Fire! How To Burn Brightly Without Burning Out

Fire is vital, without the sun there would be no light and no life. The element of fire is associated with transformation – whatever is consumed by the fire will be transformed into heat and, eventually, ash.

The digestive process can be thought of as a fire burning in our stomachs, transforming food into energy. Mentally, fire is associated with passion, desire, enthusiasm, ambition and confidence – or at the extreme end: anger and aggression. Most significantly, fire represents the ego, the way in which we present ourselves to the outside world. Fire also represents the ability to love ourselves, the power to bring our dreams into reality, to face challenges and to inspire others.

The modern world is very fiery: competition, power, and the pursuit of wealth often seem to eclipse other values such as compassion and harmony. This leads to an imbalance with people who are struggling to keep up, feeling their inner fire is being extinguished. Some may become depressed and lack motivation and others, through the process of over-compensation, become aggressive and filled with greed. Perhaps it is time to bring the temperature a bit before we all turn into Donald Trump.  

Fire And Self-Worth

Feelings of low-self work are often related to a need to be perfect (in the eyes of oneself or society). This can result in a lot of self-criticism – which makes it difficult to deal with any difficulties that life may throw up. For example, a person may experience an event that causes them to feel angry, instead of dealing with the anger they may then feel shame at having felt anger. So instead of just anger, we now have anger and guilt about being angry. This has taken us one step away from the problem so it makes it harder to solve. This can be thought of as the second arrow, after being shot with an arrow, instead of pulling it out, many of us start to grab more arrows and enthusiastically stick them in ourselves until we end up resembling an emotional porcupine! This process often happens after a difficult life event such as the breakup of a relationship, where feelings of anger, self-hatred, regret and all sorts of other emotions come up – these are the additional arrows we stick into ourselves. In these cases, our inner fire is consuming us as the ego is desperately trying to figure out who to blame (ourselves, other people, God… the list is endless). Ultimately, this only makes the problem worse. The common expression, “trying to fight fire with fire” explains a pointless action – this is exactly what is happening if we try to use the ego to fight problems arising from the ego.

Fire can be destructive, life-giving, or transformational, depending on how we use it. Part of the spiritual journey is to change our attitude to difficult life experiences, seeing them as an opportunity for growth and self-discovery.

Fire And Balance

Sometimes there is a misconception with the spiritual path, that we are aiming to extinguish our fiery egos altogether. This may be possible if you decide to retire to a small cave in the mountains (with no wifi) but not if we wish to carry on living in the world, interacting with other people and making positive changes,. Really we are trying to transform our inner fire into something that serves us instead of consumes us.

In the story of the Buddha, when he first embarked on his journey of spiritual discovery, his burning passion for the truth lead him to carry out many extreme practices – at one stage starving himself nearly to the point of death.  He was doing this in the Hindu aesthetic tradition to try and detach himself from the material world and all the suffering it brings, but in the end he realised that this was not the correct way. The extreme practices are effectively fighting fire with fire; bending yourself into ridiculous postures can fuel the ego, or starving yourself will make you even more attached to food.  He proposed a “middle-way” to achieving liberation. In this path, we do not blindly give in to our desires, but we do not oppress them. Instead we learn to instead see them in a detached, non-judgemental way.

Tapas: Bringing Fire To Life

So how can we harness this inner fire to bring about positive changes? Maybe you have made big plans to change your life, only to find they never materialise into anything (new year’s resolution syndrome). The mind is often so frightened of the prospect of change that it will generate a seemingly endless stream of excuses to keep you in that familiar comfort zone (no matter how uncomfortable it actually is).

In the Hindu tradition, there is the concept of “Tapas”, this is the setting of a passionate intension, an inner fire relating to a certain goal. For example, “I will meditate for 15 minutes every morning for the next 10 days” or “I will not drink alcohol during the week”. It involves generating a burning desire to commit to something new, or free ourselves of an old habit. The spirit of Tapas is, “I will do this no matter what!”, so to carry out the action is not even a choice any more. When setting a Tapas, it is important to be realistic – if you make a commitment that you do not follow through it strengthens the idea that you do not keep to keep promises to yourself, so it will be harder to succeed in the future.

Yoga Poses to balance the Fire Element

  • Backbends like locus and bow pose
  • Poses that work on the strength of the core and legs
  • Twists
  • Reclined hero pose 

There are many fiery Yoga postures that work on opening the naval and the heart, allowing the breath to flow properly into the body. We can practice in an energetic manner, but not so much as to burn us out – as always it is about balance. Some postures to try are:

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