I live in a place where natural wildfires are an essential part of the cycle of life. Over time, mature pines grow tall and dense, not allowing enough light in for the smaller trees below. As they age, they also become dry and brittle. When lightning strikes, these older trees become powerful fuel to ignite and sustain a fire. Nature knows this. It is only in this intense heat, that trees release their seeds, laying the foundation for the rebirth of the forest.
If you’ve been to Yellowstone National Park in the past few years, you have seen the miracle of a flourishing young forest 35 years after a fire so devastating that a third of Yellowstone burned.
Humanity is clearly in a place where lightning unexpectedly struck and an insidious and unseen forest fire has been ignited. Much will change as we rebuild. Our awareness of our vulnerability and our connectedness calls us.
Our instincts may be to want to jump back into life as we knew it as quickly as possible (particularly with regard to getting the economy moving again) – yet, perhaps never in this way again will we have this space to more thoughtfully create our new future. In all of this tremendous shock, pain and loss, the opportunity lies before us. How do we sift through it all to find the gifts of a new forest?
“What do we want our new forest to look like?” And where are we in the forest fire analogy?
- Are we the large trees to the north of the fire with south winds blowing to keep it away from us – naive to the knowledge that we can’t stop the wind from changing direction?
- Are we the soil, excited to nurture the new seedlings and think about how to rebuild the forest?
- Are we the courageous firefighters and all their support personnel, exhausted, courageous and risking all to help stop the fire?
- Are we in a shelter nearby worried and about to run for our lives?
- Or are we just looking for someone or something to quickly blame? (It will come as no surprise that I don’t think this is a healthy, helpful or effective strategy for moving forward).
Recently, a friend asked me, “what do you believe needs to come next?” The word that jumped from my mouth was thoughtfulness. While we clearly are in the adrenaline, intense-energy focused phase of putting out the fire, we will soon to be in the place of “what next?”
I hope we can reflect individually and together as communities first to ask:
- What are we learning from this fire?
- What insights do we see and feel during this time?
- What are the fears and gifts from this fire?
- How can we remember what’s important as we continue to grow?
- What values do we want to hold as central as we begin rebuilding?
If we jump to action too quickly, reacting rather than responding thoughtfully, we lose our ability to rebuild with a stronger foundation.
Now is the time to ask ourselves who do we want to be and why? Then allow the what’s and how’s to grow from there. May we all take a few minutes every day to reflect and write down our thoughts to these questions before we press “Go.”