In May 2009 I completed the practitioner’s training in the Green Path Firewalking School located at Aerious Education Center in beautiful and remote Deadwood, OR. I feel like it was one of the most transformative experiences of my life! Firewalking is about renewal and empowerment. It is a tool to literally burn away your past programming. You are consciously naming your intentions for walking by going through a process of brainstorming specific ideas and qualities you want to bring into your life, and similarly, those that you want to discard. Then, you defy the common programming and science that says, “Fire burns” or “Fire hurts” or “This will create pain” and walk, dance, or cartwheel across the prepared glowing, red-hot coals. And usually, Voila!, happy feet, heightened energy, greater confidence, and ecstasy ensue. Keep in mind that firewalking is serious business that calls for conscious preparation.
Mark and Marygold McNutt, the creators and caretakers of the off-grid Aerious Yewwood Retreat, founders and teachers of the Green Path School, did an excellent job providing a safe space with an in-depth curriculum for their students to dive deep into themselves to facilitate growth and understanding. The first day was originally planned to represent the element of air, though it turned out to be more of a cleansing day of water, because it poured rain non-stop, soaking the land and forest, which then created safety by the lack of fire danger to the forest. We spent the day inside their two-story hand-built cob hexagon house, getting to know each other, energizing our Ki with body movement exercises, and learning about wood, fire, and the three selves in accordance with Shamanic teachings, in this case these are Hawaiian terms: Unihipili, Uhane, and Aumakua.
I am not going to spend a lot of time in this post describing much about these three selves, though they were an integral part of how the course was organized. Three out of the five nights of the course were scheduled for firewalks, and each one was to be in line with one of the three selves. After our cleansing day of rain, we awakened to clear skies and sunshine! Apparently a raging fire and walk can still take place in the rain, but honestly, we were all very excited for the ease of our task that the clear spring weather was providing.
A Sunny Day At Aerious!
The day after the rains was the first day we would walk and represented the fire element day as well as continuing our exploration with the Uhane, our yellow, mental self. Somehow, going into this course, a part of me believed there must be some gimmick to fire walking. I did not truly think I would actually be walking across hot coals in my bare feet and remain unburned! So, when the actual day came when I knew the walk was that night and moving closer to my present reality, I wondered if I would actually do it. I felt pretty noncommittal. I decided I did not want to equate any sort of self worth with me walking or not, because if I did not end up walking, I wanted to remain secure in my self-esteem. I was feeling fear and apprehension and decided to be in the moment as much as possible throughout the day instead of being fearful about the impending blaze.
Choppin’ Action! (though perhaps not the best form?)
We spent some of the day being in the group and discussing the characteristics of the Uhane self and thinking about our intentions for that night. Then, we all had our hand at chopping wood. I have had this fear of chopping wood most of my life from my vivid imagination thinking I would slip and end up with an ax in my leg. That day I beat that fear and found a new, rewarding, empowering activity in wood splitting! The very wood that would burn and be the fuel for my transformation; very powerful to me.
Mark has decades of experience as forest firefighter, and he and Mary both instructed us well in the building of the fire in the late afternoon. We were also taught about how to monitor the fire and have the surrounding area clear, to keep fire danger to a minimal.
A Group Effort!
Ideally, the fire burns down around dusk and is ready for the walk when it is just getting dark, a time known as the ‘witching hour’. I was surprised at how much wood (about 2/3 of a cord) was used and how huge the fire was to be. This first one was a bit slow to really start up, but once it was going, we all circled around it, dancing and chanting, putting our intention into it and connecting with the unique fire spirit of this particular pyre.
A delicious, healthy dinner was provide as the fire burned down, and we met up with our dinner “dates”. My date was Shannon – the point is to be with someone we do not know well to share our intention for our walk and be heard by someone. We had a lovely meal sharing together. My intention was to bridge the gap between my emotional, Unihipili self with my mental self that has usually had a more prominent voice in my life, the Uhane. I had also drawn a tarot card for the walk and got the Ace of Cups which is about overflowing love, emotional clarity, deep love of the self, and giving and receiving. All things I am wanting more of in life.
After dinner I went out to the fire and drummed a bit and watched it continue to burn down. At that point I was pretty resigned that I was probably not going to walk, because it was so hot and scary! Everyone began to gather around it as the coals were looking ready. We all had a hand in raking the glittering embers and arranging them in a rectangle facing west, so all of us could again put our individual intention and energy into this fire. Some folks began chanting a bit and Mark, another group member Carl, and I continued to drum. I witnessed a few people walk across and it was amazing! I have the chills again writing about it now. My inner voice was still thinking that I was not going to walk though. But then an interesting phenomena occurred. Some more people walked across and I continued drumming. Then all of the sudden, without thinking, I put down my drum and began dancing. I danced around the fire and then at the spot where the walk begins. It was like the fire spirit had called and my body responded, not my mind. Then, in a moment, I was walking across the fire! The drum beats really accentuated the power I felt. When I was across, my body was filled with pulsating energy moving up and down my whole body. I jumped up in down, shouting in exuberance because of my accomplishment and awe from all of the energy I was feeling. (again, chills of energy as I write this.)
