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Take a Walk on the Fire Side

Walking on hot coals has long been a test of individual courage, and also of mind over matter; here’s what happens when you walk on coals when you aren’t in the mood.

By Robin Postell

You feel like God divorced you? Maybe like your soul took a hike and left you at home with the kids? Maybe you have decision fatigue or have fried your neurotransmitters on any number of overly-prescribed pharmaceutical wonder drugs.

Or, like me, maybe your heart was thrown in the gutter by your soul mate? Well, firewalking might be the antidote to all your doubts and insecurities.

Out here in the pitch-black woods of Dahlonega, Georgia’s Forest Hills Resort, the only light is coming from the fire blazing in front of me. Two dozen or so yuppies are dancing around barefoot in a circle, chanting, “Do it, do it, do it.”

That tribal vibe, which isn’t far from the “real world” of Republicans vs. Dems, Crips vs. Bloods, sports teams squaring off the same way UFC fighters do in the Octagon, is strong.

These curious folks are eager to “find themselves.” They’ve been participating in an assortment of group therapy sessions, like detoxing in Native American sweat lodges they built themselves out of saplings. And the good ole trust falls when you cast your cynical belief that no one is trustworthy or ever really there for you and hope somebody – in this case a total stranger – catches you.

Also in the mix are lifelines, consisting of blindfolding themselves and following a rope through the woods.

After spending the day gathering wood for the pile, they will burn it and create the hot coals to walk across

The main event, fire walking, will be the real test. Those in attendance have been building this huge fire all day, adding wood piece by piece until a conflagration licks the night sky.

The fire is built for hours leading up to the fire walking main event.

There are couples here. One is expecting a baby and trying to save the marriage. Divorcees. Ex party-mongers searching for new meaning. The odd thrill-seeker. All have come to be healed of dread and darkness and discontent.

Once the fire rages, excitement does, too. Allowed to wane, the fire reduces to hot embers glowing orange beneath their rakes as they stretch the gauntlet about 20-feet across the forest clearing.

firewalking fire

Glowing red and black, they begin their jaunts across, their passion growing into a primordial scream out here in the deep, thick wilderness.

woman crossing hot coals with child

“Do it!” they chant. “Go for your dreams!”

A few have stripped down to their underwear. My turn to walk too quickly comes after everyone else has already gone. Even the dog in attendance has run over on its quick-stepping paws four times.

man running across hot coals
One man charges across the hot coals defiantly

I’d been hoping they’d forget about me. My Nikon and journalistic presence engrossed in total coverage, I fooled myself, would deter them from pressuring me to do it.

After the fire burns down the group gathers rakes to spread out the glowing embers

Nope.

They eye me like the odd man out in “Children of the Corn,” and I stare my own demons down. Actually, I pretended to. Total peer pressure. Nothing in me felt like it was a good idea.

I go for it.

man running across hot coals

Halfway across the bed I want to test myself – my feet have a mind of their own and begin pressing into the coals defiantly, as if I’m smashing a bug. My feet burn, but my adrenaline keeps me going. My mind, blank. Nothing. I jump off the coals and onto the cool grass. The only thing that’s changed for me is that the pain in my heart has been distracted by the pain in my feet.

Everybody hugs and congratulates me. “A few more times and you’ll be over it – you’re feet won’t even hurt,” one of the acolytes says to me, his feet looking like two porterhouse steaks.

Back at the lodge, barrels of cold water are waiting for our burning feet. They give us T-shirts that say, “I walked on fire,” with puff-paint illustration of cartoon feet standing on a bed of orange coals.

At the finale where buckets of icy water wait, everyone displays they’re perfectly pristine feet

We all hug again, say our good-byes…and head back to the safety of our bad infomercials and Armani-clad charlatans where we rightfully belong.

Business as usual.

My feet hurt.

Writer and photographer since age 7, I took it pro when I turned 21. Freelancing for magazines, newspapers, websites, blogs ever since, my portfolio grew. The publishing industry has changed and I continue adapt. Now, I'm shifting gears and looking for new adventures, both personally and professionally - the two have, frequently, been synonymous.

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