“Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.”Henry Ford
Mankind’s fascination with fire
The history of humanity and the discovery of the technology of fire are intimately connected. Recent evidence suggests our ancestors Australopithecus mastered fire over 1.5 million years ago. Fire has since the beginning of mankind an almost unparalleled power of fascination on our species. We wanted it, we needed it… and we put it at the centre of our ceremonies, rituals, initiations and celebrations. Fire is full of magic, at least on the minds of people. We sit around it in the dark, stare into the flames, share our stories, the joy of being together, dreaming and wondering where we come from, and where we are going …We are conscious of the life-saving force of fire, as well as its life taking force. The ability to control fire remains for always a compelling symbol of power, sovereignty, solidarity and prosperity. Thanks to fire we have better learned to know ourselves, and our relations. Thanks to fire we changed and continue to be changed, since all that is touched by fire is forever transformed.
The history of firewalking and fire-immunity.
Humans, in their quest for knowledge, probably very early on also set foot on fire. Firewalking– – the act of walking barefoot over a bed of hot embers or stones without getting burned – is one of the oldest and to this day one of the most widely spread human rituals that our planet has ever known. The earliest known reference dates back to Iron Age India over 3000 years ago (c. 1200 BCE), where ascetics walked across hot embers to purify themselves. It’s a historical fact that firewalking made its way into every single culture on the planet, on all continents (except Antarctica for obvious reasons). Priestesses in early Greece walked barefoot on hot charcoal in honour of the goddess Artemis. Similarly, devotees of the goddess Feronia in Italy walked on the embers of a pinewood fire. The old testament of the Bible also contains stories of fire-immunity: “Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched?(From Proverbs 6:28); and, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. (From Isaiah 43:2). In the bible we find also the story of Meschach, Shadrach, and Abednego, who were thrown into Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace: “He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods. Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.”(Daniel 3:25-27). Inglis wrote: “There seemed hardly any limit to what a prophet could do when the hand of the Lord was on him. He could perform superhuman feats of strength or endurance of the kind for which Samson became renowned. Or he could become incombustible.
Even Middle Ages Christianity embraced the mysteries of Fire-walking and Fire-Immunity. The Catholic Church canonised St. Francis of Paola in 1519 in part because of his incredible and seeming endless ability to handle fire. In front of church officials, St. Francis reached into a burning fire and grabbed a handful of red-hot logs. He also stepped into burning kilns and helped blacksmiths by handling red-hot pieces of iron. Islam Saints have also been reported to have fire-immunity. For example Al-shelbi was said to have thrown himself into a fire and remained unaffected. Hasan of Basra (642-728 CE) was a Muslim of absolute piety who was said to have displayed a number of abilities which he said came from God, including fire-immunity. In one case, he converted a fire-worshipper to Islam by holding his hand in a fire and remaining completely unharmed. Some followers of the Shia sect in Islam on the 9th and 10th days of the Muharram (First Month in the Islamic Calendar), walk on fire, to mourn the death of Imam Hussain who was the son of Hazrat Ali and Sayyeda Fatima (The daughter of Muhammad). Even today, dervishes are reported to apply flaming torches to their face, arms, and legs for five to fifteen seconds at a time, as well as bite on, or hold in their bare hands, red-hot iron plates. Gurdjijeff is said to have had Sufi shaikh perform a number of acts of faith, including licking of white-hot poker.
Firewalking is still being used today as a local custom and as part of cultural heritage in such varied places as India, Tibet, Sri Lanka, China, Japan, Spain, Argentina Bulgaria (nestinarstvo), Greece (Anastenaria), Fiji. Several North American Indian tribes were known to have great fire handling capabilities. The list is very long: On the Indonesian Island of Bali young girls walk on fire because the Balinese believe the gods to be “children of the people” so children perform their ritual trace-dances. In Sumatra, spirit mediums fill their mouths with burning coals. Dervishes in Egypt and Algeria reportedly swallow hot coals. Tribes throughout Polynesia (documented in scientific journals from as early as 1893), the Sawau clan in the Fijian Islands still to this day, dance on hot coals as a rite of passage, Hawaiian Kahuna priests walk the lava flows, the !Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari desert walk on hot coals to heal their community, Hindu Indians in South Asia and their diaspora in South Africa, Malaysia and Singapore celebrate the Thimithi festival when they practice firewalking.
Firewalking is clearly is a tradition as rich in ritual and culture as the history of the world. It is most often used for ritual purification, healing and worship, as rite of passage or initiation, as a test of an individual’s strength and courage, or in religion as test of one’s faith.
