The Magic Lighter

At the fifth Earthshot retreat in the fall of 2022, we did daily group pranayama and meditation sessions at 6am, just as we had done at every previous retreat. We did this in a library at the retreat center that was rather cold in the mornings; it was also dark as the lighting was harsh so we kept it turned off. The room had a sizable fireplace which we enjoyed every night and ignited using not a lighter or match as might be expected, but a blowtorch that the people at the front desk understandably locked away overnight. On Tuesday morning at our second gathering Andrew Coates stated what all of us were feeling, that an early morning fire to accompany our practice would be most welcome. We asked around to see if any of the other team members had a lighter or matches, but no one did and we moved on with our day.

That evening we had an epic three-way game of capture the flag. After the first game a group of us dropped out due to some combination of injury and tiredness, and we watched the rest of the game on a small bank next to the field. At some point our referee Joe, who had designed some interesting rule variations, approached us. He wanted our help to secretly reintroduce the green flag, removed from the game when the number of teams had been reduced to two after our departure from the field. Andrew volunteered and proceeded to dismantle the flag and hide it under his coat while he found a suitable place to conceal it. That was the last I heard about the matter until later in the evening when Andrew told us what happened next. Apparently while reconstructing the flag, the tension loaded clip used to attach the flag to its pole disengaged and flew off some distance, landing with an unexpected clicking sound in the grass. Andrew headed over to investigate and lo and behold there was a grey lighter lying near the clip! After being dried out overnight it worked perfectly and we had very toasty meditation sessions for the remainder of the retreat.

I am not much of a statistician but nonetheless I tried to wrap my head around what the chances of such an event occurring randomly might be. One might consider this a spatiotemporal probability problem; we could come up with a distribution of possible locations for lost lighters on the grounds, the duration of a lighter’s useful lifetime lying outdoors and unfound under such conditions, the duration of our stay there, the size of our party, the surface area surrounding the lighter where a colliding clip might make an audible sound, the likelihood of the clip firing with such force as to create an audible sound when it collided with the lighter; the chances that the very same person who spoke the needed object was the one who found it. So many unlikely factors to consider. In an attempt to begin to quantify this I naively considered the likelihood of randomly picking a lighter sized area out of say a hectare’s worth of such areas and mentally guessed this to be around one in a billion. This model was dismissed as far too high odds by some team members I shared it with because it presupposes a lighter, the very thing Andrew mentioned that morning, being in the vicinity in the first place which is far from certain. A full analysis remains as an exercise to the reader. But a far more satisfying and magical explanation than pure chance is simply that Andrew and the rest of us are wizards, weaving reality with our minds, hearts, and intentions.

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