Author Archives: Firewalker

May 2014 Firewalk Workshop Report

Hey guys — I drafted this a few weeks ago, but did not post it until now.


Wow – Saturday’s firewalk workshop was utterly amazing.  Of course I was bone-deep weary the next day, as seems to have become my pattern, but it was so worth it, so exhilarating, so heart-filling to see where people took the energy of the firewalk.  Moments from the evening keep returning to me – the flash of surprised and proud eyes after a woman broke her board.  The group’s roar after someone completed a challenge with which he had struggled.

One young woman became emotional and weepy after the trust fall.  When I gently asked, she said she had felt suicidal several months earlier and that at that time she had not wanted anyone to catch her – but that now she did.  In her testimonial at the end of the night, she wrote “I did not realize how much I needed this until I got here, but wow- what a night.  A few months ago, I was in a rough patch, but I decided to live.  Experiences like this remind me that I made the right choice.”  So… if all we accomplished together was to give this woman a reason to live, that is a Saturday night well spent.  But we also did way more than that, and we also got to have a great time.

I sometimes wonder whether students can get as much out of the workshop as older people who have suffered a few knocks.  There were a few students there – the firewalk is especially helpful with graduation fear – and they got plenty.  One graduating student said afterword, “I saw everything in my life with a new perspective, and [the workshop] has inspired me to live with courage and clarity.”  Yay!  The world needs more people living with courage and clarity.

One woman struggled with the arrow break and backed off it after her first try, to allow others to go.  I mentioned to the room that the discomfort of the arrow break is nothing compared to the pain of childbirth.  After the others went, she stepped back up with renewed confidence – recalling that she had given birth twice without anesthesia – and snapped the arrow like it was nothing.  That is called reminding someone how bad-ass they are.

Other participant responses:

“I came here with a lot of self-doubt.  I leave feeling courage and confidence that I can face anything head on!  Thank you, Tony — I will carry this experience with me forever!”

“This was life-changing and the hinge I needed to swing my ass forward.  Thanks!”

“Tonight was awesome!!  It made me feel so relaxed and ready to take on anything that comes my way.”

“This was a transformative experience.  I feel empowered to live life to the fullest!”

Big smile.

Another participant, who said she had a lot of experience with personal development seminars and coaches, said I “exuded warmth and authenticity” and was “accessible and inspirational at the same time.”  That is the effect I go for.  She, too, called the experience “wonderful and life-changing.”

So…. That is what I like to do with my free time.  I just wish it were not so much work to get people to come to the workshops.

News flash:  I have committed to developing at least one new workshop this summer, possibly more.  The first one is already drafted, on “The Courage to Be Yourself.”  Stay tuned.

June Firewalk

Friday night’s firewalk workshop was AMAZING. Lots of inspiration, magic, breakthroughs, bonding, healing, joy and laughter. Soooo delicious seeing people recognizing their own (and others’) magnificence. And I am soooo exhausted today (Saturday). A video blogger and a Huffington Post columnist were in attendance and both said they had a wonderful time. They might create a rush or a trickle of LGBT firewalker tourists from NYC… which would be awesome. I fantasize one of them chartering a bus to bring a whole load of firewalkers to Ithaca…

Hank Chen, video blogger with the Ford Fiesta movement, crafted this video about his Friday Ithaca experience, including his firewalk.

I hope to post JW Harvey’s Huffington Post column on his experience here shortly.

What is firewalking?

by Edward Siceloff

Firewalking has existed for thousands of years as a spiritual practice that aims to strengthen the mind-body connection of an individual. It demonstrates that people have control over their own bodies, including the tolerance of pain and the ability to transform bodily limitations by tapping into spiritual powers. Ancient civilizations have practiced firewalking as a religious ritual and healing ceremony by priests, shamans, and ordinary people. In fact, scholars estimate that people have practiced this ancient art since before mankind could record historical events; however, no conclusive evidence points to where and when firewalking originated.

The earliest known record of firewalking occurred over four thousand years ago in present-day India, where two Brahmin priests competed to see who could walk furthest on a bed of coals. The Ancient Romans rewarded citizens with a tax exemption if they could demonstrate their ability to transcend pain by walking on fire without incurring burns. In Africa, the Kung Bushmen tribe danced around a fire as a powerful healing rite, a ceremony that also included rolling on the fire. In addition, families celebrate the coming of age for their seven-year-old daughters in Bali, Indonesia. The Kahunas in Hawaii allow molten lava to harden enough to old their body weight before walking over it. Other countries have practiced fire immunity and firewalking rituals, including Brazil, Burma, China, Egypt, Bulgaria, Australia, Fiji, Hawaii, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, India, Haiti, New Zealand, Singapore, Spain, Pakistan, Thailand, the Philippines, Trinidad, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Tibet.

