The Fire Model

Ignite Life
July 31, 2022

I often find myself getting a little frustrated with the messaging about wellbeing, while it has good intentions, my experiences inform me that it is often counterproductive and there are some considerations that need to be made when people are not doing well. As a mental health creative therapist, I love a good metaphor and I have been thinking about how building a fire sums this up. Let’s open the conversation and consider how to we can support those who are experiencing debilitating anxiety, stress, burnout, depression and mental illness through the fire model. 

Stick with me here! 

Ideally if we were each a fire you would want it to be burning brightly and be energetic, productive and providing light and heat that is needed to shelter you from the dark and cold. It’s the fire in your belly, the passion, the warmth, the connected you. But this isn’t realistic all of the time and life sometimes has you feeling stuck, lost and like you have nothing left.

This is what I call the smoke and ashes of life – where you are burnt out, things are a bit dull and it’s a struggle to feel like there is a spark to do anything. It’s a bit meh and when you have mental health challenges this is the dark place where there is no energy and seems impossible to find the light.

Or if there is a bit of life, there is a smoke that seems to follow you around and there is no amount of saying white rabbits to get rid of it – it’s foggy, suffocating, it stinks, the smells gets through everything and it’s hard to find clarity.

So what do we do with all this – well we turn the ashes and just light the fire again – simple right?

There is often a perception that you can just think your way to great mental health, that it’s a choice and if your just change your mindset, implement all your strategies, you will be okay – while these things can certainly help, especially when you are heading toward wellness, its not that simple – life happens and it needs to be processed. 

In fact some of the well meaning statements that are supposed to be supportive and light the spark have the opposite effect as it has the person feeling misunderstood, disconnected and even more isolated. This is like putting the big logs on the ashes and expecting them to create a fire – it’s not going to happen as those big logs are too much to take on when there is barely any life in that fire. We could even think of it as water that dampens the situation and there is no chance of the spark being lit in that moment.

In order to build a healthy fire we need to go through some stages, not just put on another heavy log on the fire and expecting it to take on – it doesn’t even have a chance to light before burning out again.

 So what do you do when you are in the smoke and ashes? 

To get things started we need to gather the small bits to get started – its not like you have the energy, fuel  or oxygen needed to reach the roaring fire. Its about the firelighter, the fuel, the matches, the paper, that gel stuff that helps it to ignite. Think about what are those things in your life – do need some time off? is it acknowledging where you are at? Is it speaking to a professional? is it connecting to what lights you up? Is it listening fully to your employee and how they are? Is it checking in rather than doing nothing?

If you had nothing else, rubbing two sticks together will eventually gather some heat and you may be able to ignite a flame – but this takes enormous energy. That’s what it can feel like when you are struggling, doing it alone is hard and it takes a lot of effort to do anything about it. We only need one spark to catch to start creating the energy of fire but it also needs the right conditions for the kindling to catch. I believe one of the best spark lighting things you can do is to find that safe place to share your story, shed some light on the situation and gradually build the fire together.

This part of the fire making needs a lot of attention and gentle care a little bit of wind, the kindling takes hold and a small flame emerges but it requires ongoing nurturing, commitment, and handling with care. This is the vital stage of making fire, it is only when this is tended to that the passionate fire can hold its own. 

There are many more elements to the fire model and I will reveal more including the importance of the nourishing coals, holding the light and dark plus safety so that the fire doesn’t get out of control.

But for now I want you to consider what you do to get the fire started.

Do you come out blazing want to fix everything and expect the fire to be burning brightly all of the time?

What are the systems, processes or things that put the fire out? Or dampen the chances of it igniting? 

How do you connect with where the fire is at and take steps to nurture it, create a safe environment for it to come out of the ashes and take the steps to create the warm, passionate connected space?

 Life happens and I believe that the most important fire building process is connection, the right conditions and acknowledging the reality of what is happening in your life – only then can you work through how to stoke that fire and take steps to rise from the ashes.

What are your thoughts of the fire model so far? Anything to add?