The opportunity to firewalk in our Western Culture, is a relatively new phenomenon. Firewalking was brought to a Western audience as recently as 1982, when Peggy Dylan and Tolly Burkan began instructing firewalking based on the Tibetan Buddhist model. To some it’s a “hot new sport” but I prefer to see it as an example of the evolving human consciousness that steps into more “ecological,” “holistic,” and “integrative” paradigms,
Why are Western people willing to try firewalking in the first place?
For some people firewalking is simply a stupid idea, because of the fact that the chance is very small that you would need the skill in your everyday life, for example when you wake up in the morning and your neighbour -out of bitter revenge – would have encircled your house with a ditch of hot coals, and you would need to cross the fire, in order to get out of your house. As such it is true that learning to walk on fire is not a skill you will frequently apply in your life.
Firewalking rituals are however performed in many cultures the world over, as we saw, for example during religious festivities. Research has shown that a form of elation, ecstasy, extreme joy, high levels of internal dialogue and fulfilment characterise firewalks. Does this mean it has the same effect as an XTC trip, whereafter on Tuesdays you get your “dip”. In this case firewalking is the next high and possibly your new addiction. In this case, once more, when your state of euphoria has evaporated the dullness and grayness of everyday life will unavoidably strike back.
Even if walking over fire is giving you a high, and opens you up, there is more than one way to do it:
- One way is to see the fire as “obstacle to overcome”, or even “an enemy to defeat” (an by extension, you can beat yourself, and have many other enemies as well). Firewalking in this case becomes a test of strength. It is true that obstacles exist, and that one can have enemies as well, but if it is your intention to be the strongest and to conquer the world, the saying as is sometimes heard: “If I can walk on fire, I can do everything” will possibly isolate you and nourish a form of arrogance.
- Another way is to think of fire in a completely different way: You don’t have to beat the fire, it is not your enemy, it does not appear in your mind as an obstacle, but as an inviting friend, as an energy, an entity calling on the firewalker to come in. If in this case, you are able to meet the fire with respect and regard, you could surrender to the fire. With such a mindset, the fire becomes a “match” or a teacher, and nothing to be afraid about or something you need to bring to submission . The firewalkers who are in this mode, often report that they feel the coals as soft, silky and nicely warm, definitely feeling comfortable about it.
- A third way, and probably the most engaging one, is when you feel an irresistible inner calling. You feel the fire is burning inside of you, you become the fire yourself. In this case the firewalker becomes fire-immune. It is impossible to explain this state of consciousness and corresponding physiology with the laws of physics (see further below). The firewalker in this instance, feels no heat at all, no weight or temperature is detected – some people say “it is like walking on air”. The story of fireyogi Rhambau Swami who has been filmed by a crew (seehttp://www.hoaxorfact.com/India/the-supernatural-fire-yogi-of-tanjore-facts-analysis.html), as well as the christian and muslim saints, in my opinion, fall into this category.
Firewalking in way nr. 1 is purely behaviouristic and power driven. Seen from this perspective, firewalkers and spectators are typically interested in such things as how far, how hot and how long one is able to endure the fire. Firewalking in way nr. 2 has a deeper transpersonal quality. Here size or duration don’t matter so much, but the experience of the happening, as well as the relationship towards it. Firewalking in way nr. 3. is even more stretched and becomes an even deeper spiritual experience, a union, something like a loving relationship, a mystical quality.
A fourth way of course is to renounce the idea or the act of firewalking entirely, based on whatever presumption that is motivating this decision. This also is entirely OK.
The Incredible Fire Yogi
Let us look a bit deeper in the story of fireyogi Rambhau Swami’s. His example evokes in the viewer a deep respect for the human potential and highlights the power and endurance when mind, body and spirit are unified. Swami Rambhau at a moment in this fire ritual that goes on for 14 hours gets himself into the fire place, sleeping comfortably in union with the fire, without getting burnt or hurt. And surprisingly, even his woollen shawl does not burn in fire, apart from a few scars here and there, which he says happen when he loses his concentration and connection with the fire. Rambhau was able to survive on few drops of water per day for more than 28 years. It is thought that with his powerful breathing techniques, meditation, mantra’s and unusual body, he is able to create a protective aura around him that safeguards him from getting burnt in the fire. These findings transcend traditional wisdom and clearly surpass current medical and scientific explanations altogether. The good news is that Swami Rambhau is willing to participate in scientific experiments. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXfyrWRbmss
Firewalking in the new holistic paradigm.
Even the simple act of viewing a firewalk or someone with fire-immunity, whether it’s in person or on video, can make a dramatic shift in your belief system. Witnessing oneself and others walk on hot coals and not burn their feet serves as a clear and graphic demonstration of what is possible. Yogi Rambhau claims he is an ordinary human being and that he can get burned like everybody else if he loses his focus.
