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The Slow Burn of Personal Growth


Oh, fire, what would we do without you?

On farms, crops do better after a fire has licked at the earth and burned off the top layer of old growth in the fields. In the forest, pinecone seeds only reveal themselves for fruition after fires transform the land to burnt ash and smoke, killing the parent trees and turning the shells of the cones to cinder. Somehow, all that survives is the seed, the potential of rebirth inherent in the plant, which had slept in the cool earth, waiting.

Nowadays, forest fires are extremely dangerous to humans and property, yet we have learned that they are natural part of renewal. Since mankind has encroached on many forests, controlled burns have proven an effective way to allow nature to have what she needs while protecting those around her. Forests stay healthy, and humans and their property remain undamaged.

Sometimes our human lives can be a bit like the forest, where the seeds of our potential seem so deeply buried within the protective shell of our own hearts that we’re not even sure our dreams are still in there. Dormant, buried under the cool earth of distraction and complacency, these seeds wait for the right moment to be birthed.

Though it is fairly common to have resistance to doing the more challenging work in our personal and emotional lives, the question is: will we be pulled and dragged by the universe, kicking and screaming the whole way; or will we push into those tender spots, press into the tension in our own lives, and actively become part of the solution?

Ignoring our problems, and the nagging feelings associated with them, builds the potential for something to burst, to flare up like an uncontrolled wildfire. But like the forest ranger, we can choose to work on a specific area of our lives. We can do a controlled burn so to speak, and hold focus on the area most needing attention. This can feel uncomfortable, maybe at times even grueling. But the payoff can be enormous.

Speaking practically, let’s use this metaphor to address relationships in particular, Say we wish to focus on “communication in relationships.” If poor communication is left unexplored, relationships can erupt into a shouting match of hurt emotions and of needs not met.

If we are not listening along the way, we often get the proverbial “two-by-four” experience. First, we get a light tap from the universe: we have a sense that something is wrong. Then, if we fail to address the issue, we get walloped by the two-by-four: your partner “suddenly” announces they want a divorce, or that they’ve had an affair after decades of marriage. The signs were there, but we chose not to listen.

Yet if we can hold our concentration on areas that need our attention, we are tending to our own forest. As the energy builds, it’s as if we are doing a controlled burn on the flora and fauna of our lives. Then our own personal lives flourish and the seeds of our potential that have been dormant can awaken: deeper love; more creative communication; a healing and a release of some old unhealthy pattern that has blocked our natural flow.

Subsequently, like the forest ranger who carefully carries out a controlled burn, in time we can look out to our lives and see a healthy, vibrant world where the seeds of our deepest desires are in full growth, and the ashes from our past sense of self provide the most fertile soil.

Will Donnelly

Will Donnelly is a nationally recognized, certified yoga teacher and writer, and is the author of “Practical Yoga’s Wisdom for Everyday People: Essays & Inspiration for Life" (2017), a compilation of his most popular online essays now available at Will has been a pioneer in the field of yoga, developing Practical Yoga, and co-creating a yoga–reality series for fitTV (Discovery Communications, 2004). As a writer and teacher, Will encourages all students to trust their impulses and find their true voice. Will currently lives in Hawaii, where he leads weekly yoga and writing classes at Kalani retreat center. He also leads several popular Practical Yoga adventure and healing retreats throughout the year. Information on retreats, his book, DVDs and other inspiration to be found at

GET A COPY of Will's New Book, now at 
Practical Yoga's Wisdom for Everyday People: Essays & Inspiration for Life 
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Holiday Yoga Retreat (7th Year!) December 21 - 27, 2017

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