Months ago one of my dear friends, and life long friends of my hubby, asked if I would do a fire walk with her at the 2018 Beltane Festival at Tir Na Nog.
‘Sure’, I said while feeling gripped with fear inside.
At the time of agreeing to do it, it had felt far away into the future and, in all honesty, I hadn’t been sure if I would even be here or, at the very least, if I would even be well enough to do it. So, when the day finally arrived (yesterday) and it was in the wake of incredible(!) news about my lungs, I knew there was no backing out.
We arrived at the centre for 2 hours of workshop and ceremony before the actual fire walk. A group of about 25 of us gathered in a small room as we listened to the instructor tell us about the traditional rituals of fire walking. The energy in the group was palpable; a heavy mixture of excitement and fear generated by a group of experienced fire walkers and ‘fire walk virgins’ such as myself.
The first ‘initiation’ was to each take two candles – one white and one red – out to the pile of logs sitting ready and waiting to be lit for our fire walk later that evening. As we huddled around the fire our candles were lit and we were instructed to put our energy into the fire as a group by each using our two candles to light part of the fire.
When we had been in the room we had been told that the red candle symbolised everything we were getting rid of and leaving behind and the white candle symbolised everything we were moving into and welcoming into our lives.
As I crouched beside the pile of logs and held my candles against the kindling I couldn’t help but feel the emotions of the ritual I was taking part in. My red candle symbolised all of my fears and insecurities, my need to please others, my worry about what people think, my anxieties and every time I’d had my boundaries crossed and my body violated in a medical setting. My white candle beautifully symbolised hope, peace, love, light, joy, the confidence to be myself, permission to embrace my true self and the recognition that I was going through an emotional and spiritual transition.
Once every one had gone through their own ritual of lighting the fire with their two candles, we then took it in turn to throw pinches of frankincense and cinnamon on the fire as we wished for healing for the collective whole of the beautiful planet we are so blessed to live on.
Then, together, we stood in peace and silence around the fire as it crackled and burned. We all knew that soon it would be a pile of ash and coal and we would each be taking our turn to walk across it with our arms open in anticipation of whatever lay before us.
When we returned to the workshop room, we were each handed paper and pens and asked to draw or right what we were invoking in our lives as part fo the fire walking ritual. It was so wonderful to have the space and opportunity to be creative and, without thought, or hesitation I found myself drawing an image of a vision I had during a shamanic journey recently (undoubtedly I’ll explore this in a future blog post).
Then, once our drawings had been complete and put into our bags, we were introduced to one final practice, commonly associated with fire walking.
The instructor stood before us with an arrow in her hand and explained the process of placing the end of the arrow against a tree and the tip against your throat. It was traditionally believed, she explained, that the arrow symbolised something that has been holding you back and that by pushing against it and snapping it with your throat, you are enabling yourself to push through whatever is holding you back and break free.
My fight of flight response was instantly activated as I noticed the bag of arrows behind her.
(Image for reference from https://deafpagancrossroads.com/category/firewalking/ as I didn’t take any images of our group doing this.)
As there was no tree in the room, she explained that we would be doing this with her (or someone of our choice) holding a board and acting as the tree for us to push against. She explained that this wasn’t a necessary step of the evening but one we could take part in if we wished.
I watched as people took it in turn to rise from their seats on the floor, place the arrow tip against their throat and explain, with open vulnerability, what it was that was holding them back that they were ready to release and break free from. Then, as they pushed through and broke the arrow, the group held them in supportive energy by chanting a word of their choice.
It was one of the most beautiful and magical things I have ever seen; this raw, energetic vulnerability was incredibly healing.
Despite my fear I found myself stepping up from my cushion and asking my friend to be my ‘tree’. As I stared directly into her eyes I felt our connection as the rest of the group melted into the background.
Before I could even begin to express what had been holding me back hot tears begun to fall down my cheeks. Within seconds I was sobbing loudly and crying uncontrollably. I literally couldn’t speak as I held my head in my hands and cried in front of a circle of strangers. When I uncovered my eyes I realised I wasn’t he only one crying; my release had enabled release in others too.
I found the words I needed as I explained my deepest vulnerability to the group. I explained my diagnosis and the guilt I feel for still being alive when so many of my fellow warriors no longer have this privilege. This emotion is so common in cancer warriors that it even has a name, ‘survivor’s guilt’ and yet no one ever talks about it because it is treated like a dirty little secret.