The firewalk, also, since it started to be practiced on a larger scale in the west from 1982 onwards, has proven to be a unique method for testing one’s beliefs about the nature of reality and what role one plays in the creation of that reality. Each and every time a person walks on fire they are continuously reminded of their personal power and of the connection between their mind, body and their environment.
Claiming personal power and living your personal mythology is an important step in helping the change, the world needs right now.
Why is Firewalking a possibility for the Western Individual: an evolutionary view.
“We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes.”― Joseph Campbell
Lorin Danforth in his book “Firewalking and Religious Healing. The Anastenaria of Greece and the American Firewalk Movement” (Princeton University Press, 1989) articulates an important theme in late 20th century American culture — the conflict between personal autonomy and social responsibility — that’s still being grappled with today.
“The ritual therapy of the American Firewalking movement asserts the power of the self, a self that is free from the limits and constraints imposed by social responsibilities and moral obligations. Firewalking offers people a liberating experience of self-realisation…in a world where great value is placed on individual freedom of expression and self-determination….”
However, Danforth cautions, what “makes such freedom and independence possible can lead very easily to a situation in which isolated and alienated private selves wander aimlessly in a world that has been emptied of any specific moral content.”
This “moral content” is related to such constructs as worldviews, perceptual frameworks, organising systems, value orientations, as well as “levels of consciousness.” It is in that sense not something easy to deal with.
It would lead me too far in this paper to illustrate in dept what the different positions and models are, that have been formulated in psychology, consciousness theory and models of spiritual development during the last half century or so. I refer the reader to theorists like Kegan (The Evolving Self, 1982), Jane Loevinger’s (1976) stages of ego development, William Perry’s Model of Intellectual and Ethical Development (1981), Kohlberg’s Model of Moral Development (1981), Jean Piaget’s Model of Cognitive Development, Ken Wilber’s AQAL Model (A Theory of Everything (2001)), Grebser’s Structures of Human Consciousness (1953), Clare Graves’ Spiral Dynamics or ECLET Model (See also Marivoet, 2012, Beck & Cowan 1996) for more details.
In the context of this article I would like to refer to an idea of Professor Ervin Laszlo, one of the foremost experts on systems theory and general evolution theory and founder of the club of Budapest, who says that society is at a critical turning point in human evolution. He suggests that historically, humanity has shifted from an ancient mythological understanding of our surroundings (Mythos) to a theological perspective (Theos), defining our world in theological and religious terms. Then, the modern industrial society reflected the shift from Theos to valuing reason and the rational mind (Logos) and letting those values dominate our thoughts and actions. From the Logos ideology, we have made great technological advances – perhaps too many too fast. We are witnessing a world facing unprecedented socio-economic and environmental challenges, which requires a significant number of changemakers who ignite and support new ways of learning and acting: transformative learning. Changemakers have since the beginning of times, participated in the shaping of ever-changing worldviews. The solutions of the past are in the same time the problems of the future…According to Laszlo, we can now evolve from what we have learned from the Mythos, Theos, and Logos eras in order to create wholeness or Holos.
Firewalking in my opinion is a wonderful example of this holos initiating experience. It is a perfect example of the mind-body connection at work and the reason why we at the Institute for Bodymind Integration (IBI) have embraced this transformational tool. I, Dirk Marivoet, founder and director of IBI had my first experience with the Firewalk in 1993 and started instructing people in 1994. Years earlier, while taking my Bachelor’s degree in Physical Therapy, one day in 1979, during a course-lecture on human pathology, I had a clear revelation that it was high time that people in health care learned to transcend reductionistic thinking and develop a better sense of the whole. Synthesising knowledge from many fields into pragmatic holistic wisdom that encompasses, body, feelings, thoughts, will and spirit has been my aim since that day.
I realised that a holistic paradigm always takes a step back and observes the whole of life and creation, considering the interdependence of all forms, thoughts, and actions. Rather than indoctrination of current ideologies and knowledge, it is about identifying the core values of each individual and empowering them to act upon these principles so that one can stay healthy and evolving as a conscious spiritual being. After I graduated as a PT, and later as a psychomotor therapist, I got appointed at the Psychicatric Centres of Leuven University and started to apply this holistic paradigm. I got involved in many “New Age,” “humanistic” and “transpersonal” practices that were offered during the 1980s. I was in those days initiated in the Lakota Sweatlodge and in 1994, I learned the firewalk ritual from Peggy Dylan and found in it a great “igniter of spirits,” and a friend that helps people move out of helplessness, hopelessness or powerlessness. In my experience, the firewalk helps us to learn to deeply listen to the truths that are calling out from within each and every one of us. The only honest way is to tell your own story, to save yourself, and in doing so, participate joyfully in the sorrow of the world as the buddhists say.
