Because my field is mathematics, some might believe that I am a fairly logical person. I believe this to be true as well and people generally describe me as a logical thinker.
Why then, do I find myself, on a beautiful July evening in Asheville, North Carolina, standing just one inch shy of what seems like the world’s largest hot bed of coals and why, oh why, am I seriously thinking about walking across it?
Let’s back up a little and review a past event. Just 2 short years ago, not quite to the day, I learned a lesson about fire that I thought I already knew. Never, ever, ever…(did I say never, ever ever?)….try to start a fire with gasoline. I wrote about that post on this blog: The Zen of Fire . Since that time, my relationship with fire has been guarded and hesitant at best with avoidance being my primary strategy. I figure, if I don’t mess with it in any form, then I will not get burned.
Well, not messing with fire ever again isn’t very reasonable. I mean, everyone has to at least strike a match now and then and I am no exception. But walking across a bed of hot coals goes WAY beyond even crazy definitions of reasonable.
So what am I doing standing so close to a hot bed of coals, next in line for walking across???
This summer of 2014 has been one of real transition for me in many ways. I am approaching 50, a hallmark age in any woman’s life, and going through some other challenging life changes and events. So, instead of doing my usual, “summer in Idaho” thing, I decided to spend the summer driving across country and visiting friends and family. One of those visits and lengthy, wonderful stops has been in Black Mountain, NC with my mom and stepdad, Charlie.
This past Sunday, I went to church with Charlie and listened to an announcement about a Firewalking workshop. My interest became piqued as I thought about attending and before you know it I was all signed up and sitting (the next day) in a hall full of potential firewalkers. I say, “potential” because one of the things made clear to us in the workshop was that walking would be entirely optional and actually not really encouraged. I mean, it was FIRE after all and fire is HOT you know.
So, there I was, in a room full of 100 anxious folks waiting to see what the night would bring. After a welcome by Dr. John Waterhouse, our host and one of the church ministers, we exited the room and headed to the fire-building area. Once there, we each took a log from a nearby truck and placed it into the fire area in a very precise manner. The goal was to build the fire so it would generate a long and narrow bed of coals. Once all the logs were in place, we sang a song of community and the assigned match-holders lit the fire (I did not volunteer for this role).
The fire needed time to burn and assemble itself properly so the crowd headed back into the social hall to spend a few hours discussing the different types of fear (in preparation for the upcoming walk). I won’t go into all the details of the workshop portion but there were some interesting nuggets that I wrote down and thought important enough to remember:
- Fear is connected only to things that could happen in the future. We are not afraid of things that have already happened (unless we think they might happen again). But fear is a future state.
- When we are in a state of fear, we cannot think and often cannot move (if our fear is extreme).
- Fear is a state that is created by our mind and very often, in fact most of the time, what actually happens is much less worse than what we imagined or thought about.
Once the discussion was over and the fire was ready (and the waivers and consent forms signed), we went back out into the night and surrounded the fire. By this time, the logs had burned down and a bed of hot coals lined the walking area. Those who thought they might walk made their way slowly to the west end of the pit. Those who were unsure or just wanted to be supportive stayed on the other sides.
The first person across was Minister John. He walked first to lead by example and did not seem to have any trouble. He then stayed on the end of the pit to catch the walkers. Another minister sprayed their feet with water from a hose.
Up until we got to the pit, I was not sure I was going to walk. The organizers were pretty adamant that you needed to walk for the right reasons one of those being a real desire to do so. Once I got to the pit and everyone was singing and cheering and being so supportive of those walking, I really got into the idea of it and began to have the desire. It helped to watch a lot of others do it and to know that both Charlie and my mom had both walked before.
So, as I watched person after person make their way through the coals and into the arms of the waiting pastor, I diligently made my way to the walking end of the circle. When I saw a chance, I slowly walked out into the ready position. My mind was strangely calm. As I approached the fire, I tried to remember the things Dr. John had taught us about what to do. All I could remember was…don’t look at the fire…look across to where you will end up, pay attention to what you are doing, and when you are ready go for it!
As I looked across the bed of radiating heat, all I could see was Dr. John standing there, all in white, arms open wide to catch me. I took a deep breath, focused my mind, and calmly took the 3 or 4 steps onto and through and out of the 1250F coals and into his big bear hug.
Just like that it was over. To be honest, I didn’t really feel a thing while I was walking. My feet did not feel hot at all. I think my mind was just focused on the destination and not on my feet so the heat did not really hit me. After the water treatment, I did feel a tiny bit of tingling but my feet were not red nor were they hot or sore the next day.
So, that’s it…poof…less than 4 seconds of placing my feet on hot coals and it was all over. Am I glad I did it? Yes!!!! Do I recommend it? Depends on the motivation and desire of the individual.
Now, let me be very clear that I did and still do believe that a) fire is HOT and b) that if I had stood in one place on those coals my feet would have been blistered beyond recognition. This experience for me was not about some supernatural circumstance or miracle or anything like that. I don’t believe that is what walking on fire is all about. If you move quickly and deliberately through the coals, do not remain in contact with them for long, and your flesh is cooled down at the end, the chances of blistering are very small. That to me is physics not metaphysics or supernatural.
But, what was really going on here for me and for others? The walk was about facing our fears and overcoming them. I mean, what normal, logical, sane, rational person isn’t deeply fearful of walking across a pit of hot coals? I certainly was. The victory for me and for others was taking that first step out onto the bed of burning coals and doing something that did not seem possible.
So yes, I am glad I walked and had the experience. I feel that I have healed my dysfunctional relationship with fire and that I boosted my confidence for the many changes that are approaching in my life. If you have walked through fire then you can generate the confidence to do most anything else in your life.
** I do want to provide a disclaimer here of sorts that if someone reading this thinks they might want to try firewalking, do NOT try it on your own! Take a class only from a certified instructor (there are such things and Pastor John is one) and be sure you are working with an experienced and knowledgeable and supportive group of folks. Firewalking is not an adrenaline junkie kind of thing. People that did not sit through the evening’s class were not allowed to walk. You have to be prepared and know what you are getting into and you have to walk for the right reasons and not because you feel pressured or forced. The reality is that if you choose to walk you will be walking on HOT COALS and they are hot…there is no doubt…so there is the possibility for injury that you just accept. So, please do not undertake this lightly if you decide to do so.