Fire in the Fireplace
After the long, extended stretch of this year, we are finally entering the season for watching fire in the fireplace.
Where I live this year has brought challenges like heat waves and wildfires along with the pandemic. Our evenings are only now getting cool enough to watch a fire in the fireplace.
It might be my favorite contemplative spiritual practice, though I also enjoy staying in bed to read books.
When people come to me wanting to develop a practice of fireplace watching I recommend they begin with the basics. The two most essential elements of watching a fire in the fireplace are 1) where we will be sitting, and 2) building a fire which will have a long life.
The first step in finding a place to sit is deciding what we want. Some of us prefer to stretch out on a sofa or even on the floor. They often try to incorporate blankets and pillows into their practice.
I see myself as more of a purist in my practice. My preferred place to sit when I watch a fire is in a rocking chair. Rocking helps me find the rhythm of my reflection, and I am less likely to fall asleep.
Building a long-lived fire requires some experience. It is possible to do background research and learn about building a fire, but the skill of fire building comes with practice and experience.
Our fires rely on a combination of fuels, including paper, kindling, and larger pieces of wood. I do not use lighter fluid in my own contemplative fireplace watching practice. As I said, I see myself as more of a purist.
Building and starting a lasting fire may seem like a result of this practice, but it is just the beginning.
A Lasting Practice of Watching Fire in the Fireplace
It can be challenging for some of us to remember our fireplace watching practice priorities. We are not primarily responsible for feeding the fire or keeping it burning at peak efficiency. Poking and prodding the fire is a means to an end, not our most essential task.
Our practice is about sitting, watching a fire in the fireplace, and reflecting. The heat and light with which we are most concerned are spiritual and contemplative, not physical.
We sit, rocking, and settle into the rhythm of reflection. Watching the flames of fire in the fireplace reminds us of the power of spiritual life. We listen, hearing the pop and crackle of the fire.
Fire burns away distractions which draw our attention away from the deep truths within us and all around us.
A fire in the fireplace draws me into itself. Fire is one of my favorite metaphors for spiritual life. It resonates with all of our senses. We smell and taste its smoke and feel its warmth. We hear its sounds and see the flashes of its flames.
Fire in the fireplace is a tool for contemplative reflection. As the fire we have built so carefully and well runs down, it needs our help to continue burning. We pause our rocking to add more fuel to the fire as we continue to reflect.
Each fire we watch lasts long past the time it is finished burning. Watching a new fire reminds me of the fires I have watched before. After I have spent time with this practice I remember the reflections the fire brought out in me.
We feed the fire in the fireplace to keep it burning, and it feeds contemplation within us.
Watching Fire in the Fireplace
Like any contemplative practice, watching fire in a fireplace is about balance. We are not trying to concentrate or pay so much attention to the fire we can remember each movement of its fames. Neither are we using the fire to tranquilize ourselves so we fall asleep.
Watching fire in the fireplace is a way for us to pay unfocused attention. We hope to slow our minds and hearts enough to be open and mindful of each present moment.
Our contemplative practice of fire watching is about allowing ourselves to let go of regrets and expectations. We are not trying to assess our past performance or prepare for the future. Listening and watching, feeling and smelling, we practice being open to spiritual life within us and around us.
Fire watching can be slightly mesmerizing, like any form of meditation. We become open to the life we often take for granted and begin to appreciate it in new ways.
With practice we allow ourselves to recognize the attractive power of spiritual life within us and all around us.
Each time we practice watching a fire in a fireplace we gain experience, insight, and new questions to contemplate.
A Practice of Watching Fire in the Fireplace
Our practice of fireplace watching has many lessons for us to learn. It is impossible to predict exactly what our practice will teach us in the days and months ahead.
Each time I sit down to watch fire in the fireplace is a window to new insights and questions for me. I disengage my analytical mind and give myself time for reflection and contemplation. The fire I watch is a tool for strengthening my reflection.
As we practice over time, we will come to appreciate the fire is a tool, but only a tool. I find I am able to reflect even when a fire is not built particularly well or efficiently.
Our practice will teach us, as helpful as a fire in a fireplace might be, it is not essential. Practicing reflection and contemplation may reveal to us we do not require a fire, a fireplace, or a particular chair to continue our practice.
We can close our eyes and experience a fire in the fireplace even without one in front of us.
How will we develop our practice of watching fire in the fireplace today?
When will we find time to continue our practice of watching fire in the fireplace this week?
[Image by Fallonious Monk]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He has served as an assistant district attorney, an associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.