Yoga Wicca Buddha

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Step into the Fire

Step into the Fire


I got called out by my kid. And it was gut-wrenching. 


They’d embarked on an exploration of “family stories” they wanted to rewrite, the unspoken assumptions and unwritten rules of their upbringing. When they shared this their words were calm but direct. The unquestioning child was gone. A fully observant adult stood in their place.


Seeing myself and our family life through their eyes was….bracing. Scary. I had to face some uncomfortable truths, and found myself filled with a sense of loss and regret. I hadn’t been a perfect parent, and I wasn’t a perfect person. 


But this was a perfect chance to step into the fire.

“Turn toward the fire and enter confident”—Dante


The Greek philosopher Heraclitus held that fire was the very essence of existence. And ancient myths proclaimed that fire held divine potential: Prometheus was punished for stealing fire from the gods—perhaps because the gods knew that mastery of fire gave humans a power approaching their own. Other myths acknowledged fire as the ultimate instrument of transformation. Heracles’s funeral pyre saw him raised to godhood on Olympus. The goddess Demeter dipped a baby into fire to make him immortal. 


In India, Vedic priests were keepers of the sacrificial fire, symbolic of the spiritual fire within. Fuelled by yogic practice or religious ritual, it burned away the impermanent and united one with the eternal.  For Buddha, this inner fire was the emotional response aroused by the good and bad of life. This fire could easily get out of control and cause more suffering. But banked and allowed to burn hot and steady, it could provide the energy to open the soul and drive right action. 


Don’t get lost in your pain – know that one day your pain will become your cure.—Rumi


When life sparks our inner fire, can we bear to hold it in the heart rather than direct it outward or dissipate it in reactive thinking? It seems that the sages and myths are telling us that if we can, our fire will burn away the dross of defensiveness, anger and blame. What would be left? A more open heart, a clearer head.


So like yogis burning themselves up with the fire of practice, like Heracles jumping on his own pyre to burn himself to Olympus, we have to step into the fire, feeling our emotions completely. But we also have to contain them. How? Not through discipline, not through telling ourselves how to be. No, the only container big enough for the fire of feeling is the one built from compassion:  stepping outside ourselves to witness with tenderness our own vulnerability.


That is how the fire is banked. This is how we can let it burn away everything but the truth of our human imperfection, allied with the vastness of our capacity to feel and to love. My offspring acted from their own need to define their course, from their own discomfort with the way things were. We both felt the pain of redefining our relationship, speaking uncomfortable truths. The more purely I accept my pain, the more I can see theirs, and the more I can learn from my mistakes without the corrosive effects of blame or self blame. 


That will be the way I become the parent— and the person—I want to be.



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Archer has been trying to make sense of religion since her parents first abandoned her at Sunday School in the 60s. She’s a mom, yoga teacher and repository of useless bits of information on ancient religion, spiritual practices and English grammar. Check out her column “Connections” in Witches and Pagans.


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