is often spoken about as a fire and I want to cultivate the ability to digest things quickly and efficiently so that my fire burns bright and clean. So that I'm not carrying around anything extra that could weigh me down, I cultivate a healthy dose of fire in practice to help keep me light.

Fire is important. It is also really empowering and exciting to feel the effects of creating my own fire. I love to move my body under my own steam and to recognize my own well of energy and the incredible things it allows me to do. Now, the flip side of this is that I need to learn to cool down, to be still, to reflect, to sit, to lay down, to close my eyes, to exhale, to release and to let go. This is an essential part of a balanced practice (or life!) It is in the reflective and cooling aspects of practice that I can begin to integrate the benefits of having created that fire and to increase the potency of those benefits.

If I keep the fire going non-stop, I may injure my body, I may fry my nervous system and will likely, both literally and figuratively, burn out. When the scale tips in the opposite direction, I might experience depression, weight gain, lethargy and likely some discomfort and anxiety around all those things. What I'm learning through my practice here is that both heat and cool are essential. Balance is key and also, a work in progress where constant tweaking is necessary to continue to work towards balancing the heat and the cool in life.

This brings me to a wider part of the spiral, that of community, friends and family. Working with friends and family is a bit more tricky than a personal practice because it involves other people. It also has the potential of bringing the greatest joys, lessons and healing. One way to consider and relax into healthy relationships and friendships, I've learned, is to know that we will likely experience fire (or sparks, coals or sweat) and ice ( or snow, hail or sleet). This dynamism keeps us alive, aware and can remind me of balance. I want to chose to interact with people in a way that will nurture and enhance everyone involved especially when I remember the web and the potential ripple effects of something as simple as smile versus a frown.

Finally, we come to global action. First, we remember that as part of the whole, actions that benefit us and our communities without harming others are one way we can start to create change. It becomes trickier when we recognize those things we do that very directly affect people and places we can't even see and may not in our lifetime.

On a global scale, the fire is burning out of control. We are burning fuel and other sources of non-renewable energy at a speedy pace while simultaneously destroying the earth's built-in energy regeneration systems such as forests, oceans and rivers. Gross imbalances can be seen in the form of addictions, disease, huge discrepancy between the rich and poor, eating disorders and the list can go on and on.

On a global scale, the action that is currently needed falls squarely in the category of cooling and burning less... With the exception of lighting a fire under our own bums and the ass of our politicians, we need to slow down, to consume less, to consume responsibly, to educate ourselves, to make our living in a way that is non-harming and to figure out how to work with all those things within our minds that make it challenging to do these things.

The practice of yoga has shown me yet another way to continue to think about fire, heat and energy. As I am practicing yoga, I'm choosing to spend my time in ways that don't require anything to be burned other than perhaps a fire in my belly lungs and heart. With each breath, we act. With the gifts and privilege we've been handed in the form of healthy bodies, food to eat, clothes to wear and a bed in which to sleep, we need to put out the fires we have created and restore balance to this planet, our home.