Elements: Fire

AA010478It seems fitting that Air, Earth, Fire and Water (the Home page) are represented here. I began my Zen adventure in NYC at Fire Lotus Zendo almost 20 years ago. (I was first introduced to Zen by Joe Shimotsukasa and my father in 1956 when I was 11, but that’s another story.)

Fire anneals and hardens; but it also burns away the extraneous, which somehow leaves us softer and more flexible. As a potter in California in the ’60s, I preferred low-fire raku to the pieces I made in the high-temperature kilns. With raku, you could “reduce” the glaze by throwing leaves onto it. The leaves would generate smoke and carbon and make an interesting surface; the leaf prints would remain in the glaze.

The past twelve years, as I’ve struggled to find work (never mind meaningful work!), I’ve been through the fire of a broken relationship; loss of illustration — and now web design — as ways of making a living; loss of my right to work (ageism and sexism trump the Constitution every day); and cancer. I now feel as if only incoming rockets are of any dire threat to me (well, fear of incipient macular blindness and/or Alzheimer’s have a similar effect on my pulse).

And since I was last in Syria during the First Bush War, incoming rockets haven’t really been on my mind. I do pray often for the safety of my friends on top of their beautiful mountain “fortress”, 1-1/2 hours east of Damascus. I hope they are as well as one can be in the middle of a civil war!

I reverted to cooking with fire (unsuccessfully) during the blackout of Hurricane Sandy at the end of October. Using a small skillet and heating a small piece of filet mignon, I refused to give in to the loss of electricity. For over an hour I held the pan over three candle flames, bringing the steak to super-rare; and my arms, to the brink of falling off. I probably should have dug up my camp stove, but it was cold and very, very late, and my mind wasn’t working properly.

The next day I left for the shelter of a friend’s house: so much for the lessons learned after all those years in third-world countries, often living under very primitive conditions. Chicken!

*  *  *

The fires of the stars we reach for are not attainable. But I see them as the diamonds at the intersections of the fibers in Indra’s net, forever reflecting us and each other into infinity.

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