What is Firewalking all about then?
Many people’s actions are out of balance with the rest of the universe and as a collective, we are destroying our planet. The best answer as I understand it is: To be the change you want to see in the world: change yourself first!
At our highest level of self, we realise that we are totally and directly connected to the One Great Source of consciousness, whatever we choose to call it. We are now being told by scientists that ALL of life definitely exists as a single unified conscious field – an interwoven consciousness in which each part affects the whole at every moment. In more “popular” terms – we are each like a knot on a “fisherman’s net” extending out through endless dimensions of time and space. This understanding developed as the scientists explored smaller and smaller portions of the atom. They found that at the most extremely small and immeasurable level of reality, there’s still some unknown force. And this force is present even at the temperature of absolute zero, where all other known forms of energy vanish into an unknown invisible force field. Physicist Ervin Laszlo calls this field the “A-field.” He seems to be referring to the ancient Vedic concept of the “Akashic record,” the nonphysical repository of all knowledge in the universe long been proposed by metaphysicians. Laszlo says, “The ancients knew that space is not empty; it is the origin and memory of all things that exist and have ever existed. This insight is now being rediscovered at the cutting edge of the sciences [and is emerging] as a main pillar of the scientific world’s picture of the twenty-first century. This will profoundly change our concept of ourselves and of the world.”
By observing the interaction and needs of all of the players, we have the opportunity to create new solutions for the benefit of all. A great renaissance is at hand, based on the changing beliefs about the nature of reality and grounded in the connection and the need for one another.
Possible goals and motivations for Firewalking
Working with fear: Fear into Power
Human ethnologists believe that human development was highly determined by its relationship with fire. Escaping from the scrub and forest fires, the survival chances of the early cavemen greatly increased if he was able to maintain the condition, which modern firewalking researchers name “fire-immunity”, for a short period of time. “Fire immunity” so to speak, is an evolutionary vestige that was a key to survival in the early stage of evolution.
Facing a really large fear and connecting to what is going on inside of you right at that moment is one of the main points of firewalking. In learning how to walk unharmed across a bed of red-hot coals, people are literally learning how to overcome, acknowledge and transform their fear. Fear is a natural human emotion. Everyone feels fear from time to time. But what if that fear keeps you from doing something you really want to do? Or even makes you believe you don’t want to do something that could end up being an amazing experience? Anxiety and panic-disorders have become major mental health problems.
Firewalking helps people to shift the energy of fear. One cannot deny it takes a certain power of intention or a willpower to fight the fear for a fire that for most clearly stimulates fear. As however participants learn to dance with the fire and eventually walk through the fire in the presence of fear, they transform this fear into a powerful ally. The point in firewalking is not to deny the fear, but to look at it closely and to see it as something that blocks you from attaining a goal. Instead of crying about our fears and problems, blaming others, making excuses, or basking in denial, we are during a firewalk to confront our fears and pay attention to them. This close attention enables us to gain the insight that will set us free of our fears, or can transform fear in mere excitement… It will learn us to deal successfully with fear whenever it arises, learning to transform certain fearful situations as opportunities for growth.
As we step onto the fire, we pass through a membrane of fear, and in doing so, learn to make fear our ally instead of our master.
Ultimately, you must decide whether you are going to take a walk or hang back, both of which are valid and have their own lessons. If you prove to yourself that you or others can step through that membrane of fear and make fire “harmless”, then what does that say about reality and your own role in its creation? What are your limitations, really? What other possibilities remain untapped, and stay unrealised?
A Sufi tales tells of a man who was terrified of snakes. One day, while at a mountain resort, someone casually said, “Be careful of the poisonous snakes we have around here.” This completely ruined the man’s day. Every time he passed a shadow, his body contracted. His head was constantly turning – looking for snakes. Finally, that night when the man entered his darkened room, while fumbling for the light switch, he saw on the floor a coiled snake ready to strike. He became so overwhelmed by fear that he had a heart attack and dropped dead. The next morning the housekeeper found the man dead on the floor next to a coil of rope. What killed this man? It certainly was not the snake, for there was no snake. What killed him was his own fear (F.E.A.R.-False Evidence Appearing Real). Our fears are always turning fears into snakes. Firewalking can help you to realise how powerful your fears are and let you master them. Once you master your fears, there is no goal that you cannot achieve.
‘Puma practice’ – the direction of the will
Peggy Dylan has said that the firewalk is the best known “Puma” practice there is. Puma refers to one of the three power animals of Peruvian shamanism (the other ones are the snake and the condor). While the snake stands for shedding our past (but we also need to integrate our past, not deny or forget it), the puma stands for physical plane mastery, for a motoric and aimed expression that leads to empowerment and to transformation into the new. In the stage of the condor, we spread our spiritual wings and develop increasingly our ability to show who we truly are. A feedback people give about the firewalk is that it changes their lives forever. Firewalking serves as a rite-of passage and the change becomes a never ending cyclical developmental process that overspans our whole lifetime if we choose so.
