I walk on fire. It’s true. I’ve done it on three different occasions. The first time was at a spiritual retreat in Sedona, AZ, one of the most beautiful and mystical places in the United States. I was in the middle of trying to free myself from a relationship that was going nowhere, and I was hoping that the retreat would help me to work up the courage to leave. It had already been an incredible weekend, full of inspiration and revelation, when the leader of the retreat announced that there would be a fire walk that night.
Initially, my reaction was that fire walking was dangerous, and there was no way I’d be participating. However, as the women of the retreat gathered in the auditorium, and the leader of the group, HeatherAsh Amara, of Warrior Goddess Training fame, began to speak about fire-walking, I questioned my initial negativity.
She explained that as we go through life we make “agreements” with ourselves and the world. For instance, most of us agree that it isn’t OK to walk into other people’s houses without being invited, and it isn’t OK to take things that don’t belong to us. These agreements shape how we interact with people in our lives, and also how we interact with ourselves. One of the first agreements we make as humans, HeatherAsh explained, is that fire is hot–don’t touch. By breaking that early agreement, it calls all later agreements into question–the agreements about who we are, about our relationships with others, and our relationships with ourselves.
“Oh,” I thought. “I need to do that.”
After signing a release form agreeing that I understood I was about to walk on fire, I followed the rest of the women out into the Sedona night, dancing, chanting and clapping along with the beat of a drum. Eventually we arrived at the fire walk site, and a heap of glowing red coals–all that was left of a great bonfire that burned all that day. The fire keepers raked the coals out into a pathway where they twinkled like little red stars.
Filled with a mixture of desire and trepidation, I watched as several other women went through the fire. They seemed to come through unscathed, and several of the women were actually dancing through the coals!
If they could do it, I could too. So, I screwed up my courage, approached the end of the glowing pathway, lifted my chin in defiance of my old agreement, and stepped out into the fire. For a second it was OK, and then it hit me. My feet were burning. I couldn’t go back. I had to go through. So, I hopped and swore the rest of the way through the burning pathway and slunk back into the circle of women around the fire, feeling like a spiritual failure.
My feet stung, and so did my pride. How were people going through the fire multiple times? How did they look so happy? Apparently I wouldn’t be able to break that first agreement that night, but I didn’t know why.
Several years later, I went to another of HeatherAsh’s Warrior Goddess retreats. This time in Teotihuacan, Mexico. It was an incredible week of ritual and fellowship, and I was about as happy as I get when HeatherAsh announced that there would be a fire walk that night. My chest and stomach tightened around the memory of the blistered feet and the humiliation of the time before. There was no way I was going through that again.
We all gathered in a circle to discuss fire walking. As I listened to the veteran fire walkers discuss their experiences, I realized a commonality in their stories. They all spoke about how they felt the moment that the fire invited them in. Several of them said it was like a door opened for them. One woman said it was like she got a green light from the fire, and she knew she could go. I realized I had gone about it all wrong. I had been approaching the fire with a logical mind instead of an open heart, and that was why I’d been burned.
Western society encourages this logic approach as the best one–the one that makes sense. People that approach life with emotional openness and intuition are often laughed at for their “naivety.” However, I believe this extreme preference for logic takes us out of balance with our own emotions and with all of the things that exist in the world that cannot be measured, but are still worth having, like love, kindness, compassion, respect, and connection.
In my work with patients, I often see them tortured by their need to logic all over their depression or their anxiety. They search for the meaning behind their inability to get out of bed, or their fear of leaving their homes. They tell me that they can out-think their sadness, simply by looking on the bright side of life, but then they despair that all of their efforts toward positive thinking feel false and make the depression worse.
The truth is that the parts of our brains that feel, and the parts of our brains that create logic are completely different. When our brains create sadness, there is no logic to it because no logic exists in that part of the brain. The sadness comes up of its own accord. The same goes for anxiety, gratitude, love, anger–the entire range of human emotion.
When my patients try to logic all over their feelings, I try to gently redirect them back to the feelings themselves. The truth is that logically explaining the feelings doesn’t actually help very often. Sometimes, the explanations only deepen the sadness or the fear or the anger. Emotions are like little children that are asking for attention. The more that we ignore them, or talk to them in ways that they don’t understand through logic, the more they clamor for our attention. It is only by embracing them and telling them that it is going to be OK–that they are safe–that they are comforted and quiet down.
In the same way, rather than pushing feelings aside, I encourage you to sit down, acknowledge them by name and tell them that they are safe. Saying, “Hello fear, I see you. You’re safe and I’m going to be with you for as long as you need me,” is truly the only way to get emotions back on track. Pushing feelings away or stuffing them down doesn’t make them leave, it only makes them find another way out into the open, often through physical illness or unjustified cruelty towards those we love.
That night in Teotihuacan, when I approached the twinkling pathway of fire, I opened my heart to it. I said to the fire, “I’m here with you, and I’ll wait until you tell me you’re ready.” Instead of going in because my logical mind told me that other people were doing it, so it must be safe, I waited to be invited. Those of you still in logical mind are probably thinking that fire can’t invite, but you’re wrong.
My friend, Jamie, approached me as I stood beside the fire, waiting for my invitation, and asked me if I wanted her to go through with me. I was just starting to feel the call of the fire, but it was faint and I still wasn’t sure, so I told her to wait a moment. Then, maybe five minutes later, I felt it–an overwhelming need to go into the fire. I ran over to Jamie and said, “Now!” She didn’t even flinch. She grabbed my hand and we walked into the fire together. I screamed all the way across the coals, but instead of the blistering horror of the fire in Sedona, the fire in Teotihuacan felt cool and welcoming.
It was incredible. I was completely unscathed, and I was so elated that I went back through the fiery pathway five or six more times. Afterward, my feet were dirty, but I didn’t have even one blister.
I encourage you to approach yourself as I did the fire–with openness and kindness. Give your emotions the attention that they deserve and I promise you that they will invite you in, and you will walk through the fire unscathed.