Clinical Psychologist firewalks
Type of Spiritual Experience
Submission No. 00094; Submitter No. 00089; Posted: June 23, 2004
'Fire Walker' (pseudonym) was trained in Clinical Medical Technology and Clinical Psychology, and has a PsyD degree. As well as currently being in private practice as a state licensed Clinical Psychologist, she has served as a Clinical Director for Children and Adolescent Day Treatment Centers for the State of Hawaii, Department of Health.
A description of the experience
When I was 17 years old, I had a crush on the new, young, handsome priest at our parish. I was a devout Catholic, but lately I had begun to question and seriously doubt church dogma. Virgin birth? I don't think so! I felt incredulous that adults whom I trusted as my spiritual mentors could be so naive. Surely, there must be a way to understand this, I thought. I asked to meet with this priest because I wanted to practice flirting with a safe older man (fortunately, he behaved appropriately). But more than that, I was feeling increasingly alarmed at my doubts and worried that I was slipping down the path to becoming a dreaded "fallen away Catholic." I had been warned on many occasions that to be "chosen" and then cast it away was a grievous and irresponsible act, not to mention a mortal sin. My father still prays for my poor soul, that I will see the light and return someday to the "one and only true church" before it's too late.
"You just have to take these things on faith," the priest said. Well, that wasn't good enough for me. I left the church soon after. That moment was, however, the catalyst for a spiritual quest that circled around the world. I deeply missed the profoundly uplifting and mystical feeling I would have singing Gregorian chant in the children's choir during High Mass. I felt enraptured by the fragrant scent of incense, watching the smoke furling up, highlighted by multi-colored lights streaming from stained glass windows, the deep resonance of the organ and our simple harmonic voices proclaiming the glory of god.
In the Fall of 1968, inspired by traveler's tales of the mystical east, I boarded a Yugoslavian passenger freighter for Tangiers, Morocco, the first stop on an around-the-world hitchhiking adventure in search of a guru to call my own. I headed east across North Africa, from Egypt to Lebanon, to Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and then India. I saw many wonderful things, met some gurus and eventually studied Vedanta scripture at an ashram north of Mumbai. I came to the conclusion that although there are many teachers and many paths, the god I was interested in was the god within. I returned to the States, earned a bachelor's degree in biology from the University of California, Riverside and went on to become a Clinical Medical Technologist. I worked in a hospital laboratory long enough to save a traveling fund, and then moved to a small island in southeast Alaska to work at the community hospital. I spend summers and all my spare time as a deck hand on a salmon-fishing vessel. To be outdoors in the wild and rugged protected inner coastal waterways within the Tongas National Rainforest and to experience the majesty, mystery and wonder of nature, that was my church of choice.
However, I began to yearn for sunny tropical beaches and swaying palm trees, which eventually beckoned me to Maui. As part of a graduation ceremony from a residential aerobic/Tai Chi/ Yoga fitness instructor training program, I participated in a fire-walking ceremony. A huge pile of kiawi, a very dense and hot burning ironwood, was ceremoniously lit and allowed to burn down to coals. The radiant heat was intense.
I remember holding hands in a ring with about 50 people around the now glowing bed of coals, looking up at the starry night sky and taking stock of what I was about to risk. I was between partners, feeling alone and vulnerable and wondering how I would manage, confined to an extensive stay in a rehab hospital with my feet burned to blackened stumps. I was very scared. But I was also very intrigued. Always up for a good adventure, I suddenly felt inspired, took a deep breath, broke from the circle and started to walk.
The coals radiated heat to my body, but the only perception on the soles of my feet was of texture, like crunching popcorn. I took about four long steps, walking slowly with what I hoped was dignity and grace. As I arrived at the other side, the spaces between several toes began to burn. I aimed for a puddle of water in front of the safety hose and tried to look casual as I cooled my hot feet in the water. Not wanting to look like a wimp, I reluctantly left the puddle and rejoined the circle. Other people's opinions were still pretty important to me.
A short time later, we all returned to the clubhouse by the light of the stars. There were a couple of areas on my feet which were really hurting by now. I stopped at the stairs under the porch light and held onto the handrail as I examined one foot. I was shocked to see huge blisters. I hobbled over to the middle of the room in a mild state of shock and sat down cross-legged. Sometime during the ensuing debriefing discussion, I looked at my feet again and was startled to see that there were no longer any blisters. None at all. Either I had imagined them or they had disappeared. Although there were a few red areas in-between my toes, the burning sensation was fading. I drove home, held an ice pack to the burned areas for a few minutes then retired for the night. The next morning, there were faint red marks that faded completely by the end of that day. There was no more pain. My scientist father, a member of the Skeptics club, is convinced that there must by some rational explanation, perhaps a layer of ash which somehow provides sufficient insulation to prevent injury. I know those coals were hot enough to blister skin on contact. It's a mystery to me.
What I DO know, is that a deep and short lived shift occurred in my consciousness. I remember going about my business and noticing that I no longer felt afraid. I hadn't realized just how anxious my usual stance in the world was, but the difference was striking. Now, a profound and unshakable sense of peace pervaded my being. I felt detached from outcome, being present in the moment as it unfolded was my only awareness. "This what Jesus must have felt like," I remember thinking. Several acquaintances looked at me quizzically and then just wanted to remain quietly in my presence. It made no difference to me whether they came or went. This peaceful place lasted for about 10 days and then slowly but surely faded away. I wish I could say it's a place of knowing and being that I can return to at will. But I forget. It is a comfort when I do remember. I'd welcome other's reflections and experiences.