Guest post by Adele Andersen
I used to be a firecracker.
My life was full of activity and adventure.
I was only tired from the physical exhaustion of running myself ragged having a wonderful time working and playing hard. I was up for anything.
I remember that version of me. Past-Adele. And I miss her terribly. But I have been unable to reach back and access her.
The past is a foreign country; you did things differently there. You might have been a completely different person, even if you didn’t want to change.
Over the last several years I allowed my life to contract into the shape of a comfortable sweater, the one you pull on in the morning and end up wearing out as well because changing is way too much effort. Where the world used to feel vast and full of possibilities, I somehow managed to build a box for myself with expectations so low that they could always be accurately met.
Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with being comfortable — there is much to be grateful for in a comfortable life. But when you were once a firecracker, and you realise that you now can’t even hustle enough kindling together to warm your hands over, that comfort starts to really rub on your soul.
A lot of my friends of all ages, and all stages of life, have been seeking medical help for low mood and depression, with great success. I had been seriously considering following suit, but knew I was not clinically depressed and felt sure there was another road to reclaiming my power, if I could just find it. I knew I had built the trap in my own head; I just didn’t have the tools to deconstruct it again.
This was the situation when I saw Chris Jones posting about his next firewalk, and I literally sat at my desk looking at Facebook and thinking…well why the hell not. Chris is a firecracker, and I knew enough of his history to know he’s made deliberate choices to be that way. That man had some tools I wanted to get my hands on too.
So I signed up.
Now the first thing to say about a firewalk day with Chris is that he is a movie man through and through and he makes his events cinematic. He positions everyone as the hero of their own film, using an emotionally manipulative soundtrack (it is enormously fun to guess which film each song came from), complete with stirring voice overs. You have to buy into this, and if you can let go of your sceptical hindbrain, it’s enormously affecting. If you can’t let go of your sceptical hindbrain, you will have to sit awkwardly for a few hours with it screaming at you, but don’t worry — it will gradually be challenged throughout the day. Enough that, eventually, you will be able to see that your scepticism doesn’t serve you in all instances, and at all times, and here and now should be gently set aside. Huge lesson right there. Be open. Assume you don’t always know best. Trust the teacher. Trust the process. Because a lot of this day is about learning to get out of your own way.
The more you resist the process, the less you get out of it, and I am certain the same can be said for life in general. The firewalk day is full of moments that you choose to feel comfortable or uncomfortable about — dancing, interacting with other people, eyes-closed activities, shouting out loud, walking glass, and finally, the firewalk — and it is a choice, which means you do have control over how you decide to feel. Every time you feel uncomfortable, Chris helps you to recognise the lesson in there. The limiting thoughts that are getting in your way.
For instance, I started to quietly freak out early on when Chris said that some people will get blisters, or “fire kisses”, from the firewalk. I had to drive home straight after and teach a high impact fitness class early the next morning, and the possibility of getting blisters put me in a right tizz: what if I couldn’t drive? What if I had to limp to class the next morning and apologise for not being able to teach properly? It was essentially an audition class at a new club, and I was taking it seriously.
The brain buzz over this was stopping me from being able to concentrate on anything else, so I had to eventually put myself out of my own misery by asking for clarification: how bad would those blisters be?
And Chris proceeded to have a conversation with my resistance in front of the group which was a bit of a head f*** for me but so interesting and perfectly illustrated his point: most of us have built a set of limiting beliefs that wants desperately to keep us comfortable and is highly resistant to anything that threatens that status quo. I was willing to withhold my participation in the entire process to maintain my comfort and avoid risk of discomfort. This is something I do all the time, and it hurts me personally and professionally. But it was a huge relief to let my resistance have voice, and be spoken to and reasoned with, instead of melting my mind into an anxious puddle as per norm.
(As a short aside: yes, you can get fire kisses, which are very small blisters. They are not common. I only saw it happen to those hardcore people who did all six consecutive walks without giving their feet time to cool down. No-one had any concerns or regrets though, and my feet were perfectly happy to drive home and jump around the next morning).
Which leads me to the next key point: Chris kept demanding we be less reasonable with ourselves. Or more unreasonable, if you prefer. This was key to my inertia: I had become so damn reasonable with myself. Jump in cold water once, pat on the back, good girl Adele. Do one thing for selling my book or my fitness classes: pat on the back, good girl Adele. I had become boringly, relentlessly easy on myself. I’ll take just this much discomfort thank you, and that will do…but limited risk equals limited reward. I knew this intellectually, but I couldn’t connect that knowledge to an emotional or energetic capacity to leap in headfirst and make positive, powerful changes in my life.
So we spent the day observing our own thinking and feeling — which is a priceless exercise everyone should do at least once a year I think, to identify and root out the bad coding that we inevitably develop — and finally came to the firewalk itself.