Finding new inspiration.
The firewalk is clearly a powerful tool designed to help transform and to inspire people to do things they initially didn’t think or believe possible. It teaches a valuable lesson about the power of the mind and of belief and the effect that thoughts and beliefs have on our experience of reality.
Many people restrict themselves to well-known territories and well-accustomed behaviours and equal this with comfort. Many people never leave this box of conformity, and thus draw the boundaries of their playground very narrow.
Firewalking teaches you how to see beyond the walls of your thinking, feeling and doing box. It shows you that some of your capabilities lie outside this box, but within manageable reach. Because constantly playing safe can also become boring, new first-hand experiences of increased performance are worth the exploration.
Firewalking is a practical way of confirming our instincts and validating our intuition. It provides an unforgettable visual image to accompany your thoughts and beliefs, and shows us the vastness of the human potential. It leaves such a positive imprint on your thinking, feeling and handling that you will reflect on yourself with increased sense of wonder and magnificence.
Carl Jung, the famous Swiss depth psychologist has said: “Instinct cannot be freed without freeing the mind, just as the mind divorced from instinct is condemned to futility. Not that the tie between mind and instinct is necessarily a harmonious one. On the contrary it is full of conflict and means suffering. Therefore the principle aim of psychotherapy is not to transport the patient to an impossible state of happiness, but to help him acquire steadfastness and philosophical patience in face of suffering. Life demands for its completion and fulfilment a balance between joy and sorrow.” (Jung, CW 16, par 185)
Changing bad and destructive habits, and negative thinking patterns and developing creative ones.
Many people don’t believe that they can change their lives. They feel unable or don’t even allow the idea that they can take their destiny into their own hands. Many people are not open for the possibility or don’t even dream of a possible chance to improve their lives for the better. They are settled in self-destructive patterns like smoking, drinking, sedentary behavior, watching TV every day, etc. undermining both mind, spirit and body.
The beliefs and thought-patterns of just being ordinary or average has become a fixation, and many people burry themselves up in the fatalistic feeling of plain mediocrity and a minimal desire for living. Some people end up wasting years and decades of their lives never wanting a real life. As a result they indulge in problems that they learn to escalate to a magnitude where they seem to become all-prevailing and significant. The “I have a problem, therefore I am.” sadly became the new philosophy for them as for many.
Firewalking has the power to bring significant change to this state of affairs. People can symbolically burn away their problems with the pyre. In this way we help people to demolish their self-imposed personal hindrances, blockages, barriers to self-development. Firewalking as a rite-of-passage or a rite of initiation into a new stage or way of life can help people embrace life at a deeper level, with more health, balance, and social responsibility.
Increasing self-confidence, self-esteem and the power to believe in yourself
The firewalking ritual serves as a very graphic demonstration of what is possible and as an unforgettable example of human potential. In a very direct sense, firewalking is a clear cut demonstration of personal power.
Many people are hardly engaging in personal power, miss great opportunities, or lucky turns of life, because they don’t know how to pay attention, to connect with their potential and to mobilise the right inner power to act, or the power to change. They may simply be afraid of the challenges that change brings about. As such the firewalk ritual helps people develop self-confidence, and self-esteem for a lifetime.
Decision-making and execution
Most people partly unconsciously generate many of their problems themselves, by not making decisions at the right time, when and how it is needed. They let things drift out of control, hoping that things will sort out by themselves. This is often what they learned from their education. As many people often do not notice, or do not pay attention to how the world changes around them, they postpone the need to react, and when the need to act comes, it comes unprepared.
The firewalk ritual brings the whole world into focus, with the roles, ambitions, aims and goals, self and others can play in the world. It helps people get closer to stand behind their decisions, or to help them learn to assess what decisions are truly important and which ones are not, which ones are right or wrong, just or unjust. Also it prepares people to act on those decisions in real life without unnecessary insecurity, or doubt.
The road to the accomplishment of your goals is paved with beliefs and mental images about what is possible and what is not.
Top-performers, both in business and in sports, have learned how to transcend their negative and limiting mental images. They develop a positive attitude that is built on real confidence in one’s own capacity. They are able to reach the “unthinkable” or what for others seems the impossible. But life is regarded by many as a game of safety. They are victims of their circumstances, simply because they do not clarify their true intentions, and thus they have no clear purpose, aim or goal in life.
