Water & Fire
Friday, March 14th, 2014
It’s been raining. We’ve had the wettest two months on record and the mildest winter for decades. In Highland Maya mythology of Chiapas where I trained as a Maya healer, the Earthlord’s twin daughters are the rainmakers – they spin clouds of wool on their looms in a cave under the mountains which seep out through crevices in the rock then float up to the sky. These puffy woollen clouds are then impregnated by the fire-striking lightening God, and rain falls to Earth. They must have been working overtime for us to have had so much of the stuff. Rivers swelled and burst, fields and valleys flooded and the rain rained on regardless, over the flood plains and in through doorways and windows. Since water moves from high to low, if you are lying low, water will find you. The river Darent in Kent burst its banks for the first time since 1967 and found its way into our sweat lodge, completely submerging the field it sits in. The pile of wood we had built for the fire sat marooned in a lake for weeks and we sat and watched and waited.
When we look at the elements and their interplay in our lives we can see that they are capricious; they are always changing and mixing – one into the other and back again. Earth supports, water flows and cools, fire ignites, wind allows for growth and it all has to happen somewhere – the limitless expanse of space. We can’t control the external elements in nature although we do affect them with our actions. Whether we deforest or reforest, pollute or purify, consume or conserve, we are continually relating to the elements and affecting the ecosystems, air and water supply, weather patterns and climates in which we live. When we examine the relationship of the elements within ourselves we discover the same processes at work. Imbalances and disturbances within our psycho-emotional states and physical bodies reflect these dynamic conflicts between fire and water, air and earth. Although we can’t control these deep energetic patterns and beat them into submission by force of will, we can learn to work with them and bring them into a gradual state of balance, through practice, discipline and awareness.
Whilst water brings the dynamic quality of movement and fluidity into our lives, as the recent excessive rain has shown, it can also flood us out entirely if it becomes too dominant. Although we began with something positive – a happy flowing river – we ended up with stagnation – a lake in which nothing could move. Fire, on the other hand moves from low to high – Earth to Heaven – it is the creative spark which bursts into flame and burns upwardly and outwardly through everything – obstacles and forests alike, indiscriminately. Water extinguishes fire; fire heats water. Balance means bringing the two together, into a state of mutual benefit where one element helps the other along. As I was musing on this water-fire impasse, the wind came to the rescue in the form of a mini-tornado and swiftly evaporated the lake sitting in the field and our sweat lodge rose from its water prison, triumphantly. We lit the fire and it burned through the soaking wood, slowly heating the rocks for our steam bath and soon we were back inside the lodge, throwing water on fire and making steam, thawing out our emotions and warming our hearts in preparation for spring.
In the Maya tradition, fire is the great transformer of negativity and illness, as it burns through the dampness and in the body and stagnation in the heart and mind. It’s warmth and compassionate quality spread through the channels to help untwist the knots, soften hearts made cold through repression of unprocessed emotion and brings the body back into a vital and energetic state. Fire illuminates darkness and clarifies confusion. It shines light on our obstacles and gives us the necessary strength and inspiration to burn through them. Practices that help develop fire include sweat lodges, fire ceremonies and dark retreats. The meditation practice of inner fire focusses on drawing fire energy through the channels with the breath. This is similar to the Tibetan practice of tummo where practitioners sit in snow and dry wet towels solely with the heat of their bodies. As part of my training in Mexico, I spent a long periods in nature exposed to the elements, in order to develop inner fire, which is imperative to burn through negativity in the physical and non-physical realms.
Whichever tradition we come from we are all working with the same five elements. Our everyday experience provides us with the basic ground to examine the nature of our excesses and deficiencies, destructive and inspiring qualities and transmute them into healthy expressions of our basic goodness as human beings. Just how we work with the elements is up to us, but it’s important to accept what we are and start from where we are. That’s when and real healing can begin, with openness and honesty. We can use the raw material of what’s already here – our emotions, relationships, sunshine and rain, water and fire. Nothing needs to be rejected – depression, fear, anguish and aggression are all part of our energy force which we can work with. Maybe it will keep on raining for a while longer and we can discover the surrendering quality of water or maybe its time to set alight to new projects and relationships this spring for the harshness of winter is about to fade and the promise of summer is not far away.