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Firewalk: An Elemental Journey

As children we are warned about the danger of Fire, and taught to treat it with respect. At one time or another we have all suffered being burned by flames or hot objects. Fear of fire becomes one of our first internalized limitations.

But what if it is possible to touch Fire and not be burned?

In my readings I encountered tales of Fakirs, yogis who endure amazing physical ordeals and are able to walk across red hot coals without being burnt. This ability is attributed to their degree of self mastery and spiritual advancement.

Firewalking occurred in other parts of the world as well, with Orthodox Christians in Bulgaria, the Ottawa Indians in North America, the !Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari desert, and some Japanese Taoists, to name a few.

Firewalking and Religious Healing by Loring Danforth, documents the Anastenaria of Greece, members of a Christian Greek Orthodox sect who participate in firewalking rituals as a testament to their faith. There is also a chapter discussing "The American Firewalking Movement." An outgrowth of the New Age and Human Potential movements, the orientation of these firewalkers is toward personal growth and self healing.

In the 1980's interest in firewalking grew exponentially. Various schools arose offering training and accreditation to aspiring firewalk instructors. Soon this developed into motivational seminars and corporate firewalks. Today it is easy to find resources for firewalking all over the world on the internet.

Recently an opportunity to firewalk jumped into my lap that I could not refuse. While taking a Reiki class, one of my fellow students, Jessa, told me of a firewalk workshop that was being offered at Blessingstead in Enumclaw. I made plans to attend.

As the days passed I became increasingly nervous and excited. I questioned my motivations and the wisdom of my decision. I googled "firewalk injuries" and looked at various web sites devoted to de-mystifying the experience. I found arguments, based on physics theory, suggesting how it actually is possible to walk on burning coals without harm. Factors such as the conductivity of the wood used for the fire, the quickness of gait, or the amount of moisture on the bottoms of the feet were cited. I found these discussions oddly reassuring. I also read about the incident of the corporate firewalk undertaken at a management development conference for Kentucky Fried Chicken. Thirty people were taken to the hospital that day, suffering burns to their feet. "Karmic payback" I said to myself without compassion.

I told friends of my plan, joking that maybe now I'd finally be rid of the pesky toe fungus that had become my live-in companion. I'd been treating the condition twice daily with tea tree oil and vinegar, a method that actually seems to work, albeit very slowly. Finally the morning of the firewalk arrived. I was about to do my morning fungus ritual, but suddenly it dawned on me…Tea Tree OIL. Oil is flammable. Is it possible that tea tree oil burns? I dipped a q-tip into the oil, then held a lighter to it. Whoosh! A four inch tongue of flame shot up. I suddenly had a vision of myself on the coals, with a flaming pedicure. OK, that's it, no tea tree for Jonnie this morning, lest we have Toes Flambé tonight!

Soon the car pool, consisting of my reiki teacher, Mike Soriano, and our friends Jerri and Pan arrived, and we were on our way. Mike and Pan had firewalked previously. Jerri and I were virgins, and both pretty anxious. "You don't have to do it, if it doesn't feel right," we were assured. Jerri was quiet during the trip. I was in a unusual state, excited, nervous, happy. This was an adventure into the unknown and I felt a bit like The Fool of the tarot deck. However, he is innocent and doesn't look where he's stepping. I was readying myself to look into the abyss of my own fear: afraid of being burnt, afraid of not having the will to go through with it.

At Enumclaw we stopped at a market to get food. Mike got some kind of meat product sandwich which he wolfed down. "How can he eat all that crap?" I thought. Pan also got junk food. Jerri and I didn't really want anything, I think both our stomachs were in knots.

We arrived at Blessingsted, a big, rustic country home on a good sized piece of forested property, and joined the other participants. We met Heather Ash, one of our guides, who was just about to begin the workshop. Her partner, Raven was already down on the property, building the fire. There were about 20 people present, some experienced firewalkers, but most of us were first-timers. Heather spoke with inspiration about the nature of fear and our self imposed limitations. She said, "If it isn't true that fire burns all the time, then what else have you been telling yourself about other ways you are limited that might also not be true? Firewalking's gift is that by challenging your beliefs you open up your perspective and begin to take responsibility for creating something much more expanded and powerful with your life than you have in the past."

We did a few rounds of exercises to discover our mechanisms for fear avoidance. Generally people want to stay in their comfort zone and will go to great lengths to avoid facing what they fear. Heather emphasized the importance of having clear intent. Our intent was to get through to the other side of the fire. The trick was to keep that intention in mind at all times and just walk. Apparently people can get themselves in trouble if they loose their focus. They can become mesmerized by the experience of being on the coals and forget to keep moving. That can be dangerous.

The fire Raven had been tending was at its apex. We went out to the clearing to meet it. Raven had formed a 5 ft. tall, 4 ft. square pillar of burning logs. The flames were tall and very hot. We gathered around in a prayer circle. Each person threw a bit of cedar into flames while stating what he wanted to be given by the fire. As I made my approach my gaze was drawn into the center of the flames. I felt the presence of fire as entity, as a form of consciousness. "Focus," I said.

We made our way back to the house to wait for the fire to reduce itself to coals. Anticipation was building. Heather shared techniques we could use to ground ourselves while raising our energy. We moved our bodies and raised our voices. We shared our fears.

The sun set and night was upon us. It was time. We carefully made our way back to the clearing. The fire had become a large heap of red glowing embers. Each of us took a turn raking them out. We formed a bed of coals that was about 15 ft. long, 4 ft. wide, and 5 inches deep. We formed a standing circle around it and began to chant: "Earth my Body, Water my Blood, Air my Breath, and Fire my Spirit." Our voices rose up, some people began to drum, others to dance. As the pitch reached a crescendo, someone decided it was his moment and walked into the glowing, red hot coals and made it across! He actually did it! More followed.

I was feeling kinda jittery then. I wanted to jump in, but I was scared. More and more people were going across. I held back, hovering near the edge. I looked for Jerri. She was keeping her distance as well. Then I saw Mike cross, a big grin on his face. OK, that's it. If Mike can do it, I can do it, too! I got closer, hesitated just a moment, took a breath, and stepped in. It felt odd, kinda crunchy under my bare feet. I kept looking straight ahead to the trees. I was incredibly alert, aware of the glowing coals beneath me, the dark night. It was beautiful! Then I reached the other side! I couldn't believe it! I was giddy! I was high! I was ecstatic! I burst into combustive laughter. I immediately went back to do it again. My feet felt fine, a little tingly, but fine.

I crossed the fire five times that night. At one point I did almost get myself in trouble. While in the middle of the bed I became distracted looking at the coals and started losing my focus. Suddenly I noticed my feet were getting really hot! "Enough of that," I thought ruefully, and snapped my attention back.

When I'd had enough, I contented myself watching others, sharing their joy. Friends were crossing, holding hands and dancing. I looked for Jerri. She was on the edge. Then she stepped in and crossed. She was smiling.

It was time to end the ceremony. We made our way back to the house, stopping to wash our feet in a basin on the porch. My feet were wildly tingling, but fine. I checked out my toes. My troubled nails had blackened, but everything else was a healthy pink. My feet continued to tingle for days afterward.

We said our good-byes, packed up and headed out. Realizing we were ravenously hungry, we pulled into a late night Chinese restaurant in Enumclaw. They had karaoke! Mike was reticent, but I told him, "Dude, you just firewalked! Certainly you can do this." We did a rendition of "Brick House" by the Comodores that got enthusiastic applause from the locals in the lounge. Just goes to show, once you've firewalked, you can do anything.

To find out about future firewalks go to: www.coreflame.com or call 505-577-6902. For information on the Seattle Reiki Mastery Series go to: www.seattlereiki.cirxle.net.
Or contact Mike Soriano at (206) 890-4350.


Jonnie Gilman is a Seattle based artist, graphic designer, and writer. She can be contacted at jonnie.bpi@gmail.com