In the 80s, I was young and impressionable, living in a spiritual community, cooking for visiting luminaries like Buckminster Fuller and Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. My astrology back then said I ate idealism for breakfast. One day, my teacher told a group of us, “A firewalk is taking place nearby this evening, and all of you need to go.” And I responded, “Sounds great!” So the mindset for stepping out onto a twelve-foot bed of burning coals was already formulating in me, including two big essentials for any manifestation: belief in the possibility and allowance of deservability.
Recently, my husband and I were comparing our perspectives on death. Ron’s more traditional than I am. I believe we die when we’re done, that it’s a wondrous revolving door, and that it’s natural and can’t go “wrong.” But within moments, I opened an email from a longtime friend who told me she has stage-four, and I couldn’t stop sobbing, because I don’t want to be in the world without her.
Life is complex. There’s so much about it that’s miraculous and fascinating and fun. And then there’s the stuff that sux. And sometimes, it can feel as if the purpose of life is to figure out how to cope – which would be a really sad purpose for living.
I wrote about my own situation recently, in a post called Earthworms and Angels. I wrote that I have six grandchildren – the first died at birth, and two are on the autism spectrum with a third being tested for it. This has hit hard. Not just the challenge of watching what my kids and grandkids are going through. But also, wondering whether I passed it on genetically. I finally took an online autism test, knowing that it’s not scientific, and I tested on the spectrum range. Then I decided to make a list of my symptoms, which is now stretching to four pages. Wanting to get clear, I went to a doctor. And I’ve now been referred to a mental health facility to be tested officially for whether I’m on the spectrum, and to explore treatment. The good news is that it explains a million things, and the understanding that keeps coming gives me relief. In any case, I’m still me, with a boatload of symptoms. And I’m still looking for ways to self-soothe.
That evening in the 80s, Tolly Burkan, who’s the founder of the international firewalking movement, began the workshop by talking about the importance of communicating with a spiritual power within us. He said it was a workshop on “listening within,” in order to know what to do, whether to walk or not, because all the answers we need are inside us. And he said that, to know what to do and to do it successfully, it’s only necessary to be “relaxed, comfortable and confident” and to have a “deep sense of knowing” that everything will be all right.
Tolly spent the first hour telling us stories of how he’d faced fear, including beating cancer and recovering from a broken neck and paralysis after an accident. He said that the fire represented challenges in our lives, including health, relationships and money. And that the tools we would learn during the firewalk, for overcoming challenge, could be applied to the rest of our lives.
He said that our consciousness is separate from our physical body and that we can affect our physical challenges. He called it “mind in matter.” A state of mind that determines what happens, including learning to do things with our minds that can change what’s going on in our bodies.
By the end of the talk, the blazing bonfire had burned down and the hot coals were raked into a long bed. Then the group joined hands around it. And though Tolly encouraged us to feel calm and peaceful, adrenalin-pumped exhilaration is what we were feeling.
Then Tolly showed us what to do, by going to the end of the bed and stepping onto the coals. As best I can explain it, that’s the point where the group-mind turned inside out, by witnessing him doing what’s impossible. Nothing’s ever the same after that. Then anyone who felt moved could follow his example and step out onto the coals.
Over the years, I’ve firewalked eight times. And my three sons did it a total of sixteen times, saying that the coals “felt like oatmeal” and running to get back in line as if it’s a slip ’n slide. My goddaughter also walked as a child and had a different insight. She said she turned herself inside out, so that her soul would be on the outside, protecting her. The takeaway for everyone involved was that anything is possible.
As I wrote in Earthworms and Angels, when I’m trying to understand the complexity of life, I turn to my teacher’s words. He said, “All humans have within them an everlasting, sustaining, creative consciousness that is original and intrinsic. And in every moment, it’s possible to allow that part of ourselves to come forward, by accepting and loving all the various parts of ourselves, no matter how we’ve struggled thus far and no matter what a mess we believe we’ve made of our lives. If we do that, if we let our true original self come forward, the spirit of love, which is the source of life, will be in charge.”
During the workshop, Tolly spoke of a spiritual power within us. He said that our source created every thing by becoming every thing, and that includes us – our source became us. In Tolly’s words, “When I understand that, I realize that I am constantly connected to the source of all that is. If I think in those terms, it gives me a sense of empowerment. Whereas, if I think I’m separate from my source, I feel isolated. But my source is all that is, and that includes me. So I’m connected at all times to a higher power, and that gives me confidence. It gives me optimism. It gives me a better quality of life.”
I write a lot about effective living. I’ve studied the mind-body-spirit connection since I read my first Edgar Cayce book at age fourteen. And my goal, through my writing, is to make arcane wisdom practical for modern times. We’re taught that whatever we tell ourselves about life is playing out in our daily lives. And what we experience proves us right, because life is the result of whatever we believe. If we believe and say, “The world is a troubled, bleak place, getting worse every day, and we can do nothing about it,” we’re right. And if we believe and say, “We’re living in an exciting time when the world has more potential than ever before to grow positively and evolve,” we’re right.
Tolly said that to be successful at walking through life, it was only necessary to be “relaxed, comfortable and confident” and to have a “deep sense of knowing” that everything would be all right. To sustain a deep sense of knowing that everything will be all right requires that we drop any beliefs we have that life won’t be all right.
My teacher said that, in every circumstance, it’s possible to turn garbage into gold, and gold into garbage. And we do it through our perspective. We always have a choice whether to be negatively affected when life becomes challenging. And when we choose to feel good even though there’s no obvious reason for doing so, and when we believe that we deserve to be healthy and prosperous even though we’re presently struggling, our perspective of our lives will improve, and that will change our lives.
Our real power is in our ability to detect value and set constructive intention in the present moment, regardless of the circumstances. When tragedy comes up, we may be knocked down. We may think, “I can’t handle this.” We may need to grieve, or to feel disappointment or even shame, or to retreat from chaos. But what makes the difference is our long-lasting response. We can keep suffering even after the event has ended, or we can grab whatever’s valuable in the experience, which is the healing power that will transport us through it. Then the experience can metamorphose into a worthwhile contribution that empowers a meaningful life.
Real security in life comes from knowing that, in a situation where all is lost, “I’ll be all right.” It comes from knowing the value of who we truly are and what we have to give. And we all have something valuable inside us that the world needs. Our opportunity is to identify it, and to use it for whatever purpose we want to fulfill.
If we trust that “I’m where I believe I ought to be, doing what I ought to be doing and giving my time, effort and commitment to accomplishing something I feel good about,” we’re actively contributing to positive change in our lives, and in the world.
And it’s not naive to believe that our lives are secure when we’re busy doing what we love to do, because it’s meaningful to us. In other words, to be greater than our circumstances, in spite of reasons to not. It’s actually heroic.