Tag Archives: firewalks

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.

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:

March Firewalk Rocked

The March 12 firewalk at Foundation of Light was another extraordinary event. Eyes shone as participants realized more and more of their personal power. Larry Bear Watts brought a glass walk that we did as a special treat. Nobody hurt. The “pings” of the glass breaking underfoot as one slowly steps across are really striking—a different flavor of firewalk. Daniela Hess Scholl took extraordinary photos, which are up on Flikr. As always, a few testimonials:

“This was an extraordinary evening. It was filled with exercises that were fun, surprising, and some took me to my limits. The balance between content and exercises was perfect. I would highly recommend this to anyone!” –Kai S., 31, graduate student

“As I arrived, I felt anxiety building — almost as if something inside was aware its death was coming. As each event unfurled, the anxiety lessened and a boldness grew. By the end of the night, it was completely calm with a quiet strength. I will never forget this night when a piece of me died and another was birthed.” –David Post, 51, teacher

“Tony is a thoughtful and encouraging instructor. Thank you for a wonderful evening and for helping me believe I can do anything.”  –Lucy Rain, 36, teacher

Next firewalk will be April 8. Join us to celebrate spring with renewed power. Discover you are unstoppable! As a special treat, Michelle Berry and I will run an optional next-morning debrief about how to carry the firewalk experience into your life. In other words, “What would you do if you knew you were unstoppable?”

Firewalk Heroes

The women this is about asked me to print their actual names.  To say they gained courage from their firewalk workshop experience is a major understatement.

About three weeks before my October firewalk, I received this email:

Hello, My name is Pamela.
A while ago, my daughter Cheyenne read an article about your classes.  She seemed very interested and we visited your web site and saw that you have an upcoming session.  I was wondering about your scholarship.  My daughter and I are both living in a shelter for women.  Cheyenne has experienced a lot of trauma in her life and I am in awe of her constant and steady determination and compassion for others.  She is a beautiful 16-year-old artist in a very difficult situation.  I think this might be a good healing experience for her.  If you could e-mail me back to  let me know that would be wonderful.
Thank you for your time, Pamela

I was intrigued.  I decided that I could accept a 16-year-old walker with a parent present, didn’t care that they did not have money, and loved the idea of being able to support their healing by offering a firewalk.  I emailed back that they should come and pay only what they felt comfortable paying.  According to Pamela,  Cheyenne could not stop talking about it.  They asked if they could bring the grandparents along just to watch and I said only if they come to the whole workshop.  The grandparents did not come.

So the day of the workshop arrives, and Pamela and Cheyenne arrive a half hour early.  An assistant who signs them in comes to me to tell me Pamela says I okayed them paying $10 for her daughter’s admission.  I send back word that $10 is fine, but both she and her daughter are in the workshop — and she can choose whether or not to firewalk or do any of the other exercises.   The two of them sit quietly in their seats as the workshop beginning approaches.  They join in the workshop.  Pamela keeps her coat on and does not say much.  A short way into the workshop, there is a big hug exchange around the room.  Pamela and Cheyenne are really tentative with their hugs.  Cheyenne takes on the remaining exercises with a growing sense of enthusiasm.  Pamela holds back more.  She is often last to take her turn.  She declines to do the trust fall.  Nobody pressures her, or even mentions it.

Both of them walked through the fire.  Cheyenne walked fairly quickly when given the opportunity.  In fact she walked several times, often with both hands above her head, with fingers raised in peace signs.  Pamela waited until most of the group had walked.  And then she walked.  Simply, without drama.  Across the coals. With no burns.

Afterword, when people were saying what they experienced, Pamela said she was not yet ready to share.  Cheyenne just crowed and thanked everyone around her.  But what was really striking was what they wrote.  After I run a firewalk, after I clean up, I get to go home and read what participants wrote as comments, feedback and testimonials.  It is the cherry on top of my evening.  I love leading firewalks.

Pamela wrote as a testimonial, “Indescribable, almost euphoric…life changing.”  Not bad, I thought.  Then I saw she had written a letter to me in a sealed envelope.

I wanted to say this to the group, but this experience was sooo personal for me.  When I first contacted you I thought this would be a good experience for my daughter.  I never thought about how much I needed this until it was over.

I left a very abusive relationship after 21 years.  Some physical and much verbal abuse.  One of the things he would say to me was that I would burn, he hoped I would burn, he threatened to burn our house down.  I realized tonight that I can walk through fire and not get burned.  I have a feeling that things are going to get better very soon.  That I will be on the other side of this struggle, with a home, much love, and hope for the future.
I can see myself there
Thank you

Wow.  The abuser’s threat rendered hollow—no burning.  Instead, hope.

And then there is 16-year-old Cheyenne.  Her testimonial read,

A life-changing experience.  I suggest it for anyone who suffers abuse or any other kind of suffering.  People have forgotten what it is like to trust and love.  This event will make you feel powerful, at peace, and more outgoing to strangers.

Thank you so much for this chance to remember how it should always be!

Believe it or not, this gets better.  Pam sent a sweet thank you email.  After a few days I decided to email back to ask permission to share her letter, with names changed, to point a way for people in similar need of the firewalk experience.  She granted it (ultimately requesting names not be changed) and added the following:

…I am looking at my experience from a whole different point of view.  Instead of  living in fear, I choose to be brave and use what I have learned to help other people.  Doing so may also help with our own healing process.

I want to share with you something Cheyenne wrote a few days after the firewalk, (she has given  her permission) She writes…

When I fell,
I was caught by strangers.
When I was afraid,
I “broke” through my silence.
When I was the main target,
I devoured the arrow with my throat.
When I forgot love,
I got a room full of hugs.
When I could hear you screaming inside my head,
I walked through the hot coals with peace signs in the air.

