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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?

Bed of coals

 

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).

Start of Fire

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.

 

 

 

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I recently attended and completed a 10-day silent Vipassana meditation course at the Northwest Vipassana Center in Onalaska, WA (http://www.kunja.dhamma.org/). While I can’t say that I had “fun” meditating for hours each day, I can say that the experience was worthwhile. I learned a lot about myself and others and would consider doing it again.

During the retreat, we were asked not to use our technology devices. In fact, we were encouraged to turn them in to the center before the retreat began. I complied with the request but left mine in my car for the duration of the event.

The retreat began on a Wednesday evening with a light dinner then 8 pm meditation.  Once the 8 pm sit started, our 10-day noble silence began. During the retreat, there were many things that happened that we could not discuss nor could I share them on Facebook as I might usually do. I did, however, take some notes (ok…we weren’t supposed to be writing or taking notes either but I just could not help myself! Maybe next time I will refrain from writing).

FACEBOOK POSTS I WOULD HAVE MADE

Day 0 (Wednesday):

  • 6 pm – last real dinner and talking for 10 days…better make it good!
  • 8 pm – start of noble silence

Day 1 (Thursday):

  • 4:00 am – I KNOW that was not a gong I just heard waking me up at 4 am. Oh, wait, it was.
  • 4:20 am – joined a line of sleepwalkers heading to the meditation hall
  • 4:30 am – first morning sit – this is going great!
  • 4:40 am – oh, now I am getting sleepy…maybe I should have stayed in bed
  • 5:30 am – made it through an hour…heading back to my room
  • 8:00 am – first formal group sit today
  • 11 am – lunch!!!!! and a break until 1
  • 1 – 2:30 optional room sit
  • 2:30 – group sit in the hall
  • 3:30 – 5 optional room sit
  • 5:00 – dinner! Oh wait, nothing to get excited about…tea and a piece of fruit…stomach growl
  • 6 pm – group sit
  • 7 pm – evening discourse
  • 8:30 – group sit
  • 9:30 lights out – first official day is over

Day 2 (Friday)

  • 8 am sit – is someone next to me wearing lavender lotion? Ugh…I can’t breathe!!!! Very allergic!!!! Must talk to course manager. Oh, great excitement to speak!

Day 3 (Saturday)

  • 11 am – lunch – is that a CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE??????? OMG!!!!!!

Day 4 (Sunday)

  • 12 noon – this WAS going to be my shower day but the water is out…so…just rough it for another day. It’s not like people around me can talk and tell me I stink. :-0)

Day 5 (Monday)

  • Water back on but big scare this morning – no power = no hot water = no shower!!!! Good thing the power came back on before lunch. I am sure they would have kicked me out for aroma issues.

Day 6 (Tuesday)

  • Can’t believe I have meditated 30 hours in 6 days. That is some kind of record for me.
  • Finally had to ask for protein at dinner. Tea and fruit were not cutting it. Yeah cottage cheese!

Day 7 (Wednesday)

  • Getting antsy for the days to pass a little faster. When you aren’t talking or working on the computer you sure have a lot of time to be aware of the passing of time.

Day 8 (Thursday)

  • 8 days already? Time for another shower. Woohoo!!!
  • Do I see CHOCOLATE CAKE on the table at lunch?????? Right ON!!!!
  • Big meditation breakthrough today – finally realizing that life is constant change – will I remember this in the morning???

Day 9 (Friday)

  • I am so dreaming of pepperoni pizza today…mmmm

Day 10 (Saturday)

  • We finally got to talk today after the morning sit…didn’t really want to at first but my roommate came over and chatted and helped break the ice. Felt weird to hear my voice. Sounded like it was coming from somewhere else.

Day 11 (Sunday)

  • Retreat ended at 6:30 am. Time for breakfast, pack the car, then drive to Idaho. Worthwhile experience!

 

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I grew up in Arkansas and, because I am a tomboy, spent a lot of my time outdoors. Torn pants and skinned knees were the order of the day in my household as I explored every nook and cranny of the woods and parks surrounding our home. As part of this upbringing, I was exposed to the entire range of local flora and fauna, including bugs. Ants, ladybugs, beetles, spiders, butterflies, caterpillars, ticks, and even the occasional snake were all creatures to be studied, admired, and respected.

Living the last twenty years in Arizona has provided opportunities for exposure to types of bugs that did not exist in my little Arkansas world. The desert is home to several types of poisonous spiders, the ever more populate killer bee, rattlesnakes of all shapes and sizes, and stinging, biting flies. None of these joyous creatures, however, compares to the worst, most disgusting, loathsome, and hideous inhabitant on the face of the planet: the SCORPION!

Scorpions are not small by bug standards, ranging in body size from less than an inch to more than 2 inches (not including the tail!). They have eight legs and a set of pinchers, all placed evenly along a body that can flatten down to the height of a piece of paper. Their long, skinny tail stays curled over their back with a stinger that is fully locked and loaded at all times. Ewwww. Even writing this creeps me out and sends chills down my spine. I really can’t think of anything in the world that I hate more than scorpions!

Desert mountains are prime scorpion habitat and we live right next to one. For years, we had problems and some years the word “infestation” came to mind. The stories are endless and the sightings numbered in the hundreds over the years. Soon after we moved into the house, I learned not to sit on the floor (imagine…sleepily enjoying a movie while resting on the floor…then seeing a creepy, crawly scorpion heading right for you!). I also learned not to ever walk barefoot and to seal every opening in the house including outlet covers and the sides of air vents. One year, it got so bad that I carried a rubber mallet with me and turned the light on to carefully scan each room’s walls and ceilings before entering. My husband and I have each only been stung once, on the foot, although he did have a close call with one that was hovering on the ceiling and dropped onto our bed one morning.

Greg and I had gone back and forth many times about calling an extermination service but we had heard that there was no spray for scorpions so we put it off. One day, a young man from an extermination service knocked on our door. He was going door-to-door to sign up new customers. I told him I would have to ask my husband, who was just walking by.

“Honey”, I called out to his retreating form. “Do we finally want to start that scorpion pest control we have been talking about for awhile?”

“No”, he said over his shoulder. “We’re fine”.

I shrugged my shoulders and apologized to the man. Not five minutes later I heard a shriek from the back yard. Well, ok, Greg doesn’t really shriek but he did make a very strange sound then came running in the house with something squished in a towel.

“Did that pest-control guy leave yet?” he said breathlessly.

“Yeah, he did. Why?”

“I just found a scorpion in my hair!”

I didn’t know whether to laugh, scream, or cry. I did open the door and run outside hoping to catch the young bug man but he was long gone. That very day, I made some calls to friends and families to see whom they used for service. We found out about Bulwark and they now spray every month outside our home. The employees are all very friendly and helpful and the stuff they use seems to do the trick. I even go barefoot in the house now at least during the day and I sleep much better at night.

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