What Fire Has Taught Me About Love And Communion: Part I – Relationship With Myself

I have been out in the mountains for five days, alone

Studying the ways of fire

Alone, but not lonely

The campfires of my ancestors above me kept me in safety and in love

 

Constellations sharply delineated; hard diamond dust strewn across the satin sky above

A deep black sky that contains the secrets of my being, my past and my future

 

Each star, a sun

Each sun, a nucleus

Each nucleus, the centre of a slowly unfolding dance

Each dance, dramatic

Each drama, a world

Each world, possibilities so infinite it makes a mockery of probability

Each mockery, chaos

And in chaos, wonder and the potential for new patterns

As without, so within

 

I and my campfire, a flesh and flame simulacrum of the campfires overhead

A perfect, fleeting expression of the universe’s desire to know itself

As above, so below

 

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Come sit down with me, and I will teach you what I know about fire and love

I love to build a fire, then sit and watch the flames dance around and see the embers in its heart shift and change in the brilliant heat. I love the smell of smoke in the air, it settles deep in my skin and can linger for days in my hair. I love the smell because it is an echo, a ghost of the fire I built, and reminds me of the warmth and beauty I created days before. It reminds me that I am human, that I am doing what humans have done since we first began to be human.

Yes, here is my fire, and I am of the earth, sitting by its warm light, doing what my ancestors did, in this exact place they did it. I am honoured, that what I am doing in the here and now is what the flesh and blood roots of my family tree did for aeons too. Here, too, they did what I am doing right now, in this very place. My fire is connection, and communion. I am communing with them in the earth below me, in the trees around me, in the stars above me, and in my blood inside me, because I am them in their newest, most resilient expression.

I am home here because this is where my ancestors were born, where they made their lives and made love, where they fought and grieved and passed down their ways of making fires down the line to my own keeping. I, the effect of their causes, as I can be a cause of many effects. I am the latest in a long, unbroken line of fire-makers and I won’t be the last. This is a certainty, and this knowledge comes from below me, around me, above me and inside me. I am important, they tell me. Tonight, they say to me:

 “The universe is a cradle, gently rocking life into its own realisations.

You are a living, breathing manifestation of the universe’s longing to experience itself.

A dream within a dream, constantly dreaming yourself into existence.

Your lineage stretches back to the dawn of life, and you have inherited the entire Earth’s history of intelligence, creativity, sensuality and passion.

Your parents, and theirs, and theirs, and theirs, forever back, ad infinitum, all the way to us: in familiar and unrecognisable creatures both; we all existed to deliver you into Life’s keeping for this short time.

You are the culmination of aeons of living and loving and dying.

You are our dream come true.”

 

I feed my campfire, and I am communing with my ancestors whose blood, sweat and tears nourished this country in life, and whose flesh and bones fed this country in death. In this very place, time contracts to a singularity, the way my enormous black pupils dilate when I shift my eyes from the black sky above to look inside the flames before me. I am surrounded by their love and pregnant with their gratitude for me, and I reciprocate by feeding another log into my fire.

Tonight the fire has been speaking to me about life and love. And as I, a tiny insignificant human, built this earthly fire to reflect the star fires in the heavens, not only am I talking to myself, and teaching, but I am also listening to what I have to say, and learning. The lessons my ancestors speak to me, through the flames, on this night, are being taken in and weighed; sifted, sorted, ingested, digested and expressed in a way as to give form to this feeling. Because what I learn I can also teach. And the more I teach, the deeper the lessons settle in, just the way this earthy woodsmoke will do for days onward. A gift from the gods, and from my ancestors. A gift for myself, and therefore a gift to you.

 

You can’t start a fire without a spark

Some people don’t know how to build a fire. Maybe their culture doesn’t teach it, maybe their society doesn’t need it. That said, what kind of culture or society does not engage in one of the most basic things that essentialises us as humans? Whether you’ve only been lit up through artificial means, with the most recent, coldest evolution of the family hearth – the television, where everybody faces the screen, faces illuminated by the cold blue micro flickers, but not facing each other and not talking, not getting warm. But as part of society and of culture, you are also a contributor. Learn to make a fire. Inject some humanity into where you came from.

Sometimes we become adults and our family has not shown us how to build a good fire. Maybe they forgot how. Maybe their parents never showed them, maybe they were punished for it, maybe their ancestors were burnt at the stake. Maybe their fire-building practises burnt you, or smothered you; maybe you watched them build unhealthy fires with others and thought that’s the way it’s done. But it’s okay. Making fire is easy and anybody can learn to do it themself.

Culture, society and family may be good explanations for our issues with fire, but an explanation does not have to be an excuse. Plenty of people have overcome these excuses and learnt how to build healthy fires. And instead of being angry at your parents for not showing you, have some compassion, learn how to do it yourself and then teach them what you know. Begin the healing by taking it into your own hands. Show your parents how to build a fire. Don’t leave them cold. Be the change.