As a group, we really got into the spirit of the fire as one entity for that walk and encouraged each other along. Every person walked that night – some quietly and some loudly and with a vocally expressed purpose. The group dynamic really powered me up, and I ended up walking across three more times! Miraculous! Amazing! Not to be missed! My feet remained supple and sweet without burn or blister as was the case with everyone.
The next day was the water element day with a focus on the Unihipili, or emotional, blue body. It was the day we opened our circle up to the greater community, for guests to join us that afternoon to formulate their intentions, help build the fire, and walk across the glowing embers. Only three new people ended up attending – two had previously done firewalks, but one was a firewalking virgin (and fellow massage therapist). It was a chance for us, the folks participating in the entire workshop who were partly there to learn how to present fire walks to others, to see how Mark and Mary go about leading a group that simply show up for a one night event.
I had a blast chopping wood that afternoon. It was a scorcher of a day. We felt amused by the switching up of stereotypical gender roles, as most of the men were indoors making food and baking cookies, and a group of women, including yours truly, was chopping the wood in the sunny heat in our underwear. I love it.
The guests arrived later than we wanted, so we felt a bit of pressure to get through our intention circle. That was easy, because the vibe was that folks were not in the talkative mood, so Mary was really being creative in inquiring to people’s ideas and goals for walking, but we were a more quiet circle. As the afternoon waned to evening, we built another fire, this time more efficiently with more kindling on the bottom and lots of candle wax to help it along. Most of us expressed our observation that in building that particular fire, we were not as deliberate with our focus and intention. Mark and Mary were not present for some of it and focused on their own communication turmoil. We still had a lovely dinner and “date” with a new person to share our goals. I sat and shared energy with a woman named Lindsey who shares the same sun and moon astrology signs as me: Virgo Sun, Scorpio Moon. I felt a deep understanding of her goals and experiences she expressed to me I think because we shared those natal positions. This time, I chose the intention of walking towards the material plane of my house selling, an issue I am still grappling with. The tarot card I picked from the deck this time was Fortune/Trump #10, which signifies new beginnings, expansion, creativity, and expansion. Again, great!
Fire of the Second Night
I felt the same apprehension as the previous night about walking. Once more, I thought I may not walk, so I got in my position of straddling my djembe drum on the earth next to the fire and began banging away in rhythm with Mark and Carl. It took a little longer I think, but again the fire deity spoke to my unconscious, and without thinking, I stopped drumming and started my dance. The moment I felt the urge to walk, another group member Kristin felt it simultaneously and without planning, we walked across at exactly the same time. I thought that was interesting and we hugged in exuberance afterward. My feet did feel pretty hot that time and my adrenaline levels felt super high, so I stomped and danced forcefully around the fire, putting that energy back into the earth. I ended up walking across twice more that night and felt really confident and happy. The last time I proclaimed aloud with each step, “Yes! Yes! Yes….” It felt amazing to speak out loud my declaration of certainty in my acceptance for life.
Afterward, everyone had gone to bed except three of us who sat being reflective next to the dying coals. The man there, Vincent, had burned his feet pretty severely. Shannon and I are both reiki masters, so we went to work on him. My feet were feeling pretty hot, but not blistered or burning too much. After channeling the reiki until I felt like my role was completed and feeling an amazing amount of energy, more so than I usually feel in a reiki session, I stopped. My feet did not burn anymore. Vincent had a profound experience of physically shaking and vibrating with energy during his treatment. It was a beautiful and profound healing experience for me. The contentment and wholeness I felt, of my being in relation to the infinity of the universe, was unparalleled.
Each morning after a yoga and dance of life moving meditation with Marygold, and after breakfast, we gathered as a group to share our previous night’s experiences. The morning after the second walk, most folks expressed that the past night’s walks were more challenging, as energy and intention seemed more rushed and scattered. We agreed it was merely interesting to note the changes we were feeling and not to judge harshly or have regret. It is all a learning experience. I had felt very moved, happy, and powerful from it, so my experience differed a bit from others. That is what it is about though. We are individuals and in in a group, having our own experiences that effect the group’s as well. Sharing together I believe helps that group cohesion.
