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Like the Fabulous Phoenix, Learn to Fan the Flames of Past Failures and Rise from the Ashes Renewed and Reborn

Updated on May 6, 2019
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A big believer in "Livin' Large," Kitty has a passion for seeking out ways to make our lives more beautiful, artful, and joyous.


The Legend of the Phoenix

Talk about going out in a blaze of glory. That’s the Phoenix. But it doesn’t end there. Not for this old bird…

A magnificent creature with colorful plumage and a long tail, the mythical Phoenix has captured our imaginations since ancient times. Although the Egyptian Phoenix is perhaps the best known, there are versions of this story in Persian, Greek, Romans, Chinese and Japanese legends. More recently, the Phoenix made an appearance in the Harry Potter series—both by contributing a feather to Harry’s famous wand and when the Phoenix Fawkes was instrumental in saving Harry's life.

A fire symbol, the Phoenix has a 500 to 1000 year life-cycle (there are varying versions). Near the end of its life, it collects cinnamon, and spikenard, and myrrh, and builds a nest of these materials, which it then ignites. Both the nest and the bird burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes, but from these ashes a new bird is born. A new, young Phoenix rises with the morning sun and spreads its glorious new wings to live another lifetime.

The mythical Phoenix has captured our imagination since ancient times. It is the most beautiful bird in the world; it brings good fortune; and it lives forever—what more could you want? The ability of the Phoenix to be reborn from its own ashes implies that it is immortal, though in some stories the new Phoenix is merely the offspring of the older one. In a very few stories they are even able to transform into humans.

But why should the Phoenix get to have all the fun? Sure, maybe we have imploded in the past ourselves, but why not use that experience as kindling to fuel a re-birth of our own?

"Change is the constant, the signal for rebirth, the egg of the phoenix."

Christina Baldwin


Phoenix Rising

At some point, we all crash and burn. The trick is to rise from the ashes--just like the magnificent Phoenix. But what tricks and tools do you have that you can use to build your nest? The Phoenix uses cinnamon and other pungent spices….what do you have?

Borrowing a few suggestions from one of my favorite goal-setting books, Your Best Year Yet by Jinny S. Ditzler, I’d like to suggest you try this 5-step plan. It's a great prelude to setting New Year's Resolutions, but if that's still a ways away, for heaven's sake, don't wait! This won’t take that long, and I think you’ll find it very worthwhile:

  1. Make a list of everything that went well in the past year. What did you accomplish? What successes did you enjoy?
  2. All right, that was fun. Now we’ll tackle one that isn’t so fun. Make another list (on a separate piece of paper) of those things that didn’t go so well. What were your biggest disappointments this year? What mistakes did you make? Were you hoping for something that didn’t happen? Write it all down.
  3. Returning to your list of accomplishments, what skills, habits, personality traits, etc., do you have that enabled you to create these successes? This is your “bag of tricks,” and the good news is, you carry it with you and can apply it to even more success in the future.
  4. Looking back at the not-so-fun list from step #2, what lessons did you learn? What might have worked better? What could you do differently in the future? Write the answers on yet another piece of paper. These things, too, you carry with you into the future. Each failure (as long as you learn from it) gets you one step closer to success. Or, as Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” On the other hand, Albert Einstein said that the definition of insanity was “ doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Obviously the key lies in recognizing what didn’t work, learning from it, and not repeating it.
  5. Last, but certainly not least, take that list of failures, mistakes and other “bad stuff” that you made in step #2 and burn it—throw it in your fireplace if you have one. Want an even grander gesture? Make these colorful pinecone firestarters and toss a few of those in there too to send all the negativity up in symbolic Phoenix flames! Or simply crumple up your piece of paper, put it on a fireproof surface and set a match to it. No, it isn’t absolutely necessary that you burn it, but there’s something very freeing and cathartic in doing it.

Now, rise from the ashes of your past disappointments and get out there and spread your wings like the glorious Phoenix you are!

If you need more specific help in setting specific, measurable goals, you might want to complete the full step-by-step plan Ditzler sets out in Your Best Year Yet.


Some Final Words of Inspiration on the Process of Renewal and Rebirth

Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.

Mahatma Gandhi

You are like a candle. Imagine you are sending light out all around you. All your words, thoughts and actions are going in many directions. If you say something kind, your kind words go in many directions, and you yourself go with them. We are ...transforming and continuing in a different form at every moment.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Personal transformation can and does have global effects. As we go, so goes the world, for the world is us. The revolution that will save the world is ultimately a personal one.

Marianne Williamson

I give you this to take with you:
Nothing remains as it was. If you know this, you can
begin again, with pure joy in the uprooting.

Judith Minty (Letters to My Daughters)

We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Nature often holds up a mirror so we can see more clearly the ongoing processes of growth, renewal, and transformation in our lives.

Author Unknown

Sometimes a breakdown can be the beginning of a kind of breakthrough, a way of living in advance through a trauma that prepares you for a future of radical transformation.

Cherrie Moraga

Change is growth. For me it has been a very spiritual and musical rebirth.

Lenny Krazitz

In my own worst seasons I've come back from the colorless world of despair by forcing myself to look hard, for a long time, at a single glorious thing: a flame of red geranium outside my bedroom window. And then another: my daughter in a yellow dress. And another: the perfect outline of a full, dark sphere behind the crescent moon. Until I learned to be in love with my life again. Like a stroke victim retraining new parts of the brain to grasp lost skills, I have taught myself joy, over and over again.

Barbara Kingsolver (High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never)

© 2019 Kitty Williams Fisher


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