It’s now 10 days since I came home from an intensive four day extreme self empowerment retreat… that is the firewalking instructors training course lead by the U.K.’s leading master fire walk trainer, Steve Consalvez who himself was trained by Tolly Burkan, the father of the global fire walking movement.
I had intentions to write this post long before now, but I’ve been processing all my thoughts and feelings as well and struggling to type with an injured arm!
It makes me smile looking back now, as I had totally underestimated the incredible impact that the course would have. I had barely mentioned it on Facebook or to friends or colleagues in the lead up, more of a flippant comment that I’d be going on another ‘self development weekend’. I had assumed it would be like many workshops I’ve been to before. How wrong could I have been!
I had no idea how profound just four days could be. In my mind it was ‘just a long weekend’… In reality those four days were so intense it could well have been two weeks as that’s what it felt like on the inside. The journey over those four days was timeless, and also pretty surreal since the days were long 9am until 11pm every single day. There was no time to chill out, to think, to process… It was all cleverly designed and structured as one of the most intense learning experiences available in the world today.
There were 10 of us, plus the crew who were there to facilitate our experience. The wonderful thing for me was the fact that all the crew had been through the full immersion experience themselves, and they shared their stories, experiences and reflections of their time in training. We were all ONE, there was no hierarchy or sense of ego. As somebody who has explored a lot around the topics of vulnerability and authenticity… this was being demonstrated at its finest throughout those four days. I was also surprised and humbled by the daring and tenacity shown by my fellow tribe, some of whom (if I’m openly honest) I may have judged on first appearances as we gathered together but who quickly blew my mind by their determination and commitment to step up to the challenges set before them.
It was probably one the most deeply authentic experiences of my entire life.
It was also an experience that pushed the limits of my comfort zone more than ever before.
I didn’t keep accurate notes of all the activities (as well as the firewalks themselves) that we were challenged with over the four days as there were so many to keep count and in many ways it didn't feel necessary. But here is a taster that gives you an insight, some you may be familiar with and others not, it doesn't matter. Going in to this experience without knowing too much is actually the best thing you can do, since out of context of this unique environment, it is impossible to fully understand and appreciate each challenge.
- trust fall from a height
- sweat lodge
- arrow break on the throat
- metal re-bar bend on the throat
- glass walk
- timber block break
- concrete slab break
- bliss peirce
- breath work re-birthing
- numerous team building exercises geared towards human connection, focus and attention
- plus dancing, hugs and group shares (and everything else I have probably forgotten!)
These 'labels' alone have no meaning. Any such activity viewed in isolation will never awaken the powerful lessons contained within.
It is the metaphoric value behind the activities themselves, in the sequence that they were presented, that gave rise to the powerful life changing experience.
How many times have you encountered the saying, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear". The door always opens inwardly. The teacher is everywhere but only when the student it’s ready with an open mind will they receive the teaching. My mind had never been more open in my life than during these four days.
Through these activities we understood first hand deep truths about forgiveness, acceptance, gratitude, unconditional love, vulnerability and the delicate beauty lies within each of us beneath the superficial exterior we present to the world.
We also experienced trust, overcoming and eradicating irrational fear, forgiveness, re-wiring limiting beliefs, 100% commitment to a goal, focus and attention, leadership and the rhythm of a group. A priceless opportunity.
We perceived ourselves with a fresh enlightened perspective. We saw ourselves reborn.
Right from the outset we hit the deep end, and this only stepped up in intensity as the days went on. Day one almost passed as if a blur. We literally hit the ground running and the 10 people I’ve never met before in my life suddenly became some of my closest friends, and they remain so. Each day began with dancing, group sharing and hugging- like full on proper eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart hugs. Each day we hugged every single person in the room- delegates and trainers alike, and we shared from the heart our deepest fears with every single a person in the room.
Circle time was one of my favourite moments of each day. A moment to sit, be still, breathe, observe and listen to others reflections and allow our own thoughts to surface and be shared aloud. It was an incredibly safe space. There were a lot of tears, there was also lot of smiles, yet most importantly there was a huge amount of love contained within that circle. I felt as though I could’ve said anything and I would’ve been supported without question. It was such a gift to have been given that opportunity to experience.
Day two saw me face one of my biggest mental and physical challenges… the ‘board break’. I recounted the moment on Facebook later that night before I went to bed and I’ll share the extract word-for-word with you here…
"Another 14 hour day on the Firewalk Instructor Training... it was even more intense than yesterday, with some deep learnings I am only just beginning to process.
Today we took part in a board break, glass walk, trust fall at height and a spiritual chanting circular firewalk and so much more. I did it all, yet for me the board break was the most profound, and affected me more than I could have anticipated.
