Just as wildfire makes room in the forest for growth and renewal, personal catharsis can turn the soil of our hearts, leaving fertile ground for our potential to flower. It can also leave us brittle, angry or withdrawn. Much depends on the skills we have of being with challenge and the resilience that naturally comes out of those skills.
In yoga, we can learn from the parallel teaching to the wildfire metaphor, in the Sanskrit word 'tapas', which stems from the verb meaning "to burn".
Tapas is a "niyama", the 2nd of 8 limbs of yoga found in the foundational yogic text, Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. We might think of the niyamas as positive duties or observances. The niyama, tapas, is a burning desire -- or, conversely, burning of desire -- or can be thought of as a discipline.
To me, tapas, practice (which to me feels more like delight than the rigorous associations we might have with the word 'discpiline') ignites and fuels personal growth and deeper spiritual connection.
Just as wildfires are a natural phenomenon and will occur in their own time with or without human cause or intervention, so too - I believe - is our personal evolution. Human life not only depends on change, it is change. Whether we have a practice or not, change will happen just as surely as fire will burn.
Some fires are purposefully ignited in what is known as a prescribed, or controlled burn; a systematic means of restoring health to an ecosystem. Much like our purposeful action of practicing yoga or meditation to restore the eco-system of our body, mind and heart.
Regular practice develops skills with which, not only to cope, but to thrive within change.
Stay with me, if you will, as I extrapolate a little further.
Prescribed burns, which are done in the cooler months, also prevent more disastrous, out-of-control fires from happening.
When we practice within a controlled setting - where we feel safe - we learn to skillfully navigate body sensations, emotions, thoughts, beliefs and our place in the order of things. Sure, life will eventually take us through it all even without a practice, but wouldn’t we rather move through life with more skill and acceptance?
The benefits of our personal practice reach further beyond ourselves than we can imagine.
A friend, who is going through a time of profound challenge, wrote in an email to me the other day,
"May the day unfold absorbing every ounce of God’s goodness even with the wildfire smoke which casts a feeling of the good ol' days when we had with bush fires on the farm."
Her attitude of gratitude on this day, with a porridge-like grey sky hiding the mountains and biting our lungs, is a testament to her strength and grace. It is a testament to her choice to live consciously and inquire deeply.
Her words make my heart sing, and now perhaps is causing a resonance in your heart. By the way, how many miles away are you?
Now, go out and touch the heart of another, or go within and practice. Together, our love, kindness, compassion and acceptance can reach a million miles.
May your practice in good times and during the seemingly catastrophic times, clear your heart like a runway, for more love and joy to land.