The stories of loss and destruction at the hands of uncontrollable bushfires that are coming out of Australia are impossible not to notice these days, even by me, who rarely pays attention to the ‘news’ in the fear-based and manipulative forms in which it is so commonly shared by conventional media. But wherever–you look and even if you don’t look–there is a blazing Fire in our collective midst.
Flames consuming an entire continent, missile-targeted airplanes full of innocent beings turning into raging fireballs in the sky…the list goes on and the blaze begs the question of what we can do in this time of very real burnings. Even our personal lives in the last few years have been the site of devasating fires of betrayal, of pain and of death.
In the Vedic tradition, the Goddess, Kali, is the harbinger of fire. She brings with her the guarantee that all that is not born of and devoted to Truth will be devoured in the heat of her inner fire. And unsurprisingly, this time is actually considered to be the age of Kali, called Kali Yuga, meaning that we are literally living in the age of fire.
We in the West, especially in Canada, often look upon fire through a lens of negativity and avoidance. We have shunned fire in the form of arguments and confrontation that could create temporary discomfort, yet instigate long-term resolution and change. We have looked down upon sexual communion and relegated it to the domain of shame and sin, turning our bodies, especially the female form, into a fiercely coveted prize for our own exploitation. As a collective, we are plagued with issues of sexual frigidity, shame, impotence and infertility. Our beds are not the temples of sacred communion that they could be, but yet another opportunity to be seduced instead by the temporary hits of our iPhones. Our tummies do not burn with the resiliency of a strong digestive fire, called Agni in Ayurveda, and so we suffer from all degree of digestive turmoil, with Canada suffering from the highest rates of Irritable Bowel Disease in the world. We have turned away from the warmth of gathering in community to share, to connect, to drop the rattling of the self-absorbed mind and let it melt into the recognition of shared oneness. We have even forgotten the simple tradition of gathering around the flames of an outdoor fire, as all traditional cultures have done for millennia, where her blazing limbs reach up and out to beckon all to huddle around her kindling heart.
In the contemporary ignorance of our connection to the element of fire–to Ma Kali herself–our hearts have dampened. We see one another as entirely seperate entities, and where there is separation, there is bound to be disinterest, indifference, even disdain. And most dangerously, we have grown so comfortable in our self-erected personal kingdoms of comfort and familiarity, that even God is of no real use to us.
Is it any wonder then, that the great Mother Nature is calling out to us in agony and loving fury, through fire, through disaster, through calamity? What else will slap us out of this dream of personal self-involvement? Perhaps the bushfires, the security alerts, the climbing temperatures and the international threats are Kali’s erupting call for us to return into the flame of the heart and into the warm embrace of each other. Maybe these fires are not asking to be drowned and suppressed; maybe they must be allowed to burn, to take and to leave us with nothing but the essential core of Truth.
We just emerged from a short, but profound silent meditation retreat, and one of our dear friends from the Sangha closed out the weekend with a sharing that brought this blog post to life. He recalled a saying that is often repeated by our guru,
“The barn burned down, and now the sky can be seen.”
Let us drop to our knees in these fiercely potent times, ask how, in this moment, we can serve our brothers and sisters and this Life, and marvel in awe at the majesty that this fire has illumined before our eyes; the vast and unending Love that is the core of this entire Universe and of every single human being.
I will end here with a beautiful excerpt from a book, Sacred Plant Medicine by Eliot Cowan, that I am slowly churning and digesting in these months of winter’s cold. The inspired remembrance that it ignites has brought warmth, tears of relief and a gentle tending to this sacred inner fire.
People from mature societies like the Hopi have some penetrating observations about our own culture. Fred Coyote tells the story of an anthropologist who went to a Hopi elder to record some of his people’s songs:
The old man took him out on the edge of the mesa and he sang a song. The ‘anthro’ was recording and making notes, and he said, “what is that song about?”
The old [Hopi] man said, “Well, that’s about when the kachinas came down into he mountains and then the thunderheads built up around the San Francisco peaks, and then we sing and those clouds come out across the desert and it rains on the gardens and we have food for our children.
And the old man sang him another song. And the “anthro” said, “What was that song about?”
The old man answered, “That was about when my wife goes down to the sacred spring to get water to prepare food for us and to prepare the medicines–because without that sacred spring we wouldn’t live very long.”
And so it went all afternoon. Every time the old man would sing a song, the “anthro” would say, “What’s that about?” And the old man would explain it. It’s about something or other–a river, rain, water.
Eventually this anthropologist was getting a little short-tempered. He said, “Is water all you people sing about down here?”
And the old man said, “Yes,” He explained: “For thousands of years in this country we [Hopi] have learned to live here. Because our need for this water is so great to our families and to our people and to our nations, most of our songs are about our greatest need. I listen to a lot of American music. Seems like most American music is about love.” He asked, “Is that why? Is that because you don’t have very much?”