Out in the Elements: Fire, Wind, & Space

Thoughts from Byron Bay

As one fire burns through NSW, another spreads through the yoga world. The fire is cleansing. It clears the way. But winds exacerbate already hot conditions Wind makes the fire dangerous. And Facebook can be a very windy place.

“The same fire that cooks your meal, burns the child. Is it the fault of the fire? The world is neither good nor bad; the world is the world. The fire is the fire.” — Swami Vivekananda, The Science of Breathing


It is morning here in Byron Bay, where I have traveled to visit Meghan, and practice for the month.

A soft pink haze envelops the sky as the full moon rises, glowing red like the sun. The smell of smoke is thick from bush fires burning across New South Wales.

For many, the time to evacuate is now.

Byron Bay, Australia

As we drive to the Shala, I imagine it will be quiet. Even I feel strange coming to practice with all this going on and I don’t even live here. But I’m wrong. And on this particular morning, the practice room is more crowded than it has been all month.

I watch one student walk up the pathway, greeted by another. They hug. No words. Just a long embrace that says, I love you. I’m here. We are in this together.

They go inside and set up their mats. Meghan and I do the same. The room quickly fills. We squeeze in tight.

And just like every other morning, we sit. We breathe. We chant. And we move. Together.

Before long, it FEELS just like every other morning. Except lighter. The mood shifts. The change is tangible.

The teacher reminds us:

Pain … Hurt … Grief.
It all needs space to breathe.
It all needs space to move.
It all needs space to be.

Leaving the Shala, I notice boxes piled outside. The precious contents of someone’s life spilling out this sides.

My heart breaks for the person forced to leave their home. Someone I just practiced along side? Could even be my teacher, whose words from earlier in the week, now come flooding back:

Remember, everyone is carrying some sort of pain. We may not always see their grief. Or know their fears. But everyone is hurting. 

Perhaps we can invite just a bit more compassion into our daily interactions. Allow more space for healing, more room for forgiveness. For others. For ourselves.

Just something to think about … she says. Or not.


Now two days later, a strong wind out of the south has made already bad conditions, dangerous.

Fire by itself can be cleansing. It helps clear space, rid the landscape of debris and disease, and opens areas for new growth, new life.

The yoga world is ablaze in a baptism of fire.

I can accept the fire. But the wind? It’s the wind that scares me.

Heavy gusts fan flames, and at the same time, carry embers, starting new and unnecessary fires. Wind pushes a fire out of control. And along with the disease-ridden tree burns the innocent koala.

And Facebook can be a very windy place.

Facebook is a place where fires don’t just burn – they rage.

Sometimes I wonder if this is where we should all evacuate …

It was wind that helped blow the Yellowstone fires of 1988 out of control – burning over a third of the park.

Plus, previous decades of fire suppression added even more fuel to the fire – stuff that should’ve already been burned.

But also, that year was unusually dry. Hot, too. All of this made for impossibly dangerous conditions.

Perhaps this also explains the firestorm that now threatens more than debris and disease.

Because we are also in the midst of a drought, with very little compassion or patience to moisten the air. And thanks to our own decades of suppression, oppression – there is still plenty there to burn.

Oh, and we’re hot. Of course, we’re hot!

Now add wind. Add our endless supply of oxygen to already growing flames. Now even the smallest fire can grow into a blazing inferno, scorching everything in its path.

The good. The bad. It all just burns.

Yet surely not everything needs to burn. Not our homes. Certainly not our practice.

But if we could take a moment, take a breath. Still our winds just a bit. Perhaps even invite a little more compassion into our online conversations.

Let fires burn more naturally, keeping them contained to their intended area.

Maybe then we’d have space for healing. And even a little forgiveness.

Just something I hope we think about …


I am home now. Back in Montana. Greeted by a fallen snow that now covers our field.

It’s the kind of snow we look forward to in the fall. A snow that offers us relief from the fires that burn here in summer, cooling the air and blanketing the flames with its moisture.

Come spring, where wildfires burned, seedlings will germinate in the fertile space that was created.

Like the lodge pole pines that fill our forests. These trees needs the intense heat of a wildfire to pry open their cones and release its seeds. And there upon a layering of ash in a space cleared by the fire, thousands of new seeds will scatter. And new life begins.

Yellowstone National Park, Montana

In a few weeks, I leave for California for a community gathering – a Kinship. The LA Yoga Club has organized this as a way for us to come together, maybe plant some seeds of our own.

Thanks to the fires, there is a clearing not only open, but fertile. Now comes our opportunity to explore changing ideas of tradition, lineage, and practice. Seeds we will drop in the ash and see what grows from there.

The truth is, there is no clear line between here and there. It is a process in flux by definition. And we will need space to breathe, space to move, and space to simply be.

Tapas. A Sanskrit word that literals means ‘to burn’.

It is the fiery intensity (or maybe enthusiasm?) that burns away the impurities, necessary for spiritual growth. Through daily, disciplined practice, we stoke the fire, our inner fire. Clearing away our own debris and disease so we can see our greatness.

This fiery intensity that transforms us – can burn us too. Fire is fire. How we use it is up to us.