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Some Thoughts on Fire and Transformation 

Words by Thomas Droge 

Imagine you’re camping out in the woods. The night has fallen, the moon is yet to rise, a slight chill spreads across the air, and you think, “a fire would be so good right now”, so you stack some wood and kindling, strike a match and from the essence of this fallen wood, inspiration begins.


Fire jumps into life, seeks the celestial realm, and rises up as high and fast as it can, dancing like a thousand sprites celebrating the joy of existence. It is one of the most immediate forms of transformation ever discovered by human beings.


At the fire pit, part of your awareness that was drawn inward from the cold and the night, begins to move outward toward the light of the fire your hands extend palms outward to receive the warmth of the blaze. Your shoulders soften and you stare with relaxed eyes into the fire. You are hard-wired to step toward the light and heat of fire. The light of fire speaks to our deepest survival instincts; “come into the light” our brain says, there’s more to see. A full forty percent of your sensory processing in the brain comes from visual information, including recognizing patterns.


And yet fire moves with randomness, cutting into the darkness of night with a brush of brilliant light.

When we see the fire, we feel the ignition of transformation and the alchemy of life. We see in the fire the essence of our heart spirit, dancing light-hearted, and able to change and transform in a moment. Our senses naturally draw in the fire’s wisdom. By stoking our own internal fire, we instantly realize the potential of our spirit to seek connection with the infinite.


Whether it’s by dancing, laughing, staring into each other’s eyes, or holding our breath for as long as we can, the fire of our spirit housed in our hearts and activated by our minds instantly understands the reason we are incarnate here on earth in all of its great potential: to release the fire within us and transcend the spirit with fire.


Fire exposes the balance of life in all of its awe, joy, beauty, and pain. The nature of fire is to surge upward, to return to the celestial realm. It is a conduit lifting life up toward the heavens. But for fire to exist, it must remain connected to the essence of the earth – the fuel of fire. When a flame leaps too far from its root, it often has a brilliant show of life and dance and expression, but then it is gone. Fire, like our spirits in this incarnation, is rooted in the corporeal physical journey. People often think of balance as a static state, but constantly changing and adjusting is what actually keeps the tightrope walker from falling. Life is a state of changes that we navigate by being present in the moment. Stasis is what happens when things don’t interact. What happens when a burning match isn’t close enough to a piece of wood? Nothing.


The tethering of spirit and body, like the wood and the flame, is the balanced living of a life naturally expressing its purpose. The heart is the home of the spirit that allows us to connect to each other and to our individual purpose. Its nature is light, and it constantly seeks the celestial realm. It is the rarefied spirit of our essential nature that is incarnate here on earth to learn the lessons of this life. We Daoists call this essential fire or nature “Xing.” Xing rises from the heart up to the eyes and connects with the eyes of another person. The intimacy we find when staring into one another’s eyes comes from the direct connection of our essential spirits. The “fire in our eyes” is literally the reflection of our eternal essence or soul.


Fire is Yang: the initial spark of transformative change that leads to the conflagration of a passionate life. Fire exists in all living things; even our culture is full of slogans like “light it up”, “burn it down” or “I’m all fired up”, each one showing the universality of our embodiment of the transformative power of fire. We can harness fire to create a healing or destructive shift, but it will always deliver change. Destruction is often the precursor to creation, a cycle that continues over and over like night and day.


Human life is the natural flower born of the tumultuous yet balanced relationship of the sun and the earth. Think of the sun so brightly above us, a hydrogen furnace burning at almost 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The sun is so big that you could put 1.3 million earths inside of it. The sun’s immense gravity draws in everything around it and engulfs it in flames of transformation.


Fire is the spark of life, the change that makes things interesting. It is the leading edge of growth and development and should always feel a little exciting – and even a little dangerous.


We are all in a way children of the sun and earth; we share a complex relationship with our celestial star of light and life in the sky. In the Daoist tradition, the sun is the True Yang or Essential Fire, as it draws from the power of the celestial realm and forms itself into a concentrated elixir of life. It lives in a harmonious relationship with the Earth: our Essential Yin and the Fuel that roots fire’s passion in life. It is the magic of proximity that creates life, the sun and earth just far enough to feed each other in essence and transformation.


We each are home to an internal galaxy, with the sun and earth mirrored in our spirit and body.

In truth, we are all made of fire, made from stars.


Quite literally we are formed of the same elements as the stars. Like stars, we are bright burning continual expressions of life and light. Internal alchemy is the tool we use to understand our spiritual nature and the singular expression of that nature while recognizing that we are one fractal in an interconnected universe. When we practice Qi Gong and Daoist meditation, we activate the celestial realm within ourselves. We awaken the memory fire, our distant past in the celestial realm and we cultivate our energy to connect to the infinite.


Fire informs our purpose, our life path. Imagine you come upon a deer in the woods during an early morning walk along a trail. The stillness in the deer is a mirror of the stillness in us. The complete scene of the moment in the woods is the larger whole of which we are a fractal part. In Lao Tzu’s Dao De Jing (The Way and Virtue of the Dao) he says right from the beginning, “The Dao that can be named is not the true Dao.” What does this mean? It’s the same as the moment in the woods, when we name the realization, we pull ourselves out of the moment. When we shout fire “Fire!” we stop seeing it as the dancing spirits of wood and earth and air expressing themselves in balance.


