Not long ago there had been a vibrant me, fiery and brave, who made more mistakes than average and needed no excuse to start anew after each failing. My fiery soul was often unable to show kindness to both others and myself. Awareness is the key to change, and there is the temptation to shove this honest-to-a-fault persona out the door in the rush to be a different me, to align with values of minimalism and judiciousness. But awareness invites contemplation, a slowing of pace to appreciate the beauty of being on fire as well as cooling the fires with other aspects of myself.
Fire has been a theme in my life for as long as I can remember, some of my earliest memories are of campfires, bonfires, watching my father with an arc welder, and everyone I run into would use a fire metaphor to describe my, well, fairly volatile nature.
How might the fire that burns within be stoked? The very first answer I came to is that in order to keep my soul alight I need material to consume. Fire consumes, and this is not a failing. We are often faced with the image of consumption as necessarily evil: headlines of flash on about the glories of minimalism and the horrors of consumption. Lost in the fervor is the dance between being alive- and thus consuming resources- and death. Our fear of death can drive us towards asceticism as a virtue above all else. But asceticism for its own sake might be just as soul-damaging as rampant gorging. The act of refusing to take in, to use up fuels self-righteousness that separates us from our life as a natural animal. On the other hand, of course mindless consumption is not nourishment but simply another way to hide from being conscious of our deeper needs.
To be clear I am not advocating for perfection, or even temperance. This is the work of being human, and that means it will be messy and swing from extremes at times. Balance is a goal suited best to the professional tight-rope walker, though it is often touted as the route to true happiness. I suggest instead that we look into the elements for what they evoke in us- where does fire show up in my life, in my childhood or now? What of water? If we sat in a circle and shared our answers they would be shockingly different in ways hard to imagine from behind our screens miles apart. Ask yourself, what does earth mean to me? Do I want more of it in my life now? Or, if air could speak, what would it say about me?
This is an exercise in coming to know ourselves as messy, real, embodied humans, there are no right answers- not even better answers—just self-awareness—a few moments of self-care in the form of reflection. I encourage you to write one of these questions on a page and answer it in a few sentences. If you dislike writing, use the voice recorder in your smart phone. Date it, come back to it at the next new year and see which element is most present for you then, reflect on how the wildness of life has changed you in the time past.