I’ve written about the book ‘Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout’ on my other blog, Mindful Walking, here. In it Philip Connors discusses the changing ways that forest fires have been understood in America. A century ago it was widely thought that forest fires, whatever their cause, should always be extinguished. This kind of thinking is easy to understand – nobody wants their house up in flames, the local economy crippled or the landscape scarred.
The problem is that when we relentlessly stamp out every fire, the wood that falls from trees each year accumulates on the forest floor. We might think we’re saving the forest, and ourselves, from the damaging effects of fire – but really we’re just delaying the inevitable. Eventually it will burn and, due to that dense carpet of wood on the forest floor, it’ll burn with a far greater intensity and over a greater area. As many now appreciate, forest fires are a natural part of the lifecycle of this landscape. They clear the way, allowing for new growth (which often follows remarkably swiftly following the fire). In some areas controlled fires (also known as prescribed fire) are set in order to prevent the kind of large-scale fires. They are actually fighting fire with fire. Awesome.
In many ways this resembles how mindfulness can be used to ease stuttering. When we begin to objectively experience and accept our stuttering, and the behaviours that come along with it, we start to remove that kindling from the forest floor. Difficult experiences of stuttering can be seen for what they are, rather than ignored or masked in the hope of appearing fluent. We accept the inevitability of some level of stuttering (the small, controlled fires) and, in doing so, we alleviate the tension and anxiety that stuttering can cause in our lives more generally (the potential for more intense, all-consuming fires).