The Parallel Process of Fire-Making and Therapy…and Life
Often, I’m asked, “What does the fire-making process have to do with therapy?” I embrace this curiosity and even expand it to relate to thriving in life.
“Busting” with a bow-drill set is a primitive way to make a fire. Very few in our western culture know this skill, let alone have seen it or tried their hand at it. It involves critical thinking and problem-solving. It takes continuous assessment and persistence, as well as patience. The process requires humility at times; there is a fluidity to it as the pieces change over time and one must adapt. There is never a point that it becomes static, rather skills are honed and applied unique to individual circumstances and eventually if something isn’t working, it is wise to try something different.
There are practical aspects of fire: to cook, to keep warm and dry, or for light. In some sense, fire nourishes, heals, illuminates, soothes, and inspires. Anyone who has found themselves in a gaze into some flames knows its mesmerizing ability. Certainly, fire has an essential place while living in the wilderness in a very basic way, yet there is more to it in wilderness therapy.
When I first learned how to “bust” over a decade ago, I was eager and fascinated. I can remember feeling overwhelmed trying to absorb the many instructions and tips. Different people had different suggestions. The required stance and motions literally pulled me in opposite directions at the same time. Determination brought out my stubbornness after many days of trying without much sign of success. There are things inside my control (my busting set) and things outside my control (the weather).
I vividly remember getting a feel for the type of movement that was most productive. Even with the excitement of the promising glow of an ember, there were still many important things to pay attention to in order to cultivate that ember into a flame. Once gaining competence, I learned it was more about working smart than hard. It was crucial to take time to set myself up for success beforehand.
How one approaches the challenges necessary to busting a fire are often similar to how they approach obstacles in life. Wilderness therapy taps into this parallel as we process the organic feedback that sits in front of us. If we pay attention, busting can teach us about ourselves. We can’t fake making a fire. And a fire isn’t going to magically appear. Busting is like nature’s lie detector test and can be an indicator of the investment in one’s therapeutic work.
In my clinical work, I have sat with clients as they grapple with what busting brings to the surface for them. The process zeros-in on the ways we can get stuck in life. At times this looks like going through the motions without critically thinking. Perhaps it is not seeing the pieces for what they are, rather for what one wants them to be. Sometimes, it reveals some self-deception as they whittle to fill time. Organization of the fire-set is important. Some easily try busting without believing they can ever do it and when they do they are afraid of that success.
It can bring up entitlement, impulsivity, ego, inconsistencies. Avoidance patterns are highlighted. The process asks for effort.
And so it is with life. Future challenges are going to be very similar to the challenges clients meet in busting, so we practice with busting what we aim to do in life. All of the processes here related to fire-making are interchangeable with thriving in life. The process of busting a fire illustrates what is required for us to live our lives to the fullest.