Through firewalking you can gain first-hand experience of what potential power you have inside of you. The walk itself many times evokes emotions way beyond anything one ever expected to think and feel. Staring into the flames, feeling the crunch of hot coals beneath ones bare feet really flicks an emotional switch in people that has been set to ‘off’ for short or for long. Once tears begin to flow, they can hardly stop. You discover that what happens in you is powerful and that you are powerful and that you can use your power to take your destiny into your own hands. Firewalking thus enables you to evaluate and clarify your dreams, hopes, desires, feelings and to set a much clearer goal that is worthy of your true self and spirit. Something you feel strong enough to walk into the fire for.
Increasing concentration and focus
Many people know the experience that they are unable to solve problems in an efficient and long-lasting way, because they lack concentration and the power to focus on the right one thing at a time. The long ordeal of unsuccessful problem-solving can lead to the feeling of insufficiency, inefficiency, monotony and boredom that also restrain performance, and can lead to a complete block. Research data suggest that attention during firewalking is significantly more “one-pointed” than during a baseline condition, and that consciousness may be characterised as more “hypnoidal” than during a baseline condition. (Pekala R.J. & B. Ersek, 1998. Consciousness, Attention, and Hypnoidal Effects During Firewalking. Imagination, Cognition and Personality.Volume 17, Number 2 / 1997-98. pp. 153 – 163) Firewalking increases altered awareness, altered experience, and absorbed attention. (Pekala R.J. & B. Ersek, 1998. Consciousness, Attention, and Hypnoidal Effects During Firewalking. Imagination, Cognition and Personality.Volume 17, Number 2 / 1997-98. pp. 153 – 163)
During our firewalking programs, next to the act of firewalking itself, we teach many different techniques to enhance the ability to focus one-pointedness and concentration. The training and mastery of this ability results in a measurable improved performance whether in work, learning, or private life.
Giving Meaning to life – Finding Joy.
Joseph Campbell, the famous mythologist has said:
“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.
What you have to do, you do with play.
Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning to it.
The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe it to be.
Being alive is the meaning.
The warrior’s approach is to say “yes” to life: “Yea” to it all.
Our job is to straighten out our own lives.
We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.
If we fix on the old, we get stuck. when we hang onto any form, we are in danger of putrefaction.
Hell is life drying up. The Hoarder, the one in us that wants to keep, to hold on, must be killed.
If we are hanging onto the form now, we’re not going to have the form next.
You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”Joseph Campbell, The Hero’s Journey (On Living in the World)
Getting people to get involved in such things as firewalking is a challenge that traditionally has met resistance with big parts of the hoarder mentality. There has in our left-brain oriented establishment and educational system, been little positive regard for transformation and for the transpersonal concepts of “soul” and “spirit” in the past, because of a prejudiced perception of religion and spirituality as reflecting irrationality and primitive animistic thinking, cognitive delusion and superstition, emotional instability or even pathology that would, if not opposed and repudiated, destroy the objective structure of psychology itself.
Uncovering, Activating and Developing capabilities
“We need to get a body that sustains life and we need to do the processes that clear the mind”. This statement of Peggy Dylan indicates the importance of work with the body as well as with the mind if we want to blossom as a person and bear fruit. Firewalking shows that our bodymind is able to uncanny capabilities in human behavior. When people are standing still for a minute or longer in embers of 600°C, something extraordinary is happening. Let there be no mistake: not everybody is able to perform this. This form of “fire-immunity, a yet unexplained phenomenon of extreme heat-resistance, is clearly due to some altered state of consciousness and brain-body-mind-activity. When asking what they are doing in such moments, I have heard people say things like “I am connecting with my beloved ones at home who are thinking of me”, “I have become fire myself, and so I don’t burn”, etc. Many people who practice firewalking account for an undying feeling of inspiration for life and living, increased creativity and clearer thinking. Firewalking stimulates people in such a way that they experience a form of elation, ecstasy, extreme joy and fulfilment. Firewalking takes people to a new realm of first-hand experience about what their bodymind can accomplish.
Community and team-building
Firewalking turns out to be a great tool for any community or corporation where individuals need to learn to respect and support one another to reach a common goal or success. Since firewalking is a real challenge with a lot of mental and emotional paradigms to shift to a different level, how a community or a group of people addresses that challenge is a tremendous learning experience for every member involved.
Through firewalking people learn to help one another, by providing emotional and mental support rather than just practical help. This really increases emotional engagement towards each other, a corporate entity, or a common purpose. This tool really helps to transform just a group into a real team, where Together Everybody Achieves More (T.E.A.M.).