The final day’s walk had the theme of earth and Aumakua, which is our pink, spirit body. As a group, we did a Nume meditation, which is reeling in our energy that people, objects, and events may be holding out in the world. Then we had a lovely chunk of quiet, alone time to reflect, be and do what we felt appropriate. I lounged in the shade and quiet of the fairy grove next to the creek and wrote and clarified a lot of thoughts and ideas in my journal. I felt really grounded and content – very earthy. We gathered late afternoon to assign roles to each of us to represent one of the four elements and be trusted to perform an appropriate ritual in the direction of that element around the fire. The purpose was to bring in all of the elemental spirits and experiences very deliberately for this very spiritual and final walk of the workshop. I chose the air element (what my astrology chart contains the most of). We then took a vow of silence and went together to build our final fire in quiet focus and contemplation. Everyone took the black ash from the previous night’s fires and drew designs on our bodies to represent whatever ideas and elements on ourselves that we were feeling. Everyone took it very seriously, and I felt like we were really participating fully in this tribal, spiritual, elemental experience.
After we ate alone and in silence around the fire, we each individually raked it once again, though this time in a circular formation.
We decided to make it so we could walk in any direction we wished. The glowing coals truly appeared like images I have seen of what the sun looks like in space; a dynamic and glowing round sphere of orange and black. This night, I took my place atop my drum and heard my inner voice tell me that I did not need to walk across tonight, that I had been very successful and powerful already, and it is okay to refrain tonight. My Uhane self, my intellect, was fighting though. I felt the most afraid to walk across this fire, even though I was so successful the previous nights and knew what to expect. The intention I had set for myself was self acceptance and drew the two of cups card which was perfectly in line in its meaning of self love.
So, I felt like I had to walk in order to truly accept myself fully. I waited and waited though. I drummed, I sang, I danced, but was still fearful and my inner self was saying no. As the coals burned down more, I decided that I would go around and rake it all again and then I would be ready to walk across no matter what. I got to the point of readying myself for the trek across and in a loud, clear voice, proclaimed my love and acceptance to myself, then plunged my body across. Whew! SO much energy once I was through, but my feet really burned! I immediately, full to the brim in a state of panic and high adrenaline, got on top of my drum and banged that head with force that I have never experienced before. As a result, one foot stopped the intense burning. But my left foot was still hot, and I refused to look at it, because I was not ready to accept that I had gotten burned. We closed the walk and as we processed together, it seemed that a number of people burned their feet that night. Mark told us giving reiki to each other can help dispel the burn, so I went to work offering reiki to three folks.
The first person and I both felt the burn leave our feet at the same time, but it returned a few minutes later for me. Another woman was very upset about the severity of her burns and sounded unbelieving that the reiki would help her. We worked together for fifteen minutes, then she went off to bed without response. I finally went to bed, disappointed that my foot still felt burned, and I felt blistering through my sock. As I lay in my sleeping bag, I told myself that I believed my body could heal this over night and I would trust in it. I fell asleep and dreamed of my burning foot part of the night. When I awakened to the morning light and sound of the creek as usual, I felt my foot. No blister! No pain! Same thing with the woman who had severe blistered burns that I had worked with – completely healed! I feel blessed and ecstatic about these experiences.
Our last day we debriefed, shared our stories, and created art together to reflect on our walks and what we had learned. I believe the past night’s experience taught me to listen to my inner voice more, especially when it is opposing what my ego wants. The fire and I were not connected that time, so it would have been fine for me to not have walked. But I plunged ahead anyway, equating not walking to failing to accept myself fully. And I got burned. Quite a lesson!
Every time I have been out to Aerious, I so enjoy and relish in the magic of that land. The plant deities and fairies are active and prolific there. I feel I can easily go into a more profound human spiritual experience when I am there and have had other more miraculous seeming reiki experiences in past years on that land. Sleeping next to the creek in the open air was also healing and brought me copious and vivid dreams. I did not feel ready to leave when the time came. I loved having a car and city fast for the six days. I ended my time by giving Marygold a massage, and that felt like an appropriate and grounding completion of the experience for both her and me. Everything was as it was supposed to be I think – the people (each on their own path and showing unique colors of personality and background, and some I connected more with than others), the weather, the fires, and the processes. Is it not like this in ‘normal’ daily life too? Something to keep in mind I think.
When I have come to an experience that is challenging since the firewalking, I think back to defying logic and walking across the burning coals multiple times. I say to myself, “You walked on fire, Meghan, you can do this little ol’ task!”. I am so very grateful that Mark called me up out of the blue one day to say he was in town, and that I invited him over for tea and he mentioned the firewalking school they were newly founding. Something inside me said, “Yes! This is what you must do!” and I followed through with such ease and really, with what felt like lack of thought. It was when I put my mental ramblings aside that I was able to actually walk across the fire too. I understand the lessons, as I intend to connect more with my unconscious, intuition, and emotional self that seems to be a challenge to sense sometimes. I experience progress, and that is rewarding to me.