The Freedom of Fire


Yesterday morning seven of us sat around a fire.  A cast iron dutch oven hung, steaming from a metal tripod over the flames of a smaller fire next to it.  With soup bubbling, and reassuring warmth, we discussed the subject of anxiety, during a relaxation session led by a volunteer.

As people shared their intimate stories and experiences I wondered once again about the mysterious ability of fire to dissolve social barriers.  How does this happen?  Is it the distracting quality of the hypnotic dance of the flames that takes the uncomfortable intensity out of the conversations?  Certainly it is a primal and absorbing experience to watch the fire envelop and consume wood and in the process keep us warm.

Or could it be what it represents sub consciously?  Certainly the symbolism is rich and profound.  The phoenix myth, straddling several cultures (Egytian, Greek, Native American and early Christian representing Christ’s resurrection), tells of a legendary bird which lived for 500 years, burned itself to ashes on a pyre and rose, alive, to live for another period.   Experiencing homelessness, and the struggles that often accompany it can feel like a fire that burns and destroys until nothing but ash remains.  Yet then life can arise from those ashes and begin again.  As well as being the agent of destruction, fire can be a refiner giving the possibility of fresh beginnings, recovery and new directions.  This is the primary message that we hope to convey at the garden and as is so often the case, it is expressed in the natural processes that surround us.

We have held a number of sessions round the fire, having discovered 2 years ago when a student nurse ran some health related sessions that service users seemed far more open to discussing difficult information in this setting.  We have cooked garden produce and bread in our clay oven, discussed how to keep well over the winter both mentally and physically, spontaneously made up stories, played drums, learned deep breathing exercises and visualization techniques or just sat and watched the flames in silent reflection.

In contrast to the clinical setting of most of societies institutions and services, the woodland fireside offers an open, non-threatening and creatively stimulating environment.  How exactly this works shall remain mysterious, as we seek to explore other ways to make use of our woodland fireside to help service users regain confidence and build afresh.

Ian Masters