Out Of The Pan And Into The Fire

The following is an article written by a participant after attending the August 4, 2006 firewalk.

For reasons ever to remain a mystery, I can vividly recall the day’s weather of each memorable event in my life. As such, damp winter mornings invariably remind me of my father’s funeral. Overcast summer days take me back to my wedding. The hottest of summer nights put me squarely at 14 years old, fishing for bullhead on Saratoga Lake. Most poignantly, breezy autumn afternoons force me to recall the coincidental fluke that every heartbreak I ever suffered occurred during fall’s twilight hours when the leaves were all ablaze. Perhaps correlating my life’s chapters to the cyclical patterns of our natural world is my memory’s way of assisting itself. At any rate, of that which I am blessed/cursed with retaining, I can tell you with absolute certainty what the physical conditions were and whether the sun, stars and/or moon chose to witness the folly.

And so, on the evening of August 4th the moon was a waxing gibbous, and looked magnificent as it began to creep over the horizon like an eager spectator for the event I am to describe. A more perfect summer evening you could not have summoned. Just a tickle of a breeze, the humidity was not overly oppressive, and only a few clouds to sparsely adorn the sky with a pink and orange hue. I remember the weather and the moon; for this was to be no ordinary day.

I was one of 25 brave souls who gathered at a location in southwestern Vermont to participate in a fire walk. But the bravery of which I speak had nothing to do with the actual strolling over a bed of red embers, as much as it had to do with examining and changing how you see yourself and the situations life gives you. Driving out, I tried to imagine what walking across fire would feel like. It came as quite a surprise that the personal reflection you bring to the experience would turn out to be the real scorcher. Sounds easy? Think again.

Once arriving at the specified location, I am required to sign a liability waiver, reminding me that we’re “playing with fire.” Trying not to think too much about it, I quickly throw my signature down and make an effort to mingle with other participants who emanated both nervousness and excitement.

The workshop was presented by Stephanie Foy, a certified Sundoor fire walk instructor. Stephanie also provides a variety of other physical and spiritual services (visit her website at www.dimensionsinhealing.org” to learn more) . Her relentlessly positive and cheerful attitude went a long way to put people at ease, many of whom were wondering just what exactly they were about to get themselves into.

Once everyone arrived, we gathered into a building to begin the 4 hour session. We sat in a circle as candles illuminated the center; a simple yet elegant atmosphere and a constant symbolic reminder of what we were to be about that evening. We listened intently as Stephanie told us about the many cultures that participated in this ancient practice; recognizing fire’s symbolic and literal ability to transform anything with which it comes in contact.

We sang a couple songs to get us in the spirit, and proceeded to walk down a torchlight path to a grassy lawn where the fire would be assembled. At this point, we were told to go off by ourselves for a few moments to give some reflection to what we sought to change in ourselves as a course of doing this. So now, we’re sitting alone in a garden, listening to the birds as we deal with the rather surprising and uncomfortable aspect of having to take this internal inventory. Each of us knows where our skeleton’s are buried, and we usually do a pretty good job of surviving the day by keeping them hidden; even to ourselves. But now they are being summoned to forefront of our mind.

We re-convene and began to assemble the logs in a required pattern under Stephanie’s watchful eyes. When complete, the structure stood approximately three foot high and the diameter of two king-size beds. We lit the blaze with small torches, and in seconds the fire was raging as was our intimidation level. The gibbous was now well above the trees in order to get a better view; no doubt looking down with much more than idle curiosity.

Returning to our building, we paired up for a bit speaking with each other about the various obstacles in our lives, and what we might be like without them. While this is hardly the thing you would share with a stranger on a subway, the commonality of our purpose made the interaction easy. By this time, it was quite evident that “we weren’t in Kansas anymore;” and found ourselves in the midst of a rare opportunity to effect some change in our life; if we had the moxy to set it in motion. A subsequent meditation period put each of us squarely at that crossroads.

Word came from outside that the fire was ready, and for us to make our way to the blaze. The fire tenders had done their job well, as they danced around what now looked to be a scene straight out of Dante’s “Inferno”, raking it down in the intense heat. A glowing bed of red lay before us. Were we really ready to let the old definitions of ourselves “go up in flames?”

“Shiva Shiva Shiva Shambo, Maha Deva Shambo” was a phrase from a song we would sing as we circled the fire for the next 40 minutes to the accompaniment of several drummers who dutifully kept the energy’s rhythm going. We were instructed not to walk until we really felt the time was right. We were also given some “other things” to keep in our mind while we crossed (and you’ll have to go do this for yourself if you want to find out what they are). Like the first bird in a flock that decides that it’s time to head south for the winter, a woman in the group sensed it was her time to cross over. She calmly approached the fire bed and walked across with the look of purpose and intention to the celebration and applause of everyone else.

Five minutes later, I too heard something whispering to me, “Go now.” As I walked across the bed, I found myself less concerned with the physical realities as I was envisioning that the person I wanted to be was just on the other side. The beauty of the practice, I discovered, lie in letting the fire become more than merely a symbolic catalyst for change; but actually permitting yourself to believe that you can use that moment to redefine yourself.

My “normal self” was screaming, “what in God’s name are you doing walking into that fire barefoot?” But looking back after I had crossed, I was pleasantly stunned that I had not been burned. The seemingly impossible was just that – seemingly! The celebration over the next 40 minutes was tremendous; as we repeatedly crossed over and over alone, together with friends, families, partners, sometimes skipping and even dancing. Each pass shattered the million rationalizations behind the words “I can’t.” I was also able to leave some less desirable parts of me in those coals, like someone watching a town fade away in their rear-view mirror as they leave it for the last time – in search of their future.

After the ceremony I realized that I did manage to get one tiny burn — “a kiss” as it’s called, behind the ball of my right foot, but by the time I woke up the next morning it was gone. I felt like I had joined a fraternity/sorority that shared a wonderful knowledge. If you bring the right intention to it, fire walking can truly be a “baptism of fire”.

You’ll never ever believe you can do it until you actually walk across it for yourself. Read all the self-help books you want, and intellectualize notions until you’re blue in the face. But I’m tellin’ you – if you really want to redefine what’s possible in your life, go find Stephanie Foy and do a fire walk. But know this well ahead of time – you won’t be the same afterward. And you’ll not soon forget the weather that day, or if the moon and the stars chose to get a glimpse of your transition.