I’ve learned that some parts of us flame and burn much easier than others. To survive fire (personal attack and criticism) we need to cultivate flame retardant self-esteem.
In South Africa bush fires are a seasonal and expected occurrence – often welcome because of their role in regeneration and releasing the energy from dormant seeds that are under the ground. However, over-population of alien plant species means that the character of bush fires has changed. Trees like Eucalyptus are full of oil and burn quickly and at very high temperatures making bush fires highly destructive and dangerous – destroying more than they regenerate.
My friend Ruby lives in a cottage on a farm in the Eastern Cape, South Africa and last night the hills around the farm were alight with bush fires. Driving up to the cottage to help her evacuate, all the hills were outlined by dancing orange flames – it looked as if the farm would soon be circled by fire. The fire brigade were busy nearby where the flames had actually reached the houses and they could not come to help. So it was up to the whim of nature and the ingenuity of the local residents on the farm to deal with the fire. People doused the surrounding bush with water, beat back flames and watched the wind and waited.
Although the flames came dangerously close – about five metres from one of the cottages – the farm survived and the fire never reached the dwellings. I learned later that the farm had likely been saved by a belt of indigenous forest that buffered the farm from the flames. Apparently indigenous bush deal with fire in a totally different way the alien plant species; alien varieties tend to burn easily and wildly at high temperatures with a lot of flame. The plants in indigenous forests do not catch fire and flame as easily; they slow the spread of fire and smoulder at lower temperatures than alien plant species. The fire burns the top layers of old grass and bush but it does not harm the fresh seeds that are lying just under the soil – in fact the heat stimulates the seeds to grow.
So what has this got to do with you and your self-esteem? Well the question we all have to ask ourselves is – what kind of forests have we planted around us? Is your self-confidence based on indigenous forests? Are you sure and confident in who you are? Are you cultivating your innate skills and talents? Or…did you import alien plants into your stories about who you are and build your sense of self on trying to be someone else or who someone else wanted you to be? If who you are is someone who wishes you were someone else, if you are fake, if you are trying to please others and be someone you are not – then it is likely you have an alien forest. If your work feels like it is not right for you, like you would be better placed doing something else, like your talents are being wasted – then your work is an alien forest.
We all need to find a way back to our indigenous forests – to find a way to build our self esteem up from who we are, what our skills and talents are and stop focusing on what we are not. If you do this – then when the fire comes, you will survive the attack. You might even benefit and thrive from the regeneration.
So the lesson from the African bush fire – we have to cultivate what in indigenous to us and stop trying to be something we are not. It’s hard to do this but we have to start. Start by noticing who you are in your heart, in your mind, what are your ideas, what kind of energy do you have and start appreciating these aspects of yourself. Start noticing these things in others. Imagine what it would be like to praise children for the quality of their hearts and minds instead of what they do or achieve? Stop putting value on what you have or what you have done – start noticing who you are, what is important to you, what moves you, what are your dreams – notice and cultivate your own indigenous forest.