Putting Fires to Bed

Fall is upon us: cool evenings, changing leaf colors…the fragrance of spent leaves waft up from our path touching our soul. To acknowledge this autumnal threshold and to fend off crisp nights, we light a fire, some big, others small and gather round. Encircling a fire is a favorite practice of fall.

The other evening I was reading of the old traditions of using flame and was reminded of a practice to gain a bit of balance in life. In Scotland and Ireland, peat (a bit like turf) was (and still is) harvested from the bogs, dried and burned. It kept the home warm and the food cooked. To save resources fires were not extinguished, rather they were “put to bed.” Peat fires were covered and smothered to keep the home warm and to make it easy to stoke in the morning.

Like you, I have a lot of fires needing to be tended. They aren’t the sort of fires I want to put out, rather things in life that need care and attention. When there are too many fires in life, I find myself feeling as if I am playing a mental version of Whack-A-Mole. Some fires, I can let go cold. However most of them honestly need care: family, relationships, work, education, community commitments, just to name a few.

With a limited amount of energy, money, time, each fire we tend not only spends resources, it also takes up head space as we mentally track which ones may need an extra log. Instead of keeping ALL the fires burning, there may be some that could be “put to bed” for a time. Putting a fire to bed consists of:

  • Assessing priorities – Is this what I really want to do at this time in life? Could they be moved to another week, month, year?
  • Considering – does this commitment nurture the priorities of my soul, my passions, or my ego?

Realizing which commitments can be put to bed does not mean that you will never do the action again, rather it means you are lowering it on your priority list at this moment in time. Putting some of your fires to bed is not getting rid of them, or ignoring them. You are creating margin in your life. It is a shift of temporary priorities. It is deciding how many fires you can tend well, and which ones are the most important in this moment. It is creating healthy boundaries around all the things we are called to do in this day and age. Here are a couple of examples of putting your fires to bed.

Work – With today’s technology and work culture, we can feel the heavy expectations of always “being on.” Computer work can go into the evening, pagers beep, bop and click at all hours. To put your work fire to bed might include: turning off the pager during off hours, checking emails only during work hours, leaving the project for work hours or at least put time boundaries as to how much you will commit to work during your off hours. It might be not answering work texts on your weekends or pages on vacation days. None of these need to be black and white boundaries, yet each one of these help us put the work fire to bed until the next morning when we can throw a long on the top and it begin to blaze once again.

Community activities – There are many wonderful places to go, people to see and things to do in our world. Maybe you are caught in FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Or you have said yes to a dozen committees for really great causes. Go through your commitment list, consider why you are involved, and ask if this remains a top priority. Poet David Whyte’s reminds us we are 7-10 yrs behind where we really are in life. In other words, what we are involved with today tend to be things we enjoyed 7-10 years ago and we are still saying yes to those causes. Why? Because we forget to re-assess what really nurtures our soul. Commit to the causes you are truly called to, and for the rest, put to bed. You can stoke them again some day when you have more time.

Putting of few of your fires to bed increases your mental ability and agility to participate in your other commitments more fully, with more ease and with greater presence. Having an extremely full schedule makes it virtually impossible to be creative and spontaneous with the rest of your life. Everything becomes mechanical and rote instead of flowing with movement and grace.

Some fires can be put to bed for a day, others for a week, a month or a year. Choose a fire or two, nestle it down, keep it warm, leaving it for you to tend to at another time. This practice will allow you to enjoy more fully (with less stress and more energy) the things that are your top priorities today. This practice will open space to be more present to the NOW.

Enjoy the now.


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