I watched so many of my teammates take their turn and channel their power to chop the board in half with their bare hand at their first attempt. My turn was towards the end of the group. I was feeling confident, I know I'm physically strong so had nothing to worry about. Or so I though. I was wrong.
My hand slammed down hard on the inch thick timber slab and yet it didn't break as it had for the others. I was confused, frustrated, tears filled my eyes as I stood in front of the room with my unbroken board still balanced solid on the blocks in front of me.
I geared my myself up to try again. The room was cheering me on with support. I knew I had to give it 100%
I failed again.
I had felt so strong in my test runs but then could not translate that as I stepped up to the board. Why! What was going on! My mind chatter got in my way and I stopped short, I didn't carry through beyond the mark... after all a goal is only scored in football once it crosses the line. Where was my commitment?
Blinking back the tears that blurred my vision. My mind was whirring- desperate thoughts of wanting to prove myself and demonstrate my commitment yet my inner critic was already running riot with a smirk on its face knocking my confidence and placing doubt in my mind. I was frustrated that my weakness was so clearly manifest, that my inner voice had popped up sabotage my day in front of a room of people.
So then I began analysing. Overthinking. Getting stuck in my head. Trying to regain control. Tracking back through my actions to see where I 'went wrong'... the stability of my stance, the swing of my shoulder, the alignment of my arm and position of my palm. Asking questions, my mind awash with too many thoughts.
There was nothing I had 'done wrong'. Power is all in the mind. That's where the connection is made. That's where the energy comes from. That's the source of flow. That's how the board gets broken.
I was offered one final chance. I had to overcome this mental barrier. I had to overcome the mental noise. Now.
I knew the placement of my body and it was time to trust. Get out of my head and trust. Give 110% and trust.
I stepped up to the board and looked beyond it at the floor two feet below. That was my aim, there nothing that could stand in my way. It all happened in a split second so that I didn't have time to think- only do.
With one final roar and swing of my arm the board snapped clean in two and clattered to the floor.
I'd done it and my amazing team mates celebrated my victory as I made my way back to my chair. Still feeling teary, exposed and vulnerable but incredibly grateful and proud that of overcome such a huge personal mental hurdle."
Day three brought more challenges… both physical and mental. I remember during the circle share that morning one of the tribe joked that he couldn’t believe there was so much more to come since we’d already achieved so much more than we thought possible during the previous two days! I know we all nodded in agreement with that sentiment.
For me, day three’s biggest challenge was taking part in a sweat lodge experience. The thought of being packed in together in intense sauna heat in pitch black darkness for an entire hour made my heart race with nervous anticipation. But I lasted the full hour! I was so proud. It was a deeply connecting, spiritual experience as we all sat tucked up around the edge inside a small yurt, cloaked in towels as red hot rocks were laid in the centre and we shared from the heart into the sweat. Into the darkness.
I recall feeling a huge lull of energy in the late afternoon that day, after the experience of the sweat lodge had simultaneously energised and depleted me. My self doubt surfaced and my confidence wavered following such huge awareness around the extent of my inner blocks and resistance that had shown up the day before, and then in that moment even more so. I hadn't yet processed the awareness enough to know what to do with new level of understanding or how to handle it and so it played on my over-thinky mind all the more, leaving me ungrounded- a vicious cycle! An increasing awareness settled in of the retreat moving towards it’s final day and so did my fears of not been able to take home the incredible lessons and action them in my life.
There were many tears shed that afternoon, all of which subsided as together we built our fire and I fully immersed myself in the team spirit, the glow, and the power of the flames and the heat of the burning coals as we completed 5 more firewalks under the light of the full moon.
Day four, the final day, showed me the lessons I would need to take into my future… and and gave me the gift of slowing down to the speed of life. It was not at all in a way that I could have expected!
I broke my hand.
In a similar vein as with the board break, but this time using a different striking action, the challenge was to break an inch thick concrete slab. The fear was simmering within me as I watched the others take the stage and break through. They had all done it. I wasn’t going to back out now though it took huge metal strength to overcome the inner dialogue that was trying to hold me back.
I stepped up and practiced my test runs as all the others had done under Barry’s supervision to ensure I had the angle, the drive and mental attitude all correctly in place. I thought that if anything were to let me down it would be my overthinking mind and so I decided that I would take one final practice strike and then immediately step forward to the slab itself and drive straight through no room for thinking …Just doing.
Strike one…. practice.
Strike two… I broke the slab clean in half!
The room erupted into shrieks and applause. I hugged Barry so full of relief and pride. I had no idea that as well as the concrete slab I had also broken my hand. In fact I still had no idea until the following day when I took myself off to hospital. As I look back at the video retrospectively, I can see the angle of my fist tilted slightly as I hit the slab and so my little finger bore the brunt.
