Last week I was introduced to a song by the group Stars. I’ll be the first to admit that the genre and style of music isn’t one that I would have typically sought out, but I was transfixed right from the opening line. A strong baritone voice starts off the song with spoken word - “when there’s nothing left to burn you have to set yourself on fire.” Being in the presence of a friend, I tried to contain my reaction to that line but inside, a chord was struck. Over this last week, that line has replayed over and over in my head. I recognized that it stirred something up in me and, rather than dismissing it, I decided to lean into it a little to see what it provoked. All I keep coming back to is the idea that, after we’ve exhausted all possible external sources for our struggles and unhappiness, we have no choice but to turn our focus onto ourselves. Stop looking to the outside for the source of our pain and the solutions to our ‘yuck’. We already have the answers and the keys to that happiness. First, though, we have to burn our walls down in order to build ourselves back up.
It’s so easy to imprison ourselves within our own walls of protection. When the construction started on these barricades, we needed them to guard us from something – pain, shame, guilt, hurt, sadness, etc. Soon, though, these walls became a permanent fixture. They’ve locked us within our own cell and have kept us from the outside world. More devastatingly, these walls have prevented us from freeing the real person inside – that vulnerable, authentic, true being that wants nothing more than to break from the constraints and live life in his or her own genuine manner. So what’s stopping us from busting out of our jail? Fear – fear of disapproval, fear of disappointment, fear of abandonment, fear of really seeing who we truly are and who we truly can be.
With each new disappointment and hurt, we cement in a new brick and strengthen our ability to point fingers at others. “My supervisor is out to get me”, “The company screwed me over”, “My ‘friend’ back-stabbed me”, “It’s all my partner’s fault” - so on and so on. Whether you want to admit it or not, we all make these statements in some way shape or form. Setting others on fire is the easiest and less painful way of dealing with our hurts. In the short run, we may feel some relief and some secret pleasure on thrusting our wounds onto someone or something else. In reality, though, we’re just burying our pain deeper and deeper inside. Working harder and harder each day to avoid that suffering by tossing it onto anything other than ourselves. At the end of the day, when we’re alone with our thoughts, are we really any better off? Did those fires that we set throughout the day truly make us feel any better? As hard as it may be to acknowledge, the answer is no; the person that needs to be set ablaze isn’t the supervisor or the company or the partner – the person is you.
We’ve got to burn down our own shells of confinement before we can ever hope to truly heal and grasp onto our own genuine and authentic happiness. This is tough! Believe me, I get it. There just may be nothing more terrifying than admitting, “I’m the only one responsible for my life and for my happiness. No one has the ability to control nor dictate what brings a smile to my face.” Yea, let that sink in for a second; lean into those feelings for a minute and just allow yourself to wonder what it would be like if you were to stop burning other people/things/places down and ignited the fire within yourself. Set fire to that fortress that’s been erected and allow those walls to disintegrate. That person locked inside wants nothing more than to be set free. The matchbook is in your pocket – all you have to do is reach in and strike it.
When there’s nothing left to burn you have to set yourself on fire…