On a Friday night, still unwinding from the busyness of a work week, we arrived at a beautiful, wooded area outside an old house on the city’s outskirts. The crisp wooded air fought through the distinct smell of smoke. The quiet of the woods disappeared as more people arrived, bubbling over with a somewhat stilted excitement.
I began questioning my presence there; a lump formed in my throat.
I am an adventuresome person. I’ve made my way down triple diamond ski slopes as a beginner, delivered children without drugs, been thrown around on the martial arts mat, and certainly had my share of pre-speaking jitters – I’ve moved through my fear in many circumstances.
This was different, though.
The group moved inside to a musty basement. I remember a low ceiling with wooden beams; there may have been a dirt floor. I felt confined, bordering on trapped. The leader began to pump up the group with positive, affirming chants and clapping, “We can do this. We can walk on FIRE!” The group repeated the chants while punching the air above with their fists in a ‘can do’ energy. But my ears pounded.
I felt uncomfortable, torn inside.
Was it the idea of walking on fire or the discomfort of getting caught up in going along with group energy when I wasn’t totally aligned? I committed to this activity without thinking through it fully. I had yielded to my friends’ enthusiasm.
I felt an inner conflict between choosing what felt right for me and going along to fit in. I began to doubt myself. What would those who constantly push others to get out of their comfort zone say about me?
The moment’s reality offered me another opportunity to choose my next move. Can I stand in my personal alignment, even when everyone around me is moving in a different direction?
Up to that point in my life, I’d been easily influenced to accommodate external expectations.
Standing there, fraught with anxiety, it suddenly dawned on me that the whole point of the exercise was confronting fear and that my biggest fear was what might happen if I didn’t do the firewalk.
For me, the imagined social consequences of not doing the firewalk were scarier than doing it. I decided to face my fear and stepped aside.
I did feel a little uncomfortable standing on the sidelines, but I also felt a deep peace. Feeling a new kind of confidence, I could still celebrate my friends’ success as they nursed their singed toes.
My fear of social rejection vanished just like the smoke dissipated into the trees. This experience stays with me as I continue to ‘gut’ check all the forces around me. Now, I trust my gut, or center, more than any other influence. There is a deep peace in letting the flames burn up doubt.
Great article… slice of life! Loved it!
Good choice my friend. We’re getting to that place in life where the opinions of others have less importance in our lives. And singed toes? No, just no.
Also love the “human generated” tag!
It was rght for me – and it was a few years back! Good to hear from you Al!