“There are two fires that we have to encounter daily. The first is the fire of life, which reduces us to joy by burning away all that is false and not essential. This is the fire of aliveness ...”
There are two fires that we have to encounter daily. The first is the fire of life, which reduces us to joy by burning away all that is false and not essential. This is the fire of aliveness that needs to be fed, no matter where we are or what we do. This is the light of the soul that must be kept burning. The second is the fire in the world, which can burn us up, which can wound us and damage us. This is the fire of circumstance that needs to be put out. How do we know the difference between these two fires? I honestly don’t know. I have been reduced to what is essential by the one and wounded by the flames of the other, more than once. Nevertheless, we need each other to know which fire to feed and which to douse. To continually know the difference is part of the practice of being human. And helping each other know the difference is part of the work of love.
Though we feel the rip and pull of everything taken away from us, being stripped of what covers us helps us grow: by lightening our load and making us more raw and naked, so we can be touched and transformed by the elements of life. This seems to be the promise of the inner world: that if we stay open to life, we’ll be cleansed of dead weight, worn of coverings that have served their purpose, and pruned of the tangle of falseness that grows like vines about everything.
Inevitably, we move through the first half of life gathering, only to enter the second half of life compelled to empty much of what we carry. Along the way, we gather knowledge, achieve a great deal, and save what we can. But under all our coverings, we long for the naked freedom of a star. Under all our accomplishments is a simple soul eager to build, not caring what it is we might build. And stripped of what we save and hoard, we grow immediate. This cycle continues: Gather, build, grow covered by what we build, then burn away all that is not essential, so we can grow immediate, ready to build again.
By gathering, we discover who we are, and by emptying, we get to throw off the world and be who we are. From such bareness of being, we enter a simple and substantial experience of life. In these essential moments, we’re left with a life that has to live now, eager as a fish gulping for food at the surface.
This brings us to a more compelling definition of destiny. Destiny is not a particular dream coming true over time for an individual, but the force of Spirit emanating into the world through all things including us. The emanation of Spirit is the counterpart to gravity. Like flowers that break ground in order to blossom, human beings are destined to bring their souls into the world. And despite the thousand things that can deter us, this can happen in a thousand and one ways.
Our ordinary destiny, then, is to accept the friction of being worn open by the world, so our soul can show itself and join with everything. The sensation of our soul showing itself and joining with everything is another name for joy.
Still, living between the fire of aliveness and the fire of circumstance lands us in the middle of another paradox. While no one can live your life for you, we’re woefully deficient of the wisdom necessary to live, if left to our experience alone. Just as we can’t see unless our eyes are open, we need the experience and company of others to open our deeper mind, though we’re left to do the seeing for ourselves.
If too open, we can become wounded and burdened. If too closed, we can become removed and untouchable.
Most of the time, we tumble in the space in between. This is where we live, risking our way into authentic engagement, not watching life go by, but not burning up in the fire of circumstance either. This is the tension that everyone faces sooner or later: how to be touched by life without being consumed by its fire.
It’s humbling but true: We live between the kindling of dream and the fire of life. Confused, we often think the dream is where we’re going, and so miss the majesty of what the dream ignites. Just how do we make good use of our heart and get strength from what we know? This is a lifelong practice. As Keats advised, we need beauty and truth to make it through life. And I would add love. Truth helps us douse the fire of circumstance, while beauty helps us keep the fire of aliveness lit. And Love helps us discern between the two.