The global firewalking movement, as influenced by Tolly Burkan, emerged in 1977. Before the birth of this trend, firewalking was seen as an obscure and mysterious ritual up until a popular magazine called “Scientific American” had printed a “how-to” article that described the firewalking process. Tolly Burkan reported trying the firewalking experiment, and instantly shared it with as many people who would listen to his inner-transformation. In fact, Burkan attributed this experience as his motivation to offer firewalking as a valuable service to the general public. Burkan’s firewalking research revealed that no other spiritual practitioner could agree on why people remained unharmed when they walked over red-hot embers. Inspired by this research, Burkan exclusively offered his firewalking classes for the next seven years until others came to the forefront.

In 1979, Tolly Burkan convinced his followers to use firewalking as a form of exercise for personal growth. Burkan had written a best-selling book and conducted dozens of self-help seminars since 1973; therefore, his followers were less reluctant to accept firewalking into their own personal regime. In fact, Burkan added firewalking to his public seminars as an avenue towards expanding self-awareness, overcoming fear, and eradicating limiting beliefs. Burkan took a risk in introducing firewalking for this very purpose; however, it slowly proved its effectiveness as a time-tested treatment that changes lives forever.

Burkan continued to teach firewalking to his students on a limited scale until 1982, when he started to advertise his firewalking courses aggressively. The masses overwhelmingly responded to his firewalking brochures, insomuch that it became sensational in the media. In 1983, Burkan contacted several media outlets to share his vision of a global firewalking movement that would transform the world into a better, more peaceful place for everybody. Unfortunately, mass media outlets rejected his “vision” as a trendy fad that people would soon forget after time lapsed. Bulkan also met and taught Tony Robbins, a modern self-help guru, how to firewalk in 1983. The young, enthusiastic Tony Robbins loved firewalking so much that he promoted and turned the exercise into an international sensation, fulfilling the dream that Bulkan envisioned for over a half decade. Tony Robbins’ targeted the celebrity market, which suddenly converted many public acclaim figures to the art of firewalking.

Burkan’s firewalking classes expanded to Europe, and soon grew to include firewalking instructor courses in 1984. In 1985, Burkan refined his firewalking instructor courses that would no longer require prospective students to accompany him on road tours. In fact, the new system simplified the training process by keeping all of the prospective students in one place, where they would perform multiple firewalking sessions every day for one week. Not only did this decrease the stress on both the trainers and students, it saved prospective students thousands of dollars. This made the firewalking instructor courses more accessible to people who felt drawn to teaching the fine art of firewalking.

Corporations and small business owners started to incorporate firewalking sessions into their management training programs as a means of inspiring creativity and visions in their employees. During the 1990s, Burkan trained over one thousand firewalking instructors who helped empower corporate managers to overcome their limitations. Burkan also had competition from phoneys who never received his firewalking instructor certification. In fact, these imposters decided to teach their own firewalking courses, which ended in disaster for those who participated. As a result, people became leery of participating in firewalking exercises due to the negative media coverage of these tragic events that ended in serious injury.

Tony Robbins developed his role as a prominent firewalking instructor in the corporate sector, while Tolly Burkan conducted firewalking courses on college campuses across the United States. However, many corporations sought out Burkan directly after discovering that Tony Robbins formatted his courses after Burkan’s “Fear Into Power” self-development program. Unfortunately, this hastened Burkan’s physical deterioration that started in 1975, when a car struck him in a cross-walk. In 1987, Burkan’s career was stunted, when his body suddenly became paralyzed, requiring reconstructive surgery on his neck. However, his legacy still continued to live through Tony Robbins, Charles Horton, and other self-help gurus who taught inner-transformation by walking on a bed of coal. In 2006, the United States military contacted Burkan directly to help design a firewalking course for Basic Training, a feat that Tolly realized gained the exercise credibility. Today, people from all over the world obtain F.I.R.E. certification to help others reach their own goals and aspirations in life through the fine art of firewalking.

Response to Recent Firewalk News

In the last few days, a story broke about 21 people getting treated for “second and third degree burns” after a Tony Robbins firewalk with some 6,000 participants. The president of the Firewalking Institute, which trained me (and Tony Robbins many years ago) has issued this statement about it, and it reflects my thoughts.

Put less diplomatically than he does: The reporter was sensationalizing when he reported a single number that combined 2nd degree burns, which are small blisters that usually heal completely within a few days, and 3rd degree burns, which are more serious. I might also be overly sensitive given my vested interest, but I have to think that when a witness said “it sounded like people were being tortured” that the witness or the journalist was exaggerating just a little bit for dramatic effect. There is typically loud music and enthusiastic chanting at such events, 6,000 voices… and it strains credulity to assert that the witness was able to hear much over the sound of 6,000 people enthusiastically chanting.

I want to know how many, if any, third degree burns there were. Between myself and the instructors at the institute, we have lead several hundred thousand people through the fires, and have not witnessed ANY third degree burns. So, even one is noteworthy. There may have been three, as that is how many sought medical treatment beyond the first-aid booth. If that is the case, I am curious about what went wrong given the extreme rarity of such injuries.

