I’ve been told I’m a courageous person. I have made great leaps into the unknown on many occasions in my life. But when it comes to the physical world, there is no mistake: I’m a coward. I don’t like heights; fairground rides make me hurl; my deep love of water is matched by a concomitant terror; and on the odd occasion I venture onto a bicycle, you would do well to get out of the way.
So it may come as something of a surprise that 9 years ago I found myself preparing to do a firewalk.
I had one condition: I wasn’t going to ‘cheat’. Yes, you can overcome your mind by reciting ‘cool moss, cool moss, cool moss’; but I didn’t want to do that. I had seen it done at a Tony Robbins seminar, and to me it was yet another example of ‘mind over matter’. I didn’t want to dominate the natural world: I wanted to know if there was a way to co-exist with it. And so I waited until I stumbled upon a shamanic community that seemed like the real deal – one that fire walked au naturel.
The induction is brief ~ too brief for my liking ~ and we are thrust out into the night. My mind is racing, ‘How to do it?’ I dominate the conversation on the walk from the classroom to the fire, bombarding the instructor with a dozen high-pitched, high velocity questions. Her only advice: ‘Go into it’.
‘Into it?’ We are told that people who went ‘into’ the fire could walk across the hot coals wearing the most flammable items imaginable – nylon saris, pantyhose, even rubber-tipped zimmer frames – and not catch fire. Those who did not, on the other hand, would need medical attention for the massive burns and blisters on their feet. To not get burnt, you had to match the energy of the fire. Fire can’t burn fire. If you are it, then it can’t get you. I have no idea what that means.
We are told that the coals are now a reliable 1,000+ degrees fahrenheit. I don’t need a thermometer: the heat registers on my face, forcing me back from the edge. The drums start beating and the group starts swaying and clapping in a forced kind of way. What the …? In horror, I realize my microwave-style induction is over. It’s time to start the firewalk.
Before we left the classroom, they advised us to go inward and ask for guidance if we needed it. What sounded cheesy back there now seems like a good idea; I close my eyes.
‘Butterfly’, the voice says. ‘If you see a butterfly, that’s your sign to walk.’
At this point, it may be worth mentioning that it’s 10 o’clock at night. Have you ever seen a nocturnal butterfly? Me neither. My mind jeers at the stupidity of my inner voice, choosing to focus instead on a barely discernible cheer: clearly, I’m off the hook. No firewalking for me tonight! Relief and disappointment wash through me.
I open my eyes and look up to the heavens.
‘What the …?’
Directly in front of me, encrusted in rhinestones of the celestial kind, is the unmistakeable outline of a butterfly. My stomach lurches. Wanting to throw up, I rub my eyes and lift them heaven-wards one more time. The twinkling winged beast is still there.
Along with the desire to vomit comes a surge of anger so violent, I can’t contain it. Leaning forward, I let out a roar. ‘I’m going to be maimed …’ Raaaaaaaaaaar ‘… and all because I didn’t get proper guidance …’ haaaaaaaaaaaa … ‘Stupid teacher, she shouldn’t be teaching …’ Gaaawwww .. ‘What the bleep does “inner guidance” mean anyway? …’ Aggggghhhhhhhhooooowwww …
Think ‘female victim in a serial killer B-movie’ – and then some – and you’ve got the picture. I scream and scream and… walk? Before I know it, I am walking. Fast. As fast as my terror-filled trotters will take me.
When I get to the other side, I am still roaring. The rest of the 50-strong group is staring and laughing – a lot. Apparently I’m the loudest fire walker they’ve ever met. Alrighty then.
At this point I need to explain an interesting phenomenon: ‘windows’. We had been told that when we felt an energetic window open up, that was our cue to walk. (Apparently, we would know when that was.) I saw it happening: sometimes a window big enough for one or two people to walk through opened up; at other times, four or five would make it across, the last one running.
My roar-fest blew a window open so wide that something in the region of 25 people made it across the coals before it finally popped shut. They pranced, danced, joked and cartwheeled, and all inside ‘my’ window.
‘That was fun!’ They want me to do it again. So I do, this time with a little more grace, and off we go.
It wasn’t the yelling that got me across the coals, but the intensity of my feeling within. Dropping into the fear and terror allowed me to match the intensity of the flames … and somehow not get burnt. When you become the fire, there is nothing ‘out there’ for it to hurt. Subject and object merge into a non-dualistic field of spectacular proportions.
What did I learn that night? First, that fear can be transmuted into a tool for delivering seemingly ‘impossible’ outcomes. Second, that fear is not an object you can harness by standing outside of it: in order to feel it fully, you have to dive in. My advice: feel the fear – and firewalk anyway. Whether the smouldering coals are real or virtual, your life will never be the same again.
(Photo: mindpop, flickr)