Spark

Perspectives, news, and announcements from the Center that will ignite your passion for wellbeing.

Making Room for Growth

May 12, 2015

Whether in a forest, or in our own lives, dead wood and choking undergrowth eventually accumulates, stagnating growth. Ecologists recognize the value of fires in removing this clutter, allowing sunlight to penetrate down, energizing vibrant, new life. For a brief time, charred wood dominates the landscape with an iridescent beauty. Areas burned down to bedrock are soon covered with pioneering lichens, mosses and fungi, and green plants sprout wherever a bit of soil remains. The long process of forest succession will have started over, providing diversity within the larger landscape.

Having brought our daughter into her somewhat self-sufficient teenage years, and my having turned 60, my wife, Honey, and I realized it was time to examine the clutter in our lives. Rearing a child, as wonderful as that experience has been, had changed what we had been able to share, and we both realized we had been suffocating beneath piles of debris — physical and emotional. It was time to light a metaphorical wildfire. Our initial discussions had nearly the same positive impact we hoped the actual changes would deliver. We were happier, looking forward to each day and our future, and that energizing tingle of discovery and new love, which had lain dormant under layers of life’s daily deposits of litter, put out new shoots.

Then, for a minute or two, on November 16th, all of that, and my life, was about to come to an abrupt end. I was trapped in a sauna being consumed by a very real fire, and unable to open the door to get out. After an initial panic, I rationally went through my options, realizing if I didn’t solve this quickly, I’d die. Then I remembered a back door. I clearly recall crawling along the floor, staying under the smoke, and opening the door. But, I have no memory of the flames that awaited me on the other side (we later learned it was an electrical fire that started outside the back door) — only waking up 20 feet outside the now-fully-ablaze sauna, face down in the snow. I was able to get up, get help, and call home before being taken to a hospital burn unit, where I would spend the next three weeks. 

I’d received 2nd and 3rd degree burns on my hands, and 2nd degree burns on my face and ears. I was told that I’d likely make a full recovery, but that I had to continually stretch my hands to regain and retain flexibility as the tissue healed. Besides my photography, I play piano and guitar, and was terrified of losing that part of my life. I became the poster child of burn recovery — working so hard the therapist stopped overseeing my recovery process. I was amazed when she told me most patients don’t work at their own recovery.

So what attitude did I have that made my outlook and behavior different? I’ve always been self-motivated and had demonstrated to myself over and over that hard work brought a feeling of self-worth, and happiness at the achievements it brought forth.

Even before being burned, I’d thought about doing nature videos with the Center for Spirituality & Healing, specifically to help burn patients. I now had extra motivation and new insights. I spent a lot of time self-observing what I was feeling, doing, and what helped me. Whenever possible, I’d look out a window at Lake Superior. It was very cold, and sea smoke was rising from the water. I envisioned the steam as my dead skin being lifted away, and the water as the fresh new skin replacing it. A separate meditation vision was the rhythm of Superior’s waves washing the shoreline, as a heart beat bringing nourishment to the healing tissue, and carrying away the debris. Not only was I finding solace in this, but I was also energized at beginning the creative process of planning videos I now knew I would make to help others. So despite the situation I was in, I was flourishing. I was almost euphoric in what I envisioned these videos would be, and could not wait to film them.

Honey provided positive, cheerful support, and for a long while, served as my hands. Friends stepped in to spell her, and to provide her with needed help. After all, she had suddenly become both a single parent, and my caregiver. Through my contacts at CSH, I was connected to the Phoenix Society, and others, who offered me help both in my present condition, and to work with me on creating the videos. The roots of our new growth continued to reach out, drawing nourishment from a whole new community.

While the immediate life plans Honey and I had made got a bit singed, our commitment to cleansing, periodic prescribed burns remains strong — so long as they remain metaphorical!

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Mandala is a biannual magazine produced by Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing. It captures the core aspects of the Center: reflection, transformation, spirituality, creation, and the ongoing journey that continues to shape what we are to become.

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The Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing blog covers a range of integrative health and wellbeing topics. For more information about our blog, contact us at csh@umn.edu