Nothing can get to me.
I am unstoppable—I am a firewalker.

I write this with tears of joy.  I am soo proud of this beautiful, brave young woman. Thank you soo much for this experience.

I am proud of both of you, Pam and Cheyenne!  Congratulations, firewalkers!

Another Amazing Firewalk

I ran another firewalk last night.  It was incredible.  Around 20 people again — a couple drove up from NYC, five people came from Waterloo, an hour and a half from here.  A mother and daughter who called from a shelter.  All walks of life, all looking for a shot of courage to face upcoming challenges, or a general boost in their lives.  Everyone got what they came for.   I hired a film student to record the event, so I can post a short video on my firewalk page.  He got some great footage.  I have sooo much fun running these events.  My heart sings.

The testimonials were so good that I do not even know how to pick them — so here are the first several from the top of the pile:

“This was a wonderful experience, in all of its forms.  Each step led me to a greater strength within.  All parts of my body and mind were activated, engaged and embraced.  I learned to trust myself and others — both of which have been very difficult for me in the past.  Anyone who wants to feel part of something greater and feel love for yourself should take a chance and firewalk.” –Lisa Bennett, 30, teacher

“Tony makes facing your fears feel safe.  After an evening working with him, walking on fire is easy.” –Julia Bently, 30, project manager

“I had so much fun tonight, and I would absolutely repeat this experience.  It has always been difficult, if not impossible, for me to trust others — much less people I do not even know!  However, tonight, because I let myself trust a group of amazing strangers, I feel like I can overcome any obstacle in my life, and for that I am eternally grateful.” –Miriam Lehrer, 19, student

“Very profound — a truly transforming experience.  I think it will take me some time to process it all — but in every way I know it to be great.  Thank you.”
–James W., 55, network administrator

“Indescribable, almost euphoric.  Thank you and everyone who participated in this experience.  It was life-changing.” –Pamela Crossno, 39, photographer

“It honestly was a life-changing experience.  I suggest it for anyone who suffers abuse or any othr kind of suffering.  People forget what it is like to trust and love — and this event will make you feel powerful, at peace, and more outgoing to stangers.  Thank you so much for this chance to remember how it should always be!” –Cheyenne Crossno, 16, student

“This was a really grounding, centering spirit exercise for me.  At times, I get stuck in mundane life and forget that there is so much more in life to experience.  I was able to step out of everyday life for a few hours and be between the worlds — remembering my own power and my own ability to step up and be brave!” –Eve Katz, 43, special education teacher

“This experience opened my heart to trust and have faith in others and in myself — as well as strengthening my bond with Great Spirit.  I am at peace…  I was moved to tears after the firewalk by emotions I don’t understand.  All I know is it was the next step on my path.  I leave now stronger than I was when I came in.  Faith, trust and love”. –Lin Hill, 50, social worker

T”his was a profoundly insightful experience I would recommend for everyone.  I came here needing and looking for courage within myself and I found it!  I plan on attending again.  There has never been a three-hour experience where I have walked away with so many friends.” –Kristin White, 27, nursing student

“To step into the fears of my life was very empowering.  Too often I dismiss myself and offer everything to others.  To have others genuinely there for me made me feel very supported and even “loveable.”  It brought it home to me too, i.e. that I am “loveable” to me.” –Joseph O., 53, musician

“…if I can walk through fire once I can walk through the obstacles that will soon face me in life.  Thank you for giving me the courage to see the things I hide deep down under the surface.” –Melissa Gilbert, 25, residential sociotherapist

“Thinking you have no fear or anything you can’t handle, then Tony throws you things to do and the fears pop up and you face them.  He brings out the best in you that you have…. Total out-of-body experience.  At the end, a sense of peace!  I recommend it to anyone no matter what is going on in your life!” –Andrew Bennett, 24, youth care professional

It really humbles me that people take all this great stuff from my firewalk empowerment workshop.  I am just the guy who went and studied how to run these exercises safely.  The participants do all the hard work, and the exercises simply are what they are.  I look forward to sharing it with more people.

August Firewalk

I led another firewalk last night, August 20. Despite life being painful right now—some personal loss I prefer not to go into on the blog—I rose to the occasion and a larger crowd than last month was really served by the experience. Unlike other walks, many people in this group wanted to walk silently. And once they got started, they did not want to stop! I used music for the first time, gave out “firewalker” pins, and talked a bit more about the link between firewalk and integrity. The dominant words in the testimonials were “exhilaration” and “serenity.”

Here is a sampling:

“There was initial anxiety and trepidation…By the time I faced the fire, I found myself in the center of calm and a feeling of serenity. It is that feeling that I will hold onto for the rest of my life.” Thanks, Tony!”  ~Preston C., educator, 53

“A very liberating experience like breaking through a barrier. A feeling of calmness pervades my body and mind. I highly recommend it.” ~Paul Strebel, financial advisor, instructor, consultant, 52

“The fear was more effort than performing the firewalk and other enlivening tasks of this incredible evening.” ~Daniel Keough, public health advocate

“Freeing…lightening…essence of what all of us need in life: a dram of courage, a dose of ‘yes I can.'”  ~Eric Machan Howd, educator, 42

“…it is empowering. I really felt like I was in the moment and in myself.” ~Lindsay Myron, student, 21

“Tonight’s experience was absolutely liberating!…Any words to describe [it] would somehow take from the experience.” ~Jason Wilson, daddy, 36

“It is about commitment. You can do anything if you step into it.” ~Naari S., student, 21

“Very exhilarating!” ~Douglass Bennett, landscaper, 39

What a joy it is to be able to give that experience to people! I look forward to running multi-day events, with a firewalk at the beginning. What a wonderful space gets cleared. I look forward to filling that space with integrity.