Here is the official response from the Firewalking Institute:

The Firewalking Institute of Research and Education, or FIRE, is a world-class institute that internationally certifies firewalk instructors to the highest standard of safety. We, at FIRE, feel compelled to respond to the media coverage regarding the recent incident involving the firewalk experience at the Tony Robbins Unleash the Power Within seminar in California. Media report that subsequent to completing the firewalk experience, 21 of the 6,000 event participants sought medical attention for second- or third-degree burns.

We can examine the odds, and consider that 21 out of 6,000 equates to a 1 in 286 likelihood of receiving a second- or third-degree burn in this particular event. The lifetime risk of death from riding in a car is 1 in 84, a custom that is seldom given second thought.

The distinction between second- and third-degree burns is critical. Having conducted many firewalks, we have seen no third-degree burns in our participants. We have seen occasional second-degree burns that manifest as small blisters, similar to blisters that are commonly experienced on one’s feet after walking a certain distance in ill-fitting shoes. These blisters typically disappear completely within a few days. We have instructors who have firewalked hundreds and even thousands of times without ever requiring medical attention.

FIRE was not at this particular event, however from previous experience we are confident that Tony Robbins uses the utmost care and responsibility in conducting firewalks. Participants are well aware of possible risks and partake at their own discretion. When facilitated by experts trained to the highest standard of safety, the firewalk experience is very positive and life-changing for most participants. We maintain that, when facilitated properly, the probable benefits of the firewalk far outweigh any potential risks.
Addendum from The Huffington Post:

Tony Robbins Sets the Record Straight About Fire Walk ‘Controversy’


A few months ago, I was introduced to the work of best-selling author and life coach Tony Robbins while writing about Oprah’s 5,000-person live “Lifeclass” at Radio City Music Hall for OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network. Robbins was appearing as Oprah’s guest teacher. I was immediately taken with his charisma, his power and eloquence as a speaker as well as his big heart and caring to help people develop strategies to improve their lives.

A few weeks after the show, I did a comprehensive interview with Tony Robbins, in which he reflected on his work and impressive career (which has included popular seminars for millions of people around the world and counseling people such as President Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, and Mother Teresa) and his own personal life experiences. He invited me to attend one of his upcoming seminars, something I was looking forward to doing. At the time I joked with my family that I might be expected to walk on fire, which I knew from my research was a very transformative part of his seminars that he uses as an experiential “metaphor” for creating breakthroughs and facing and overcoming our fears.

I loved watching Oprah do it on an episode of Oprah’s Next Chapter, which was taped last year when Oprah attended his “Unleash the Power Within” event in Los Angeles. She expected to only stay for two hours but got caught up in the energy and experience and stayed for 12 hours instead, completely surprising herself by being inspired to undertake the fire walk exercise, something Oprah had clearly stated early on there was no way she was going to do. Yet I watched as Oprah triumphantly and jubilantly walked over the coals (you can see video here), declaring afterward: “This was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.”

So that is why, when lazily scanning my Twitter feed a week ago, I was surprised by a headline saying two dozen treated for second- and third-degree burns at a Tony Robbins event. I clicked on the story, which painted a horrifying scene at the four-day “Unleash the Power Within” seminar in San Jose, Calif., where it was described that the event ended with participants wailing in pain and agony. I sensed something was wrong with the story. I knew that the fire walk exercise was a practice Tony had been incorporating into his seminars for more than three decades and that it was a very carefully monitored exercise in which attendees voluntarily take part, are well-briefed and prepared for hours beforehand, and appropriate precautions are implemented.

I do remember hearing that a very small percentage of people might experience minor blistering, but usually for the few that do, it is seen as almost a badge of honor and certainly nothing to cause much concern. Such was the case with Arianna Huffington, who wrote in her book The Fourth Instinct that she had done the firewalk and had the blisters to prove it. As she elaborated in an email: “It was a powerful experience of the inner strength we have to create the lives we want, not the lives we settle for — an inner strength greater than we often give ourselves credit for. And my tiny blisters were a reminder of that!” The stories proliferating on the Internet didn’t sound right to me, and I decided to investigate.

When I looked into what three of the medical professionals who were actually on site treating people had to say, they shared their disappointment and frustration with the media reports that they say disregarded the facts for opinions of people who were not directly involved in order to create a sensationalized and inaccurate story. I also reached out to Robbins himself to find out what he had to say about what actually happened at the San Jose event.

It appears the debacle started with a report in a local paper, the San Jose Mercury News, which stated that 21 participants suffered second- or third-degree burns at the event and quoted a young college student who was passing by at 11 p.m. at night and was shocked by the sight of 6,000 people chanting, yelling, and firewalking. He claimed it was a “horrific” scene and he heard “wails of pain, screams of agony.”

Those who participated said the young man must not have realized that seminar participants are encouraged to yell and scream to psyche themselves up and they were not all screaming in physical pain. The article in the San Jose Mercury News was taken at face value, and like a bad case of telephone gossip, repeated and embellished across various media outlets around the world with even more severe and shocking titles to grab people’s attention. Fox and Friends took the liberty of stretching the truth farther by reporting a “hot coal catastrophe,” stating that two dozen people had been hospitalized with second- and third-degree burns, which then became quickly duplicated by others in the media. According to the medical professionals on site, while several participants received minor burns and blistering and received medical attention on site or afterward, these exaggerated reports apparently became the basis of a story then told around the world.

