The Magic of the Fire Ceremony


by Josh Flaherty, AR Guide & Director of Business Development at Adventure Recovery

I am out in the field, backpacking with a fellow guide — my mentor in fact — and receive a call with news from my past that I thought and hoped was out of my life. Instinctually, I reel with anxiety and fear. In addition, my brain quickly spins hundreds of nightmare scenarios in a matter of seconds.  “Build a fire,” my mentor tells me, “right there on the ridge line.”  Still in a bit of an anxious daze I take out my starter kit and begin to work. I separate the lines of rope twine into a nest of singular strands, whittling tiny pieces of birch bark, adding the charcloth to the nest. Finally, when my bundle is ready, I strike the flint on steel to catch the spark to start the fire. Without realizing it, the attention and focus I use to start the fire has taken my mind completely off of the phone call and I have come back to a place of relative calm. 

Being in nature and employing primal tools (such as calling fire) have the unique and unparalleled ability to bring calm and focus. Be here now — be in this moment, in this place, at one with the outdoors.  Beyond that, the power of fire has the ability to provide relief. The cleansing flames relieve us of whatever is poisoning us in the moment. And then, flames reignite our spirit and drive to move forward.

Fire Ceremony: The Ritual of Letting Go

In ceremony, I place a small piece of wood in the fire and I offer up, speaking aloud, my fear, my anxiety, my need to control, and my pain from this past situation. Letting it all go. The act of offering my worries to the fire is a willingness to trust beyond my control. Furthermore, I am relinquishing my need to know. In offering, we are willing to go with the flow of universal order. Fanning myself and covering my body in the fire’s smoke, I again say aloud that I am taking with me wisdom, courage, and serenity from the ancestral wisdom of the fire. In this simple ceremony I am healing. I am tending to myself, nurturing my well-being. This is nature at work.

We hike out and I bring with me the knowledge fire provides. The ability to be in the moment, with the ebb and flow. The wisdom of letting go and offering pain to the fire, the power greater than myself. I dive into dealing with the situation at hand, and hardly if ever worry or waiver in the belief that all would work out for the best.

Fire Ceremony … at the Office

The truth is, it is rare that our problems arise when we are physically out in the woods and have the ability to use a literal fire ceremony on the spot.  Most of the times we are at the office or at home and that nightmare email or phone call comes along. What do we do then? We can’t build a fire in the office, er at least we shouldn’t (we’ll save that for the zombie apocalypse). However, if one has the experience of being out in nature and participating in a fire ceremony, one can internalize the ceremony and connect back to its power at any place or time. Slow down, come back to focus, being in the moment. Cast into the fire that which damages us, and then take what is needed to successfully move forward. This practice can all be done anywhere. It is a mental and spiritual practice. But the connection to the original ceremony is crucial. Therein lies one of a thousand examples of how a connection to nature and the outdoors can solve whatever situation modern life throws at us. It’s simple and it’s all around us.

Everyone faces times and situations in life when a problem (often something from the past) rears its head from out of nowhere and throws a thunderbolt of havoc into the seeming serene present day. This can happen in our personal or professional life and both carry their unique set of terrifying consequences as we play scenarios out in our heads of what the future might bring. It can create a level of anxiety that shakes us to our core. What do we do?  How do we handle this? Will we get through it? It is in times like these that I turn to the tools (both physical and emotional) of the fire ceremony; in gratitude. Get outside.

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