Our family visited Yosemite National Park this summer and was fascinated to learn about the Yosemite Firefall ceremony. Maybe you know the story...
"Each evening in the summer, a roaring bonfire was built at the edge of Glacier Point, which towers 3,200 feet above Yosemite Valley... At 9pm sharp, a master of ceremonies in Curry Village shouted out, "Let the Fire Fall!” and the bonfire's glowing embers were pushed over the edge of Glacier Point, creating a glittering 'Waterfall of Fire.'" (Source: yosemitefirefall.com)
The Firefall was a time-honored tradition for almost a century, until the National Park Service banned the ritual in 1968, calling it "an unnatural spectacle."
My teen sons were captivated with the idea that a wall of flames could plunge from a half-mile-high cliff like something out of the latest superhero movie. My husband went straight for the science and mechanics.
For me, the image of free-falling fire in the heart of the wilderness inspired a connection with mindfulness: the "opportunity for mindfulness" that is available when the force of nature we know as a difficult emotion is on the verge of going over the cliff and out of control.
When a strong emotion takes hold, the voices and impulses inside call, "Let the fire fall!" Unleash the anger. Indulge the desire. It can feel so good... so right... so certain to extinguish the searing heat of the emotional suffering.
It's at this moment that mindfulness can steady the storm, providing just enough space and perspective to gain clarity and make a wise choice in that moment. Maybe the fire should fall, maybe not.
Regardless, purposefully paying attention to the unfolding of our experience moment by moment with non-judgment and self-compassion, affords the opportunity to make a conscious choice about how to react skillfully.
There is a place between indulgence and suppression of emotions, and it is only found when acting mindfully and consciously, fully honoring our feelings and needs as well as those of others.
I've created many an "unnatural spectacle" mindlessly following the urge to let the fire of my anger or other power emotion fall—and doubtlessly will again. But making a practice of mindfulness in those moments has been life-changing. In fact, John Muir's sentiment about Yosemite also rings true for me about mindfulness of difficult emotions.
"Who could have ever guessed that so rough a wilderness should yet be so fine, so full of good things."
I am grateful to our Mindfulness Study Group for informing and deepening my own mindfulness around what I will call "Firefall moments." The Study Group has had rich discussions and meditations exploring emotions and the four foundations of mindfulness. I look forward to many more!