Clearing for the New
Reflections on fire and opportunities in this new decade
I was nested in my partner’s arms, as we lay on the couch gazing at the wood burning in our living room stove. All was still but for the silent whisper of the flames and occasional crackle of the iridescent bark. As we gazed at the dancing flames, we slid into the New Year, into a New decade.
This “slip” was as uneventful as can be, poised in stillness and silence. And yet, I couldn’t help but feel that this slip was far from insignificant; that this new decade just might be quite uniquely transformative…
Any grandiose thought about the future was dispelled, however, as I returned to the simplicity of the present moment. I reveled in the beauty of the sliding tongues of fire, indulging in the coziness, warmth and comfort they were providing us.
My mind flew to the flames ravaging the Australian bushland, to the images of stranded families on beaches, scorched wildlife, charcoal-black hills. How could the same element, I wondered, provide such comfort in one setting and such distress in another? How can something so destructive for some, be providing me so much pleasure? The duality of the world we live in glared at me.
From the flames of Australia, my mind continued traveling to the flames of the Amazon, Siberia, Africa, and California. In 2019, we were given a taste of the apocalypse; an “assaggio” (tasting) of the worst climate change scenarios imaginable, which made the disappointing outcomes of the COP25 all the more bitter. The flames in Notre Dame, in April 2019, had also struck minds and hearts around the world, irrespective of religious backgrounds, as if to remind us of the innate link between Nature and Culture. The homes of our Divine Mother -Natural and human-made – all burning…
The fires in Nature resonated with the fire in our hearts: the world’s forests were burning amidst rising cries of anger and distress voiced by youth during the Fridays for the Future and amplified by Greta’s scream for action and her resounding condemnation – “We will never forgive you!”.
A turmoil of fear, anger, guilt… All quite grim – and potentially destructive – emotions, one must contend. But the world is dual in all things, and this turmoil is also giving rise to a surge of alliance-building (as illustrated by the Nature-Based Solutions Coalition), eagerness to change, and unprecedented recognition that we can’t keep on going the way we have been and that we must join hands.
As these anxious thoughts rushed through my head, while I still gazed at the fire in our hearth, an Ananda Yoga affirmation came to my mind – the one associated with Upavistha konasana (the seated, open-legged forward bend): “I welcome every opportunity for further growth”.
That has been one of the greatest teachings Yoga has given me: every challenge Life puts in our way, is a gift. A gift that is meant to teach us something and invite us to grow and expand. In this posture, one is invited to breathe into the resistance in one’s tight inner thighs so as to gradually surrender and relax into a forward bend. We can apply this principle and experience to all challenges in Life: If we resist it and tense up, we are in pain, if we breath and relax into it, we make space for a new chapter.
What could the opportunity behind the horror of these fires be?
Fire, in the Hindu Cosmology, is associated with Shiva, the third Deity of the Hindu triumvirate that gives its pace to the cycle of Creation: Brahman creates, Vishnu (also known as Narayan) sustains, and Shiva destroys so as to make space for the next cycle of creation. In the act of destruction, Shiva also clears the imperfections and illusions of this world. Fire is thus also a purifying element.
Could it thus be that the horrific fires we have witnessed and fallen victim to in 2019 are clearing the way for a new type of growth, in all senses of the word? A renewal of our relationship to Nature, for example? A realization that exploitative use of natural resources will lead to our downfall and that all forms of Life – trees, birds, insects, water sources, etc. – are as sacred as Human Life? (see also this post). Can these fires be the dawn of a heightened individual and collective Consciousness that if we continue to treat other expressions of Life as separate from ourselves, we will, if not perish, at least suffer? And what would such heightened consciousness look like, for each one of us, individually and collectively?
2019 has seen the birth of a budding movement – Listening to the Earth, an invitation to collectively tune-in to the Earth’s wisdom on the occasion of large political events on the climate and environment (such as the UN Climate Summit and UNFCCC COPs). To those answering this invitation, the Earth’s fires felt like Nature’s pleading call -and harsh reprimand- that we must listen to Her and respect Her. After all, is She not the master of resilience and regeneration? Who else but Nature can guide us out of the disharmony our limited awareness has generated?
In calling to us, Nature is also inviting us, and even pushing us into uniting across all nations, all races, all spiritual and political paths in an unprecedented way. The environmental challenges we face are on such a scale that if we are to save our common home, we must push aside all that drives us apart. We are called to unite with our diversity of knowledge, skills, insights, histories, languages, sciences, and intuitions – to unite in our aspirations and actions, with our minds, hearts and souls…
It is therefore not without some trepidation and gratitude that I welcome this New Decade which promises to be full of opportunities for further growth.
Wishing you also a very Happy New Year and heart- and soul-expanding New Decade!