Today is December 29 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how well do you walk through the fire?” People who navigate the chaos have had to figure out a way to walk through the fire of life. The fire is a representation of difficult times, extraordinary circumstances, and harsh conditions. Fire is synonymous with chaos. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to get through life without experiencing some degree of fire.
Brigitte Gerney knew all too well the necessity of walking through the fire of life to navigate the chaos. In 1973 she lost her first son when he fell into a pool and drowned. In 1980, Gerney herself survived lung cancer. In 1982, a gondola she was riding in a ski resort detached and plummeted to the ground. A year later, her husband died of colon cancer. In 1985 the then-49-year-old mother of two was walking home from a dentist appointment on the Upper East Side in New York City when a construction crane collapsed on top of her, crushing her legs. Miraculously, she eventually regained her ability to walk. Reflecting on Gerney’s ability to walk through the fire of life, a family friend noted “Something about her nature allowed her to bend in this howling wind and not break. She was sort of weather-beaten in a good way.”
One such author who spent a good deal of his life writing about the fire was Charles Bukowski, a 20th century German American poet. His writing was influenced by the social, cultural, and economic ambiance of his home city of Los Angeles. His work addresses the ordinary lives of poor Americans, the act of writing, alcohol, relationships with women, and the drudgery of work. Bukowski wrote thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories and six novels, eventually publishing over 60 books.
Bukowski published extensively in small literary magazines and with small presses beginning in the 1940s and continuing into the 1990s. As noted by one reviewer, "Bukowski continued to be, thanks to his antics and deliberate clownish performances, the king of the underground and the epitome of the littles in the ensuing decades, stressing his loyalty to those small press editors who had first championed his work.” Despite his commercial success, as Adam Kirsch wrote in a March 7, 2005 New Yorker article "Bukowski was never a mainstream author and he will never have a mainstream public.”
For a poet and writer who achieved the seldom reached levels of commercial success, being mainstream was never in the cards for Bukowski. He had, and continues to have, a cult like following. As Kirsch noted “He is one of those writers whom each new reader discovers with a transgressive thrill. Fittingly, for a poet whose reputation was made in ephemeral underground journals, it is on the Internet that the Bukowski cult finds its most florid expression.”
He died in 1994 so Bukowski never knew the ubiquity of technology and how it could help spread his word around the globe but today there are hundreds of Web sites devoted to him. One fan wrote upon reading him for the first time, “I felt there was a soul-mate in Mr. Bukowski.” Kirsch realized that “Such claims to intimacy are standard among Bukowski’s admirers. On Amazon.com, the reader reviews of his books sound like a cross between love letters and revival-meeting testimonials: ‘This is the one that speaks to me to the point where each time I read certain pages, I cry’; ‘This book is one of the most influential books of poetry in my life’; or, most revealing of all, ‘I hate poetry, but I love Buk’s poems.’ In one of his most celebrated poems entitled “How Is Your Heart?” Bukowski challenged the reader to reflect upon their life path as he opened up about his own:
“during my worst times,
on the park benches,
in the jails
or living with whores,
I always had this certain contentment-
I wouldn't call it happiness-
it was more of an inner balance that settled for whatever was occurring
and it helped in the factories
and when relationships went wrong with the girls.
it helped through the wars and the hangovers
the back-alley fights the hospitals.
to awaken in a cheap room
in a strange city
and pull up the shade-
this was the craziest kind of contentment.
and to walk across the floor to an old dresser with a cracked mirror-
see myself, ugly, grinning at it all.
what matters most is how well you walk through the fire.”
Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing wrote about this struggle of walking through the fire in The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise “We must continue to struggle through our confusion, to insist on being human. Existence is a flame which constantly melts and recasts our theories.”
Why does each person struggle with being human? Among the many reasons people struggle being human is the fact that we seldom understand ourselves as we are. Doing so creates fear, anxiety, and concern. And this fear makes us uncomfortable.
As Jiddu Krishnamurti observed in his publication Freedom from the Known “we have to examine the network of escapes we have developed to rid ourselves of our fears. If the mind tried to overcome fear, to suppress it or control it, there is conflict, and that conflict is a waste of energy. The movement from certainty to uncertainty is what I call fear.”
This insistence on being human, with its daily challenges of moving us from certainty to uncertainty, feeds the flame of existence. The fire of existence creates chaos in our minds and burns for every person. To be human, to move from certainty to uncertainty, and to recognize our fears demands that recognize what the 13th century Persian scholar Rumi noted “Most people guard against going into the fire, and so end up in it.”
Can you accept the fires you must walk through to navigate the chaos?
How well do you walk through the fire?
Do you guard against going into the fire of the unknown?
Do you resist going into the fire of what it means to be human, even if that involves having a difficult conversation?
When the fire of life erupts do you walk towards it, figure out a way to extinguish it, or identify the cause of it so, as to not erupt in the future?