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Transformational Fires

We burned deadfall yesterday. It is the tail end of burning season and as usual winter left us with a lot of excess wood. Some we cut into firewood. The rest – along with whatever lumber is no longer useful around the place – we burn.

Chrisoula and the girls were with the horses, so Jeremiah and I spend the morning talking and working. Lugging branches, stacking logs. Mostly we talked about gaming – Dungeons and Dragons, Elder Scrolls V. Who would win in a fight – Gandalf or Voldemort? That sort of thing. But during one of our breaks – he with his apple juice, me with my tea – he commented on how so much wood could become so little ash so quickly. It was a good point. I hadn’t noticed.

Lately I have been aware of how much I don’t understand. And, along with that, how hard I work to understand. It is as if I face an abyss, frantically trying to define and redefine it. Is it possible that we don’t have to solve every mystery? That awakening might have more to do with acceptance and letting go than with understanding?

The wood we burn is dense and heavy. Some of it needs to be chainsawed. Some we snap over our knees. But we are always aware of it – heavy, rough, long, crooked. It has its own shape, its own texture. It has form. It has a name: red maple, white pine, dogwood, beech and birch.

When we toss it into the flames, that form is utterly consumed. It is no longer what it was just a few minutes earlier. Is that the same as saying it is gone?

Leaning on a shovel and watching the fire, I felt acutely aware not of the wood’s disappearance but of its transformation. It’s important to be careful in saying this. The wood becomes flame and then it becomes ash. It is still there but its form has changed. The wind comes and stirs the fire and lifts little whirlwinds of ash, scattering them over the lawn, all the way to the neighbor’s. What remains we’ll scatter in the gardens, mixed with the soil where – in time – it will be converted to pumpkins and tomatoes and lettuce that we’ll eat.

So you realize then that you are not looking at things so much as at a process – a sort of ongoing transformation of matter into energy, matter into other matter. And you realize that you, too, are part of that process. You are witnessing it not from the outside but from the inside. When your body goes – taking with it your name, your history, your story as you now identify with it – the process in which it has always flowed will not cease flowing. It goes on.

Can we identify with that process? Not as a separated part of it, not as a superior observer, not as poets or aspiring mystics but simply as the process itself? Beyond the many forms that the world assumes is a content that is eternal and unchanging. Is this it? One way to find out – one way to make the necessary contact, have the direct experience – is to pay attention and be present without trying to figure it all out. We didn’t invent the process. It doesn’t need our permission to continue.

Most of the women and men who have shepherded A Course in Miracles through the last five decades have been academic intellectuals. It’s natural in that light to approach the course intellectually, with our brains in the lead. But I am suggesting that our practice can be informed by some other sense, some other guide. Can we set our intellects aside for even a few minutes? Can we feel our way to Heaven?

Yesterday, sitting with the fire, talking with my son, I felt the Holy Presence. I can’t explain it very well. It has do with loving my life as it happens rather than how I wish it had happened or hope it will happen. It has to do with being attentive. You watch the fire. You consider seriously – and debate fiercely – the merits of fiction’s famous wizards. And somewhere in the midst of all that – no warning – you slip into the Heaven that always exists beyond ideas and forms, beyond the reach of the brain and its exaggerated capacity for reason. You are transformed. You go on.

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