I used to wake up to a forest fire in my mind every day.
Immediately upon waking the fire would start. Whatever peace that had graced the forest during the night was abruptly disrupted by the shame, guilt, fear, and anxiety-ridden thoughts that had become just part of my mental routine.
These are the mind fires.
Mind fires are the mental arguments you have with the people you resent or disagree with.
Mind fires are the constant self-abusive and berating thoughts.
Mind fires are the worrying, fearful thoughts that speed through your mind with reckless abandon causing your heart to race equally as fast.
Like regular fires, mind fires can spread rapidly with zero regard for whatever is in their path.
I remember vividly that for years that the very first waking thought would create a knot in my chest, pain radiating across my back, and pressure on the sides of my head.
Several years back I was rooming with one of my best friends and he made a comment to me one day that caught me totally by surprise.
“Are you okay?”
“You’ve taken like 30 deep breaths in the last 5 minutes.”
He was right and I was totally unconscious of it. They were so loud and frequent he could hear them in the other room. Those big breaths were me trying to get some air in the midst of all the smoke ( I was living in California at the time so there was non-figurative smoke involved as well.)
I also used to pace incessantly to settle the fires. I used to indulge in numbing behaviors to ease the inflammation of the mind fires (pun intended.) None of it helped.
And I would wake up once again with the dread of having to deal with them over, and over, and over again.
Mind fires, just like regular fires rip out all the oxygen in the room making it impossible to breathe. So much so that you have to take suck down a massive deep breath every few seconds to save your mind from combusting.
They are stress-inducing thoughts and mental patterns. These stressful thoughts are a major cause of inflammation. There is a heap of research that proves that this inflammation is a direct cause of many major diseases.
Disease that I have experienced firsthand as a result of these uncontrollable and self-destructive thoughts.
However, what I have learned in my journey of healing, mindfulness, and self-mastery is how to put out these fires. And it’s not exactly how you think.
You put out the fire by not putting out the fire
This sounds like some paradoxical ancient proverb (and it may as well be) but let me explain.
It’s normal and instinctual to put out fires. If there is a physical fire in your kitchen right now you’re gonna put the fire out or call the fire department. IF there is a forest fire, the fire department will immediately do whatever it can to stop it with water or fire retardant.
We all learned at some point when we were young how to “stop, drop, and roll” in the instance we were ever on fire.
Fire is dangerous. Fire makes things burn to the ground. Fire makes things go boom (see: Looney Tune’s bombs.) In our mind when we see a fire, we run to put it out. We attack the fire. We engage with it.
This is a mistake.
For one, fires of the mind exist in an enclosed space: your head. They naturally die down when there is no more oxygen left to feed them.
Imagine every breath you choose to give them, only makes them larger, stronger, and more destructive.
Fire is the force of pure energy manifest. Our breath, our prana, as it is known in Yoga, is our life force. Our energy.
When we stop giving this fire our attention, our voice, our energy, our oxygen, our breath; then they slowly sizzle down to a *snap* *crackle* and POOF. smoking slowly into nothingness. There is nothing for it to feed on.
This is the essence of a mindfulness meditation practice. This is why it takes so much practice to get into deep meditative states. We are learning to sit still in the middle of a forest fire.
When I’m running around trying to attend to each fire in an unwinnable war, the “right” thing to do, is to do nothing. To just sit, and let them go out. Which again, seems counterintuitive.
But the more you engage, the more you give in to the fear, shame, anger that the fire is triggering in you, the bigger it becomes. The flaming wall of fear-based thoughts seems insurmountable and we feel even more defeated for not being able to put it out.
After the fires go out
What’s left after the crackling and humming fires have sizzled down to their last spark, is darkness. Is silence.
And maybe, just maybe, subconsciously we felt comfortable with the fires there.
Maybe we would rather something be there, even if it is a raging fire that threatens to burn down the whole village.
After all, fire does provide light. And when there is no light we are left to contend with the darkness, a place of unknowns.
I can tell you that’s where the “answers” are, where you’ll find wisdom. But those are just words. It’s only really meaningful when you sit in that space for yourself. When you sit in your own darkness.
The next time you notice a fire starting in your mind. See if you can refrain from putting out the fires. No matter how large and destructive those plumes become. No matter how much fear you feel. No matter how strong the urge is to react to them.
If you can restrain yourself from engaging, you’re making the conscious choice to separate yourself from the fires, and the stories they tell.
Instead, I ask you to close your eyes and relax. Invite the stillness and darkness. Invite what you know comes after the fires have died. The ash and dust create fertile soil in which new growth can occur.
It is in the void where there is space for the wisdom you seek to make itself known.