Following the Yellowstone Park fire of 1988, the minds of many were filled with questions like: What happened? How did it happen? What can we learn from this?
Once we gain an awareness of the wounds created by our “forest fire” experiences and begin to heal, we will eventually hit a point where we find it necessary to reflect upon our healing journey. We can then view the new landscape and deepen our growth. When we take time to reflect, as I have done through this series or in other ways, the bigger internal landscape comes into focus and the weeds of judgment against others and ourselves begin to wither. Questions of who did what, why and how? become less important and questions of where am I and who am I because of this? become essential.
Life Always Finds a Way
When Yellowstone burned, it did not die. Like the Lodgepole Pines, without any human intervention, Yellowstone forest began to rebuild. As the smoke, which blocked our ability to view the landscape, cleared, scientists began photographing and monitoring the changes within the forest. Miraculously, they found that the forest grew to be more lush and full than before the fire. Areas that had not had any growth prior to the fire were now teeming with life as the Lodgepole and other seeds found new homes.
Once I ended the “forest fire” that was my unhealthy relationship, I welcomed the thick smoke of denial that clouded the scene. I figured, as long as I couldn’t see the damaged landscape, it wasn’t really there— makes sense, right? :-) . However, the smoke of denial eventually dissolved and I chose to heal the wounded Parts of myself that feared I was beyond repair.
Eventually, I viewed my new internal landscape with fresh eyes and what I found was not the permanent destruction I feared but life! I was full of potential for growth. It was my fear that limited my ability to see life amidst the loss. Like Lodgepole seeds, my internal seeds of wisdom and guidance survived and were activated by my “forest fire” experience! These seeds of wisdom also spread to other areas of my life and I began to see emotional and spiritual growth in new places.
Where and Who Am I Now?
Healing continues; there are Parts of me that are still triggered by the various “forest fire” experiences from my past. However, I am better able to recognize what triggers my anger, bitterness etc. and deal with it directly. For instance, when I create stories about how “s/he tried to manipulate/anger me,” I try not to react (as often…lol). Rather, I work to recognize my thoughts and emotions and trace them back to the internal source of my pain. This has been a long road, but well worth the continued effort. My children are worth it, my joy is worth it, my soul is worth it, I AM WORTH IT! …we ALL are WORTH IT!
Upon reflecting on my journey, I have learned:
- We can derail our healing process if we continue to view our “forest fire” experiences as destructive forces and suppliers of death and sorrow. Yes, we must acknowledge our losses and witness the pain they cause but we should also try to remember that life is not in the ashes and burying ourselves in them only leads to suffocation. However, when we view our “forest fire” experiences as transformative forces and suppliers of life and growth, our internal seeds of wisdom will guide us to self-compassion and peace.
- On our healing journey, recalling why we want to heal gives motivation when the end seems so far away. For instance, I continue to heal and reflect, in part, so I can avoid passing the third-degree burns of my past onto my children. I will not choke them on the smoke of my pain or bury them beneath the ashes of my victimhood. I want the soil that cultivates my seeds to support their growth. Questions like these can help us find motivation: Do I need to heal? What are the benefits of healing? Of remaining where I am? How will I know when I’ve healed, what will be different?
- The healing journey is not a one-time event, but a constant process. When we view perceived “let downs” or “backslides” as personal defects, we remain stuck; when we view them as opportunities to see areas that still need healing and growth we can rejoice in their unveiling and hear the lessons they carry.
- We cannot change our past but we can acknowledge the feelings and heal the wounds that result from that past. We can then choose how we interpret and respond in the present.
- When we continuously react in the moment as if we are in our past, we essentially re-victimize ourselves by physically and emotionally reacting to everyone around us as if they are “out to get us.” My unhealthy relationship did not keep me stuck; it was in the past and no longer had power over me. It was the stories I created through my pain about myself and those around me that kept me imprisoned in history.
- A goal of healing is not to eliminate all pain but to shift our perspective to one that allows us to remain present with and realize the ways in which our thoughts, judgments and emotions about the past create our suffering and keep us stuck. This shift in perspective enhances our belief that like the Lodgepole, we have been gifted with an internal source of power to quench our “forest fires” and renew.
Find your motivations, become aware of your “forest fire” experiences, accept your emotions as the guides they are; witness those parts of you that carry pain and reflect on your process to gain the wisdom it cultivates. These steps will bring you closer to your Divine Self.
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*The above pictures depict Yellowstone's growth and healing progression over the course of 10 years. Courtesy of the National Park Service. www.nps.gov
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