Hot Lava, Ice Water

Posted by Eric Maisel on April 6, 2017 in Personal Growth.

Hot Lava, Ice Water

The inside of the earth is boiling hot and produces lava. The inside of a human being is boiling wild and produces terrible impulses and even the occasional monster. We call all that boiling wildness our primitive nature and suppose that it arises from some ancient, less refined part of our brain, some place of lizards and violent solutions. But who can say? Maybe it came just from yesterday or even from today. Are we really so civilized?

How does this roiling manifest? You may be thinking a very ordinary thought like, “Do I want butter or cream cheese with my bagel?” and right under that thought a sea of a hot lava is roiling, ready to cascade out as a terrible episode of binge drinking, a truly careless affair that sends your whole life reeling, a horrible remark that you can never take back, or a violent gesture that no apology will ever make right. Strange to say, it may even manifest as a slovenly day of pajamas, Fig Newtons and television. To contain our hot lava sometimes we become a couch potato. How odd we are!

That lava is boiling in each of us, fiery red and as hot as hell, which makes our mind a house built on a volcano. Each of us lives in that danger zone. Can’t you sense all that hot lava roiling even as you try to decide between butter and cream cheese for your bagel? I think you can. I think you can sense its presence through the cracks and the fissures of consciousness as it sizzles away down there, ready to erupt. And that you can sense it is a great thing. That means that you can prepare for those eruptions.

How? By keeping a bucket of ice water handy. Picture the room that is your mind. Identify the spot where you’ll locate your bucket of ice water. Will you put it directly beneath that favorite painting of yours? Or just to the left of the umbrella stand? Now picture those glints of lava peeking through the floor. Something wild is about to be wanted of you. Your insides are about to demand that you drop everything and rush off at two hundred miles an hour, screeching down the street like a wild person. What to do?

Calmly retrieve your bucket of ice water, prepare yourself for that fiery arrival of lava, and when those first threads of molten rock seep up douse them with the ice water. What a steam bath you’ll create! You’ll have trouble seeing and trouble breathing. You may well be obliged to cough for a full minute. But you will have doused out that hot lava for the moment, maybe even for a day or a month. And maybe you’ll even turn that hot lava into solid lava rock, sealing up the fissures and making the ground more solid beneath your feet. Isn’t that where Hawaii came from? And isn’t that a lovely thought, that maybe you can transform your boiling insides into a tropical paradise just by having a bucket of ice water handy?

Even if you don’t produce paradise, you will have prevented an escapade that might cost you your marriage, your liver, or your self-respect, cooled down your desire for revenge to an ember, made way for a reconciliation that is much to be preferred to hatred, or done something else good for system. Yes, you had to tolerate some steam. Yes, that red glow was beautiful. Yes, you may actually prefer fire to ice. But the cost of letting that lava come flowing in is terrible self-scorching.  

Do the following right now. Situate a bucket of ice water in your mind. You can keep it off in a corner, if you like, but don’t hide it behind that huge stuffed tiger or that pile of unread books. You want to be able to see it and you want to know that it is there. Yes, a fire extinguisher doesn’t add much to a room’s décor and likewise your water bucket won’t prettify your mind. But the goal isn’t elegance. The goals are safety and self-respect. We do not respect ourselves if we let hot lava rule. We can explain our behavior to ourselves after the fact—I had a terrible impulse, I couldn’t control myself!—but that’s a little late, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it have been much better to douse that impulse when it was just a glow peeking through the floor?

One bucket of ice water, please!


This lesson is part of the Your Best Mind Ever series. In this groundbreaking program Dr. Eric Maisel teaches a brand new way to get a grip on our minds. 

About the Author

Eric Maisel

Dr. Maisel is the author of more than 40 books and teaching nationally and internationally at workshop centers like Esalen, Kripalu and Omega and in locations like San Francisco, New York, London and Paris. Learn more about Dr. Maisel’s books, services, workshops and training at


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