One summer many years ago I went camping and for two months slept in a tent, peed in the woods and cooked over an open fire. There was no refrigerator, no bathroom, no running water. It was a memorable experience. When you have to build a fire before you can eat, cooking itself becomes a very meaningful process.
You have to have enough dry wood, both small pieces for kindling, and medium and large pieces to keep the fire going. You have to structure your firewood appropriately so that the spark can catch and the air can circulate easily. Once the fire is lit, it needs to be watched, fanned, poked and stirred, and new fuel added when needed. When the fuel has turned to coals, you are ready to cook.
As you can imagine, there were many false starts at the beginning. I had to learn about green wood and wet wood, soft wood and hard wood, the best shape to stack the kindling, how to fan the fire and how to be frugal with matches and lighters. At first, starting a fire was challenge, a labor, a problem to be solved.
But one day I had a small epiphany and the thought came into my head – the nature of fire is to burn. I thought about fire and what was needed. I had to have the appropriate fuel (dry enough and dense enough), I had to have the right amount of air (not too much or too little) and I had to have the initial spark.
If all three of these ingredients were present, fire was not only possible but inevitable. Why? Because the nature of fire is to burn. When the proper conditions are met, fire would be. The simple sentence had lifelong ramifications. If I could understand the ‘nature’ of something, I could understand its propensities and trajectory. I would have control of a sort over it.
Fire is a living thing that seeks self-expression. It is found in the bowels of the earth and the nucleus of the sun. It is primal spirit and is part of everything – from the tiniest atom to the greatest star, from an amoeba to a man. The same life spark that is in a distant star is in the cells of your heart.
Fire also has a unique and awful power – the power to transmute. It takes matter, breaks the atomic bonds that bind it together, and releases the light and heat that has been held within, perhaps for millennia.
It is no wonder that all of the primitive and ancient religions and philosophies have held fire as one of the four primal elements, and often times an expression of the Divine itself. Fire is to the spirit, as air is to the intellect, earth is to the physical and water is to the emotions. These elements are the Platonic counterparts of manifestation.
My insight into the nature of fire, prompted me to other analogies and questions. For example, the nature of fish is to swim, of birds to fly, of cats to hunt. I will not belabor the point because the comparison can be superficial, but it did lead me to ponder, if the nature of fire is to burn, what is the nature of man. What does man do that is uniquely his own.
I believe that the nature of man is ‘to reflect,’ a word whose original meaning is to bend back. I do not want to describe that reflection as ‘thinking’ for I see repetition, shallowness, self-centeredness and limitation in what is commonly referred to by those mental processes. But I do believe there is a higher level of thinking in which man ‘bends back’ his experience of life and creates the capacity for wonder, awe, appreciation, insight, creativity and wisdom. It is that which makes man unique.
I often hear people asking ‘what is my purpose in life?’ as if there was a unique job description that only they could fill; a purpose that would give meaning and definition to their lives. I don’t think the answer is that specific. I believe the purpose of life is to be, to exist, to enjoy, to experience.
All of life is an expression of Energy/God/All That Is and there is nothing that Life/God needs. By definition, God needs nothing, not even worshippers. There is nothing absent or lacking that we, as individuals, need to fulfill or complete to make Life more whole. We are here for reasons of joy, not to labor or do penance or learn. This is not meant to be a school but a playground.
Fire needs fuel, air and a spark to burn. What are the conditions that man’s nature needs? An openness to love, a capacity for gratitude and the humility to surrender to Life. Mankind’s capacity for reflection provides the material universe with a higher consciousness. Through reflection we can not only connect with each other but with all of creation.
We do not need to look for the missing link of evolution; we are the missing link. Perhaps we are angels in training. One day we may all join hands and walk together out of this reality into another. That may be the day some call the Ascension, a time when all of creation will rejoice as one and give birth to a truly cosmic body.