By Daniel Scharpenburg
Have you ever gone camping?
Or gone to a cookout where there was a bonfire? If you have, you may already be a meditator.
Having a fire is a way to cheat when you have a gathering of people. What do I mean? If there’s a fire people will just stare at it. This counts as entertaining them, so it takes all the pressure off the host. People that don’t camp say things like, “What do you do when you’re out there?”
And the truth is that camping is an activity in itself. Hearing birds sing and crickets chirp, feeling the wind blow, smelling fire, and staring at it. It’s not for no reason that we can look at a fire and be entertained (and it’s not some latent pyromania that lies within us either).
It’s true that sometimes we sit around the fire talking. But, just as often we sit in silence. Some people sit and stare at a stick of burning incense when they meditate. That’s essentially the same thing as staring at a campfire, isn’t it?
Staring at a fire puts us in a meditative state.
It lights up the same parts of the brain as the various forms of meditation. It’s been speculated that when early humans stared at fire, it increased their cognitive function and stimulated brain development. Fire made us who we are, and it isn’t just because it gave us the ability to cook food.
There’s a Greek myth that I think everyone knows.
Prometheus stole fire from the Gods and gave it to humans. It’s only because Prometheus delivered fire that humans were able to grow and become powerful. Fire stimulated human development. It’s no different, really, from stories about eating from the tree of knowledge or from those monoliths in 2001: a Space Odyssey. Prometheus gave fire to early humans and that’s when they became modern humans.
So, staring at a campfire can tend to have the same positive effects as meditation practice—better long term memory, better attention to detail and increased patience.
These things were very important for early humans. It could be argued that we wouldn’t be around without those benefits. We could have been wiped out by tigers or any of a number of other dangerous predators. Instead, we figured out how to carry on.
What’s the point of all this? I just wanted to tell you.
You may already be a meditator. Just letting you know.
Editor: Dana Gornall