“When the corpse is borne to the grave, we know then the secret progress of death…the inward extinction of the vital fire.” –John Murray, The Quarterly Review (1844)
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and reading about fire; its many definitions, uses, and origins; but most importantly, what it means to me. Fire is a driving force in my life; it is my internal liveliness; the butterflies of my heart. This particular usage of “fire” first appeared in 1250. Defined as a burning or ardent emotion, acuity of intellect, life force, vital spirit, or the ‘flashing of the eyes’ (Oxford English Dictionary). This journey that I am on, a journey towards my truest self, began by chasing fire; filling my life with things that make me feel EXPANDED. Fire represents the feeling I have when I am 100% living in the moment, experiencing total internal illumination of the mind or body.
Fire is multi-faceted; full of life yet equally destructive. It represents my passion, eagerness, and luminosity. This natural force also reminds me that a candle burning from both ends always burns out. When I allow things to captivate me in such a way that I begin to neglect other aspects of my life, I experience an internal burnout, craving 24 hours of sleep and nothingness. Time, self-care, and careful reflection allow me to clean out unnecessary ashes and spark up the glowing embers that sustain me.
Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, “felt that the soul consisted of both water and fire. The eternal soul’s quest is eventually to become pure fire, which we might consider enlightenment by modern standards.” This quote is worth pondering. I often struggle to understand why I allow space for things in my life that don’t make me glow from the inside out. I’ve realized that part of being an adult occasionally requires doing things I don’t enjoy… so I put on a “fake it ‘til I make it” smile and fulfill my commitment (this is easier said than done, BUT it makes for better headspace compared to sulking and complaining). Not every job or internship makes you glow from the inside-out but it might be the stepping stone that will get you closer to your own version of “enlightenment” or pure internal fire.
Before chasing fire, it is important to understand yourself. Valuing your uniqueness and truly wanting to live 100% as yourself rather than as a replication of someone else is vitally important. Instead of seeing someone else’s accomplishments and feeling small or inadequate, love yourself enough so that other people’s accomplishments fuel your internal luminosity. In this way, I have found my fire…but not without failure. I spent many years comparing myself to others, competing with others, and seeking validation from shitty people. After too many inspirational self-help books and a summer surrounded by amazingly inspiring people, I discovered what it felt like to chase fire and leave behind feelings of self-doubt or internal inadequacy. I finally embraced who I was; flaws, imperfections, and all.
Immanuel Kant describes enlightenment: “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one’s own understanding without another’s guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one’s mind without another’s guidance. Dare to know!”
Hmm….this sounds a whole lot like embracing who you are and being independent as you embark on your own self-guided path. I am not suggesting that you abandon all of your friends and mentors and be #independentAF. I am suggesting that you take a moment to reflect. What friends, family members, and mentors give you that feeling of fire that I am describing? Find those people who will hand you a match but make it your responsibility to light it, add some kindling, and if you so desire…add some big logs and build up a freaking beautiful fire.
Fire has a way of pulling us in. Its presence tends to captivate our senses; drawing us in visually as we watch the flames flicker, hearing the transient cracklings, smelling the wood fire, and feeling warmth pass externally to internally. Identifying this wholesome feeling in everyday life has allowed me to embrace opportunities not solely for their potential outcome, but for pure joy. Each day, I’m learning how to set intentions that allow me to let go of self-imposed pressure. If I let go of the pressure to achieve the standard of “success,” I find that I can truly have fun, enjoy the process, and then do my best. Previously, “succeeding” or winning was my ticket to an internalized message that I was good enough. All too often, we fixate on the desired outcome of a scenario; filling our heads with feelings of self-doubt and self-righteousness as we toggle between thoughts of failure and success. What if we didn’t do that? What if we just took it one step at a time, practiced being present, and tried to have fun? Like I mentioned earlier, fire is a present moment feeling. It is not the idea of future outcome.
So what does this have to do with Weightlifting? Time after time, Weightlifting provides me with feelings of pure fire (rich learning experiences and genuine human connection do this for me, too). Being successful as a Weightlifter requires intense presence and focus. To feel the bar and move that weight well, your mind cannot be anywhere else. Patience…one lift at a time. If your mind is fixating on the heaviest weight you are supposed to move for the day, 8 reps from the weight you are taking now, you are not putting your all into that current rep. When competing at University Nationals in April, I did not have a single number in mind for what I wanted to open with, lift 2nd, or even 3rd. My focus started first with my general warm up. When that was done, my focus was on moving the empty bar as well as I could. In this way, I start settling into feelings of fire. When it was time to step on the platform, time transcended and I achieved my goal: do my effing best and have fun.
There are pro’s and con’s to competing in a sport where outcomes are revealed in a matter of seconds. There is no denying the objectiveness of the weight on the bar and 3 white or red lights. As a coach, I instill in my athletes the importance of process goals (deciding what mindset they’re going to show up the training with, how they are going to approach the bar, what technical cues to focus on during their lift). We don’t fixate on numbers. When I declare a number for them at a meet, they can find confidence knowing that they have the skills to move the bar.
The focus and determination required to be a Weightlifter is what makes the sport such a great developer of self-discipline. It’s just you and the bar. Your teammates and coaches cannot lift the weight for you, you have to want it for yourself. Athletes who take ownership over the training process and commit to the long game know what it feels like to step on that platform and feel fire. If that fire is inside you, you will keep coming back to the bar despite bad days or missed lifts. I cannot show this or teach this to my lifters. If they know it, they keep training and improving. If they don’t, I hope they discover something that does light them up. Weightlifting is not for everyone. Finding a true north is key to personal freedom.
Reflecting back on the quote at the beginning of the passage, replacing internal fires with a life of monotony is metaphorical suicide. Most of us know someone who “dies” early because they abandon their internal flames to fulfill societal norms or appease others (fuck that). Find what makes you feel alive in the truest sense. You don’t need to strike every match that comes your way. Once you have a sense for the matches that are worth striking, build YOUR fire, it is your vital elixir.
With Strength & Love,