What Sitting Around the Fire Does for the Soul…

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 soul…

Maddy Liebing, Ph.D.
Psychologist, LMFT
Clinical Director

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