The Essence and Lessons of Summer and the Fire Element
(Originally published as a newsletter for The Dragontree Holistic Day Spa)
As the big ball of fire we call the Sun makes its most prominent appearance this time of year, it’s a nice chance to explore the many literal and symbolic ways fire shows up in our lives. Fire was once a god of great esteem in many cultures. These days, with amazing new and sophisticated electronic gizmos everywhere, it’s not often that we stop to marvel at something as simple and primal as fire.
In the elemental systems of India and China, fire represents the peak of activity and outward growth in any cycle. In the cycle of the seasons, summer is the fieriest time of year: The flowers are blooming, the bugs are buzzing, the birds are chirping, the kids are screaming, the ice cream trucks are playing their song over and over, and people are packing their weekends full of recreational activities. Likewise, in our everyday lives, the fire phase of any project is when it reaches its climax of growth and activity.
In the summer season and in the fire phase of life processes, we can benefit from keeping in mind the challenge of the fire element. In Daoist philosophy, each element (water, wood, fire, earth, metal) has its own challenge, lesson, and virtue. Fire is constantly moving and changing, just like life itself. The challenge it is to stay conscious in the present moment.
In the body, the heart is one of the primary organs associated with fire. Through life, the heart continuously tries to remind us to savor the present. It beats out every moment for us, prompting us to be here now… and now… and now… and now… We tend to mentally wander into the past, trying to rewrite or re-live it, and into the future, trying to predict what will happen or fantasizing about a time when everything will be just the way we want it. Meanwhile, the heart struggles to reconcile the huge importance we place on the past and the future with the inescapable fact that right now there is only this very moment which we often barely experience. Heart disease, the number one killer in the U.S., is in many ways a reflection of our departure from living life in the present.
The virtue of fire is called “propriety,” meaning the quality of being appropriate in the every moment. Cultivation of propriety comes from expanding our awareness – allowing ourselves to feel life as much as we think about it. This helps us show up in each situation without resistance, in harmony with whatever is demanded.
Fire is also a symbol of unity. It brings people together – around a campfire or a fireplace. And in the same way that flames are warm and dancing, fire is associated with merriment, laughter, and the exchange of warmth and love between people. Here again, fire’s connection with the heart seems natural, as in expressions like, “warms my heart.” Fire is a phenomenal unifier in a very literal sense too: whatever assortment of things we may throw into it will all become one as ash.
Your homework assignment, if you choose to accept it, is this: for the next week allow the fire in your own heart to be a beacon in the world. Imagine, as you move through your daily exchanges with others, that your heart is open, like a big, beautiful flower. Pouring out of the center of your chest is a radiant, healing, inclusive light. For this week, practice being an ambassador of Love. Whatever unloving stuff the world hurls at you, don’t let it erode your commitment to be a positive force in the world. Imagine that even if they can’t consciously perceive it, you can touch every person you come in contact with by shining your own sun upon them.
Copyright 2006 by Peter Borten. No unauthorized reproduction in any form without permission.