At work, I have a fire pit in winter to stay warm. Working outdoors requires this in the thick of July. It is already lit most of the time when I get there, but often neglected.
One particularly icy morning, I arrived to find a well intentioned stack of wet logs slowly smoking in the morning darkness, embers glowing up the sides. The ground was covered in a white frost.
Frankly, the whole scene pissed me off as I looked out towards the machine operators sitting there, in their heated cabins spending unessesary amounts of diesel – With no work to be done.
The fire was beyond natural help, so naturally I needed to apply unnatural methods. Filling up a large cap full of chainsaw fuel in one hand, struggling to cold start a cigarette lighter in the other I was determined to get this thing going.
Whoosh! It went up with a roar. Feeling satisfied and slightly proud I sat down to warm my numbing fingers – Priority number one when one forgets the gloves.
Almost immediately I fell into a trance, the licking flames drawing my complete focus, my fingers tingling with the sudden shift in temperature. The boundary between the gravity of the emanating warmth and the super chilled atmosphere was so well defined it felt like a solid sphere. My mind was casually wandering in and out of thoughts filled with ancient hominids stoking embers, while others were dancing and drumming around the flames.
After some time, I felt the sphere gently diminishing, having exhausted the volatile fuel source, and without effectively catching onto the damp logs – The fire was reduced back to embers. Square one.
Feeling frustrated at the sudden loss of heat in the ever looming frost, but envigorated by the return of sensation to my fingers I set out towards the far end of the yard to find some dryer fuel. Quickly though, the cold set in.
The pile of old off cuts was my destination, picture hundreds of discarded, greying and decaying logs precariously perched on top of each other. One missed step and the logs will shift, marking a garunteed trip to hospital or worse.
Settling my breath, I began to forage for the smaller, more manageable cuts. Remembering my Yoga, the task felt easy. Present momentness becomes as natural as the breath when there are dire physical consequences. I was lost in the search and as soon as my awareness came to; I had amassed a good pile of choice timber. Because they were cracker dry they were light as clouds, but the nature of their shapes made it difficult to carry all at once. It was a long, dark and cold trudge back to the fire pit, the ground – Muddy and uneven. But I was not going to make two trips, my digits were frozen.
Again, remembering my yoga, I made for the fire, logs stacked in hand. One precarious step at time. Carrying a load like this required an active core and a strong buttocks, since my arms were already frozen, locking them in place was simple enough.
Back at the dying fire, axe in hand, I tore off my high vis sweater and began to chop the logs. It was a race against time as the fire was all but out.
Grabbing handfuls of pine needles and my new fuel source I sat by the fire and went to work. Falling into yet another meditative trance. Warmed internally by the work.
Breath makes fire – The pine needles sparked and sputtered on the last of the embers into small flames from my gentle outbreath. But the pit was crammed full of the damp logs. I felt like a master craftsman, sliding my hand into the depths of the warren to place the dry fuel, only to snap them out as quickly as the flames devoured the new food.
This little fire of mine, had personality. It had a life of its own and as I placed new timber, it responded by either catching a little more with a request for fresh breath, or ignoring my obviously poor placement. It was teaching me to build a fire.
The flames slowly climbed up and out of the tops of the old wood, kissing the icy atmosphere. I could no longer put my arms deep into the hearth, but it wasn’t required. The fire was lit.
I hadn’t even realised it, being lost in the activities, that an hour had past since I set out for the log forage. I had been staring at this fire, without memory or thoughts for all that time. Thouroughly engulfed by the sphere of warmth.
I think of this moment when in utkatasana – I think of fire. How important it is to those who don’t enjoy it’s push button luxury, how important it is to use responsibly by those who do.
Mostly, I think of Agni – The eternal fire within.