The field observation that a collective ritual like firewalking may enhance social cohesion has been scientifically tested by Konvalinka et al. (2011). Their study revealed a coupling in heart rate rhythms between fire-walkers and observers. Importantly however, the levels of coupling were predicted by social relationships: close observers presented coupling and socially distant observers were uncoupled. This finding confirms our own experience that specially designed group and bonding exercises and experiences are necessary whenever one wishes to use the firewalk as an “anchor” or reinforcer of social cohesion, community and team-building.
The researchers also found indications that firewalking is really functioning as a personal rite of passage for those undertaking it. It was demonstrated that firewalkers express relatively negative valence when compared with non-initiates. Firewalking is characterised by a very absorbed attentional style wherein the mind is one-pointed, and consciousness is characterised by strong feelings of joy and high levels of internal dialogue. (Pekala R.J. & B. Ersek 1992) Firewalking Versus Hypnosis: A Preliminary Study Concerning Consciousness, Attention, and Fire Immunity. Imagination, Cognition and Personality Volume 12, Number 3 / 1992-93, pp.207 – 229.
Transforming lessons from childhood – Firewalking and the discovery and affirmation of True Self.
One of the first lessons we learn as children is that fire burns. For many of us this lesson goes in very deeply, and not only includes the sting of a burn, but also translates into a fear of the fire of our own passion, desire, and dreams.
During childhood, being entirely dependent of our parents and caregivers, we are constantly formed and informed about life, about what is available and possible in a way. We have a number of basic maturational/developmental needs that need to be met, literally and symbolically in order to acquire and maintain a sense of personal well-being and happiness. These are : 1. to have a place in the family or in the world, 2. to be nourished or fed, 3. to be supported, 4. to be protected and 5. to receive loving limits. When these needs are adequately met, on all levels, we learn how to become independent, how to take care for ourselves, to make life and to add to life.
Whatever happened, positive or negative, the experiences you had as a child, create the beliefs you hold about life. It creates the common belief systems about what is possible, and what is not. For some the limitations are thus, that the true potential remains undiscovered, for others the degree of self-control, self-esteem and creativity is more free.
At the Institute for Bodymind Integration, we apply our knowledge of technologies coming from experiential, existential and transpersonal psychotherapy and education to help heal the childhood wounds and to help the individual re-connect with the true potential.
We have seen over and over again that firewalking is a powerful additional technique that can accelerate a radical transformation in consciousness around a number of things, especially the capacity to develop “a pilot” (the president or CEO of ones’ united states of consciousness), and the capacity to ignite the motor towards the fulfilment and the realisation of personal uniqueness and one’s potential.
We must as Joseph Campbell says: “Participate joyfully in the sorrows of life” – this was not an endorsement of masochism, but rather a recognition that life contains hardship and an individual should embrace the experience of being alive by living affirmatively in the face of inevitable sorrow and suffering. This was an echo of a Buddhist teaching that calls for “joyful participation in the sorrows of the world.” Joseph Campbell
Risks and Safety Precautions
Check the credentials!
It is essential to check credentials since because there is no governing body, anyone can call themselves an instructor. You would not want to be guided by someone who received little, poor or less than adequate training.
The instructor should be able to provide references that can be followed up independently. The good companies have been around for many years and have clients who use their services on a regular basis, so always ask to speak to them directly. In our experience the events that go wrong are those when the instructors are inexperienced, use materials that they have second-hand or are unfamiliar with, if people are forced to walk when they don’t want to, if the Instructor knows best or what’s right for you.
How to firewalk successfully?
Our experiments, research and experiences with firewalking have led us to the fact that there are essentially two things required to successfully walk across the fire.
These two things that all firewalkers throughout history have in common are
- Wanting to do it: This assumes a certain curiosity. Sounds simple? It is, but it’s so important: If you feel you want to walk on fire, surrender and go. If you feel a “NO”, it’s better to trust your intuition and not to go. It’s as valuable to go as not to go. The benefits occur while being PRESENT with the fire. Traditionally not everybody walks on fire. Those who walk walk for all.
- A firm belief in your body’s safety. Firewalking requires a peaceful inner sense of security that it can be done safely. If you are dominated by fear when you go into the coals at 700 ° C, – in spite of the scientific explanations in physics – certainly serious burns can result. (See below: The Scientific Explanation of Firewalking) When you are however in what I call a state of “coherency,” adequate focus, you will be safe. It doesn’t matter how you get there, so long as when you step up to the fire, you know beyond a doubt that it is safe for you to walk across. Whatever has brought you to the firewalk, and whatever your intent; this is what a firewalk will give you.
Can One get Burned?
