Middleway Medicine

The Runaway Burn Pile

Several years ago I was burning a brush pile on our property and things got a little out of control. I had tended to fires for years without any trouble, but on this particular day I got humbled a bit. Things started out smoothly, but about half way through the burn, the wind picked up suddenly. The fire quickly grew and began to spread through the dry leaves and grass that surrounded the fire ring. The hose I had at standby turned out to be a little too short to reach the area where the fire got loose, so I had to frantically sprint to grab another hose. By the time I returned, the fire had spread even more. With a racing heart, I got things under control, but not before I imagined burning down the neighborhood. Besides encouraging me to be more prepared the next time I burned, I also got a powerful lesson in the nature of fire.

Fire is one of the most impressive elements. It can be a small flame or a raging inferno. It lights up our world and warms our bodies. Fire sparks our joy and stokes our passion. Summertime is the season of fire. The long days and heat beckon us to loosen up a bit and have more fun. We tend to socialize a bit more, stay up a little later, and perhaps overindulge. Things feel more alive. Like a bonfire, this can all be quite delightful, but it can also spin out of control. Like each of the other elements, fire must find its place of balance. If it gets too big it escapes control and burns in an unhealthy way. Or if we burn through our fuel too fast, we can be in for a cold night. So the art of “playing with fire” is about tending to it mindfully. Water is the element that balances fire: It is cooling and calming. It is patient and steady. It is unscheduled time, a little more sleep, and rest. Water teaches us to sit still. Though it is hard to think of slowing down when you are in the heat of summer, inviting in some time to just be is really good medicine. Schedule time off to be unscheduled, pace yourself, be mindful of your fuel.

Acupuncture is remarkably effective at soothing the fire of summer. In a similar fashion as water, it promotes stillness and ease to help restore and replenish the body’s water element. Depending on the nature of the “heat” in the body, we choose different points to vent heat, moisten the body and calm agitation and restlessness. This can help with insomnia, anxiety, rashes, headaches and many other symptoms. Herbal medicine and diet can also dramatically help with the presence of heat in the body.

It is easy to feel a bit dried out and crusty if you burn too hot in summer. Tempting as it may be to honor every invitation, I encourage you to tend your fire as if it is fire season and make sure to keep the flames in balance.

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