Dr. Bart Rademaker, M.D., a plastic and reconstructive surgeon who was a member of the on site medical team, said he was incredulous about the misleading news coverage.

“I am shocked to hear all the untruths and misrepresentations made in the media and on the Web over the last few days. I was present when 6,000 participants voluntarily did a fire walk, and the claims that people were wailing after sustaining severe burns to the feet is completely untrue, nor were dozens of participants admitted to the hospital!” He added, “Contrary to the media claims, as a medical professional experienced with burns, I can tell you there were no third-degree burns whatsoever as guessed by the fire chief, who was indeed not present personally treating these participants as I was.”

Glen Lechtanski, who is a certified emergency nurse with a masters degree in burn and emergency trauma and Tony Robbins’ director of medical operations at live events who was also there on site, confirmed his account.

“I’ve participated in these events for 11 years, and I can tell you there’s never been any third-degree burns. Hot spots and blisters do occur for about 1 percent of the people, and we’re there to treat it.” He further explained that “contrary to some media reports, the screams that people heard at the event were actually participants building their adrenaline levels to prepare themselves for the walk.” He added that the fire walk “is an opportunity for people to face their fears and most find it to be quite profound and positive.”

Dr. Rademaker concurred. “Talking to many of the participants I treated a day or two afterward their experience was very positive, transformative and most if not all symptoms had resolved, as the New York Times found when they interviewed people.”

Dr. Rob Phelps, a podiatrist, was the third member of medical team at the event. “I not only volunteered to be on the medical team for a second time, but I also brought my wife and two teenage daughters. We had a wonderful experience. In my previous walks I had not burned. I had some small blistering this time (second degree) hotspots, like a sunburn on my feet. They were painful that night but the next day I had absolutely no pain and the blisters were short-lived after that.

“Prior to attending this event a year ago for the first time as a participant, my life was overwhelmed with feelings of stress, and that created an unbearable pattern of insomnia that was debilitating to my life. From the tools I learned I’ve been able keep the stress level extremely low, and I’m able to sleep well on a very consistent basis. This is worth more than you could ever imagine to me and my family.

“As far as this San Jose event, there were no more hot spots or blistering than usual. The next day I ran into two of the people with the worst blistering that I saw and they both stated that their feet were fine, and I noticed they were walking fine and were smiling. Boy, those news folks know how to tell a ‘story.'”

It did appear that most of the misinformation seemed to be coming from people who were not actually present at the event — in fact, in the articles in which participants at the event were interviewed (an audience that included corporate CEOs, doctors, lawyers, actors, a contingent of Marine and Navy Seals Wounded Warrior veterans and even Olympic hopeful Clarissa Chun), participants spoke only positively about their experience. Attendees like Carolynn Graves, a 50-year-old real estate agent from Toronto, told the New York Times that the seminar and fire walk “transformed people’s lives in a single night … It’s a metaphor for facing your fears and accomplishing your goals.”

I contacted Tony Robbins to get his take on the situation. He was obviously a bit frustrated by the media’s distortion of what transpired:

“For 35 years, I have had more than 4 million people go through my programs from 100 countries, with more than 2 million specifically doing the fire walk seminar itself. Throughout that time we have been conducting these events healthfully and successfully, and we have medical support and attention at every single event for those 3.5 decades. This program in San Jose was no different than any other one that we have ever done. The fact is that the ratio is usually about 1 percent of the people will get some pain, hot spots or blistering, and at this event it was only one-third of 1 percent: 21 people out of 6,000. So while I don’t want anyone to feel any pain, and I care immensely… and we make sure that everyone is taken care of, I also know that part of life is facing a fear and there is risk! You take those risks if you choose to, and that’s how you reap the rewards.” He added, “It’s really sad that some in the media chose to turn such a victory for so many people involved with the event into a tragedy.”

The whole episode triggered a flashback to my previous interview with Robbins, four months ago when I asked him about what he thought about Oprah creating OWN. He shared with me his respect for Oprah Winfrey’s courage in “building a network on all positive content in a world where the famous news room adage has always been ‘if it bleeds, it leads.'” He prophetically added, “When you turn on the news, and what’s happening? Everything is designed to grab your attention. If you walked by a newspaper in the old days, before you had the news on your phone, you saw the newspaper and it says ‘great weather this weekend’ and you just kept walking. But if it says, big storm coming, in those days, you put 50 cents in and grabbed that thing as fast as you could, right? So in a world where people like to see their own sense of significance by tearing somebody else down, voting people off the island is much more popular than showing people how to expand their consciousness. ”

