The element of fire is nothing new to Australia. Yet, for the modern lifestyle, it can engender no small amount of fear. And understandably so. Recently, more than 50 houses and properties were destroyed by a fire near Perth, Western Australia.
Indeed, every summer brings with it the possibility of more destruction. And, for residents, this can mean more confusion, and more fear.
The question must be, then, What can be done?
In a recent radio interview, a volunteer firefighter described his decision to ‘stay and defend’ his home. After a certain period of time, one must either leave one’s dwelling or ‘stay and actively defend’. If the decision to leave is made too late, however, one also faces great risk in departing. Indeed, there is risk at every turn, whatever the decision – it cannot be avoided.
Not only was the interviewee a volunteer firefighter of many years experience, he also ran a business specialising in fire prevention and management. The first thing he said he needed to accomplish was to stay calm – and that his training and experience had made this possible.
In addition to these inner resources, this individual also had a very large water tank with the relevant and necessary firefighting hose, and around 100 surplus fire extinguishers (from his business). No doubt he would also have considered the necessary fire breaks around the property and house, as well as sprinkler systems, filling the gutters with water, and so on.
When, then, did he make his decision to stay and actively defend? It had, he said, been made years ago, as had all other preparations, including that the rest of his family (except his son – also a volunteer firefighter) would leave the moment they were aware fire was coming. How did he know the fire was coming? By being aware of the wind direction, local topography and other conditions; and by having access to a firefighter’s radio communication.
So, with a fire threat imminent, the long-held plan fell into action – his family left, and he and his son stayed to defend their home.
At this point, he said, a neighbour asked what he should do. Our interviewee asked if he had a defence plan in place – the neighbour replied in the negative. It was advised, then, that he should leave. The neighbour did so and returned some days later to find his home had been burned to the ground, no doubt wondering if he would have suffered the same fate had he stayed.
Another neighbour decided to take a garden hose and attempt to defend his home. For our interviewee, however, this meant another individual he now had to worry about – one who had not adequately prepared for this situation.
And so our interviewee stayed with his son and defended not only his own house, but managed to save the houses of four of his neighbours as well. His own preparation also led to a positive outcome for others.
As the days went by, he stayed inside the ‘red zone’ and continued to put out spot fires as they arose. If he had left the area, authorities would not have allowed him back in. While there he said he noticed several looters – including ‘suspicious’ kids on bikes, as well as an individual with a laundry basket full of items – scouring the area.
It was not until some three days after the fire started that he finally got some sleep, just before the interview. By this time his family had also returned – on a permit – to see what had happened.
What can be made of all this?
It seems as though this individual was born for a moment such as this. He had been observing and contemplating the element of fire for years, and had been actively cultivating the inner and outer resources necessary for this very moment. He had, in a way, been defending his home not just for these three days but for years, if not decades. All of his experience and preparation – over the course of his whole life, we could say – was an activity of staying and defending. We could say that this fire ‘moment’ belonged to his whole life.
Now, not all of us are volunteer firefighters, nor is fire a threat that all of us face. Perhaps, though, we face other natural elements – snowstorms, hurricanes, cyclones, floods, earthquakes, and so on. Perhaps we face threatening social conditions such as homelessness, poverty, inequality, subjugation, racism, sexism, etc., or any number of other, substantial trials. Indeed, there seems no shortage of ‘disasters’ knocking regularly on our and our neighbours’ doors.
And what of our homes – and houses – that we are called to either stay and defend, or to flee from? What is our home, in essence? Our house, as physical building, is a home for our physical bodies, and is more or less suited to our physical needs and countenance. With our thoughts, however, we can dwell outside these four walls and feel a certain amount of ‘at-home-ness’ in an area much greater than our houses. It may be that we also feel that home – our home – is as large as – encompasses also – our neighbours and their houses. Perhaps we are at home in our whole street, our whole neighbourhood, state, region – even the whole earth, and beyond. With our thoughts – with our thinking activity – it is fair to say that we can feel at home in as large or small an area as our thinking can encompass – can become part of. This individual stayed and defended not only his house, but his home – which, in this case, encompassed the houses of his fellow human beings.
In this light, to stay and defend our homes can take on new meaning. With the right cultivation of inner resources and the necessary skills and experience, I can choose to stay and defend whatever I choose to unite with in my own thinking activity – my own consciousness. And this activity of staying and defending can last a lifetime – longer. I am convinced that every human being has been actively preparing – to some degree of consciousness – for their own, unique activity of staying and defending. It may look completely different to the incident we have been describing above – but, none-the-less, it belongs to the path of each one of us that we have a particular, unique, world-necessary stay-and-defend contribution we are here to make. It just depends on how awake we are to it – how much and how consciously we develop the inner and outer resources necessary for its execution when called by the ‘imminent fires’ of life, and whether we have said ‘yes’ to it in such a way that when the moment arrives this ‘yes’ lives not only in our minds and on our lips, but also in our will – in our deeds. Do we stay and defend our ‘homes’, or do we leave? – each one of us lives out the answer to this question, for it is the course of our own lives that brings such a question into existence. And with the world as it is at present – in regards both natural and social questions – we can only say that the ‘fire’ is now upon us – is upon all of us. The wind direction, topography and surrounding conditions mean the threat is imminent. We must choose – and we must grow conscious, again and again, of this decision.
Finally, to help us in this activity, it can be useful to know what ‘defending’ actually entails. To look again at our interviewee, we can see the way in which he observed, contemplated and experienced fire in such a way that he was able to remain calm – was able to hold fear in its place. It was not that he was without fear, it was that he knew what to do with it. It may well have been that at some point – earlier in his life – he actually chose his path of training and development because he observed fire to be not only a threat, but something that gave rise to fear. In experiencing fire again and again, however – in his observation and thinking activity – he was able to hold fear at bay and do that which was necessary.
We could say that to observe and think fire in such a complete way is, in a sense, to become it. In becoming it – in becoming fire – fear no longer prevails as a driving force but is, rather, externalised from us; it is there but we are left free to do what needs to be done.
We could also say that each of us contains fear such as this. That which gives rise to it, however, will be different for everybody. If one is attentive, however, it is possible to work with that which brings about fear in us – whether it be fire, sharks, money, social situations or anything else – in such a way that we can know it from the inside – that we, in a way, can become it. And in becoming that which causes fear in us, we can begin to keep fear itself in its place, and take up our rightful position as free individuals.
The only thing not consumed by fire is fire. In becoming it, we have nothing to fear.
The indigenous people of this country have been working creatively with fire for more than 40,000 years.
The time has now come for all of us to choose – wherever we are, wherever ‘home’ is for us, whatever our fears, whatever our tasks. We are each asked to be responsible. The fire is upon us. Nay – we are already ablaze. Will we choose to flee? Will we choose to stay, unprepared, a burden to others? Or will we stay and actively defend, becoming fire, and putting ourselves in service of that which needs to be done in world evolution?
 Perth hills area, including Parkerville, Stoneville and Mount Helena. (The family property I grew up on was immediately impacted upon by this fire.)
 ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Radio 720 “Mornings with Geoff Hutchison” program, Wednesday January 15, 2014.
 The interviewee tried to save another house but had to abandon it when flames got into the roof.
 Indigenous Australians have used and continue to use fire as a form of land stewardship. Land is cleared and cleansed, making it more accessible and easier to hunt animals, while allowing certain plants to germinate and grow as others are removed. Such fire stewarding systems are intricate, and it is the task of certain individuals to be responsible for – to carry the wisdom of – fire – it is their dreaming; their totem. Like all dreamings they become it, in order to serve country as a whole.