Years ago, when I was going through a rough time in my life, a friend of mine said: “Come with me to firewalk. It can help you.”
Firewalk. That’s the thing where otherwise sane people willingly walk across hot coals, right?
“It works,” John said. “I’ve done it five times myself.”
Still nervous, but in the mood to try a new experience, I agreed to go. Another friend of his, Nicky, I think her name was, went with us. It seems to me there was someone else as well, but it was years ago and that part of the memory has faded.
As that time there were several groups doing firewalk in southern California, but the one we went to was mostly a seminar in overcoming your fears. Nobody was required to do the walk.
It was dark when we arrived at the house high on the Malibu bluffs. The actual firewalk would be done in the back yard, where a fire pit at least ten feet in diameter had been constructed, but that would occur later. I don’t remember if the fire was started before or after we arrived. I do recall that it had to burn for a long time before anyone tried to walk across it, to give time for the fire to burn down so we would walk on hot coals rather than open flames.
We all moved inside for the lecture part of the evening. They told us about firewalk – including the potential for danger in it. “Burnt stumps” were mentioned. They taught that the way to combat fear was to first imagine the worst possible outcome, then imagine yourself accepting it. Once you have done that, imagine the best possible result and, with that firmly in mind, do the thing you fear.
It was over an hour later when someone came in to announce that the fire was ready.
We all went outside. The fire pit glowed red with the heat. Flames still danced around the edges of the fire. It was mesmerizing.
We were told that there was no pressure for anyone to walk across the fire but that we would only have a chance for a limited time, I think it was half an hour. If you had not walked across when they called “time”, you would not walk that night. The only rule was that if you started across, you had to finish.
They started a soft chant, intended to relax us and put us in a mood receptive to completing the walk. I felt calmer. Nicky didn’t believe the fire was real and wanted to walk across without removing her nylon stockings, though we had been told to remove anything of that sort. Fortunately, John convinced her to take them off. She crossed without incident.
Half the allotted time was past. I felt I was as ready as I would ever be and approached the edge of the fire. There were people behind me. It was time to start. I put one foot in, then the other. There were flames to either side of me. The only possible path was forward. At the center of the fire, I had a sudden thought of: “Oh, crap. What am I doing here?” I felt my right foot burn. I pushed down the feeling and continued, reaching the other side a few steps later.
After the end time arrived, they called us back inside, some completely unharmed and some, like me, with blisters. I had a huge blister on the bottom center of my right foot. That blister occurred at the moment of the “Oh, crap.” They taught us a way to “heal” the blisters that they called “leveling the waters”. I have no idea why it worked, but it did, at least for me. I went hiking in Big Bear, a previously scheduled activity, the next day, without having to drain the blister or use any extra padding to protect it.
To this day I don’t know why firewalk works – why you can walk across hot coals (and they were very hot – I could feel the heat as I approached the fire). The best explanation I have heard is that when you are calm and ready your body produces some chemical that protects you. I have no idea if that is true or not.
What I do know is that I accomplished my goal that night. As I said at the beginning of this article, I was at a rough patch in my life at that time. My marriage was failing and I was sitting on the fence – unhappy where I was in life but afraid to move forward because the result might be worse. I realized that night that I could not stay sitting on the fence. My life was exactly like the firewalk. I had two choices – to keep my life as it was and learn to be happy with that, or to move forward into the unknown and never look back.
Firewalk is not for everyone. I am glad I did it but it is not something I ever need to do again. At that moment in time, though, it was exactly the lesson I needed to help me move forward in my life.
I am a writer of fantasy, science fiction, and poetry. If you are interested in learning more about me or my work, check out my website at http://www.leomaretan.com.