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Being Mindful
A Community on Fire

by Janet Alston Jackson

On Sunday morning, Oct. 12th at 2:30am, I was awakened by helicopters flying over our house with spotlights. For nearly 15 minutes I tried meditating to go back to sleep, but I couldn't. Instead I was thinking, if crime is getting this bad in our neighbourhood, it's time to move.

I live in a small community twenty minutes from Los Angeles, California beside Angeles National Forest.

When the helicopters woke up my husband Walt, he went into another room and immediately called to me. I rushed to his side. Out the window we could see the hillside behind our neighbours' houses glowing red and orange. Helicopters circled frantically with searchlights as one helicopter dumped water on the fire.

We got dressed and went out into the streets where we saw our neighbours. After about fifteen minutes, the glow was gone. The hillside was once again black. The helicopters left and we all went back into our houses. Danger had passed, or so we thought.

I had barely gotten back in bed when Walt, who had crawled into bed minutes before me, was already snoring. This always frustrates me and makes me jealous. No matter what challenges we have faced in our 31-year marriage, he manages to go to sleep when his head barely hits the pillow while I lie awake.

Later that morning helicopters woke me up again. And for that entire Sunday, the choppers flew back and forth directly over our house. It was like living in a war zone. The Santa Ana winds were fiercely kicking up, and our house is in the direct path between Hansen Dam, which is where the helicopter super scoopers were getting their water to fight the fire.

That afternoon I was talking on the phone with my spiritual teacher Larry Crane about our experiences and the headache I was getting from the noise of the choppers. He simply said, "Love the fires and love the helicopters, and you'll be okay. Nothing will happen to you if you stop resisting what is happening. Resistance only attracts what you don't want. Love Mother Nature, she is on fire."

Love the fires? Wow. That was a stretch. I didn't know if I could love the fires, but I did work on non-resistance.

It wasn't long before I found myself calmer even as I watched the fire raging out of control through the media coverage.

Monday morning at 5:30am, I was shocked out of my sleep by Walt telling me and our son Ryan to get up. He had already been outside talking to a policewoman who was driving the streets yelling over a bullhorn "Mandatory evacuation! Get out!"

Ryan and I rushed outside to find Walt watering down our home. This time we could actually see the fire rolling toward us. It was coming from a different direction than the one on the hillside. The Santa Ana winds were blowing furiously. Walt's stream of water was going in every direction.

Ryan and I rushed back into the house snatching pictures off the walls. All along I kept telling myself to stop resisting. Release. Stop resisting what is happening. Let go.

Suddenly I found myself with boundless energy, and moving as if in a dream state. Surprisingly my mind was clear despite the fact we didn't know how long it would take for the fire to reach us. I was amazed that I could think of what to pack, our important papers, pictures, and a few keepsake items from our mothers who were both deceased. Ryan told me later that while he was packing, he kept thinking, "We're about to lose the house I grew up in."

When the mandatory evacuation was lifted, I continued to focus on releasing. I kept releasing, letting go of the resistance to the fires. I became even calmer and resolved to the fact our house could be lost. But it was okay, because it's just material stuff. I even spent some of my energy releasing for the animals in our area. We live near a lot of ranches, and their owners were having a hard time loading them into trailers on account of the animals distress over the fires. The Wild Life Way Station nearby was also a big concern. How could they evacuate the tigers, bears, leopards and other animals there? I continued to release my resistance.

I held onto Larry's words "letting go of resistance" as I watched the helicopters dumping water, it was a spectacular sight. Suddenly, like the fire on the hillside, it rolled back. God bless those firemen. Some flew in from as far away as Canada to assist us during this time of need.

The rest of the day we sat glued to our television, ready to leave at a moment's notice if the unpredictable Santa Ana winds blew embers our way. The fire was still only 30% contained. Our neighbours were like us, their cars were piled up with their possessions, but we didn't want to leave unless we had to.

Later that night the immediate danger passed. It wasn't until the next day that we unloaded the boxes from our car. We kept the boxes by the front door, just in case we again needed to consider leaving our home.

I remember when Mom died we sold her house and gave away the furniture. We brought home the last of her keepsakes in a few boxes. I told Walt it seemed sad that out of her 72 years on the planet, her mark on earth was reduced down to a few boxes. Walt said, "That's what will happen to us one day." Looking at the few get-away boxes of pictures and important papers by our front door I thought, he certainly was right.

Over the next few days our neighbourhood roared with fire trucks rumbling down the streets. We were a couple blocks from the makeshift fire command centre. There had to be 50 fire trucks, including those from neighbouring states. Those brave men fighting the fires nearby.

By mid week, the fires were finally extinguished. The blazes claimed two lives, destroyed 49 structures, and burned 18,000 acres it also heralded the start of Southern California's Santa Ana season when desert winds fan the most ferocious fires. By some measures the fire fighters said our region got off lightly.

When our lives were back to normal, whatever normal is these days, I looked around at our house - it was a mess. We had ripped through the house tearing things off the walls, and our home was turned upside down. Soot literally covered everything.

Looking at the mess, my ego-mind, which keeps me in state of fear, brought up resistance to the clean-up. Immediately I released those thoughts and replaced them with deep gratitude that I had something to clean up. I was also remembering Larry's words of non-resistance. I couldn't help thinking resistance to anything in life makes life's fires stronger and burns up our energy with fear, stress and anger.

As I look back on the week's events I think of the economy and the state of our country. Many people are walking through their own 'fires'. However, spiritual interpretation of fires throughout the ages are said to be purifying.

The fires of our lives are always going to occur. And, if you can't love what is happening, it's important not to resist. The resistance keeps one from thinking clearly and only makes things worse. You just have to do what you have to do to adjust and know that eventually whatever opposition you are facing, like the fires, will soon be gone. And like other fires you have walked through in your life, you're going to get through them.

Even in burned out hillsides, new growth appears - symbolizing new life.

Janet Alston Jackson is the author of "A Cry for Light: A Journey into Love," winner of the USA Book News Award for Christian Inspiration. Janet is a behavioural and personal growth consultant. She often teams with her husband Walter Jackson (author of "Sporting the Right Attitude"), facilitating effective communications trainings for better personal and professional relationships. The couple have been guests on numerous radio talk shows around the country, and have made appearances on public television. Visit their websites: Sporting the Right Attitude and JanetAJackson.com.

Be sure to read the reviews of her book in our January 2007 Issue.

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