Prescribed Burn

     There have been times in my past where I have been averse to painful experiences thinking they are “bad,” or “harmful.”  I tried to avoid them at all cost. However, I have found that sometimes allowing some discomfort for the ultimate goal of health or sanity  has been effective in both my physical and emotional health.

     “Prescribed Burn” is a forest maintenance term that means you start a fire in an area that has collected too much debris on the forest floor. What happens in the natural world is that big trees can usually withstand a fire – they don’t have many limbs lower on their trunk and most of their foliage is on “the crown.” It will burn hot for a minute, and then go out...similar to if you threw a little paper on a big log in a fireplace – it burns hot for a minute and then it will go out.

     For 100 years, traditional forest maintenance required ALL fires to be put out: called fire “suppression.”  This allowed the growth of many small diameter trees around the big trees, in addition to the forest floor filling up with twigs, leaves, dead trees and other volatile debris. The Yellowstone National Park Fire of 1988, the largest wildfire in the recorded history of the Park, is a good example of what happened as a result of this kind of "forest suppression" policy. It was catastrophic – and the forest has taken a long time to grow back.

     “Prescribed Burns” reflect a different philosophy, and have been found to prevent large damaging fires, and promote the health of the forest. Small diameter trees are taken out around the big trees and strategic fires are instituted to clean out the debris from the forest floor.

      I couldn’t help but think that maybe that’s a strategy worth considering for ourselves, and our close relationships.  Allowing myself a little "strategic burn" from time to time: eating less if I want to lose a few pounds, exercising more to get stronger, staying home to rest instead of going out, bringing up uncomfortable conversations if it is putting a “wedge” between me and a loved one - a “prescribed burn." It may be a way to ultimately “clean up the debris” that collects naturally in our lives - a healthy strategy that although uncomfortable for a little while, may ultimately promote our physical and mental health.


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