The Healing Power of Sitting Around the Fire
Picture an open fire, burning brightly and smelling of pine and juniper and maybe even
sagebrush. Around it are a group of dusty folks, tired from a day of adventure.. of climbing or
hiking or biking.. or rappelling.. and with full tummies from a delicious stew cooked on this
same fire that warmed and made content their insides… now drinking water from water bottles
or tea from tin cups and ducking the smoke that occasionally blows their way. The conversation
wavers between jokes and stories to sharing hard things. It’s good that the dark is pressing in
around everyone, and you and your compadres can’t quite make out the tears glistening in the
corner of your eyes as you think about home and the folks you love and miss and wish you had
treated better in the past.
We stare at the flames, the orange and yellow twists and turns of heat and color that memorize.
This is the equivalent of TV entertainment for ancient times and less complicated cultures.
Centuries upon centuries families, clans, friends, and hunting crews have sat around a fire and
stared at the flames. Sometimes we find ourselves just staring, fixated at the movement and
changing colors as heat and coals blend to release the energy in the dried wood to create light
and warmth. This magical power has allowed humans to be warmed and fed, to create
communities, seek solace, to strengthen relationships, and allow vulnerability.
In this environment, having chosen a campsite, having gathered wood and starting a fire from a
small coal created by friction and a blowing it to flame, having shared food cooking together on
this communal fire, then sitting and allowing life to regenerate and be warmed and renewed
together in a circle of light, amazing things can happen both internally and externally.
Communities are created. Friendships are bonded. Connections that seemed unlikely can be
made. And truth can be shared. Emotions are not naked because the intermittent light of the fire
allows us to see each other, but not too much… just enough that we can share and not feel too
exposed. As we relax into the earth, feel the sand or dirt or rock or logs under us.. as we touch
the wood we burn or play with the grass or sand or rocks… as we watch each other get more and
more real. And as we get more real and get in touch with what is happening inside us.. our joy..
our sadness… our pain… our drive to change… our desire to connect in a more healthy way…
we feel more, we feel deeper, and we begin to heal. Our minds begin the clearing process as our
hearts start to sort through all that we feel.. we can process what we learned today and either
brush it away and just focus on letting our bodies rest and recoup.. or we can share what meant
something and see if anyone else got it today. Or shoot… we can just tell jokes, stories, or even
sing silly songs… It doesn’t have to be heavy to be healing!
This is the magic of the campfire. My family seeks it. My grandkids ask for it. We go camping
mostly so we can sit around the fire together! Of course, they like to roast marshmallows. But
honestly, they don’t like eating them. They mostly just like to watch them catch fire. When we
are sitting around the fire as a family, playing video games and watching TV or movies
disappear, and we are interacting with each other, sharing what is important to us and what we
like and don’t like.. what we want for the future and what is bugging us. We eat a hot dog or
stew we made and watch the fire late into the night. The fire is soul soothing for me and has been
my whole life.
For my clients who are letting go of things they have used to self-sooth that have harmed them
physically, emotionally, and relationally, it becomes a place of healing and renewal. The
community they are building here of peers who are confronting not just substance abuse, but
trauma, depression, anxiety, and loss of relationships lets them know it is possible to build that
kind of community outside of Legacy or Juniper Canyon. And internally they can find healing by
slowing, turning off the chattering monkey in their heads and being truly grounding in the
moment, in the time spent staring at the fire and feeling the earth beneath them and the night sky
above. This is truly a 5 senses meditation: Sight: the dancing orange and yellow flames; Hearing:
the crackling fire and voices of friends in the circle; Smell: burning pine or juniper or sage or all
three; Touch: the ground we sit on and rocks and sand we can touch a play with; Taste: the tea
we are drinking or the stew we are finishing.
When we can truly ground and slow or stop the buzzing in our minds.. stop the past and the
future and be 100% in the present, our minds and our souls can heal. And added to that is the
invitation to share what comes up with a group who is ready to support and hear, to allow men
and women to cry and not be judged for it. And at the end of the day, as the flames begin to die
and everyone heads to bed, we can end the day with a full tummy, rested and warmed, and
feeling seen and heard by the folks we live with and circle the fire with. The fire within is fed by
the fire without. Our souls our fed by the fire we create, nurture, feed, and share. Fire for the
Maddy Liebing, Ph.D.