Is your life on fire? Is it just a question of distance?
I was out camping the other weekend. I’m not going to tell you where, I want to keep it for myself.
There’s something about getting out from under the stress-umbrella of the city, and back to all the good things the outback has to give you – the connection to nature, they rhythm of the bush, starry nights and friends around a fire.
“We really should do this more often.”
I say that every time.
Anyway, the night was getting on and everyone else had trundled off to bed. And I was just taking my time with the last of my wine, happily poking the fire with a stick.
It had burnt down to a nice bed of embers, and it was happily crackling away to itself.
I was thinking, there’s nothing as peaceful as the gentle crackle of a fire, nothing so lovely as the red and gold glow of embers and the scent of burning eucalypt.
I swear I was just one glass of red shy of becoming a poet.
But then I saw an ant.
This poor bugger had somehow caught a ride on the last piece of wood to go on, and it was now marooned on the last bit of that wood that hadn’t caught flame.
There wasn’t much left, and he was frantically running laps around it, trying to find a way off.
I don’t know if ants have hormones for panic, but he was certainly in an energised state. I felt sorry for him, so I stuck my stick against the log until he jumped on, and then I gave him a lift out, as I did my impersonation of a Westpac Recuse Helicopter.
Thukka thukka thukka thukka.
“Your welcome,” I said as he headed off to where ever it is that ants go.
And then I thought about that for a sec. To me, from my perspective as a relatively large organism (quiet, you lot…) with command of fire’s elemental nature, this fire was one of the most peaceful things I could imagine.
It was a balm to my anxious spirit. I was almost about to write a poem to it.
But to my mate the ant, the fire was a chaotic inferno of doom. What sounded like a gentle cracking – like the foil coming off a bottle of bubbly (that was going to be in the poem) – to him probably sounded like gun shots and explosions.
The fire’s soothing warmth was from his perspective intolerable heat.
And the peaceful glow an assault on his eyes.
The point is, that even though we were having an experience of the exact same fire, our experiences couldn’t have been more different.
And it made me wonder that maybe there’s a distance at which everything is horrendous, and a distance at which everything is peaceful.
I mean, take the way the red blood cells attack pathogens in the blood stream. I’ve seen the cold and flu commercials. It’s like a war going on in there. Red blood cells swarm the invader cells, like jackals around an elephant, until they are destroyed.
It’s a war zone.
But to me, to my eyes, I can’t see anything going on in a drop of blood. If I accidentally snick my finger, a little drop pools on the skin like a serene lake.
Or take a children’s playground. Driving by a school it just looks like a bunch of kids mucking about, living out the best days of their lives.
But on the ground there’s politics and intrigues, alliances being made and broken, hierarchies being established or destroyed.
Or what about your own life? Pick a day from 10 years ago. At the time it might have been full of angst and struggle. But now – now that it’s taken its place in the broad sweep of your life – it might just look like the days were peaceful and ordinary.
Or take Australia. It’s true to say that politics seems to be reaching a low point, with pollies plumbing new lows of ethical standards each year. But then, it’s just as true to say that Australia is one of the most peaceful and prosperous nations on earth, living through a golden age that makes us the envy of the world.
I even like to think that there’s a perspective at which the entire earth is gently crackling away to itself. That there’s some aliens out there going,
“I just found a new planet. The locals call it ‘Earth’.”
“Oh yeah? What’s it like.”
“You know, pretty peaceful. Mostly the inhabitants are just kicking along, doing their thing.”
And maybe that’s why God doesn’t intervene as much as he used to. Perhaps, from his perspective, it’s all just ticking along fine. He might pull the odd ant out of the fire here and there, but on the whole, he just enjoys staring at the gentle embers of Earth.
But my point is that our experience of something is defined by how close we are to it. There’s a distance at which our experiences chills down and become peaceful.
And no matter how great the drama, that distance still exists. You might have to place it in a cosmic geography, or with the grand sweep of geological time, but the chill-down distance exists.
So if you feel yourself being driven to panic by the fire of your life, try and find that distance, that perspective, where all that conflict, all that drama just becomes the warmth and colour to your life.
Maybe there’s an art to doing this. But it’s possible.
That, or just try to get out and go camping more regularly.
How do you find your chill-down distance?