The smoke has a sweet smell: sap burning. From where I sit, the fire sounds like a strong wind blowing — not rustling leaves so much as the sense that it’s right inside your ears, like a firm whisper. Here and there it pops and crackles; this must be one of the most ancient sounds for human ears — maybe even the first man-made music.
It’s likely that fire was experienced before it was created; nature has a way of spontaneously setting itself aflame, which has the miraculous effect of purifying the land, teasing seeds open so that they can sprout, and carrying all kinds of organic material miles and miles away, ensuring the propagation of life forms that would have otherwise been destroyed by the heat of a land set ablaze.
I like imagining the faces of the first humans witnessing a lightning bolt striking a match against the earth — the awe they must have felt, the gods they must have thanked or feared. How miraculous to have seen something, felt its warmth, and then setting about to re-create it with the hunch that it could prove useful down the line when little Tom-Tom got a cold from staying out too late tipping wooly mammoths over in their sleep, and would obviously a little warming by the glow of the cave fire.
At least that’s how I imagine it. It helps me to remember that creative acts — often taken for granted — have helped shape the world we all strive to find joy in. Keeping the fire in my home is a constant meditation on the power of imagination and determination, coupled with a reminder that it’s Nature’s way to (literally) light the path for us.
But what if earth’s first people had seen that lightning strike, watched a fire start to consume a huge swatch of land and felt so overwhelmed by the holiness of this magnificent natural wonder that they shrunk back, figured they were probably not good enough to re-create it and went back to the Dark Ages equivalent of scrolling through social media, which was probably, I dunno, looking at everyone else’s cave paintings. We’d be without the magic of self-made warmth, engines, jet planes, trains, ovens, lava lamps and anything at all that is warm to eat. I’m incredibly grateful to the one guy who stood there, loincloth-clad, spear in hand, fire dancing on his skin and thought, “I can totally do this.”
Harnessing fire may be man’s first and most magical creative act, one that is responsible for the survival of our species. They couldn’t have known then what a massive gift this would be to the world, nor were they focused on their perceived shortcomings or droning on about how they didn’t have time. One moment sparked a very clear knowing in the bodies of those who would eventually capture this magnificent tool: I need to make this happen.
You’ve probably had a moment like that. Or several. Armed with your particular aptitudes and skill set, the gift of your awareness and hunch that you’re capable of great things (you are descended from the folks who harnessed fire, after all), you’ve probably stood in awe of something wonderful, or felt a bone-chilling knowing of your own. Something in you probably shouted, “MORE OF THIS!”
You may have followed the MORE OF THIS feeling to the love of your life, or the city that finally feels like home, or a creative act of your own that makes you feel alive and capable and whole. It’s also likely that you’ve ignored this feeling more times than you’ve gone with it. It’s hard work to follow such immediate instructions from your Original Self — the part of you that is still connected enough with your instincts that, like my dog when he sees a squirrel, doesn’t stop to think about whether or not he can catch it or if this is something that will please the other dogs or make him money — he just chases after it, propelled by an ancient instinct to hunt. As an animal, he can stay in touch with his Original Self and not worry about the consequences, the only real consequences being A) cars and B) rabies. In that moment between he and the squirrel, he is harnessing fire.
What’s your fire? What do you feel so compelled to chase after that, if you’re honest with yourself, makes you feel a little like Bodhi and his squirrel fetish? For a just a moment, forget the perceived limitations and consequences. Ask yourself the following questions:
- When do I feel most alive / peaceful / whole / content?
- What activities or experiences do I see other people doing or having that make me jealous?
- When I hear about or see other people _________, it brings me to tears.
Tears are an excellent way to gauge what really matters to you; they are literally the energetic conduit between your outer-world-being and your essential self. Follow them and you’ll have yourself a really accurate diving rod; what we weep to know or experience contains traces of our potential joy, and you are hereby instructed by your soul-self to follow those traces like your life depends on it. (Because it does.)