Fire Walk With Me: How I took a stroll on a field of hot embers and lived to tell about it | Culture Features | Bend | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

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Culture » Culture Features

Fire Walk With Me: How I took a stroll on a field of hot embers and lived to tell about it


It's early Saturday morning, and I awake with a start. Throwing back the covers, I pull off my socks and examine my feet. My socks, which were soaking wet when I went to sleep, are bone dry and smell like a campfire. My feet appear normal, except for a small red smudge on the top of one toe; not quite a blister, this is what is apparently known as a fire kiss. A hint of gray ashiness is the only other evidence of what happened the previous night.

I whisper to myself with a grin, "I walked on fire."

For weeks, I had noticed fliers hanging up around the Mandala Yoga Center announcing a firewalking clinic. The morning of the clinic, instead of glancing, I paused. In a split second I decided, matter-of-factly, this is exactly how I should spend my Friday night.

Eight hours later, a group of fifteen people stare transfixed at the path laid out before us. We shake our tambourines, rattle noisemakers, beat on drums, the energy both calm and electric, fearful and excited. We toss our shoes aside and a singing chant begins "shanti shanti shanti." Ryan Hallas, the shaman-like leader of the evening, declares the fire open. Just 45 minutes prior, when the group lit this fire under the clear Friday afternoon sky in a juniper-and-ponderosa-lined clearing, the flames of the pyre had forced us back 20 feet. The dry wood has burned fast, and hot, and though it's now just red embers, blue flames still lick up from the eight-by-five-foot square. For a second, there is a collectively held breath of hesitation. Kat Seltzer, the coordinator at Mandala, strides over the carefully raked and properly blessed embers, and the group begins a circular session of follow-the-leader.

In order to walk across the length of glowing embers, one has to suspend disbelief, cynicism, the scientific mind; I ignore for a moment all the things my mom ever told me about playing with matches. I step, and step, and step again and immediately I realize that this is one of the scariest and most exhilarating things I've ever done. How do you walk across hot coals? The same way you walk across the corner of Minnesota and Bond. We circle the fire, passing through the center five or more times, then Hallas rakes the embers again, adding more red-hot chunks of wood and ash. Approaching the fire again with a pseudo-confident speed, this is the moment I chicken out. The path in front of me now is glowing brightly. I vainly try to block visions of my klutziness leading to a flaming face plant. After several more false starts, I let out a girly scream that helps propel me across. The group continues the circle, chanting, and adding dedications: one person dedicates her walk to Hope, another to being completely present, another to courage. Grinning, I dedicate a pass through to "childlike joy" exclaiming, "this is like walking on stars!"

This clinic presented itself as a transformative evening or at least a chance for a line crossed off on one's bucket list. There is a definite spiritual bent to it. Our group of firewalkers ranged from an ethereal, dread-locked Reiki practitioner to down-to-earth folks in U of O hoodies. We prescribed our own meaning to the walk. From the Kung bushman in Africa, to lava-walking islanders, the ceremony of walking over hot coals is one that has undeniable energy, often used as a rite of passage or a vehicle for healing. Physicists like to explain the process in terms of thermal conductivity; skeptics explain it by saying "oh, it's not hot." (Ummm, whatever.)

After the fire is closed, and we wander back into the host house to check out our ashy feet, everyone is grinning. I am humbled, but am pumped so full of energy that my eyes feel like they're about to burst from my skull. And in just one night, my stride seems forever changed.

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