Stewardship of Your Inner Flame

Stewardship of Your Inner Flame by: Chris Bishop


At the base of the spine, Root Chakra is yang, masculine, dense, stable, secure and substantial.  In the words of the physical sciences, we could say that Root Chakra is matter.


Moving up the spinal column, Sacral Chakra is yin, soft, feminine, cool, fluid and flexible.  In physical science, we could consider Sacral Chakra to be movement.


In physics, if we combine matter and movement, the output is energy.  And that is the nature of the Solar Plexus Chakra.  The Solar Plexus Chakra is the seat of our will.  It’s our power center.  When wisdom and intention from the upper chakras descend, they merge with  the desire of the Sacral Chakra in the Solar Plexus Chakra as intentional and productive change.


Solar Plexus Chakra is associated with element of fire.  It makes sense that the seat of our will and power is associated with the transformative force of fire.  There is power there, but there are also some inherent hazards.  We want our inner fire to be a tool for our lives — fire metaphorically cooks our food and warms our home and our family.  But if we allow the fire to burn too hotly, we get a conflagration.  When not tended with care, that inner fire can burn us and the people around us.  It can certainly burn us out.


This calls for stewardship.  Stewardship is loving care.  It involves tending something sacred with presence, intention and skillful execution.


A fire needs three things to burn.  Fire needs fuel, it needs a flow of oxygen and it needs a source of heat— a spark or a flame.  If you take away any of those elements, the fire goes out.  But for many of us, we heap too much fuel on the fire at once.  Or we use a metaphorical bellows to artificially increase the flow of oxygen.  Then we are surprised to learn that we started a forest fire.


If we had trimmed trees and shrubs at our homes and had a big pile of limbs and brush that we needed to burn, we would take some careful steps to be effective stewards of this fire.  Before we ever lit a match, we would have a water hose and a shovel with reach.  Throwing soil or spraying water on a fire cool it by removing oxygen and heat.  We would also take a hand tool like a rake and create a barrier around the brush pile that was scraped all of the way down to bare mineral soil.  This “fire break” would include nothing that would burn to ensure that the fire was consistent and hot enough to help us meet our goal, but not so hot that it burned us or escaped the area that we had prepared to burn.  We would also keep more fuel that needed to be burned close enough that we could add it to our brush pile as it safely burned down.  We would monitor this fire closely, with loving care for the land and for our task.


When I graduated from the University of Maine, I got an offer for an amazing job.  It was a dream job for me.  It was the kind of job I had always wanted.  I didn’t want to just be good at this job.  I wanted to be great at it.  I poured everything that I could into that job.  I did everything that I could think of to be great at it.  I worked long hours.  I checked in with my office on days off and vacation.  I responded to every email, even on days off and vacation.  I answered every phone call from work regardless of the circumstances.  I spent hours a week outside of work reading books related to my job to improve my knowledge and performance.


For a year or so, this approach worked well.  I was learning a lot and having a blast, and I got some great results.  But after a year, things started to change.  The job stopped being fun.  The “dream job” element was gone, and I had trouble seeing what I had ever enjoyed in the job.  I was tired in a way from which I could not seem to get rested.  I could not continue to give of myself in the same way.  And I felt resentment toward both my job and my colleagues.  


Because I didn’t know what else to do about it, I found a different job.  This new job was the kind of job that I had always wanted—it was a dream job for me.  And I didn’t just want to be good at this job, I wanted to be great at it.  I poured my soul into that job.  I did everything I knew to do to be successful in this new job.


This all worked really well for about the first two years.  I enjoyed learning and developing new skills, and I was creating some very solid work.  But then things started to change.  I stopped enjoying my work.  I started feeling resentful of my job and with the people with whom I worked.   I was exhausted in a way from which I could not seem to get tested.  I simply couldn’t continue to give of myself in the same way.  So, I left for another job.


This next job was the sort of job that I had always wished for— it was a dream job.  I wanted to be exceptional at this job. . . you know what happened next, right?


I followed this same pattern for literally six jobs.  I finally decided that the individual jobs were not the problem.  I thought it was the career field (it certainly wasn’t ME).  So, I took a risk.  I had an honest conversation with my boss.  I told him that I was resigning, but I was giving him 18 months notice.  I stopped answering the phone every time it rang.  I checked my voicemails promptly, but I only returned calls immediately if the call really needed to be made before I returned to my office.  


I also started taking off more of the vacation that I had earned by pursuing some personal interests.  I took every Tuesday afternoon off for six months to work on a correspondence course to become a certified nutrition coach.  I also took some weekends off to attend a yoga teacher training.  I was energized to be learning and doing things to feed my passions.  I was also starting to get rested up.


I noticed that work was starting to be fun again.  I was starting to see some of the “dream job” elements that had been so clear to me in the first year of the job.  When I had completed my first year with this dialed back approach to my work, I received the highest performance review of my entire career, and by a lot.  To say this another way, I was working less than I had ever worked, and I was doing higher quality work than I had ever done.


In this metaphor, appropriate boundaries like letting calls go to voicemail and taking time off might serve as our fire break.  Feeding our passions might serve as having other fuel nearby to add to our fire to keep it burning well.  And creating some space in our lives for people and things outside of work that are important to us might serve as allowing a healthy and sustainable flow of oxygen.


In western society, we have a lot of societal pressures that can push us out of balance in the Solar Plexus Chakra, particularly in being excessive in this chakra.  It’s a trap.  As with most things, the middle path of not too much and not too little is likely the skillful approach to all areas of our life.


In the words of Edward Abbey, “Do not burn yourselves out.  Be as I am— a reluctant enthusiast. . . a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic.  Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure.”


Abbey spoke directly to the chakra system here.  Appealing to the pleasure center of the Sacral Chakra by doing things only for the purpose of pleasure and enjoyment is one tool for cooling the internal fire and bringing the Solar Plexus Chakra back into balance.


I could look back over the landscape of my career with regret as I see the patchwork of forest fires that I lit along the way.  But fire is both a destructive force and a creative force.  Fire recycles nutrients into the landscape, and it allows shade-intolerant “pioneer plants” to grow in these spaces.  The interfaces between the remaining forests and the new clearings created by fire allow for greater biodiversity and health.  With stewardship and care, it will all grow back.  As the process of plant succession unfolds, pioneer plants succumb to the shade of shrubs.  Shrubs eventually succumb to the shade of trees.  The forest is born again.


I find myself at another point of career transition, and I view this as another chance to be an effective steward of my inner fire.  This time, I begin with the path of a “reluctant enthusiast” as my goal and approach.  I’m going to keep this fire burning in the long term.


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