By Vijaylakshmi Nadar
Doing a fire walk transforms one in mind, body and spirit and infuses one with a confidence that dissipates fear
Most of us go through life convinced that fire burns. So did I. Caught at career crossroads, indecisions dogging my every move, professionally as well as personally, I surprised myself by signing up for a fire walk workshop in a city hotel. Though not quite sure what it entailed, I was simply powered by the thought that extreme situations called for extreme measures.
Soon enough, a few hesitant steps at one end of the fire bed and before I knew it, I was on the other side, foot intact, nervousness/excitement giving way to a deep sense of accomplishment. The short journey across the fire bed left me empowered, re-examining all the possibilities hitherto unexplored because they seemed impossible. Looking around I could see the feeling replicated in the expressions of my fellow participants. The fire became a metaphor for every fear in our lives. Once you overcome the fear of the rising flames and the over-powering heat and take the first step, a lifelong cloak of limiting beliefs and self-sabotaging patterns just drops, leaving you with a ‘been there, done that, what next ?’ feeling.
Fire walk is increasingly being used in boardrooms to get past fears, or limiting beliefs. It was first introduced to the corporate world by Tolly Burkan in the USA in 1977 but did not, however, gain momentum until the 1990s. Until then, fire walking was strictly a spiritual practice followed by the shamans, medicine men and yogis and has a history of about 4,000 years in India too.
Closer home, Priya Kumar, an immensely successful corporate trainer and motivational speaker, too has led the fire walk for almost a decade, getting corporate honchos, film stars and celebrities here and abroad to walk her fire and discover a way of living a life of power, passion and purpose. She has also authored two best sellers, I Am Another You and License To Live, and along the way got nominated for the 2007-2008 Princeton Premier Business Leaders and Professionals Honours List.
Most of us, like me, who lead constricted lives, not sure of ‘what next’ land at her workshop after reading I Am Another You, a book modelled on her life, which propelled me to seek my own breakthroughs.
Priya’s own calling came when she burnt her foot in a fire walk in Malaysia in the year 2000, which left her with severe burns on her foot and which the instructor credited to her sins. Embarrassingly, the other fire walkers escaped unscathed. Stung, she sought out fire walkers all over the world, especially the Netherlands, where she assisted several of them in building fires, not just walking them, disregarding the occasional burn along the way. So powerful has been her calling that she has managed to walk through all five levels of the fire walk.
Explaining the various levels, Priya says that the first level is what is used in corporate training, in which a fire bed is laid out with a thin layer of burning coals. Flames lick both sides of the fire walk for special effects and also to increase the intensity of the walk. The beds are not very long, because what matters is the first step, according to her.
The level two is a little more advanced with a thick bed of coals and is spread over two days. The last level two workshop she conducted was in 2004. Since then she has not been able to conduct any, because of the stringent rules both the participants and the facilitator have to follow, such as having to abstain from alcohol, eat only vegetarian food, and other restrictions which her busy lifestyle does not allow.
In level three, there is a six-inch fire bed and is often used in religious ceremonies. Level four has a six-inch bed too, which is 15 feet long with rising flames and is used for penance in intense religious ceremonies. In level five there is a 108-feet long fire bed, with a six-inch heap and is considered a spiritual fire walk. “It burns the feet and heals your whole body of chronic and terminal illnesses. The first layer of the skin on the foot burns, becomes dead and peels off in time,” says the petite trainer.
Ordeal through fire Explaining the purpose of a corporate fire walk, Priya says, “Often, we do not pull up our socks when crisis strikes. We have stopped looking inside for answers. We have stopped relying on our instincts. Instead, we look outside for answers. The fire walk is a reminder that to get through it safely, it is only you and your thoughts which can see you through and no one else. Your true potential lies within yourself and it is you who needs to unlock it.”
|The author preparing to take the leap of faith|
The fire walk is also a reminder that life is a challenge and that you need to embrace it, but have fun while you are at it. “I have conducted fire walks for years and despite reminders that I have had no casualties, participants are still hesitant. Then they walk and realise that it was not so ‘hot’ (at 1,200 degrees plus) after all.” The fire walk is a reminder of how imaginary fears hold us back. “We forget that our body is designed for survival and once the participant makes up his mind to walk, the entire physiology is altered and the necessary chemical changes take place to take him across unharmed. Adrenaline is pumped into the body and that alone gives him enough resistance against the heat,” says Priya, recalling with amusement how once the fear drops, participants come back for more, some attempting it several times in one evening. The day-long workshop begins with Priya emphasising that it will end in a real fire walk, where we will be expected to walk on live, red hot coals.
As an ‘appetiser’, out come stacks of wooden boards, an inch thick, the kinds you would see in a martial arts class. Just when I was wondering what it was for, Priya shocks the group by saying that ‘we’ will break it. Within seconds, she mobilises two volunteers. She directs one of the volunteers, a fragile woman, to hold the board, while the other volunteer, a young, energetic male, readies for the martial arts chop. I brace myself for the task to end in failure, not quite convinced that it would be possible to break the board with just a few minutes of training.