Of course. Each of us, in our own lives, have proven time and time again that fire burns. Firewalking can indeed be a dangerous activity if the training is carried out by inexperienced instructors or fire team members. During a Firewalk ritual, you are stepping on embers or coals which can reach temperatures of 1200° Fahrenheit (The hottest recorded firewalk fire reached up to 1800° Fahrenheit). This is like putting your feet on your barbecue fire. Injuries can occur should the participants fail to adhere to the exact instructions given to them during the seminar. However, conducted correctly, a firewalk should result in no injury at all or at worse some small blisters.
Fire walking is an exhilarating but inherently also a risky business and should therefore always be carried out with a qualified and experienced practitioner.
It is recommended that you only attend seminars ran by properly trained SUNDOOR certified instructors. To be SUNDOOR certified, an instructor must go through a comprehensive training, be of high integrity and must adhere to a strict code of ethics. The SUNDOOR certified instructor runs a firewalk that is made as safe as possible given the inherent risks.
HOW IS FIREWALKING POSSIBLE? The physics…
Physicists have studied the phenomenon of firewalking since the 1930s and have concluded that the normal firewalk can be explained by a combination of several factors.
For the rational mind, these are:
- The carbon based embers conduct heat very poorly and have a very low heat capacity, so although they are very hot there actually appears not so much energy to be transferred to the foot.
- A 20 foot fire-walk is on average eight steps long. The total contact time for each foot is approximately one second.This short contact time in combination with the slow conduction of heat from the embers results in very little heat being transferred to the foot.
- The walkers’ feet cool between steps. Blood is a good conductor of heat and the blood flow through the walker’s feet quickly conducts heat away from the soles of the feet.
- The Leidenfrost effect may play a part. This occurs when a cold, wet object (like a foot) touches a hot, dry object (like a burning coal). The water vaporises, creating a barrier of steam between the hot and cold objects. Hence the two objects do not actually touch and evaporation from the cold object is much slower than might otherwise be expected. Since steam is a relatively poor conductor of heat the foot does not get burned.
Even though such attempts have been undertaken since the 1930s to explain firewalking in terms of ordinary physics, humans are clearly not machines that simply follow the laws of thermodynamics like objects do. Lord Kelvin, the co-inventor of the Second Law of Thermodynamics (which says that in the universe all decays) himself said: “The animal body does not act as a thermodynamic engine . . . consciousness teaches every individual that they are, to some extent, subject to the direction of his will. It appears therefore that animated creatures have the power of immediately applying to certain moving particles of matter within their bodies, forces by which the motions of these particles are directed to produce derived mechanical effects.”
The actual power of the firewalk is thus not that it is possible (it clearly is), but why people want to take part of it in the first place.
Firewalking has never ceased to amaze people. Many cultures around the world associate the act of firewalking with the possession of faith, or of having spirits come inside you. But you don’t really have to be mystical or possessed to go through the fire as we have explained. Today the ritual is open to whomever wants to try it, for multiple goals. The main goal however remains healing: making whole. For humanity to survive the Holos paradigm seems to be the unavoidable next step, seen the realistic possibility humans have to destroy the planet and the entire race.
Summing up, the secrets to firewalking are in the coal, our feet, our walk, and our mind. We can say that you don’t have to be a mystic to walk through the fire – but still, don’t try it if you haven’t gotten the tricks learned by a Certified Firewalk Instructor.
Firewalking has proven to strengthen and develop:
- consciousness, meaning and the learning of a “new” language of fire and passion, your bodymind was unaware of before. Unless you put your feet on the hot coals, your body from the ground up does not know what it means really.
- developing playfulness, self-esteem, self-confidence, willpower and mental stability
- successful decision-making, and dynamic task-management
- interpersonal relations and cooperation skills, as it is one of the most powerful team-building tools
- the sense of personal power, connectedness and of belonging
Firewalking also makes possible:
- to quit bad habits and other self-destructive behaviours and thinking-patterns
- to enhance concentration, focus and on-task behaviour
- to formulate clear goals and aims that guarantee success in professional careers and private walks of life.
- to have a better integration of one’s right- and left hemiphere processes: the analytical and reductionistic vs. the global, the intuitive and integrative gestalt view
- to live closer to your true nature, to enhance quality of life, and to discover your magnificance
- to learn more about your body, your maleness and femaleness, the mother and father in you, your sensori-motor polarities, passion and sexuality, etc.
If it dawns to you -regardless of what is said about the practice- that it is possible that you can change a universal law and can walk on hot coals and not burn your feet – then what does that say about reality and your own role in its creation? What are your limitations, really? If you can make fire harmless then what other possibilities remain untapped, and stay unrealised? I trust many possibilities will always remain untapped. That’s exactly what life makes such a great adventure.
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©Dirk Marivoet has decades of experience in using and teaching the Firewalk, sweatlodges and other transpersonal complementary methods to enrich and enhance therapeutic and educational outcomes for his patients and students.
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