The Fire Paradox – reinstating fire in its role!
I was watching the frightening news reports on California’s many wildfires last night when I heard the most amazing statement, “We are looking at The Fire Paradox as a tool for reducing wildfires.” The Fire Paradox? I had to know more about such an intriguing term, especially as I’ve been spending time considering and coaching around the negative impact of snuffing out our shadow aspects!
The Fire Paradox is a methodology of managing fires that has been used in Europe for centuries. It is the understanding that fire is both friend and foe. And sometimes the best way to manage the devastating rampage of wildfire is by creating more fire. How frightening is that idea? The core tenets of The Fire Paradox are:
- Reinstate fire in its role.
- Give fire its place to help reduce intensity and frequency.
- Learn about fire and how fire shows up, moves, and extinguishes.
- Identify risk zones proactively.
- Let fire do its work.
I immediately contacted my editor and said, “Hold off on any work on my shadow aspect article! I’m intrigued with The Fire Paradox and know it is has a powerful message!”
Consider how The Fire Paradox relates to your life:
- What could be different in your life if you stopped bracing against your shadow aspects and instead applied The Fire Paradox?
- What might move?
- How might you move forward?
- What if the slow burning fire lurking in the shadow side of your consciousness is what is actually holding you back from connection, achievement of your dreams, or health and wellness?
- What if these shadow side characteristics or emotional aspects—once uncovered, given their place, explored, and embraced—actually have the potential to move us forward at the speed of light?
What are shadow aspects?
Carl Jung refers to our shadow aspects as the side of our emotional self that our conscious ego can’t or won’t see. Shadow aspects are most often referred to as resentment, selfishness, guilt, anger, greed, denial, and mistrust. In my own journey, I’ve learned that welcoming the shadow side into the light is the pathway to self-awareness and ultimately, to self-love. By embracing the shadow aspects of myself, they are less likely to jump out of the darkness when I’m least expecting it. In my work with others, I witness so much relief and forward movement when through gentle facilitation and coaching, clients are able to engage in an exploration of how they snuff out or repress their own shadow aspects. The truth is that the shadow aspects we deny in ourselves are also the ones that we deem to be moral deficiencies in others. This tendency to judge others who share our shadow aspects is one of the primary causes of isolation and disconnection. It is also a place where relationships break down. Teamwork and collaboration are stymied. Creativity and innovation are snuffed out. Interestingly enough, when I work with people who are frustrated that they repeatedly leave a partner only to end up picking a new partner with the same characteristics, those characteristics are actually part and parcel of the shadow aspects the client is most resistant to look at. The same works for bosses or co-workers.
“Why do I always end up working for people who take advantage of me?” “Hmm. I’m not sure, let’s look at how you feel about putting your own needs first.” “What? That is so selfish.” Bingo. A pathway to changing the energy and power of shadow aspects is to pay attention to what brings up feelings of shame and guilt. Ask yourself “What do I most fear I will discover about myself if I really get to know and understand the fire power of my shadow side?” When we welcome our shadow aspects into the light and identify the risk zones proactively (e.g. Where might I get triggered?), we diffuse the negative charge. We take away the fear and opportunity for a sudden flare-up to catch us unaware, to hijack us in our work and in our relationships, to lead us deeper into shame or guilt, and to impact our desired success. The most shocking news for people I work with is that the shadow aspects can actually serve us well in life. In other words, consider the employee who loved their work so much they gave their all, committed nights and weekends to their job, never said “no” and suddenly finds themselves resentful and burnt out. This person comes to me to get assistance in finding a new line of work, or a way to find their passion; sometimes they are sent to me because they are lashing out in anger at co-workers. They initially complain to me about how no one works as hard as they do. They label those who use their vacation time as “unmotivated” or “not committed.” They tell me “Yes, I get angry at co-workers. I’m the only one working around here!” When this employee can explore the shadow side selfishness, they find that creating boundaries around their own time and energy is actually the healthy side of selfishness. They put the fire to better use! Let the fire work with the fire. They discover that their negative energy around others appropriately caring for themselves is diffused. They begin to practice small amounts of “selfishness” and see where it actually serves them well. In the space formally consumed by anger, resentment, venting, and guilt, they instead find creativity, innovation, and joy. Changing the energy of your shadow aspects takes time and practice. In the beginning it is deeply uncomfortable and perhaps daunting. It feels like trusting The Fire Paradox when battling the wildfire. It feels like a new pair of leather boots that haven’t yet become supple and fitted to your individual feet. Over time, however, the original joy and connection returns. Space is cleared for connection, creativity and innovation. Just like with using fire to manage fire, you can use selfishness to reinvigorate!
Where might you want to apply The Fire Paradox? Use this simple technique and reap the benefits in your own life.
Example: Generosity as a value may have selfishness as a shadow aspect. Truth as a value may have deceit as a shadow aspect.
2. Bring to the light Now make a quick list of where in your life that trait or shadow aspect has actually helped you, protected you, or helped you to get something you needed. In other words, was there a time when you were selfish and were able to ask for and receive what you wanted and needed?
3. Practice and Play Identify a place right now where that shadow aspect could again serve you well. Play with bringing it forward. See how it feels. What is the result? Where else can you sprinkle it? Play with the shadows.
4. Shift Reframe it! Celebrate that shadow aspect as a newfound strength. Allow yourself to acknowledge that aspect or trait that you considered a deficit is actually positive when applied appropriately.