Dear Reader, In order to make a well-burning fire, we need some basic elements. We need fuel (let’s say “wood”— I like wood fires, they smell good!) and air and heat. Without any one of these we got no flames to speak of.
Remember how I’m obsessed with that quote from Leonard Cohen, “Poetry is just the ash cast off by a life that’s burning well”? Yeah? So now I’m about to show you just how obsessed I am.
What follows are my explanation of how we can think about our existence in terms of the fundamentals of a good fire, in order to better understand how to make our lives “burn well.”
Wood is all the material stuff we’ve got in our experience: our bodies, our clothes, the ground we walk on, the bodies of our friends and loved ones, grass, food, sun, sky. In order to have a life that’s burning well, the basic material stuff has to be in place and in working order. In other words, in an ideal wood-situation you’ve got your body in a state of health, your food and shelter taken care of, and some simple material pleasures on top of that (i.e., cuddly blankets, pretty flowers). This isn’t to say that you can’t have a well-burning life if you’re chronically ill, disabled, or very poor — you totally can— but in that case you need a higher quality of the second element we’ll discuss— air— and you’ll need to turn up the third element— heat.
Air is the non-material stuff of our experience: our awareness / consciousness, thoughts, inspiration, feelings, imagination, desires, dreams. In order to have a life that’s burning well, the non-material stuff of our lives needs to be as clear, pure, and strong as we can make it. You don’t have to have a mind like St. Teresa or the Buddha, but you do need to be willing to question your stressful beliefs, open up your sense of the possible, pay attention to your night-time dreams, and intensify your imagination. This is especially true if your wood-situation is currently quite painful (i.e., you’re ill, involuntarily poor, or otherwise down-on-your luck).
Tip: Writing Truth and Beauty Pages is a great way to increase the quality of your air.
Please Note: It may seem like I’m insisting on a dualism between the immaterial and the material. I am not. The notion of building a great fire in our lives has to do with experiencing wholeness and harmony, with all qualitative elements of our experience working in sync. Also, in a certain sense, our night-time dreams are just as “material” as our shoes— they have form and color and sensation. I’m just breaking things down a little simplistically so we can understand particular matters to address.
Heat is the action we take that turns the wood and air of our lives into a blaze that casts wondrous light and lots of sparks of truth and beauty. We create heat when we take meaningful risks (i.e., hops) that move us in the direction of our Wild, Throbbing, Extra-rational Optimistic dreams. Risks generate heat because they cause friction. They bring us right up against all our deep-seated negative beliefs about ourselves and the world, and right up against the limits of our material ability.
Tip: Not just our hops but also our 5 Minutes Towards Beauty are means of generating heat. If you don’t believe me, try it. It can feel quite risky and scary and great to devote 5 minutes to creating something beautiful!
So there you have it— the basic elements of a fiery life. Shortly I’ll be writing more about how to get all of these elements in their best possible condition and combination. Stay tuned!