It wasn’t only the conjured-up “disaster” that troubled Robbins, but the way the media framed the fire walking without a context as some kind of brazen stunt. Robbins emphasizes that he prepares people for the fire walk for more than an hour and a half and makes clear all the risks involved, as well as all the theories of how fire walking works, including the “Leidenfrost effect,” and the theory that coals are poor transfers of heat. And he adds, “This is really not about fire walking anyway. It never has been. It’s been about getting people to break through their fears and limits. If you look at what holds people back from expanding and deepening the quality of their lives, what prevents them from taking the actions that are necessary to transform their body, relationships, career, business or impact their kids? Invariably, its fear! Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of rejection, fear of pain, and fear of the unknown. In order to get people to know that the techniques they are learning work, I like to use a physical metaphor that tests them to be able to take action in spite of fear. Originally I used sky diving, but as our groups got bigger it became an impractical metaphor. Firewalking became a useful metaphor.

“We are trained, almost innately, to be scared of fire and to keep away from it. That is why walking through a pathway of fire is a powerful expression of moving beyond one’s fears. Walking over any hot surface does encompass some risks, but it has been done safely for centuries, and when administered properly can have enormous value as a reminder of what we are truly capable of. And again, it’s not some magical mind-over-matter process. As I tell people in our events… anyone can walk on fire! Anyone can also be up at 5 a.m. excited about their life! Anyone can start their day with a killer workout! Anyone can find a way to master a craft and find meaning in their work! Anyone can have a passionate and loving relationship! Anyone can, but… few people do! What people can do is amazing… what they will do is too often disappointing.

“My role, and the role of these seminars is to teach people for four days the tools and strategies for improving their bodies, relationships, finances, career and their life. The fire walk is just one portion of one evening where they get to apply their tools of overcoming fear and taking the first step.”

Actor Steven Weber from the television show Wings, who attended the San Jose event and completed the fire walk himself, described his experience of the UPW seminar this way:

“Being somewhat of a skeptic myself, I didn’t know what to expect… every second was worth it. It was an experience like no other I’ve had, and Tony is, to put it mildly, extraordinary. I’ve never seen anyone walk the walk like this guy, have never witnessed someone able to match and exceed the energy of an audience of 6,000 inspired, hopeful people.”

Many of the Wounded Warrior veterans, who came as Robbins’ guests, wrote thank you letters, including Omar Palaciosreal, who said of the fire walk experience:

“When I walked across the coals, I felt as if I was going back in time to the days as a Marine on patrol when I was not afraid of taking chances. After I made it to the other side, I felt as if I had my ‘switch’ turned back on. I felt a great sense of accomplishment to make such an epic step towards progress and growth in my life… it stands as a true testament of how much impact he has had on not only myself but other wounded warriors. He is a great American and true supporter of our men and in women in uniform who have sacrificed so much for our beloved country.”

Staff Sergeant Karlo Salgado, the Wounded Warriors careers and transition counselor, wrote: “In my 32 years of the planet I can be honest when I say that nothing has ever made such a transformational impact in my life as this Tony Robbins event did … If there were only a way to make this happen on a much bigger scale for wounded, ill and injured marines it would be transformational.”

In the end, it is these missing testimonials, of life changes, that Robbins finds “frustrating, to do some of your best work and see it all distorted.” Yet he admits, “It comes with the territory. And I can’t complain because the media has also helped me in focusing attention on the positive impact of my work at different stages over the years.”

And this is the story within the story: the double-edged sword of the media’s power and influence and some inherent problems within our current media landscape, in which outlets often race to produce the most shocking headlines in a competitive 24/7 news cycle in a culture as Robbins puts it: “if it bleeds, it leads.” This episode also serves as a potent reminder to take it all in with a wary, discerning eye and to make sure we clarify the facts for ourselves. It is also an opportunity to reflect on what it says about our own society if cultivating a horror story about 21 people getting badly burned and wailing in agony is more attractive to the media (and its viewers) than the true story of 6,000 people who came together for four days and created breakthroughs in their lives.

Update (9:42PM EST 8/8/2012)
Since the posting of this article Fox and Friends has come forward and offered Mr. Robbins a rare on-air retraction and correction of their original inaccurate report. See statement below.

“During a recent segment concerning a Tony Robbins’ Fire walk experience in San Jose, California, we reported more than two dozen participants were hospitalized with burns. Well a few of the six-thousand received minor burns akin to a sunburn, they received on-site medical attention and continued to participate in the event.

None were hospitalized and there were no reported third degree burns. We understand news reports to the contrary were inaccurate. Now you know.”

