I have a new favourite song I have on repeat again and again – James Blake and Bon Ivor got together to create, I Need a Forest Fire. You all, it is GREAT. I am going to wait here for you to listen to it, so you can read on with full appreciation of that ‘whooooooo!’ at the beginning. I’ll just wait here, you go ahead.
RIGHT?! Isn’t it good? Ok, there are many things I like a lot about this song, but here’s the one I am going to share. The question I always ask myself, and my clients, and now you too, around this time of year, is this:
What do I need to burn down?
It gives me chills just writing it actually. What do I need to burn down right to the ground this year, so that there is more energy for the creation of, or the sustaining of, something more important? Just to be clear, I actually do not at all mean burning down your, or someone else’s house. I generally mean a metaphorical burning, though I do bring together a group of women who write down the answer to that question and ritualistically burn the answer every new year. It’s good, it’s a symbolic act of releasing what we want to leave behind in the past, to move into our future with strength and intention. Hell. YES.
For me, this question is brought into sharp focus through a model that I have been in love with for years, called the Ecocycle, or the Cycle of Resilience, created with regards to systems in nature, but especially forests by a man named J.S. Holling. Since his work, the model has been used by social scientists to talk about healthy cycles – cycles of business, and cycles in our personal lives. The short version of it is this:
We work to establish stability in our lives – where we can count on the systems and processes that we have created to live through every day in safety and comfort. All is well, things are humming along and we’re feeling content. Sometimes, in the middle of the contentment and safety, a bomb goes off in the middle of our lives. That bomb could be divorce, a pandemic, an illness, a death, a crisis. All of a sudden all those structures and processes that we’ve had in place don’t quite make sense or work in the way we need them to – they are burning down and demanding that we adapt and morph – that we create new ways in order to deal with our new reality. In the model this is called creative destruction – I love this term. Here’s the deal – sometimes, the burn down (creative destruction) comes without a lot of warning and is driven by external forces. Sometimes though, we can intentionally step into creative destruction because we recognize it’s time to let something go and transfer all the energy we’ve been putting into that thing into something else.
After the burndown, the letting go, the creative destruction, we can sit for a bit, and let the pieces in our lives shuffle around and transform into what they need to be to move forward with the new energy we’ve released. Sometimes, this sitting can take a loooooong time. Sometimes it feels like composting, where we look over all our experiences of our life and let them merge together to support us in the next stage of our life, sometimes this time is quiet and sad because letting go is hard. Sometimes this needs to be a place of rest, whether we choose it or not. Most importantly, this space is a time to re-connect with our values, what’s important to us and who is important to us.
And then, the natural cycle is that we gain some energy and start to create. We look through options, we start thinking in different ways, we do some interesting research, have some cool conversations, get inspired and start moving into what’s next.
Recognizing that this is a natural cycle in our lives, of creating stability, moving into creative destruction, resting or composting and then re-gaining energy for the new, next best step makes it easier to move through those times in our lives when external forces push us off the cliff of creative destruction. It also might give us the courage to look at our lives and say, hmmm, time maybe for a little shake up – what is it that can burn down in order to release some energy for new things I want to create? So here’s the prompt for your thinking and journaling – is it time to burn something down? What is it time to let go of in service of having more energy for something else in your life?