The title of this post comes from the book, haiku mind, copyright 2008 by Shambala Publications, gathered and edited by Patricia Donegan. The post itself comes from the fact that I can’t get the fire started this morning.
I can’t get the fire started this morning.
I’m on the floor with the dogs, working with the split wood, newspaper, cardboard, kindling and flame. And I can’t get it started.
Can’t get the fire started.
I’m on the floor with the dogs, and when I think about it, it’s an honor to be on the floor with the dogs, just as it’s a privilege, I feel, to have a wood burning stove, not to mention to have the time to slowly go about the act of starting a fire while the rest of the world, or America at least, or maybe just Portland, or maybe just my neighborhood, has gone off to work, to traffic, to load up on their personal octane before their commute.
The fire won’t start.
I have all types of excuses as to why the fire won’t start, and at times like these, when the fire won’t start, I’m good at letting them jangle around inside my skull. Eventually I mix them with air, breathe life into my thoughts and let words fall off my lips in tiny pirouetting grumbles.
The wood is too wet.
There isn’t enough kindling.
I was sick for a month and couldn’t split smaller pieces.
I am on the floor for 20-minutes trying to get the fire started. I decimate a small forest of newspaper plus what little dry kindling I have. I’m left with three semi-scorched logs, each one glowing but their sum total in no way adding up to a solid lasting flame.
So I quit.
Of course I don’t quit quietly.
I remind myself that I’ve wasted 20-minutes on the floor trying to get the fire started, that I could have been writing/reading/editing for 20-minutes rather than trying to get the fire started.
I set the logs back in the stove, stuff paper around them, close the door and walk away, planning to try later.
Then the fire starts.
Which, more than anything, is the reminder I need – and maybe a good many of us need – to be open and not rigid in our pursuits, which is to say to be fluid and flexible.
I close the door and walk away. Then the fire starts.
The reminder that there is no wasting time – sitting on the floor with the dogs could very well be called meditation, and very well IS meditation.
The concept of being present is within the very notion of setting the wood in the stove, preparing the paper and kindling and striking the match.
Presence is in the practice of starting the fire.
When I remove the expectation of the result – a fire – from the act of starting the fire, I return to being present. I move through “I want the fire to start” to “The fire will not start” to “The fire is not starting” to “I can’t start the fire” to what actually happens:
The fire starts.
The notion of “wasting time” is actually a wasted idea that literally strips the act of sitting on the floor with the dogs, setting the wood in the stove, readying the paper and striking the match from any and all meaning.
Suddenly I am perpetrating an action for an intended result, and when the result doesn’t happen “in a timely fashion”, I decide I have “wasted time”. I consider what else “I could have done” with my time.
To be present is to sit on the floor, to build, to let the fire come.
And the fire does arrive. Ten-minutes later, it burns soundly.
Have I done anything?
To be present in all things is an easy message to forget. To turn this around to writing: Perhaps my reason for being here in this lifetime isn’t so much about writing or being/becoming a writer as much as it is about learning presence through the practice of writing.
Perhaps the goal of all lifetimes is to learn presence.
Sitting there watching the fire, a haiku rises with the flame.
twenty-minutes of waiting
the fire catches
when I walk away