Photo Credit: © 2012 Harpo Inc./George Burns

Marianne Schnall is a widely published writer and interviewer whose writings and interviews have appeared in a variety of media outlets including O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, In Style,,, the Women’s Media Center, Psychology Today, and many others. Marianne is a featured blogger at The Huffington Post and a regular contributor to the nationally syndicated NPR radio show, 51% The Women’s Perspective. She is also the co-founder and executive director of the women’s web site and non-profit organization, as well as the co-founder of the environmental site She is the author of Daring to Be Ourselves: Influential Women Share Insights on Courage, Happiness and Finding Your Own Voice based on her interviews with a variety of well-known women. You can visit her website at

Originally published here:

Firewalking in England

Last week I led a firewalk workshop in Oxfordshire, in the English countryside. It was amazing. 27 participants braved floods and road closings to come. Most were middle-aged housewives from a slimming club (“Slimming World”) and everyone got tremendous value from it. Life-changing insights and experiences all around the room! Many experienced changes just from the hugging practice — the English are often hesitant to do such things. A tiny anorexic girl was seen receiving a big hug from a fellow participant, someone she had just met, right after her firewalk… and the miracle is that she never lets strangers touch her, EVER.

And there was one story that stood out. Abby White came to my Integrity Dividend business presentation the day before the firewalk. She learned of the upcoming firewalk and decided she had to come. Abby is blind, ever since she contracted eye cancer as a child. She runs an international charity for eye cancer, The Daisy Fund), and is in the process of losing the last of her sight. She wanted to participate in the firewalk in order to restore her sometimes flagging courage. She got what she came for. Here is the story she wrote:


Walking Through The Fire

“You are a maniac”. “I could never do that”. “You are so much braver than me”. Some of the reactions I received on telling people I walked barefoot across hot coals last Friday.

Firewalking is used in purification ceremonies and as a rite of passage in cultures worldwide. For example, Kalahari bushmen believe when their life energy equals that of the fire, they will not be burned, while Tibetan Buddhist monks walk on fire as part of a clarifying meditation.

For Tony Simons, firewalking is a tool to break down personal barriers and nourish self belief. Tony is a certified firewalk instructor, professor of organizational behaviour and applied psychology at Cornell University, and author of The Integrity Dividend. I met him last Thursday when he spoke at a business breakfast on the importance of integrity in business relations.

The following day, Tony co-hosted a firewalking workshop with Heather Allen, his Integrity Dividend research assistant and Chief Executive of innovative Oxfordshire based consultancy firm TheWowFactor. A background in nursing care and social work, combined with visionary leadership skills and motivating words make Heather instantly approachable and inspiring. Together, she and Tony offered me the incredible opportunity to participate in the workshop.

I accepted their invitation because my confidence has been severely knocked recently by my sight succumbing to late effects of radiotherapy. I am responsible for the leadership of Daisy’s Eye Cancer Fund and need to do all I can to protect what confidence remains, and build it back up.

Tony believes five steps are essential to achieve any goal: setting intentions, visualizing success, establishing trust, pushing through discomfort, and letting go of fear. He has been leading LifeCourage workshops for two years, guiding participants through challenges representing these five steps.

I was given a wooden board of about 12″ square and ¾ inches thick, and invited to write upon it the barriers I wanted to break through by attending the workshop. Fear of losing my sight; lack of confidence, lack of trust… I marshaled other significant barriers in my mind.

To purposefully visualize success in breaking through these barriers, we were invited to break the board. Not with a hammer or saw, but with one bare hand. Surely not — my board would probably be the only one to not break, or I would make a spectacle of myself by performing the action incorrectly. I grabbed a pen and hastily added “fear of failure” to my board!

Acknowledging my poor sight, Tony suggested I practice the maneuver without the board resting on the brick platform. This gave me a sense of distance and the power required. The room filled with encouraging noise as I focused on the board, still skeptical about my potential for success.

My hand mentally gathered up every toxic emotion within me, and slammed the heal downwards. Miraculously, my board broke into two pieces. I felt no discomfort, no sense that my hand had just met solid wood at great speed. An awesome wave of empowered satisfaction engulfed my being, creating an acute awareness that this night would be like no other in my experience.

Establishing trust is vital when we rely on others. I am currently training with my first guide dog, and must trust her completely as we navigate the world together. I must trust my international team as we work together to build best possible care for children. They and the many families I interact with must be able to trust me. Yet trust is so hard to grow – or so I thought.

Would you trust complete strangers to catch you if you were to fall backwards from a height of about 3ft? For me, this was a greater challenge than walking on fire. Standing with my hands clasped at my chest to protect the catchers, I prayed for trust to come to me.

Four of my fellow participants had already honoured me with their trust, though they barely knew me and in spite of my disability. My experience as a catcher inspired confidence to return that trust.

“Fall away” came the collective invitation from those waiting to gather me into their arms. I closed my eyes and let the centre of gravity move through my feet and into my back. No time to experience fear in the fall before outstretched hands caught me and lowered me to my feet again.

Tony’s inspiring words and skillful direction had woven us all together — some friends of many years and those who well met just two hours before. We were working as a team, totally focused on each other’s safety and wellbeing. How was this possible?

I believe personal limitations impact how we interact with those around us. We were all being led out of our comfort zone, all looking for understanding, acceptance and encouragement. I believe that vulnerability allowed us to be comfortable with one another on simple terms.

So I have stated my intentions and learned to trust more, but still I mist accept my failing sight. Daisy Fund too has set clear goals and created a marvelous team, but still the path ahead is fraught with great challenges – poverty, fear, ignorance, complacency, apathy, politic, greed, arrogance and competition, limited resources. One could easily throw hands in the air and cry “it is too much — we cannot succeed”.

