Eagle-eyed reader, you are correct. That is not me, that’s Gayle King. But this is how I spent my Thursday night.
New bestie Gayle (in my mind), my sister and I were among 5,000 people who descended upon Secaucus, New Jersey this past weekend to learn how to break through, and actually use our fears to do the things that scare us. Like walk across hot coals. (That Secaucus part makes the whole thing sound way less sexy somehow, doesn’t it?)
It was all part of a four-day Tony Robbins seminar, Unleash the Power Within. Yes, that Tony Robbins, he of impressively large teeth and late-night infomercial fame.
Here’s how the so-called Fire Walk (which I think should be renamed the more accurate Hot Coals Walk) went down. After something like an 11-hour straight seminar (the man does not eat, drink, pee or otherwise leave the stage in that time), Tony finally gets to the business of preparing us for the walk. He pumps us up. He gives us practical instructions (don’t dilly-dally, it’s hot). And he coaches us into a state of complete focus and certainty that we’ll make it across without injury. It’s approaching 1 a.m. when he instructs us to remove our shoes and socks, roll up our pant legs and file out into a parking lot where 40 lanes of burning coals await.
My sister and I, we’re ready. We’re feeling good. We’re confident. We’re edging on fearlessness.
And we have to pee.
We scramble past the masses to find the ladies room and wait in a long, snaking line. By the time we get out, our focus is gone. (Expo center ladies rooms will do that to you.) It’s right about now I feel the beginnings of a quiet panic. But kudos to me, because I don’t give into it. I start dancing to the drum beat that’s blaring over the speakers, I pump my fists in the air a few times, I take a few deep breathes. And I’m back in the game.
My sister and I shuffle outside into the darkness. We’re sandwiched in a mass of humanity, people dancing and swaying and cheering. My feet are cold against the parking lot pavement, but I keep moving, keep dancing, keep focusing on how great I’ll feel on the other side of the Fire (ahem, Hot Coals) Walk. The guy next to me smiles, pumping his fist at me as if to say, “Yes! We’re doing this! We’re awesome.” So I smile back, and offer a fist pump just the same. Then I notice: his is a frozen, fake-it-til-you-make-it, sweet-Jesus-what-are-we-doing kind of smile.
“Is this really safe?” he shouts over the drum beat, through his stiff smile. He asks as if I — who am standing here in the cold at 1 a.m., who am waiting in line to voluntarily place my naked feet on searing coals and who actually paid good money for the opportunity — am really the most qualified person to be answering right now.
“If Oprah can do it, so can we!” I try to encourage him.
“I saw that,” he says. “But you know, camera tricks, editing. Who knows if she really did it.”
I have the urge to give him a whole other kind of fist pump. But I will not let him break me. So I bid him adieu with a few words of common sense: “Do you really think he’d have 5,000 people do something that could seriously injure them?”
My sister and I shimmy forward, and then we can see the orange glow of the coals. People are moving, shuffling toward the lanes. I’m feeling great. I’m feeling alive. There’s not a doubt in my mind that I will successfully do this. Then it’s my turn. My sister is behind me cheering me on. I step up. The coaches manning my lane are shouting something at me. I stutter for a second, but then I plow forward — fist in the air, eyes skyward, walking swiftly, swiftly until two sets of hands are stopping me, someone shouting for me to stomp out my feet.
I did it! I did it! My sister is right behind me. We’re high-fiving and hugging. And we are very pleased with ourselves. And then I see the path of coals we just walked. For sure, a carpet of orange embers is glowing brightly. But it somehow doesn’t look as impressive as it had on the other side.
“Hot coals?” I say to her. “More like tepid ashes.”
That’s when my feet start hurting. They feel raw, blistered. It’s uncomfortable just to stand. Sweet Baby Jesus, I have scarred my feet for life. In the distance, I see a puddle of unknown origins shimmering in the moonlight. I run for it, splashing my feet around the water for a few seconds.
I waddle back inside, where my sister inspects my feet. I’m waiting for her to break the news to me, and she says it:
“Joann, they’re fine. There’s nothing there.”
And then we cheer and high-five ourselves some more.
So, here are my takeaways from the experience.
1. Tepid Ashes. It was interesting for me to see how I immediately minimized my accomplishments. If I’m honest with myself, those were not tepid ashes. Those were burning coals, and they were hot. It’s a habit I’m pledging to break.
2. There’s a thin line between fear and excitement. And I managed to cross it. Like an athlete ready for competition, I had gotten myself so pumped up, so focused on the result I’d wanted and confident that I’d get it, that my fear was fleeting.
3. If at least one other person has done it, so can you. Part of the certainty I had in doing the walk was knowing it clearly wasn’t impossible. Plenty of people before me had done it, and not just Oprah. It was a powerful lesson for me about the stories we tell ourselves to prevent us from doing the things we most want to do.
4. You can push past your fear by focusing on the glory that waits on the other side. I didn’t let myself get paralyzed by imagining the potential pain of those six steps across the coals. All I thought about was how great I’d feel when I was done.
5. Surround yourself with people who will empower you and your cause. I was not about to hang with Mr. Negativity in those moments before the walk. If I’d stayed and engaged with him, it would have certainly brought me down and dragged me into a space of fear and doubting. The same goes for life. How is surrounding yourself with negative energy going to help your cause?