I offer up a memory, a reminiscence of a particular time in my life when I decided to call out my fear - and it worked! It changed my life, actually. It helped me to be a braver person. As I write this today there is so much fear in the world it’s palpable. Maybe there is something here in this story of mine that will help you in how you deal with what frightens you. At the very least, consider the power of your thoughts and what you want to affirm for yourself and your life.
Out of the frying pan and into the Fire! September 1989
Labor Day Weekend is approaching and my now ex-husband is taking the kids camping. It is my weekend without them. I still feel lost when they’re not with me. Who am I without my children? Then, my friend Beth invites me to come with her on a retreat in Maine for the weekend.
“It’s a spiritual retreat,” she says. “There will be all kinds of workshops. You’ll like it.”
We got there Friday, late afternoon; signed in and went for a look around. We decided to go down to the lake which we were told was a popular spot. We start down the path and meet two comely and naked men coming up the other way.
OK, this was new to me. Naked men out in the open. If I hadn’t gotten the message already, it was clear this weekend was going to be about me being way out of my comfort zone…and growing and changing as a result.
Yes, I had just been through a major clearing out – so to speak. I had let go of a marriage that was no longer working (after 13 years) and I had moved out of my home. Lots of space for new energy to come in…and I was in the right place to find it.
As I unpacked my bag in my cabin, one of my roommates for the weekend asked me what workshops I was going to do. I had barely looked at all the offerings. I told her I didn’t know and then politely asked what she was going to do.
“I’m going to do the firewalking, again. I did it two years ago and it caused a quantum leap in my life.”
Firewalking? I’d never heard of it - just the name sounded scary. She suggested I go to the “preview” that afternoon. “The guy who leads it invites people to come and hear about it. You don’t have to do it.” She said reassuringly.
I went to listen - just listen. There were many of us, maybe 50, on a hill surrounding him. I liked him. He was funny, inspiring and there was something about him that somehow made me want to try it which is crazy because I don’t do anything like this - ever. I don’t even ride roller coasters! But the premise appealed to me.
“It’s all about fear,” he said. “In the firewalk you move from hell, incased in fear, to heaven, moving through it, not letting yourself be limited by your fear. The walk across the glowing coals is a metaphor for your journey to be free from fear.”
It was an extremely frightening proposition to me and at the same time, inexplicably, I knew it was exactly what I needed to do.
The next day we spent three hours preparing to walk over burning coals. We were a group of about 50. He kept reminding us that at any time we could drop out and not to feel pressured. Most of our time was spent saying affirmations, affirming what was true despite all signs to the contrary.
I am strong.
I am brave.
I can do anything.
He asked us to individually speak an affirmation and then the full group would repeat it. I surprised myself. I had many positive affirmations to offer. They were what I believed. I could feel the power of the group. At one point someone spoke up about his fear. Our leader handled it well, addressed and acknowledged it, then asked us to feel how the energy in the room had shifted, felt different. It had, some of the power had gone. We continued on, building our confidence back up.
Finally, someone came in to tell us the fire was ready. We were given our instructions. Get into a single file. We’ll all be singing this song, which we had learned during our prep,
“Oh Great Spirit, Earth, Sun, Sky and Sea. You are around and all a part of me.”
We left our room and walked out together into the dark night towards the sound of crackling flames.
I had expected the fire to already be tamped down to glowing coals. That wasn’t the case. It was roaring at least 10 feet about our heads. It was huge, hot and in many respects, terrifying. But I had no urge to leave though some did at that point. I was enough into the process and I was committed. We walked around the blaze as several people started to rake it down. It was so hot it made me sweat. I’m not sure how long the fire tenders took, maybe an hour, until it was a path of glowing embers, quite beautiful, really. It was about 10 feet long and 4 feet wide.
At some point during all the training for this event, someone had said, when it comes time to walk “something takes over.” I feel like that’s what happened to me. I had shut the door to my fear hours earlier and I was ready. I was one of the first to walk. I stepped slowly across the glowing pathway and it was exhilarating, joyful, transcendent and hugely freeing. I didn’t burn anything. Some people had a few round burn marks on the soles of their feet. I had nothing. We were all encouraged to put our feet in a cold bucket of water waiting at the end of the path. My feet felt wonderful in that water…alive…all of me felt so alive.
I got in line to cross again, from hell to heaven, through my fear, two more times…once hand in hand with my friend, Beth. People danced across the path of fire…singing, ecstatic. We had done it!!
Then someone shouted, “Look at the sky, look at the sky!” I raised my eyes from the orange-red glowing ground, up into the darkness which was now glowing with a light of its own. The Northern Lights! They had come to affirm what we all had just accomplished…driving the darkness of fear out of ourselves and reclaiming our inherent light!
There were several takeaways for me from this profound experience.
Fear has always been the big dragon for me. ..limiting me, controlling me. The more I have confronted it – done the thing I was afraid of – the better off I was, the less fear had the upper hand.
Affirmations most certainly do work. If anything, my experience proved this to me.
There are theories out there about how the moisture from your feet keeps you from burning them, in other words, there’s no magic to it. But for me, it was all about what it took for me physically and psychologically to do this. The inner courage to control and overcome my fear and do this was great.
The message of the firewalk was that I was stronger than my fear, that I could do anything. I loved myself more as a result.
It did cause a quantum leap in my life. I never did a firewalk again, (well, I haven’t yet!) but I kept testing myself in other ways, leaping into what before I would have shrunk from. I was braver! I knew that I would be OK. I learned (and am still learning) that most of life’s roadblocks that I encounter, those that stop me in my tracks, they are the ones I invent in my own mind.
Oh, and a word about expectations, they are always messing me up - like thinking I’ll walk out and the fire will be neatly tamped down but no, it was blazing! My expectations often steer me wrong. I find that when I can keep myself in the moment and not allow my mind to race ahead and try to imagine what someone or something will be like, I do much better.
Let Your Fire Burn
There is a fire burning inside of us. It’s the fire of pure spirit and inspiration…a holy flame. Let that be the fire that lights your path. It will show you the bridge, from hell to heaven.
In the name of the Fire,
And the Light;
Praise the pure presence of fire
That burns from within
Without thought of time.
— John O’Donohue