So, what do we do with this wisdom? We use the words like a map to help us find our way, but then we put them down. Try being in-between your thoughts in the place of the now, the present moment and find the way in which you are both alone with yourself and completely connected with all things. The infinite place in the pause between inhale and exhale.


Fire is one of the steps along the path of true empowerment. To be empowered as a human being is to be authentic in the understanding and expression of your nature; your Xing. The obstructions to this state always have to do with being overcome by fear or desire, and always require a stillness of mind. But there can be obstructions: Sometimes anger or fear will manifest in the body/mind as tension or laxity, prolapse or overexertion.


Fire is the activating Yang life force that catalyzes change within the body; our own internal life-giving sun. Nestled in the heart center, it is the house of the mind and is the emperor/ess of the body. The heart decides where to send fire in the body. For example, fire is sent to the digestive system to warm and transform foods; it is sent to the lower abdomen, the “Ocean of Qi”(energy) to heat and transform water into a mist, like as the sun causes the ocean to evaporate and rise into the sky forming clouds. The mist from the abdomen carries the nourishing Qi into the lungs like clouds. Our breath is like the wind carrying the moisture throughout the body. Fire is the sources of our creativity, connection to others, immune system, and connection to our purpose. When it is free flowing the skin has a glow to it, the eyes are bright. When the fires is constrained or deficient from disease or exhaustion the expression of fire will become muted and we see the eyes a little less bright or the skin a little pale. By the same token, if the heart fire blazes too high, too often, it will over-consume our resources and create disharmony. Disorders of excess fire in the heart tend to look like mania, anxiety, flashes of rage, and impulse control issues.


We need to regulate the heart fire in order to live in physical and spiritual health. One way to balance the heart fire is to use a mantra, a built-in sonic tool to clear physical pathways so energy can flow and recalibrate the frequency of our bodies. Qigong practices are designed to balance all of the elements within us, including fire in this way. The emotion of the heart is joy and compassion, which means the result of practices focused on the heart fire should result in joy or compassion for yourself and others.


When we regulate the fire of the heart we see changes in the sense of heat with in us, the beating of the heart and a change in the nervous system. If we are stressed or anxious or panicked, we generally need to downregulate the heart fire. If we need to delve into the creative or move through an old habit or story, we need to upregulate the heart fire.


At the Pathfinder Institute, our practices are rooted in Shamanic Qigong. The discovery of Shamanic methods comes from thousands of years of meditation and observation passed down from teacher to student. When the mind quiets and the light and fire of the sun moves through us, a truly amazing thing happens. Everything comes to life! Teachers are revealed to us everywhere and in every moment.


In Qigong, we first unblock the body with a practice called “the dancing and drumming (medicine of the heart)”. This Qigong comes from the Mount Emei tradition and was shared with me by one of my teachers, Zhong Xian Wu. I have been teaching it to yoga teachers, healers, students, and executives for the past 15 years and have watched it permeate these communities, and ripple through the world into many wonderful branches of healing practice.


You can do this practice anywhere, since we are always connected to the earth and sky, and if we focus we can feel their force within us. Here’s a quick guide to the practice:

1.Put on some drum music – a congaor djembe, something with an ancientbeat that speaks to you.

2.Close your eyes and quietly imagine you are in a world between worlds, in the night under the stars with afire burning in front of you. You arestanding in a circle with your tribe.

3.As the drums beat you begin toallow yourself to shake up and downand shift your body from side to side.Let the rhythm guide you.

4.As you begin to bounce and move,let your focus move slowly from thecrown (the heavenly gate/Tian Men)down through all the sense organsin the head, through the neck andshoulders, elbows, wrists, and hands.Come back and shake the chest andback (pat them lightly), the abdomen,lower back, hips, knees, ankles, andfeet. Let the whole body become disorganized and free of pattern, shakefor as long as it takes you to “forget” the way you like to move and “discover” the movement of the moment.

5.When you are feeling stuck or justwant to clear the heart, take a deepbreath in and as you exhale, movethe tongue all around letting out thebreath and sound of your voice (withforce), the vibration unlocking theheart center. Do this until you feel joybegin to rise up in you.

6.After about 10 minutes, when thebody feels loose, the mind relaxed,and the heart a little more open, slowdown the shaking and come to a complete stop.

7.Eyes closed, hold the stillness inyour body and allow the consciousness to move inward. Notice the flowof Qi through your body, the feelingof fire and life in balance and flowthroughout your system.


One tool to ignite the fire and regulate focus and creativity is called “nine palace breaths.” In this technique, the body is relaxed, the hands rest gently palm over palm on the heart center. For nine breaths you will breathe in deeply and hold the breath for as long as you can without becoming dizzy, then exhale, releasing the full breath but retaining the exhale for as long as it’s comfortable. Repeat for nine breaths total with no regular breathing in between. By the end of the practice the mind will be calm and clear, the body energized and ready to engage.


Fire is the spark of life, the change that makes things interesting. It is the leading edge of growth and development and should always feel a little exciting – and even a little dangerous.


Thomas Droge is the founder of Pathfinder Institute in NYC. He is a doctor of Chinese medicine and a seeker of truth. Thomas holds a Master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and post graduate work at the Jiang Xi College in mainland China. He completed Harvard’s Mind Body Medicine program and teaches in many of the ancient lineages of Daoist wisdom traditions including, Zhao Bao, E Mei, and Dragon Gate.