As I expressed this emotion and the raw parts of my journey I felt completely held in love and light by the group. However, as I tried to break through that arrow my own limitations held me back and I just couldn’t do it. Instead I took the arrow in my hands and snapped it over my knee. Then, taking ribbon from my bag I tied it to the end of my arrow in symbolism of my uniqueness.
At the time I had momentarily judged myself for not being able to break the arrow with my neck like the others. However, on reflection, I realised that I have never done things like everyone else. Instead, I have always done things in my own way and, let’s be honest, the outcome had been the same; the arrow was still broken.
Instead of pushing through the demons that had been holding me back, I had grabbed those little fuckers by the neck and snapped them in two over my knee. I have walked through hell already, I don’t need to walk through an arrow to prove my worth or commitment to myself. I am ready to grab life, to hold and embrace it and nothing is getting in my way any more.
I also realised something much more profound. It takes real balls/ovaries – actually I have neither of these so maybe it just takes permission to tune into your core, raw, bad ass, inner strength – to stand up in front of a group and say I can’t do what you are doing, I need to do this in a way that speaks to ‘my’ soul and is what I need for me. And then, gathering up your core self and actually doing it your way and celebrating it as the mother fucking bad ass that you are. That, in all honesty, is one of the most (if not ‘the’ most) empowering thing I have ever done!
After my turn others followed and each journey was beautiful. When all those who had wanted to do it had done so we started to make our way down to the fire. Several of the group came up and personally thanked me for expressing myself as they embraced me in warm hugs. I was reminded then that when we share our story with others we are not only healing ourselves, sometimes we are invoking healing in them too as we connect on a deeper level.
Arriving at the fire walk we removed our footwear and stood in line, each waiting our turn to cross the hot coals. My fear had now shifted to excitement and anticipation.
When my turn arrived I gave myself final permission to leave behind all that no longer served me, to say goodbye to everything had had held me back emotionally and to step into the person I was ready to become.
That person wasn’t a person cured of cancer. Instead, in my mind’s eye, I held an image of me standing in front of the hospital mirror, tubes inserted in my tummy. I felt the energy of that moment when I had looked at myself and had seen a warrior, and a mother fucking, bad ass warrior at that. I have been through so much in my near 33 years on earth and still I stand with my head held high and a smile on my face and I embrace each day with love and joy and laughter. And I realised that for this to be the image that comes to mind of the person I want to become, the person that I am ready to embrace, that I can say without an ounce of doubt that I am healed and that, while I may never be cured, this is the most important and wonderful gift that cancer has brought me.
Realising this and holding this energy, I walked over those hot coals with my head back, my broken arrow held high with ribbon floating from it’s tip and I stepped into my new life knowing I am ready!
I went on to do the walk 4 more times. Once with my arms linked with my friend as we walked it together and then again in my underwear because, well, why the hell not!
Following this ritual, as cheesy as it may sound, I felt reborn and the most alive I have ever felt, ever! My parents were spectating with my hubby and it felt right for them now to have witnessed both of my births. Most of all, I feel whole.
As the coals started to cool, we descended into the woods with fire lanterns and lamps. At every corner was a fire performer until we reached a clearing where a giant green man and bonfire had been built ready to be burnt in celebration of the Beltane Festival. Party ensued as the fire performers congregated, the music played and the ritualistic burning began. It was an incredible and magical evening.
At one point I turned to my hubby and said “the old Fi wouldn’t have walked across hot coals in her underwear in front of a crowd of people, would she?”
“No,” he replied with a smile and a sigh.
“She was a boring fucker wasn’t she?” I laughed.
He didn’t reply but, instead, shook his head and hugged me in a way that left me feeling fully supported, emotionally held and, above all, loved and accepted for who I am today and who I may be in the future.
We stayed in those woods until the early hours of the morning before embarking on our 90 minute drive home. Despite the late (or early) time we arrived home, I still felt energised and even as I write this I have only had a few hours sleep and I am alert and ready to embrace the day.
I will be hanging my broken arrow in our home as a reminder to not be held back by any emotional obstacles or limitations and to always trust my inner voice and do things my way, even when it is completely different from everyone else.
I encourage you all to do the same….I also encourage you all to do a fire walk.
Love and light, Fi xxx
*’Grace’ is the name I once gave to my ‘inner wisdom’ during a guided meditation ceremony – last night, as I walked across those hot coals, I gave myself permission to embrace her completely.
With special thanks to my dear friend, and the two new friends I met last night.