In past issues of Around the Fire, we have introduced you to several Sacred Fire Community Firekeepers from around the world. There are now over 70 Firekeepers on 4 continents associated with our organization. For this edition, we wanted to explore the work of Firekeepers in more detail, so we turned to don David Wiley, a tsaurririkame (senior shaman and community leader) in the tradition of the Huichol people of the Sierra Madres of Mexico, a quiapequiz (worker with weather for his village) in the tradition of the Nahua people of the central Mexican highlands, and chairman of the Sacred Fire Community. The initiation, training and continuing education for Sacred Fire Community Firekeepers is under his care. Moreover, don David is recognized by elders of his own and many other indigenous spiritual traditions as having a unique relationship with Fire, serving as a physical conduit (known as a “spirit-speaking person”) to directly transmit much needed divine guidance during this time of great need in the world.
ATF: Don David, thank you so much for agreeing to help our readers better understand the work of Sacred Fire Community Firekeepers. What can you tell us about the particular invitation that Firekeepers offer to their respective communities?
Don David: I am happy to tell you about that. First, we need to talk about what I often call “the Fire effect.” Humans have an incredibly long relationship with Fire, which is told about in many very ancient sacred stories from around the world and goes back at least 800,000 years. These tales talk about how people gathered around fire not just for utilitarian reasons – warmth, light and cooking food – but also to benefit from an unseen and mysterious spiritual effect, something not necessarily recognized by mainstream anthropological research. We can say that Fire promotes the energy of Heart, which is our connective capacity with ourselves, with each other and with the other-than-human other. This is a very powerful form of emotional intelligence that can help us address our problems in a way that is much more creative than mind-driven or technological solutions. Real solutions are found when we tap into our connection to each other and the natural world around us.
As human beings we are designed to be inter-dependent – it is in our soul, in our language, the way we operate. There is something about spending time together around Fire – gathering with others in a particular, intentional way around a consecrated fire – that serves as an antidote for the growing disconnection and extreme polarization present in today’s industrialized societies.
ATF: There certainly seems to be a lot of conflict and polarization coming to a head all over the world – political tension, wars and refugee crises, battles over the environment – to name just a few. Many people are afraid or angry or filled with grief. So how do Sacred Fire Community Firekeepers move with that?
Don David: Well, Firekeepers have a fundamental and important role in the community whenever something arises that needs to be worked out. Whether the issue shows up as one individual’s problem, as an interpersonal conflict, or as a fear-inducing dramatic change at the national or global level, the way toward resolution will always involve the same path, the one of common heart.
When we can drop beneath the narratives of the mind, we are able to remember that we share common values, even if they are clothed in different stories. For instance, the religious fundamentalist, the new-age spiritual seeker, and the practitioner of an ancestral earth-based tradition, each in his or her own way, is trying to touch something immutable, some quality of permanence that has to do with how the world was brought forth and how it works. If, however, these three were to get caught in arguments about their various approaches of touching and honoring this Mystery, arguing the right and the wrong of held positions, then the shared value of the sacred would be forgotten.
Firekeepers, then, extend an invitation for people to come together around Fire. As people share in discussion, the Firekeepers practice listening for the underlying emotions that are being expressed. That is because emotions are the language of the heart. We can speak of five major flavors of emotion. Each brings a gift when allowed to rise and fall in a natural way. Happiness: connection and celebration. Anger: the setting of boundaries. Grief: letting go of something that has been valued. Fear: protection from potential loss. Sympathy: reaching out to support another.
Through their training – it requires a lot training and continuing education – Firekeepers are developing a capacity to understand what effect the Fire is having in the space when people are gathered around it. Therefore the Firekeeper becomes a type of facilitator, sometimes a very quiet one who is just watching and distinguishing how the heart is opened up just by being in the presence of Fire. In other instances, the right kind of support is needed to build a sense of safety so that people can feel reassured enough to be curious, to explore different perspectives, to discover and release mental blocks, finally freeing the expression of the root emotion. Some emotions, you could say, are joy-producing and some are more strong, whether you want to refer to them as “negative” or not. Remember, in their balanced expression, all emotions have a gift for us, and expressing them freely as they arise is the most natural thing to do.
ATF: Is it enough, then, for the focus to be on how people are feeling, or is that to be balanced with speaking about what is being experienced?
Don David: Well, that is an important point there. What often is happening, yes, we are communicating with each other through language. When the mind communicates, let’s say, giving an explanation or telling a story, there are also often underlying concerns that are held but not seen by the mind. Those concerns are shared at the fire and, of course, shared through language. So, sometimes you hear a story or explanation or narrative of something going on in a person’s life, and the others present are paying attention to the explanation, but the Firekeeper is listening for the movement of emotions that are both encapsulated within or moving underneath the explanation. Sometimes stories that are shared are an attempt to convey the emotions themselves, what is being felt, as a way to connect to them. But when the mind is in an explanation mode, it often does not see that it is having a modification effect on naturally flowing emotions, emotions that would actually be healthy and appropriate for the situation that the person finds him- or herself in. So the Firekeeper is there listening and feeling for where the emotions are moving, and where there seems to be a block. Then, if there is what we call a facilitation movement needed, the Firekeeper – observing the spiritual chemistry at play – may make a small intervention to keep things moving in the right direction. In this way, as emotions are experienced and expressed, something moves inside the person, and through this release, healing occurs. And others present find themselves touched by the experience and connect to this place of shared common humanity in a way that can never happen through mental discussion.
ATF: Do you have any advice for people who are feeling hooked by the concerns of the mind, whether reacting to the closely held opposing view of someone else in the community, or feeling impotent about the challenging things happening in the world?
Don David: Of course, what I would say is, the most important work to be done is to begin to distinguish and feel the presence of heart as a very important and particular phenomena. Then one can also access courage, strength, and a capacity to move with an enormous variety of situations and not be beaten down by them. In this way, people can discover that it is not about looking primarily for some kind of intellectual solution, but rather for some type of solution based on how you relate to the world in a more balanced and capable way. And so the prescription is, the more time we spend with sacred Fire and with community, the greater will be our capacity to recognize, move into and maintain the presence of heart. That is the best antidote for fear, and is also the best way to help make a difference in the world. The way we move with what is present in front of us, in this moment now, has far-reaching impact. And so this is the invitation that Sacred Fire Community Firekeepers are making: to bring balance and healing back into the world, one sacred fire at a time.
ATF: Don David, thank you for taking time out of your very busy schedule to speak with us today.
Don David: It was my pleasure.
Readers can read more about don David Wiley’s background on his website. We also point to don David’s recent open letter to the community, which is included in this issue of Around the Fire.
Please explore this website for more information about the Sacred Fire Community or to find the community fire nearest to you.
Learn more about the sacred path of Firekeeping in the Sacred Fire Community.