Namaste, y’all!

How many times have we heard the phrase “fight fire with fire”?  Usually, in a movie, it is said right before the action really gets going and the hero gets busy giving the “bad guy” an overdose of his or her own medicine.  It is very dramatic, and speaks to that part of us our culture has convinced needs to be hard, tough, and even ruthless in order to triumph over adversity, or even sometimes just to survive.  But how many of us really think about where the term came from and what it really means?

Fighting fire with fire comes from the practice begun by settlers in North America during the first half of the 19th century of protecting their property from wildfires by setting smaller, controlled “back fires” nearby to rob the wildfire of fuel and thus keep it away.  Because they lacked effective firefighting equipment, however, the back fires often got out of control and caused as much or more damage as the wildfire would have.  Nevertheless, the technique worked and is still employed by firefighters today, (who still sometimes lose control of the back fires even with modern tools and equipment).

It is important to understand that when you set a back fire, you are destroying something in the hope of preventing further destruction.  It is a sacrifice. Plants and animals will die. When we set a back fire in our lives to keep out destructive influences, hardening our hearts to the suffering we must cause, closing our minds to alternative solutions that might involve compromise, and adopting a ruthless determination to achieve our goals, we destroy precious parts of ourselves.  Sometimes, like with some some forests, they will grow back with time and enough rain, but often they will not, and there will always be the charred remains of precious parts of ourselves that can never be the same again. There can be times, more rare than our culture would have us believe, in which a back fire is necessary.  However, the truth is a back fire is not required if enough water can be brought to bear on the wildfire in time.  Water, not fire, is the best way to fight fire.

If the actions coming from a hard heart, closed mind, and ruthless ethic are fire then actions coming from a generous heart, open mind, and ethic of compassion are water.  It is not an easy thing in our culture to respond to an offense with compassion.  Our first reaction is, depending on our natures, either confrontation or avoidance, (or sometimes a confuse mixture of both).  But think of it this way, the offense is a spark from someone else’s fire.  If we avoid, we deny both fuel and water to them and the situation, leaving the fire to catch whatever fuel it finds elsewhere but not really helping to put it out. If we confront, we are starting a bit of a back fire of our own, showing them there is no fuel for their fire here, but in the process we are, to some extent, burning ourselves for them.  A better response, though much more difficult, is to respond with compassion and caring. We cannot always put out their fire, but even as a fine mist can keep embers from spreading a wildfire, and a soaking rain can leave a forest too wet to burn, we can keep the fire from spreading into our own inner woodlands without having to sacrifice the precious parts of ourselves that keep us living lives of lush, verdant growth.

How do these wildfires get started in the forests of our psyche anyway?  What puts us in such danger of succumbing to their threat that we even think setting a back fire in our inner lives is a good idea?  Well, if a hard heart, closed mind, and ruthless ethic make a forest fire, then a complicated life is the tangled underbrush and isolation and fear are the drought conditions that make our inner woodlands tinder-dry and ready to go up with a single spark.

We need plenty of water to keep our inner woodlands moist and growing and resistant to fire. We need the regular gentle rains of kindness and compassion from friends and family, the occasional soaking thunderstorms of love and passion from our loved ones, and even the passing light showers of friendliness from strangers and co-workers. We also need the rivers, lakes, and streams provided by involvement in community efforts based on compassionate action.  They flow in many directions, lie in many valleys, and all have different purposes, but they all help to replenish our own waters by calling on us to add ours to theirs.

You might be thinking, “Wait, that sounds crazy! How can I get more of something by giving it away?”  You’d be right if you were the sole, isolated source of the energy of love and compassion you have to share, but that is not the case.  Your time and physical energy are finite resources, and can limit your ability to act, but love is infinite.  Each of us is more than connected to the ultimate source of love in the Universe, our very inner essence we call a soul is but a concentrated point in the infinite and all-encompassing field that is the Divine nature of what some call God.  If we take no other truth from the teachings of the Christian faith, we must cling to this, that God is love.  By acting with compassion, alone or with others, we can become channels for the power of God, opening ourselves to receive from the limitless aquifer of Divine love as we are manifesting it to others.  Never fear that you will run out of the water of compassion and not be able to replenish it.  The well of Divine love never runs dry.

It is important to recognize, however, that while there is always enough love, there is not always enough us.  Regardless of the ultimately infinite nature of our souls, our bodies and minds have limits. It is these physical manifestations of ourselves that allow us to act instead of just be.  Every act of compassion in the world requires the use of our minds and bodies. Even if we know the physical world of separate identities is an illusion, it is an illusion we must respect.  We must not fail to act compassionately to our everyday selves, so that they may be fitting and useful tools to perform acts of compassion to others.  Thus, we may need to set limits, not out of a lack of compassion, but out of a lack of physical or mental energy, or simply because in the temporal world, acts take time and time itself as measured by the clock is finite.  So yes, sometimes we must close the access gates to our inner forests and tend to their welfare.  Do not think you are doing less than you should for others by doing some for yourself.  If you let your forest go dry by not letting the rain in, always putting it off while you are busy, you will soon be unable to resist going up in flames. They call it “burnout” for a reason!

Respect the sacrifices of those who have set back fires in their inner woodlands during times of extreme danger, be compassionate to them and do what you can to help them heal. Keep your own forests well-watered and surround yourself with others who will let a little of their rain fall your way, and keep the spring of infinite love from the Divine All flowing by clearing out the debris that may limit your ability to receive that which has no limit in ability to give.  And the next time you feel the urge to fight fire with fire, reach for the water instead.

Blessed be,