Into the Fire

All Hallow’s Eve is upon us, dear readers. Tomorrow is All Hallow’s or All Saints Day, and the following day All is Souls or (in Latin America) the Day of the Dead. A symbolically deep and rich time. It is also the time of the ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain (an Irish source has the pronunciation sow-en) who understood it to be a thin time—a time when the boundary between living and dead is very thin.

Fittingly, this is also the weekend in North America when we set the clocks back, the better to revel in the dark time, the season of S.A.D. or seasonal affective disorder. Ready or not, it is a weekend when we can’t help but contemplate death and transformation. Here are some thoughts that may come in handy. In the celebration Samhain, bonfires played an important role. Individual fires were put out and new fires lit from flaming boughs taken from a huge communal fire. The great American wise man and comedian Louis C.K. sheds a contemporary light on how liberating and strengthening it can be to douse your own light and join the greater collective fire:

“It’s not your life, it’s life. Life is bigger than you.
Life isn’t something that you possess. It’s something that you take part in
And you witness.”

There’s more. In some accounts of Samhain, there was a second bonfire with a second purpose. People walked through the fire for purification. According to many great teachers in many traditions we are meant to walk through fire not just look at it or toast marshmallows from a safe distance. We are meant to give ourselves completely to life.

“When you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself,” taught Zen master Shunryu Suzuki

According to the female saint and visionary Julian of Norwich sin is “behoovely “or necessary because it is within the sensuality of the body, within a life fully lived, that God wishes to dwell.

And finally, words from the Irish poet Galway Kinnell, who died a few days ago: “…for a man, as he goes up in flames, his one work is to open himself, to be the flames.”

Burn, babies.

2 thoughts on “Into the Fire

  1. > Often, I’ve had the haunted sensation at the end of a busy day that I didn’t do what I meant to do, and that I didn’t really mean what I did.

    A view. Every day that the self doesn’t burn completely, the day’s activity leaves a dross, a residue of undigested impressions, perhaps amounting to a haunted sensation. The unpleasant haunted sensation is for me, a sensate message from the organism. It tells me that as I went about a busy day I simply haven’t had the proper balance of sensation in it. If I then get caught up in thought, its unpleasantness will probably intensify. That is, the organism sends a more urgent message. If I instead connect with sensation, it will probably dissolve the haunted sensation. It is the connection to sensation, going about the day that burns the self either more or less, and leaves more or less dross that requires a further dissolving at the end of the day. In our effort to open to sensation, it helps to first turn thought back, to break it, interrupt it. Those who went before, in every tradition knew this and left us many sayings to facilitate transition between inner states. ‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof’, addresses this. Modern life requires us to attend the leaves and branches of the tree such that we fail to attend the root. To come down from them is to take no thought; to turn from thought and back to the source is to understand.

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