However, before our stunned eyes, the board splits into two. I give it a shot. Lo and behold, not only me, but the entire group managed to split the board in two! Those completely ‘focussed’ on the task managed to break the board in the first attempt; those like me who had to first push our doubts aside and focus on the task, took more than two attempts to break the board, the increasing pain on the edge of the palm reminding you to ‘to put in your all’. When the board finally breaks and your hand sails through effortlessly the ‘rush’ you feel permeates your entire being.
Next to come out are five-six feet long steel/iron rods, used in construction, the only difference being that they are capped at both ends. All of us are stunned into silence even as Priya explains that the task will again be done in pairs and ‘all’ that we had to do was to balance the rod in the ‘V’ of our throat, which happens to be the softest part of our throat, between us, take three deep breaths and surge ahead as if to hug our partner.
Even before the shock could subside, two volunteers got up, balanced the rod in the ‘V’ of their throat, surged ahead and in a matter of seconds, the construction rod which is strong enough to hold a building up, was bent in a ‘V’ in the middle, as the two hugged, much to our disbelief.
I surreptitiously inspected the rod from end to end, making sure it was not a modified version of the commonplace ‘salia’. After setting aside my doubts, which included those concerning my partner’s ability to move in time (the power of communication), I too managed the task, leaving my body as light as a balloon, with the sheer joy of it. Just to make sure that I did not ever forget it, both the broken board and the rod came home with me.
Our ordeal escalated with the next task, which was to walk on a bedsheet full of broken glass, which she emphasised came from real, crushed glass bottles; the sharp edges had not been separated to make our task any easier. A volunteer came forward and walked barefoot on the sharp edges while the rest of us stared in wonder, bracing ourselves to follow next. Even as I placed careful steps on the glass bed, I couldn’t help checking out tentatively with my foot if the glass was for real. Though the sharpness was very much evident, none of us ended up with a bleeding foot, which Priya explained was a lesson in peak performance.
Priya then guided the group to the finale and to the highlight of the workshop – the fire walk.
“Preparation is the key to success. Most of the time people fear even attempting projects because they are not prepared for it. Without preparation accidents happen. Burns happen when people ‘accidentally’ step on fire. The fire walk is a well-intended and well-prepared project, eliminating the possibilities of an accident,” explains Priya.
In a corporate scenario, she likens it to a situation where the targets for the employees are often set so high, that they lack confidence in their own ability to achieve them, or raise doubts in the management’s strategy, often paralysing them with fear. However, it is but logical that “the goals set by the management are achievable because they have been set keeping some factors in mind. The fact that I am doing a fire walk means that it can be done; similarly employees can achieve their targets too. The only question is, are they going to do it or not? There is no doubt that it can be done. Why would someone want to set an unrealistic target? Likewise, why would I do a fire walk if people could get burnt?”
No part of the pep talk, however, prepares you for the task at hand. Even visualising yourself crossing the fire, when the wave of heat hits you, is impossible. Just to make sure you know what you are getting into, Priya hands over the shovel to each one of us, to rake the coals and feel its intensity, leaving us with no doubts that the coals are live and red hot. Even as the brave line up for the walk, encouraged by her, the rest of us are content to stay in the background. An assistant is on hand to sprinkle kerosene on the fire to make sure the flames rise up also adding coals to make the task more challenging. After the first participant, a female again, makes it across safely, the boys too take their positions, making it without a burn.
But none of that diminishes my own nervousness, as I brace myself, all the while encouraging myself to drop all my fears, doubts and inhibitions and go all out to grab at success which awaits tantalisingly at the other end. But, of course, the overriding fears put wings on my feet and I dashed rather than walked through the fire and looked at disbelief at my unharmed feet.
So liberating was the experience that I chose to go the second time, this time consciously walking through the fire, and ended up with a mild sting on my feet which lasted just a few seconds.
Just do it
It is truly amazing how liberating it is after you have stepped on the hot, burning coals despite the nervousness and excitement of doing the unthinkable. It does not matter that millions of others all over the world have already done it, the exhilaration an individual feels is still unparalleled. “Once a person is able to experience for himself how to achieve something, the same principle can be duplicated in other areas of his life, be it his job or relationships,” says Priya.
“Just because they have been burnt in the past does not mean that they will burn again. This, in itself, requires a powerful mind shift. They themselves then look into other areas of their life, questioning their own imaginary fears that have held them back from setting and achieving their goals, again a very powerful shift. This exhilaration is possible only because they had a great challenge to overcome. And the overcoming of the challenge brings them a sense of belief and mental stability which they did not believe they ever had,’’ says Priya.
There are various studies to show why the foot does not burn. Some say the ashes covering the bed of coals are poor transmitters of heat. Others that wood is not a good conductor of heat, and that the contact with the hot coals is just for a few seconds, and so not much heat is transferred to the foot.
Yet others have concluded that the body’s high heat conduction ability cools the feet fast. The purpose of the workshop was however served for me, when I brought my intent into play powerfully and then moved across the fire bed, shedding my long-held fears along the way.
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