Tony challenges participants to push forward, even when it becomes uncomfortable. He presented me with a cedarwood archer’s arrow, placing the nooked end against a wall. I placed the tip in the hollow of my throat, and my absolute trust in Tony’s hands. Walking towards the wall goes against natural instinct as fear of being impaled wells up, but Tony reassured that doing so would cause only moderate transient discomfort.

I thought of the arrow’s red and gold fletchings – to me they embodied life and death challenges of retinoblastoma. In that moment, the arrow became a symbolic barrier to our goals, a rough pass to be overcome with hope.

Gingerly, I stepped towards the wall. Motivational noise whipped up, spurring me onward despite the stinging in my neck as the arrow began to bend. Suddenly, a decisive snap broke the tension, and pain was gone. Cheers, hugs and affirming praise wrapped around me as the two pieces of arrow were tied together — my souvenir symbol of “stickability”.

Success at each task concocted a strange mixture of excitement and peace. I felt safe with the people around me, and trusted that Tony would not cause us harm. I was ready to contemplate the firewalk.

In the gathering night, we lit the ready-laid fire, adding our broken boards in a potent act of commitment to ourselves. I gave the fire my blessing and lifted my prayers above it to my watching God.

For 90 minutes, the wood burned down, before being raked into a smooth path of glowing coals. Tony walked us mentally though the fire with a vital safety briefing. No running, striding, dancing, jumping or hopping – nothing but steady regular pace. No flash photography on the first walk-through as this can dangerously startle the nervous firewalker.

We shared motivational statements with energetic gusto, followed by cheering that my guide dog joined in excitement. Annie’s happy barks sparked therapeutic laughter throughout the room.

We also learned a Native American friendship chant, a beautifully simple meditation to sing together in mutual encouragement.

Never at any point in the evening did I feel pressured to undertake a challenge. I stood at the head of the firewalk fettered only by intense fear of fire. Three hours before, the thought of walking on burning coals absolutely terrified me, but those fears seemed less intense in the cool night air, surrounded by these wonderful people.

“Courage is not the absence of fear” says Tony. “It is the realization that something else is more important”.

When faced with the final decision, I pushed myself to face my fears because nourishing my confidence is more important than staying comfortable. I had a choice to walk away at every moment in the process, but the names and faces of children (and their family members) who can’t walk away from the fire inspired me to step forward.

Heather walked on my right and Tony on my left, their upturned palms barely touching mine to guide me along the three metre path of fire.

I sang through the friendship chant four times before stepping forward, allowing myself space to breath deeply within the harmony of voices and be filled by their peace. I caught a voice inside me saying “when you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze” (Isaiah 43:2), and knew I was ready.

Burning coals exceed 1,000°F. I had a vague sensation of discomfort under my bare feet, but refused to explore those sensations further. I walked steadily, focused only on the words I was singing.

Cool rain saturated grass was almost a rude interruption, and the moment I stepped off the fire, I wanted to walk it again. I was dazed by the enormity of what I had just achieved, but the elation that quickly followed was epic. I had literally walked through one of my greatest fears and metaphorically stomped all over many more.

I walked the fire twice more before the night ended!

Walking across glowing coals was a profoundly empowering experience, demanding that I pay attention to this one present moment, without considering what came before or what might follow. Each moment sparkled as the coals glowed against the velvet night. That sparkle has remained, giving a heightened awareness of the world and appreciation for it.

Tony’s workshop gives people resources and skills to tap into their inner courage. I have walked through fire and emerged unscathed. I already had the courage to move forward, but I now understand how to bring it to the surface to sustain me. My ultimate challenge is to apply in daily life what I have learned about myself through this extraordinary experience.

Perhaps I am a maniac, but a little eccentricity is no bad thing. I am definitely no braver than any of my friends, and I did not do something you could not also do. I’m sure success was largely a result of being surrounded by encouragement. So surround yourself with great friends, pay attention to your relationships, honour them with your trust and allow them to encourage you forward – even in rough times when you think you can’t take another step. They will help you discover your inner courage and enable you to fly.

If you think my firewalk is an achievement worth celebrating, please consider making a donation to Daisy’s Eye Cancer Fund, because children and their families have no choice but to walk the fire, and they cannot do it alone!

Do not attempt to firewalk without a trained leader. Firewalking requires an experienced professional instructor who can safely conduct the walk itself, and support participants through the intense personal experience.

Tony Simons is a certified firewalk instructor. He leads monthly LifeCourage workshops at the Foundation of Light in Ithaca, NY. To find our more and book a session, visit Ithaca Firewalks.

Heather Allen is a dynamic specialist in group behaviour and personal development, an inspiring public speaker and Executive Coach. Her company, The Wow Factor, delivers unique transformational leadership programmes and creative solutions to complex problems.

