A well-known adage about forest fires, and commonly seen on materials promoting outdoor fire safety, it is simple, concise and true. The vast majority of raging bush fires got their start as a stray campfire ember, a spark from machinery, or a carelessly discarded cigarette butt. Forest fires are scary and destructive. But the notion of large fires starting small can also be adeptly applied to ideas and initiatives. How many successes, achievements, inventions and undertakings, whether personal or business, began as tiny thoughts? As barely audible whispers in the mind that were nourished and cultivated and grew?
Fire needs 3 things: fuel, heat and air (oxygen). This is the triangle of combustion; fire needs sufficient quantities of all 3 to ignite, to grow, and to perpetuate. Sometimes we get an idea but the fire is not fed and soon subsides. Or the idea withers over time as it is starved for the “fuel”, “heat” or “air” it needs to flourish.
Or perhaps the spark of an idea may not ignite anything at all! Sometimes it’s for the better; it’s the rare person who can nurture all their idea fires without burnout to themselves or those around them. But other times it is a shame when we can’t (or don’t, either through neglect or a conscious choice not to) feed our fires. Or we have someone else in our life “pouring water on our fire”, a fitting metaphor.
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, one of the Niyamas is known as Tapas. Often translated as heat, tapas is the notion that one needs to develop the self-discipline to create “heat”, or perhaps tension, in order to develop. Heat can hurt, and we are naturally inclined to avoid something that feels too hot. But heat can also change, renew, transform. Think about how many things change with heat (even rock!) and don’t without it. So our challenge is to skillfully tend our fires to the degree it is most effectual without going too far as to be detrimental.
If you’re not feeling any heat, good chance there’s nothing cooking.