We all remember hearing about the evils of forest fires from Smokey the Bear. However, we are now learning from many environmental scientists that fire (fire contained reasonably within wild areas that doesn’t affect human life or property) is good. Even huge forest fires that decimate thousands of acres in Yellowstone National Park have a beneficial effect on that area’s eco-system.
But how can destruction be beneficial?
According to researchers, enriching nutrients are released into the soil during a forest fire that pave the way for new and stronger future growth. Also, as the canopy tops of the trees in the forest go up in flames, the seeds from those trees are released into the air and then drop gracefully to the ground, where they replant new forest growth even as the fire is finishing the destruction of the old one. New plants are also beneficial since they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, making for cleaner air.
In the past, mankind has taken every measure to prevent forest fires from occurring. And, when they did occur, firefighters worked hard to put them out as fast as humanly possible. But now we’re seeing that some death and destruction is actually necessary to bring about stronger, new life.
Any gardener knows that when you compost old leaves, cut grass, and scraps from the kitchen like egg shells and banana peels, you get “black gold,” a dark, rich substance that is a wonderful conditioner for your soil. Some people think of compost as “the soul of a healthy soil,” the organic matter that nourishes your soil to the point that new life springs forward out of it grandly and miraculously. But compost is really just decomposing plant matter. So, out of the death of some plant matter springs forth the new life of other plants.
From death springs life. The idea makes sense. And, as often happens when an idea makes sense in one realm, it also makes sense in many other realms. Sometimes, in our own life, we have to burn out the parts that have exhausted their life span so that we can start fresh on a new growth cycle. It’s a beautiful albeit painful process where new growth comes from destruction.
Often in life we don’t have a choice. We lose a loved one. We get laid off from a job. We go through a divorce or a serious illness. Even having a baby is a big life event that forces change.
But sometimes we can make a change in our life without waiting for fate to step in. And, in doing so, we must give up part of our old life to sprout anew, to spring forth fresh and vibrant, and to find the life of our dreams.
Inviting things out of our lives is a necessary exercise that has the power to strengthen us. This might be a relationship that is dragging us down, a job that is pushing us into stagnant complacency, or a bad habit that is eating away at our physical or emotional health. It’s not always easy to see what needs invited out, what dead growth needs pruned so that the rest of our tree of life can bloom and prosper. Even when we know in our hearts we need to dump a toxic relationship, resign from a bad job, or quit a negative habit, it’s even more difficult to pull the trigger on what we know needs to be done to live a better life.
This is where I remember the metaphor of the burning forest. Fire is an incredibly frightening display of nature’s power. But, looking closer, we can see that an eco-system is actually much stronger for having been burned to the ground. Only then can it begin anew, stronger and richer than ever before.
If we can take this cue from nature and incorporate it into our own lives, we’ll be on a path that will lead to strength, richness, and joy. We can’t be afraid to let go and to let parts of our old self burn. We need courage. But, in the end, a little burning up of the old self is a very beneficial way to let a new and better self emerge.
How have you burned away the bad parts of your life to make way for the new?