Flying Into the Fire

It’s hard to remember that awakening can take place in that moment when you are in pieces and overwhelmed.   The work of awakening takes place in that wild interval of not knowing.

“Those times, when you absolutely cannot get it back together, are the most rich and powerful times in our lives,” teaches contemporary Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön.   In such moments we look at life and ourselves in a kind of detached wonderment–and sometimes we are met by another kind of awareness that seems to take mercy on us—a free attention from another level.  It can feel as if we are being seen and embraced by a higher consciousness that is there all the time (inside and outside) only we are too caught up in our little world to notice.  Madame de Salzmann called it a “look from above.”  At certain moments, we are joined by this attention in our efforts.

In the “Burning World” issue of Parabola, Rafe Martin retells “The Brave Little Parrot,” a traditional Buddhist Jataka tale—or past life story of the Buddha.   Here is my retelling of his retelling:   A little grey parrot lived in a green forest.  One day a storm sparked a fire that set the forest ablaze.  The little parrot reacted in the usual way, flying away to safety.  Yet because of her past efforts and many other factors in her conditioning, she couldn’t forget the sight of the trees and animals that couldn’t escape.   When she reached a river where many of the other animals were huddling, she didn’t fly on to safety.  She dipped her wings in water and flew back to the burning forest to shake a few drops on the blaze.  The other animals thought her effort was ridiculous, pathetic—such a tiny effort against such an out-of-control fire.  But she flew back again and again. Finally, her brave effort attracted the gaze of a god—who wept at her sincerity (or in other versions banged clouds together and made it rain).  With this special help from above, the fire is put out.

At certain moments in life, we cannot deny our suffering.  At certain moments we see all the way down to root of it—that we are limited and usually in ignorance of the forest in which we dwell.   We spend our time and efforts desperately wanting things to be other than they are, blind to immense fact of our conditioning—we live in an inextricable web of causes and conditions, just like that parrot in the forest.   Yet sometimes, instead of trying to fly away and relieve our suffering as quickly as possible—we dip our wings in the living water of understanding.  We turn back and bring the cool water of understanding to our situation.  And sometimes making the brave effort to be in the fire—to see and feel the heat of our situation– attracts help from above.  It might even attract help from below—or transform the way we look at our lives.

“If you are working inwardly, Nature will help you,” taught G.I. Gurdjieff.  “For the man who is working, Nature is a sister of charity; she brings him what he has need of for his work.”    From the perspective of awakening, a forest fire is not a calamity but a crisis that brings the ultimate healing, liberation from suffering.

And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles,
no matter how long,
but only by a spiritual journey,
a journey of one inch,
very arduous and humbling and joyful,
by which we arrive at the ground at our feet,
and learn to be at home.
―Wendell Berry: “A Spiritual Journey”

Whatever inspiration is, it’s born from a continuous “I don’t know.”
―Wisława Szymborska from her Nobel Lecture: “The Poet and the World,” 1996

9 thoughts on “Flying Into the Fire

  1. Tracy, I have been reading so much the past two weeks on Buddhism and spent part of the weekend listing to Pema Chodron (book on CD) that your post arrives at the precise moment when I could actually understand. :) I am currently reading Chogyam Trungpa (Meditation in Action) AND James Hillam (Senex & Puer). Thank you :)

  2. I am a new painter, inspired by the wonderful Flora Bowley and her online class Bloom True, Brave Intuitive You. Last week I began a painting that morphed into something that looked like fire. On the side of the painting a bird emerged when I was simply making strokes with my fingers. It looks a bit like a hawk to me, not a parrot. I had no conscious reason for painting this. I was simply playing and letting my intuition guide me. After stepping back and laughing at what I saw (a bird flying into fire), I aptly named it: Flying Into The Fire.

    This morning, I was awakened early by my own internal fire (hot flashes) at 4:30 a.m. so I arose and piddled around the house, went out to the garden to pick my morning ration of spinach, beet tops, and collards, and then came into my studio to sit and look at my most recent painting. I heard a little voice say, look up “Fly Into the Fire” on the internet and see what you find.

    And here you are. With the perfect story for my life and my painting. I am a bodyworker and have been for 20 years. I have both literally and figuratively experienced fire throughout my life. Much childhood and adult abuse that I have worked through, healed and found peace in. Two years ago, my home also burned to the ground, allowing me a freedom to move to Oklahoma with my fiance and live a simple, grounded life on 120 acres which takes me back to my farmer’s daughter roots.

    I feel like I fly into the fire every day with my few drops of water to a community of souls who need the healing that I received through the years. I know some of my efforts evaporate along the way, but I also know that many of these droplets are accumulating and bringing nourishment and comfort to many.

    Thank you for this message. Thank you wise spirits for leading me here.

    Blessings to you.

    1. Thank for sharing this extraordinary story. The spirit moves in mysterious ways. Blessings, Tracy

  3. Being in recovery and also an avid hiker Wendell Berry’s words resonated on so many levels.
    I ran away from me for 30 years and drowned all feelings. Today I just feel so grateful to be able to sit with me and to appreciate life and all it’s many facets-joy, sorrow, mediocrity!
    Loved the article.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.