The Sacred Fire Within

By Ken Wells - 06/21/2022


Series Three: Blog Thirty-Six

It has been nearly 26 years since Muhammad Ali stepped back into the spotlight to ignite the Olympic cauldron with fire during the opening ceremony in the midst of battling Parkinson’s disease. The lighting of the Olympic cauldron fire motivated and united people around the world with perseverance whose inner fire flickered with debilitating illness. It underscored the sacred fire that exists within each of us.

Fire is a symbol of many things. It points to eternity in the measure of time. It highlights continuity as symbolized with the Olympic flame. It points to hope, rebirth and resurrection of dreams and possibility. It represents the deep passion and desire within one’s spirit.

Fire can also represent destruction and symbolizes the place of Hell. It can be destructive or creative. Its use is dependent upon personal responsibility.  Managed irresponsibly it destroys forests and devastates dreams. When responsibly directed, inner fire rekindles creative thought and fuels personal passion. Love for another often reflects a “fiery, consuming passion” that knows no bounds. Athletes often speak of their determination to excel in terms of a fiery passion that exists deep within their spirit.

Life requires a sacred fire within to procreate, to create connection with others in community and to explore the spirit of the unknown. Every human being comes into the world with a sacred fire to live and survive. There is no recovery without a sacred fire within that longs for a different way of life.

Life is a braiding of highs and lows, bitter and sweet, gains and losses that impacts the intensity of the sacred fire within. The inner flame must be continually fanned and rekindled. Sometimes it must be restarted. 

The indigenous Algonquian Potawatomi tribe of the Great Plains, Upper Mississippi and western Great Lakes region identified themselves as the “True People” who were “keepers of the sacred fire”. They established a confederacy with the Objibwa (Chippewa)and the Odawa (Ottawa) tribes. They interacted with each other like members of the same family. They forged their relationships between tribes with the fires of mutual interest and brotherhood.

Addiction is a fire that is out of control. It consumes and destroys anyone in its path. There must be a sacred fire that longs to stop within the heart of every addict to end the destructive behavior and experience healing. When it is not present or has been snuffed out, it must be rebuilt and sustained.

Listed is information to guide and maintain the sacred fire within.

1.Sacred fire requires taking personal responsibility. Becoming a fire starter means that you must organize and gather kindling. You must gather tinder which includes fine twigs and a nest of dried grasses or shredded bark. Then you must cut plenty of logs and construct your fire so that it gets plenty of oxygen. A single match fire-start, in less than ideal rainy conditions, is no small order. It requires preparation and determined work.

Cultivating a sacred fire within also requires personal initiative. As an addict there must be a time and place where you are done. It is common to identify that place as “hitting bottom”. Like Charlie Brown who tries to kick the football and Lucy pulls it away at the point of contact, leaving Charlie sitting on his duff on the ground, he finally concludes “no more football”. An addict, too,  must  say “No more football” meaning no more acting out.  Typically, this is an every day declaration with a commitment to follow through. This is the beginning of building the sacred fire.

In addition, the kindling and fuel for the sacred fire is in storytelling. The sacred truth is that the shortest distance between a human being and Truth is a story. Telling your story and listening to others’ stokes the sacred fire within. The greatest healing truths are uncovered only through unpacking the intricate details of one’s own story.

2. Every fire requires a spark. Once the kindling is in place, the beginning of a fire requires the spark of a single match. There is some risk that when you strike the match, the spark will not be enough to engage the kindling provided and there will be smoke but no fire. Yet, when the kindling is right the single match ignites the tinder and soon a fire begins that  creates embers that burn for a long time.

In recovery, sparks are the crisis addicts create that trigger a jump start into recovery. However, many sparks simply fizzle. There may not be enough kindling and tinder to allow the fire of recovery to gain traction. So what happens is that an addict will start recovery but will flame out. The spark will only create a sacred fire when the addict commits to kindling recovery with the fuel of an in-depth recovery program. Without this spark, healing will quickly die.

3. Recovery requires a fire keeper. Unless you maintain the fire, it will soon burn out and become cold. Some indigenous people learned to maintain fire with shkitagen (pronounced- skit-a-gin). Shkitagen is a tinder fungus used as a fire keeper. Once an ember meets shkitagen it will not go out but smolders slowly in the fungal matrix, holding it’s heat. Even the smallest spark, so fleeting and easily lost, will be held and nurtured if it lands on a cube of shkitagen.

In recovery, the “shkitagen” for sacred fire is found in the wisdom of mature guides and sponsors. Protecting the sacred fire within means to cherish the wisdom and knowledge of the elders in recovery and those who maintain a deep commitment to sobriety and emotional growth. It means to remain closely connected to those who have guided you to a place of sobriety. There must be a commitment to remain hungry for sobriety, spiritual and emotional growth or the sacred fire of the heart will wane. Many who have experienced long term sobriety have left their “shkitagen” in recovery untended and as a result no longer have a hunger and thirst for personal growth. Their sacred fire has burned out and is now cold.  The fire within must be renewed. Others have allowed their sacred fire to burn toward materialism and self absorbed living. They have lost their balance and allowed their fire to burn out of control with little perspective. They endanger their sacred fire to be suffocated and risk the positive attributes attained in recovery to be destroyed.

Recovery fueled by a strong sacred fire within will stand the tests and tribulations of addiction recovery. However, it will be necessary to maintain the sacred fire by burning the underbrush of resentment and other distractions that threaten to extinguish the sacred fire of recovery.

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