Can you get burned by walking on hot coals? You can! But whoever does get burned makes sure that it doesn’t happen very often. Firewalking, namely walking on fire or embers, has been practised for centuries by people from different cultures and ancestral traditions. In the last few decades, this practice has been gaining more and more followers, being used in personal development retreats, workshops or in companies, for the purposes of personal evolution or the achievement of goals and objectives. Kalid, the Sannyasin name of Pedro Fonseca, born and resident in Lisbon, was one of the first Portuguese to become a Firewalking instructor. This 41-year-old therapist and facilitator presents this technique as a metaphor for overcoming limiting beliefs and for developing personal empowerment. The goal is to give more fire to the lives of those who go through this experience. ECO123 talked to him in Faro.
What is special about walking on hot embers?
It is doing something that seems impossible to us. If we walk barefoot and step on a live cigarette end on the beach, we are going to get burned, now imagine walking on a four-metre-long carpet of scalding, glowing embers and not getting burned. Fire has the ability to transform, or burn, whether it be it our limiting beliefs or other things like an addiction, a behaviour, a pain we are carrying, something that at times weighs us down and that we cannot always free ourselves from on our own.
Walking on fire can cause some fear…
It is fire, there has to be respect. And respect is like intelligent fear. In fact, fear is often showing us the way. And one of the lessons of fire is not to let fear stop you or prevent you, but rather to show you the way. Fire represents everything that we fear or doubt and firewalking can be seen as a metaphor in relation to our limiting self-beliefs, that is, if I can walk on fire without burning myself, obviously there are other things in my life that I think I can’t do, that I can look at differently and take this as a metaphor for my day-to-day life.
And is there a risk of people getting burned?
When we see the fire in front of us, we can feel warmth, enthusiasm, wonder, but surely also fear, because the fire burns. It’s fire. I’ve seen people need medical treatment or have multiple blisters on their feet, but it’s very rare that this happens. Then there is the technical side that has to be taken care of, the choice of the floor, the way the wood is laid or the type of wood used, without resin. And there is also a prior process that leads the practitioner up to the moment of walking on the embers. I can do a firewalking where 100 people don’t burn themselves and then there is someone who comes along and ends up with some burns. It has a lot to do with willpower and with each person’s belief.
What kind of prior process?
There is a whole preparation and several processes that precede walking on embers, which help to defy limiting beliefs. After breaking boards with our hands, we are able to realise that obstacles are not a barrier, but an opportunity for us to overcome. At the same time, it shows that responsibility lies in our hands and in our attitude. Look at the obstacles as part of growth and also the question of reflecting on what we focus on. There are several techniques, but not all of them are always used.
What other preparatory techniques are there?
Breaking arrows with your neck.This has to do with willpower and how we deal with internal obstacles or the target that the person intends to achieve, personally or professionally. Making the arrow break rather than giving up, persisting. Another technique is two people, working together to bend an iron bar with their necks. Something that can be associated with the results that a company achieves and is not only due to the effort of one person, but involves two people or an entire department. Sometimes I also use glass walking, which is walking on shards of glass. It is associated with the ability to be with our thinking and our focus on the present. Something which is very difficult currently is the use of Instagram, social media and mobile phones because everyone is either in the past or in the future and attention has to be 100 percent on the task, here and now.
What is needed to prepare for firewalking?
The choice of ground is important, as well as the shape or structure and how the wood is placed which will eventually become embers. At the end, a carpet is formed which could be between three to twelve metres long and one or two metres wide, in the case of people who want to walk in pairs. It can be a more spiritual firewalking or more corporate for businesses, aimed at achieving certain goals. Tibetans, for example, used this structure more like meditation, mindfulness.
For what purpose do companies use this technique?
It often helps with the necessary motivation, focus and empowering teams or bosses. There is nothing worse than a director of a team or owner of a company having a vision of where they want to go and having one or more people who don’t believe in themselves or the goal to be achieved, who are sometimes focused on the problems and not on the solution. It helps if you have all those involved following the same vision. How to achieve goals, whether it has to do with sales, finishing a project on time or winning a certain contest with a big multinational company. Often people say they can’t do this or that and are always pointing outwards, so that they don’t have to take responsibility for themselves. What we try to do is to get people to think what they can do, what his attitude is, and this tool changes people’s attitudes and mindsets.
What does it mean to use fire as a tool for work?
Fire is one of the four elements and one of the fundamental pillars of the universe and of ourselves. The alchemists called fire the agent of transformation, which has the capacity to transform solids into liquids, or liquids into gases and, at the same time, it is able to transform and transmute materials. It also has the capacity to transform us into ourselves, because we also have the four elements within us. We are a microcosm and a representation of the universe, we have fire, air, water and earth. I love Nature and we can learn a lot from it. Fire is a teacher and a form of wisdom. It is a neutral force that can be either creative or destructive, like our inner strength that can be used in both ways. It is an ancient wisdom and a ritual that has prevailed for centuries.
When did you have your first contact with firewalking?
I did it for the first time in 2004 and decided to learn about it in 2005, but it was only after a few years and after gaining more experience that I started doing firewalking as an instructor in 2008. First of all, in workshops and soon companies came requesting this tool, from banking, real estate, the pharmaceutical industry, the automotive industry and other areas, medium-sized or large companies and multinationals. At the moment, I am developing my work with an instructor in Portugal and abroad, for groups ranging from 12 people to groups of several hundred. In Portugal, the biggest firewalking I ever did was at the ‘Trata a vida por tu’ (Master Your Life) event with Daniel Sá Nogueira, at the Estoril Casino. There were around 600 people, but in other countries I’ve already done it for even larger groups.
What is the origin of this ritual?
From the beginnings of mankind, fire has been widely used in different shamanic traditions and ceremonies. The origin isn’t well know, but there are records in different cultures around the world. The first manuscripts that spoke of firewalking were in ancient Rome. In India, there were Brahmins who walked on fire. The Kahunas, a tribe from Hawaii, who many believe to be bearers of the ancestral wisdom, walked on hardened lava at crazy temperatures. The Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert in Africa are called fire dancers and do incredible things with fire. Tibetan Buddhists themselves firewalk as proof of their faith and there is an annual ritual in Greece where Christians also walk on fire. Hindus walk on fire too, and many religions have had this thousands of years old ritual for many generations.
And how did firewalking start in modern society?
In the 70s, there was an American, Tolly Burkan, who did firewalking in a Buddhist temple and learning to walk on fire changed his life. Soon afterwards, he decided to learn and started doing workshops in the USA for small groups of people. He quickly began to take firewalking into the corporate sector and to big companies for team building events. Later, Anthony Robbins, one of the most respected coaches in the world, after firewalking for the first time with Tolly Burkan, became the great promoter of firewalking worldwide.
Walking on hot coals only has benefits or can it be harmful to health?
Above all, it is an act of responsibility because it is an invitation that we give ourselves. First of all, it is a voluntary act, no one has to do it: secondly it is a responsible act – you have to be attentive both to my dialogue and to your own internal dialogue. Then it is question of waiting for the best and being prepared for the worst. And the worst that can happen is to burn yourself. You have to be prepared to take on that responsibility, eventually getting a blister on your foot or a burn. The participants take on this responsibility and if they are not prepared I will not let them walk. If people did not run the risk of getting burned, this exercise would have no power and would be a fallacy. It is related to our certainty, to believing or having the conviction before moving forward that this obstacle is going to be overcome. As in life, if we think that something is going to go wrong, we also create this reality, or vice versa.
Kalid – Pedro Fonseca Therapist and Facilitator Founder in 2004 of Injoy Portugal – www.injoy.pt