Mindfulness & The Magical Ritual of Winter Fires

Recently I have been teaching Mindfulness classes. And it has made me even more conscious of being mindfully aware in my daily rituals.

Not everyone in Canberra has central heating… If you are like us and your home has a wood fire as well as some electric heaters, it is often tricky keeping your supply of small wood and kindling stocked up during autumn and winter. We have found many of the construction places in Mitchell and Hume don’t mind you picking up the small offcuts from their wood. This is win-win for both of you! It saves them having to dispose of it. And it saves you having to gather it up and chop it up into small bits to start the fire. I love it – saves me so much time and energy on a cold day! Just take your cloth shopping bags or kindling box and take as much as you need out of their storage bins, making sure you get the untreated pine so it isn’t toxic. Pine burns quickly and is great for getting a fire going on a cold evening.

As for the mindfulness part – fires are a wonderful exercise in being mindfully present and attentive. I often take a bag with me when I walk the dog and gather little twigs and sticks along the way. I find it very grounding and calming, and feel much more aware and connected to nature when I go for these walks, as I have to be more observant of my environment – the different trees and the bits of twigs and bark that have fallen to the ground – so I can gather them up for our fire.

Once home, there is the precise and wonderful ritual of setting the fireplace so it is easy to light a good fire when you need it. And of course, once the fire is lit, there is the magic of watching the flickering fire – all the orange and golden flames dancing in front to you, it is so enchanting, absorbing and relaxing. Better than the TV! Then there is that beautiful bone-warming heat that only a slow combustion/wooden fire gives, as we stand in front of the fire rotating our bodies slowly and skillfully, warming all those cold bits to perfection. Bliss! No wonder a fire is such a magnet whenever anyone walks into the room. Fireplaces have a calming, almost hypnotic effect on us, and its been said fires link us back into our ancient tribal past when fires were the central part of life.

Kids, and kids at heart, love nothing more than to toast marshmallows on a long twig or carefully crafted coat-hanger and take pleasure in the precise art of timing it perfectly so that it is golden and not burnt or falling off the stick! Such sweet and simple pleasures!

Once the fire is burning brightly, you need to remain mindful of the fire’s wellbeing, and take care of it – stoking it and putting on extra wood to keep it going, adjusting the airflow to manage the heat. This is also very therapeutic, and quite a long time can be spent gazing into the fire, watching the glowing embers and flames, poking and prodding the coals to ensure everything is just right. Staring into a fire is so incredibly relaxing. Then, like anything worthwhile in life (relationships, homes, creative pursuits, careers), a fire needs ongoing attention and maintenance. Chopping the wood. Cleaning out the ash and emptying it back onto the garden to reconnect with the cycles of nature once again. Shining the glass in the door so you can see the flames clearly. Cleaning the chimney. Dusting. Stocking up the wood and kindling….Who would have thought that a simple fire could teach us so many lessons about mindfulness and life!

See how you go keeping your attention in the now…feel the difference as you breathe deeply and feel yourself calm down and then bring your full awareness into whatever you are doing.