How do you learn how to build a good fire? You can read books or watch others do it, but the only real way is to just practise, practise, practise. You’ll fuck up here and there but don’t get frustrated. It’s only a fire. Just take note of your mistakes, remember what worked really well and figure out what you can do better next time. And try again. But if, before trying again, you don’t reflect by the flames and assess yourself in its unforgiving light, you will never get any better. You’ll spend more time in the dark than you need to.

Building a fire is a science because it requires a foundation of axiomatic knowledge and the application of observation, patience and dedication. Building a fire is an art, because it requires innovation and intuition for what is required at each phase. It needs an artist who can allow it to fulfil its most burning desire. No two fires are the same, so tried and tested formulas will not always work. Keep your senses open and give what is needed.

Because building a fire is both a science and an art, it is therefore a magical practice. As with all of the most sacred acts it can also be one of the most mundane. We imbue life, and fire-building, with whatever meaning we choose. Fire can be for necessity or luxury, for warmth, light, nourishment or entertainment. Maybe for prayer, as my campfire sends its earthy incense up to the heavens, and I commune with the camps of my ancestors above.

Lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice. And when it hits the ground magic happens, but if you rely on lightning to start your fire you’ll be mostly cold and waiting for something that will rarely happen again. Be grateful you had that experience but learn from it, and learn to create your own spark. Don’t rely on fate to recreate it because Chaos doesn’t work that way. You need to learn how to start and maintain one yourself, in all and any conditions. *As you shall see in the postscript, timing is an inadequate excuse.

The thing with fire is that it is a fickle thing. Air temperature and pressure, wind direction and precipitation all connive to create differing environments. In some, fire thrives all too well and needs tempering. In others it requires a lot of effort to maintain. But environment needn’t be an excuse to not try. Just make sure you watch, see and behold; don’t get burnt and don’t burn out trying.

A fiery metaphor

As an embodied metaphor, building a fire is useful to explain and explore the processes of building relationships. All metaphors are useful, not only as a literal or poetic description, but because you can make it as relevant as you want. No matter what I mean to write, you will take away only the meaning that you need to understand, on your own terms, and it will be better and more important than anything I intend.

This fire is an externalised projection, a symbolic transformation, a metaphorical transmutation, and an internalised injection of what I need to know – what I’ve always known, but is only now being revealed to me by the light this fire casts into the depth of my black and innocent heart. As I build this fire tonight, I understand it as a living metaphor for building a relationship with myself, which is the foundation for building relationships with others. Building a fire is a meditation in building warmth and giving nourishment. To build a good fire, you need to be both playful and sincere.

Fire is a tool; a transformative, purifying and clarifying technology. Our environment has been shaped by fire since before forever. Firestick farming has been practiced here for centuries, it has shaped our country so profoundly that many of our native plants can’t release their seeds without fire. Regular and controlled burning ensured no dead wood buildup, no fuel for the blazing bushfires that we’ve seen in recent years. Take heart, and read the lessons in this. Don’t let your own deadshit build up waiting for a tiny spark, or you’re asking for trouble. Burn things off systemically, regularly; renew and replenish, and baptise your seeds by fire.

I am taught to be indebted to Prometheus, but in my creation myth I am both god herself and a mortal woman, and so nothing was stolen from a jealous guarding god, no sneaky thieving human stole my secret. We are one and the same, the fire given freely by god herself in a spirit of gratitude for the woman to take the light back to the earthly realm, to share with all my brothers and sisters. The fire is also received in a spirit of gratitude by the human, for the special gift it is to heal, warm, nourish and teach, to illuminate even this darkest frozen night when the sun and moon have just disappeared behind the mountains together.

Here’s to the fire inside each and every one of us. May we always keep our own flames fed, may we ever enjoy the nourishing fires of each other and may we all be beacons of light and bringers of warmth wherever we go.

 – Defender Of The Faith,  5th of June, 2014

Dharug country

Read Part II: Relationships with Others, here

Pride, Purpose and Perspectives

This time one week ago I got the shits when confronted with the knowledge that my friends’ black babies are dealing with the shit I, my brothers, my Mum and everyone else, have dealt with all our life, by mostly well-meaning but still rude people. I felt it deeply, knowing that these comments were going to make a new generation of black kids question their authenticity as Aboriginal people, and therefore make them feel inadequate in their identities. It was going to cause them distress, it was going to contribute to the divide within and between our communities.

With the young ones in mind, I hand wrote that post in about an hour, then typed it onto my phone and published it immediately. Today, one week later, it’s clocked over 4.4k 4.5k 4.6k likes and shares on Facebook alone. It might be no big deal in the grand scheme of the blogosphere, but for someone who’s last blog post got 40 likes (and yes I thought that was deadly) 4000 is quite an overwhelming number.

I am under no illusion as to why people are interested in listening to my viewpoint this week. The themes of race, categorisation and identity are topical at the moment, with the RDA coming under intense debate, in no small part by the opinions of George ‘Bigot’ Brandis and Andrew ‘Assimilation’ Bolt. My perspective adds to the discourse. It’s a marginalised and mostly ignored perspective, but a valuable perspective, according to the majority of Australians who want to shrug off our country’s racist reputation and use their privilege to do more good than continuing harm. Yes, my perspective does have value.

That said, there have been a few public comments and private messages from people who missed the point. White people, indignant that my perpective should make them look racist and in the wrong. People who felt their freedom of speech to express their institutionalised embedded racism to young, beautiful, innocent black kids to make them feel not good enough. People who demonstrated their privilege and power by whitesplaining to me why our feelings and reactions are wrong; why their intentions take precedence over my affectation. Again I say to those – you missed the point. There is no need to try and exonerate yourself. I know why you say it and I know your intentions are not malicious. I know you are but a drop in the ocean, that you are a product of your socialisation. I know this. But that doesn’t change the fact, the evidence, the actuality that those words hurt. So instead of telling me I’m wrong, why not just believe my [educated and experienced] viewpoint, cop it on the chin, and just vow to not say those words again? Reconciliation should not just be our responsibility.

I reiterate: I addressed my post to the people who tell Aboriginal people that they don’t look Aboriginal. I addressed it to the ones who think it’s okay to say it. I addressed it to them in the hope they could better understand why it’s not okay, and that even if they couldn’t fully empathise or understand the history or frameworks or language of oppression, or to understand why it’s not okay in a practical sense, that they could at least move forward with the theoretical understanding that its not okay. I addressed it to them so they could consider that what they are doing is more harm than good, more problem than solution, more hurt than healing.

I had considered not publishing the ignorant comments but am glad I did because I’ve been heartened by the dismantling and debate put forth by better-educated commenters. And that said, the support for my post has been overwhelmingly positive. Besides people complimenting my style of writing, I have had communications from people of all walks of life telling me that the message was received in the spirit I’d intended it. Such as:

My white friend who printed this out so that she could give it to nosy busybodies who say this about her black babies, making them feel hurt. The many black people, of all skin-tones, who’ve shared my writing and stood in solidarity with me. My other white friend who, after reading this, felt confident enough to sit her black daughter down to talk about this, and told me that the connection they made and the smile on her daughter’s face was worth all the previous heartache. My black Aunties who thanked me for articulating what they had been too shame or too shy to express all their lives. My white friend who supported me and shared this amongst his mostly non-Indigenous network. A black artist overseas who encounters this outside the context of generic Aussie racism, who thanked me because my writing made her feel less alone, overseas and away from mob. The whitefellas who get it and came in to bat when other people tried to whitesplain their entitlement to me. My black friends who thanked me for speaking for them, for sacrificing my private nature for them by putting my emotional history in the public sphere. My white friends, some of whom I’ve heard say this in the past, sharing it around so that healing could begin.

Here I sit, writing this in my break from marking essays that are discussing race and representation. Essays from mostly non-Indigenous students; the social workers, teachers and policy-makers of the future. People who will have the power to make or break Aboriginal people. Thankfully, they mostly get it, and if they don’t yet, well. Instead of getting angry at them I remind myself that it is only Week Four of a twelve week course, that they should not bear the brunt of my frustration that’s better directed at the history, and at the institutions. That despite their cognitive dissonance in the face of learning true Aboriginal (and therefore Australian) history, they are doing the hard work, the necessary work of decolonising their minds, and examining their assumptions and attitudes that will one day hopefully lead to right action.

Once these essays are marked I will then work on my thesis that is exploring the ways in which women from my community (including myself) have experienced transgenerational trauma as a result of past government policies, and how they interrupt these effects and move forward, spreading strength. Real evidence of Aboriginal people transcending our historical legacies, and doing what we’ve always done: resisting assimilation, healing trauma and caring for our kids. The unsung heroes who are having a go, who have been hurt in different ways by the seemingly innocuous but assimilationist comments of non-Indigenous people.

Here I sit writing this, on the bank of the Deerubban, not far from the place my grandmother was born. The very same place that she last saw her mother before welfare took her because to them, she didn’t look Aboriginal enough. Here I sit, reflecting on the week and the impacts of my writing, the power we all hold to heal instead of hurt. And, here I sit, safe in the knowledge that my grandmother would be proud of me.

– Defender Of The Faith, 31st of March 2014