FAST WISDOM™ NEWSLETTER
By Lonner Holden
The Baseline of Humility: Lighting One's Own and Other's Uniqueness
I am at an international nature and community connection organizational retreat in the Santa Cruz Mountains. As one of the event team members caring for the container of the gathering, one of my duties is to tend the fire. It’s early morning and last night’s coals are cold. I must start from scratch.
No problem. My pocket knife to make a handful of fine shavings organized in a tiny spacious pile, one match and - presto! a fire will begin to be built upon with increasingly larger sticks, branches and logs in this windless, indoor fireplace. Five minutes max.
After a long struggle of failed attempts, a half-hour passes and no flame. I slow down, my frustration smoothing into perplexity; into resignation; into humility; into a question: I have built hundreds of fires, but what am I doing wrong now?
I notice how my assumptions, based on history, has masked my perceptions of this fire; how I have typically treated every fire pretty much the same. But I have never before started a fire with shavings of madrone - a dry, dense wood which is new to me for fire-making that can burn a long time, so not burn quickly. Not the best fire-starter kindling.
I had been imposing my assumptions and “do-it-now” agenda on this fire, not paying attention to its unique particulars. So I slow way down and “listen” to this fire - its qualities, location - what it needs to ignite.
When animal tracking, there is the observation of the smooth, undisturbed ground and where the ground is disturbed. Undisturbed ground providing the baseline for perceiving ground disturbed by an animal in some way. Tracking this fire, I finally observe how I was disturbing the ground with my projections and, therefore, unable to perceive the fire’s baseline - what its neutral place is from where building and starting it must begin. To do so, I needed to find my own inner “fire baseline” - a sense of calmness where I could see what the fire needed, given what was actually available, independent from my expectations or projections.
I looked around, found some fast burning pine 2X4 scraps and in a minute had a handful of pine shavings. I laid them spaciously out two crossways on top of two, etc. Then some madrone shavings on top of those. All the while retaining a calm, receptive state, attentive and with a sense of service to the fire, as contrasted to my earlier sense of the fire serving me. In minutes the fire came alive, growing stronger with larger sticks, then logs to burn well into the evening that day.
Fire has a life energy of its own. It gives life, takes life, so is powerful. It asks for its sovereignty to be respected. We don’t control the Sun, do we? Only its light with mirrors and prisms and curtains. When asked “What is fire?” by a third grader, Buckminister Fuller replied, “Fire is the energy from the Sun unwinding from a log.”
So here I was, being humbled by a great force of nature stored quietly in wood, unwilling to kneel to me when that force is what gives me life, light and warmth. The baseline of humility allowed me to serve the fire as it required honoring.
As the same Sun unwinds from every tree, bush and woody thing, so every fire asks to be served according to its unique properties. The same life-giving fire burns in every heart, but every person is best served by us when we assume our “Mary”, “Tom”, “Daniel”, “Elizabeth” baseline - listening to, and attending to who they uniquely are, just like the woody things have their unique qualities. The fire can look the same, but require a completely new way to see what it takes to come alive.
I was mentored by madrone and fire that morning. Since then, my own and other’s uniqueness has become more vivid. To quip on Robert Frost’s phrase: “It’s all in how you say the thing” - with each other, it’s also in how we light each other.
PICK OF THE MONTH: The Origins of Baseline Awareness in San Bushmen culture: The Origins Project