Poem upon Firewalking

June’s firewalk was almost cancelled. Six last-day cancellations drove me to fear that I would not have enough attendees, so I called the local attendees I knew, and asked them if they wanted a small firewalk or a rain check — they opted for the rain check. I glumly accepted my disappointment. Then I went out to dinner. My cellphone rang at 7:01pm — a couple had driven from Rochester, 3 hours away, to firewalk — and where was I? They had registered months ago and I forgot. I told them to stay put, promised them a firewalk, had the restaurant pack up the food from the table, and got on the phone. I reassembled my team, got my local friends back into the game, and we were on! I drove fast. It ended up as a wonderful, rich evening.

Alison Taren participated in the workshop. Following is a poem she wrote about it:



small split logs
carried piece by piece
to the waiting earth
already scorched and knowing
like an old man, wise

the fire is lit
by many hands
sending hot red spires
into the evening air
eyes squint, wondering
the scene is set

over cold, wet grass
we walk indoors
where the one who’s guiding
tells us to pay attention,
play full out, and
let it be easy
his words hit deeply
like the arrow we later break
against our soft throats
awakening places in me
too long asleep

boards are broken
as are fears
taking me back
to the first time
into others’ arms
having to catch
then blunt arrow tips
into throat hollows
greensticking the shaft
never thought I would
never thought I could

warm hugs all around
lots and lots of hugs
even the one
who cringed at the thought
now hugs and hugs

we walk back to the fire
burnt down low
red glowing embers
like an angry god laughing
daring us to tread
more threatening
than I had imagined
I close my eyes and listen
to the one who’s guiding
bless and chant
bringing me into a space
where I know I can
I know I will
walk across fire

’nuff said.

Healing Trauma Through Firewalk: Discovering Possibility

My friend Erik Lehmann is “The Dream Catalyst,” or that is his nonprofit and his mission. He finds young people who do not have anyone who believes in them, and he helps to make their dreams matter. He brought a young couple to Friday’s firewalk. 18 and 19 years old, engaged. Pregnant. Both unemployed. Both victims of long-term, repeated abuse — physical, emotional, sexual. Oh, and the guy has rage issues where he becomes a “monster” (his word). And that is not all: he is martial arts trained, at competition level. So when he loses control he can do more damage than someone who is not trained. Wow.

They were both totally open about their challenges right from the beginning of the workshop, as it explained why they were there: They both wanted to turn a corner and become better — for each other, and for their child-to-be. They both bravely took on the challenges I offered them. They wrote a ton on their boards about what they wanted to break through and towards – and then they broke them. The girl decided not to do the trust fall to protect her baby, but the guy, strapping and fit, said he almost peed his pants over that challenge. Trust does not come easily to people who have faced more than their measure of cruelty.

They both broke their arrows and they both walked through fire, joyfully. They said it helped them feel they could handle more than any of those horrible people in their past could dish out to them.

I do a bonus exercise for just a few people each workshop – where we capitalize on the elated moment after the firewalk to reprogram some negative self-images. His was “I am a monster.” Hers was that she is worthless. After the firewalk, they each design and proclaim a new truth to the group, until the group accepts they are speaking with full force and full conviction. He announced that he is a loving father and partner, always. She announced that she believes in herself, and she wept. Both received many hugs and much celebration for their new convictions. I asked them both to hold each other accountable for their new stands in life.

They were both wobbly and thrilled at the end of the workshop.

His testimonial: “Life changing. Tony helped me understand I am a person not a monster.”

Hers: “Tonight’s experience was fulfilling, relieving, and really made me feel like I am more than what I originally believed. I am strong, willful, and beautiful inside and out. I never felt like I was able to express myself until now. I am not who people say I am. I am myself. Thanks for the firewalk!”

Erik’s: “Tony, thank you for taking in the people I send and showing them your brand of love. What happens here is sacred!”

Other participants noted how they were moved by what they witnessed. I am reluctant to claim to be a healer, but healing happened Friday night. Those young parents-to-be got a look at what it would be like to be free of their burdens. Their challenges are just beginning, of course. Hopefully we can get a good local counselor to work with them for charity. But it was an honor and a privilege to serve them so deeply. I know this experience made a difference for them. Keep the momentum going, shining souls!

Write up in The Daily

The Daily is sending reporter Justin Rocket Silverman on a cross-county expedition to find the best, the boldest, and the strangest our nation has to offer.  It’s a great summer road trip – and you’re invited to ride shotgun.  Buckle up, stay safe, and enjoy America!

Episode 1: Firewalking
Ithaca, N.Y.

Anyone can walk on fire — really! It doesn’t even hurt all that much. The secret is taking slow, steady steps that distribute weight across the entire foot. That’s the lesson firewalking guru Tony Simons teaches at his hot-footed workshops in Ithaca. It may sound like ninja training, but Simons is a peace-loving professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University in town. Instead of kicking butt, his how-tos are about overcoming the fears that hold us back in life. After all, if you can stroll barefoot across flaming coals, you can certainly ask the boss for a raise.

Watch 4-minute Video: