Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Fire Stroll with Me

“I must admire your skill. You are so gracefully insane.” ~ Anne Sexton

So I don’t know what you did this past weekend… but I went on a retreat in the woods of Western, MA and walked on hot coals. Because that’s a perfectly normal thing to do. And since naked bungee jumping is out of the question (gravity is bad enough but in reverse?—no thanks)…I figured strolling the coals would be a fun alternative. But let me back up a little. A group of women were invited to participate in this pilot program for a 5-Element retreat, optional firewalk included. It sounded intriguing, terrifying and weird—naturally I accepted.

I’ve always been a bit of a pyro anyway…who among us is immune to the mesmerizing beauty or nurturing comfort of a blazing fire? Fire is such a magnificent force and part of our daily collective lexicon. Whether used to describe passion or action when someone is “fired up”, “aflame with desire”, having a “fire in one’s belly”, or being “on fire” for something… there is an undeniable pull to the orange angel-demon that can be used destructively, as we’ve seen in the California fires, or motivationally, sparking one to manifest their dreams in a tangible worldly way. We call our soulmates our “twin flame”, use a torch to kick off the Olympic games, burn up with fever when our bodies are fighting bacteria or viruses, we get ‘fired’ from a job, our eulogies start and end with ashes, we blush with heat when embarrassed and our cheeks blaze red, we goodnaturedly tease each other in competitions “You’re toast!” and when someone’s on a roll we cheer: “Now you’re cookin’!”

In the zodiac I am a fire sign, an Aries, and at times I have definitely had a fiery temperament, the flip side of which is burnout…the cold ash of disappointment when the last coal extinguishes whether in a relationship or job—when the spark is gone…it can be difficult to rekindle. But spiritually, fire is a cleansing and purifying agent that transforms, transmutes and translates emotion into action. Letting go of the past by writing down intentions to release old, stuck patterns and then burning them in ritualistic fashion is an enormously purging and freeing experience.

Walking on a sixteen foot stretch of hot coals, 600-1200 degrees Fahrenheit to be exact…is to the layperson an extremely nutty and dangerous thing to do. When I told people I was going to be doing this I got quite a range of reactions—mostly fear-based, a few curious and some downright disdainful. “Good luck with that.” was the overall tone from most. As in…there she goes again…always pushing the envelope and taking bizarre risks. But to the spiritual seeker, visionaries, mystics, shamans and now to many CEOs and motivational types like Tony Robbins, it is not simply an exercise to ‘conquer’ one’s fears or just something to do for the hipness factor of saying that you did it. It is much more than that. It’s a personal and sacred rite of passage. Of surrendering. Allowing. And sure—I’ll admit the bragging rights are cool, too. But that is not the only reason I did it. I did it because I feel like I’m turning a significant corner in my life and I felt it was appropriate to mark that somehow.

Under a clear and cold starlit sky, as the fire blazed higher and higher—speaking its crackling/hissing whispers and embers danced swirling towards the heavens, I realized something important about how I approach the daily challenges of my life. I did the coal walk three times (after the fire died down but the glowing coals were primed and ready) and each time I walked differently and for different reasons. The first time…I did it ‘to get it over with’…I walked for everyone and anyone who has ever felt crazy. I walked declaring that ‘sane is a four letter word'. The second time, I walked for all of my family members—those both alive and the ones who’ve passed over, this time I walked a little slower wanting to be as much in the moment as possible but still a bit scared of getting burned. The third and final time…I walked for the book, its place in the world, and for me and my place in the world. This was more of a stroll. I wanted to prolong the experience and this time—I was feeling more confident. I want to carry that coal stroll feeling of being safe, loved and whole into my life more and more. That mind-full-ness, the soul expansion and the courage to take on whatever heat or ashes life brings.

I am thrilled and amazed to report I did not burn my feet. Not even the tiniest blister. I can honestly say they have felt hotter walking on beach sand that’s been heated by the summer sun. After the whole thing was over, I had never felt such a sense of peaceful interconnectedness to the universe at large except when playing with my niece or nephew. It was and is one of the best things I’ve ever done. One woman did get a small blister or ‘firekiss’. And then a funny thing happened this morning. I took a sip of my coffee and ending up making out with Juan Valdez in my own scalding version of a firekiss. I had gulped it down not mindfully at all, and burned my tongue and the roof of my mouth. Thanks, JUAN. I guess fire still has a few things to teach me. And I am more than willing to learn.

For more info about firewalking, 5-Element retreats and acupuncture check here:


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