There had been very little pain, maybe that was because the evening was awash with team euphoria as we built a circle of three long ‘rail road’ fires and each walked 108 times over the burning coals. It was so surreal and I didn't want the experience to end!! I looked at my feet immediately after the '108' and there was no soreness and not even a single mark on them! How could this even be possible when I'd spent the last 30 minutes walking over burning hot coals?
The highlight of the final evening was further intensified as we had a live Skype call with Tolly Burkan himself. He shared wonderful stories to set the scene and then opened up for questions. I asked him two questions relating to mindset, diet and sprituality, which I will likely share in a seperate blog post. I felt like a proper fan girl having so recently read his incredible autobiography - ‘Dying To Live’ (my advice: get clued up on Tolly’s teaching and his books).
Before the evening erupted into a farewell party the space was created for one final group share. A chair was placed on the stage before the rest the tribe looking onwards. We each took a turn to share our thoughts on anything and everything we had just experienced over the last four days. Wow, where to begin- there were no words!
Just before we spoke we were asked to gaze in silence into the eyes (left eye to left eye), of each member of the tribe and the crew sat before us, one by one. It was incredibly moving.
I realised in that moment that eyes truly are the windows to the soul and that as human beings we don’t look into the eyes of others nearly enough. We don’t connect with the souls of each other. In the eyes of those before me, people who had been strangers just four days before, I could just see limitless love. Pure, non-judging, freely given, powerful love.
I can still feel it now. There have been few moments in my life when there is no noise, no overthinking thoughts, no busyness in my mind… this was one of them. My body felt still, quiet, grounded and empowered. My heart ruled my head and I was filled with a deep sense of unconditional love.
Then of course followed the after party… we all knew that we would soon be leaving this cocoon of safety, this incredible environment in which we had all grown so much more than we could ever have imagined. None of us wanted to leave, but as the clock ticked past midnight on Sunday 12th March. We slowly begant to collect our things and accept that we all needed to go back to the real world and start living out our truth and sharing the message with others.
Over the last 10 days, upon learning how I broke my hand some people have said things along the lines of: “ I bet you regret chopping that concrete slab?”
My answer is no. No I don’t regret it.
Out of the context of the deep self empowerment training we experienced it may not make sense, I totally get that.
Yes it’s been frustrating at times, yes it’s meant I’ve had to take time out of my business, yes it’s meant I’ve had to rely on others for help, yes my plans have had to change to accommodate.
But there have been beautiful gifts in all of this.
I’ve had to think outside the box in how I approach my life and my business. I’ve had to ask others for help and appreciate that help in the many small ways I would never otherwise have seen. I’ve had the opportunity to receive so many wonderful offers of support and feel truly humbled.
Most of all I’ve had to continue to play big and go beyond my comfort zone.
On so many occasions over the last few months I've mentioned to friends and colleagues that I tend to 'hide' behind my blog, behind the written word, behind my photography and design skills… And I don’t reach out to the world and connect with people in real life with my energy and voice in the way that I should. I now smile with the irony that the universe came along to help me out in its own unique and funny way. Over the last 10 days, without the use of my right hand, I have ONLY had my energy and my voice to connect with people. What a lesson and a gift!
In life you can choose to stay small or play full-out.
The fire walk instructors training retreat gives you all the tools you could ever need to truly play full out IF you choose to step up and do so.
When you play full out in life there will ALWAYS be risks (I don’t simply mean injury). If you don’t take risks, if you don’t fail, if you’re not prepared to receive a ‘no’ then you can NEVER win. You can never find out who you truly have the capacity to become.
In scrolling through my Facebook feed from the time of the fire walk I found this post, shared amidst a haze of pure euphoria late on the very last evening of the retreat that pretty much sums it all up!
"I AM NOW a certified fire walking instructor ...and the epicness comes to a wonderful close! I simply cannot fully describe the depths of my soul that I explored this weekend! My voice is hoarse from all the chanting, dancing, singing, screaming, yelling, laughing this evening… I walked 108 firewalks non-stop under a full moon with a group incredible friends I felt I've known for an eternity. I drive home now with so much love overflowing in my heart... So much love. Love love love."
If you are interested in learning more about the Propulsion Retreat- the 4-day fire walking empowerment intensive course… you’ll find full details HERE.
You can also watch a short video compilation from the retreat I attended below...
I’d also love to connect with you, to share with you some of the gifts that I have learnt throughout this experience and to listen to your own story. As a creativity coach, I am always looking to get curious with every aspect of the human experience… and every single thing about this experience pushed me to the max. It’s right up there in my ‘life best bits’ so far.
All images are taken by Nick Boyle and credited to firewalk.co.uk