Building a Fire

By Greg Baer M.D.

August 5, 2015

One of our favorite family activities is to build and sit around a fire. It occupies many people in cooperating with each other, as they gather wood, split logs, cut kindling, gather paper, bring matches, add wood to the fire, endlessly rearrange the burning logs, and more. A fire can be hypnotic, promoting conversations that might not otherwise have happened, and they provide a place for people to gather, rather than engaging in isolated activities.

One of my most important jobs in life is to teach my grandchildren how to build fires. On my headstone will likely be engraved, “He built great fires.” A good fire requires the right amount and distribution of three ingredients: fuel, air, and heat. This optimum fuel-air-heat ratio varies according to the kind of fuel, the heat applied, and the available air. Allow me to illustrate.

When beginning to build a wood fire, the first layer of wood (fuel) must be composed of thin pieces, like wood shavings, or finely split kindling, or sometimes pine needles. This is because in the beginning the heat is small—supplied by a single match—so the ratio of air to fuel has to be high. If a match is applied to a large log, for example, the air/fuel ratio is too low, and all you get is a black spot where the match singed the log. Once a fire is hot and roaring—having started with small pieces—you can pile on logs of almost any size and number, and the fire will continue to grow.

Helping people to find and implement Real Love is not unlike building fires, in that the elements required are simple, but relative proportions of these elements often must be just right before the optimum results can be achieved. As people learn Real Love—which includes feeling it and sharing it—they need (1) to be loved; (2) to be taught; and (3) to FEEL loved, which requires faith on their part

The experience of Sylvia may illustrate the interplay of these requirements. Sylvia’s life was filled with fear, self-loathing, irritability, criticism of others, and running. She attended a Real Love group and very much enjoyed the kindness and understanding she received there. But the enjoyment didn’t last long after the meetings, so Sylvia was not happier overall. Why? Because she was still being defensive and angry with her family and others, and these feelings and behaviors destroy love and happiness.

So Rachel, a wise woman in the group, began to point out Sylvia’s fears and her unloving behaviors, attempting to add teaching to the loving Sylvia was getting. But Sylvia resisted what she was taught, hearing it as the kind of criticism she’d always received from her mother. Her progress in Real Love stopped.

Michael, a wise man in the group, recognized that loving and teaching were proving ineffective with Sylvia, so he began to talk to her about the necessity of faith, of her trusting the love and guidance of the group. He was helping her to add the third element to the first two listed earlier.

Still she resisted, so Michael experimented with the level of teaching. He added more heat to the fire, so to speak. He told her more directly, “Sylvia, it’s obvious that your way of living isn’t working. You came here claiming to seek a happier life, but instead of listening to people who have found happiness, you argue that you’re right. Do you want to really listen and be happy, or do you want to insist on being right and stay as you’ve always been? You’re still unhappy, but you really can learn a different way to live.” Although he was direct, he was also compassionate and non-judgmental.

Sylvia responded to this combination of loving, teaching, and feeling. She began to lose her fears and to feel loved instead.

 Everyone has a different mixture of these necessary elements that is effective for them. Some people require more kindness, while others need stronger teaching. And others simply need to choose to be more trusting. We must experiment until we find this optimum mixture, and then the flame can burn brightly, providing heat for the student and a light for all around them.

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About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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