Chris introduced us to the idea of personifying our feminine warrior self through the day, and creating triggers to call upon her. This is insanely powerful. Think Beyonce with her stage alter-ego Sasha Fierce. Now for me, I think I’m very average. In some areas I know I do very good work, but I expect very average results and this blocks me from carrying out the sort of self promotion essential to creative and entrepreneurial endeavour. I don’t think I have what it takes to excel in the fitness or writing industries. After all, there are millions of people working in the same areas, so why me?
But…I used to be a firecracker.
I used to believe I could excel.
Instead of “why me” I used to think “why not me?” and the psychological distance between those two ideas is chasmic.
Chris’ proposition that we all have a warrior inside, who has walked with us all our lives but who we have learned to shut down over time, resonated very deeply. And believing in her power somehow took the pressure away from trying to believe in my power. I feel like… she is in me, but she is more than me. She is braver than me. She is wiser than me. She is kinder than me. But she can share those things with me.
I say “but what if I fall?” and she says “oh but darling, what if you fly?”
Before the firewalk, we all named our inner warrior. Some people used superhero names and others used statements of power. Mine came very easily: when I was a teenager, struggling with loneliness at high school, I created a female warrior called Areté and wrote stories about her to give myself strength. I would consider what she would do when faced with difficulties. I very literally personified my own warrioress into her.
And in the fantasy novel that I took 27 years to complete and finally self-published last December, her imprisonment is the problem that drives the story. Over time I went from writing Areté’s stories, to removing her from the world I created for her, even as I shut her out of my own life. I was shocked to realise that I had so directly reflected my life in my art. She has indeed been with me all the time…but I had put her in a cage, and so there was no-one to challenge my belief that I could fall, or fail.
When the ashes were raked and ready, I was standing with my friend Hannah when Chris came over with a purposeful look. I quailed inside, fearing he was going to ask me to go first. I had come a long way, but not far enough: I did not believe I could say yes. I could not be the very first person to walk. But he asked Hannah, and as I sighed with relief, Hannah gave it only a moment’s thought before agreeing: she would be the first into the unknown. I was so inspired, and a little ashamed. I’m still a work in progress. Mums are HARDCORE.
Now before you walk, you use the triggers learned through the day to put yourself into your warrior state. This is some crazy shit: you do not just rock up and walk the ashes, the day’s learnings are essential. The walk is the proof of the work done earlier. Chris asks if you are ready, and when you are, you declare so — and you must declare. You cannot hesitate. Chris then asks what your name is, and you declare your warrior name, and he orders you to walk. It is a stirring, grand process. We mostly walked swiftly, but there were two people in our group who walked slowly and were watched with astonishment and met with thunderous applause. Those ashes were hot.
Chris said we would do up to four walks, with each longer and hotter. There were six in total and the last was six metres long. I did walks 1-3 and felt like my feet needed more time in the cool wet grass, and happily cheered on the people who kept going time after time. When Chris announced the final walk, I had long since given myself a pat on the back: good girl Adele. You walked second and you walked three times. Job well done.
But…I realised how very reasonable that was. I mean listen, there are people who will never walk hot ashes. I did it three times. Full marks for me.
But…this was part of my lesson. To be less reasonable with myself. To be more demanding. To get uncomfortable.
I had to do that last bloody walk. If I didn’t, I hadn’t really learned the key lesson the day had presented to me.
I hovered at the back of the line, and as I came to start point, Chris called a stop and asked for the last of the ashes to be laid out.
Are you kidding me????
All of my resistance was back. I yelled at Chris. It’s all on video.
But you know…a good teacher knows exactly what the student needs. And Chris Jones is a freaking great teacher.
I my roared my readiness Yes with displeasure — proving it a blatant lie. The process is important. You must declare your readiness with confidence. Areté, I knew, would not be afraid of the last and the hottest of the ashes. She would be delighted with the challenge of walking on them. I am not Areté, but she is in me, and despite my arguing, I knew she could give me strength.
I want to tell you that I strode slowly and serenely over that six metres of fresh hot ashes, but there’s video evidence that I was expedient in my pace and squealed a little. It was long and it was hot as hell but it was harmless to my feet and fuel for my soul. I hugged Chris at the end and laughed and laughed. I’m so glad I did it.
There were incredible people on our firewalk, carrying staggering trauma and generously sharing their hearts in this remarkable experience. It was a privilege to watch them transform through the day. I don’t have any major trauma. I’m average Adele. I have been blessed through my life, and that has made my low moods even harder to deal with: what excuse did I have for feeling down? For getting stuck? The logic grated against the emotion of the thing and drove me further down the hole.
It’s been a week now since the walk. I am not on fire in all aspects of my life — yet. But I have shed the appalling inertia, and I look forwards to every day, and I watch my own thinking now that I have the tools to do so. And when the next big challenges come around, I know where my inner warrior is, and how to call on her, and let her do the heavy lifting. And I don’t need to go and see the doctor now — this gloom was in my own head, of my own construction. But I reckon I’ll need to go to another firewalk or two, and I probably won’t need to yell at Chris on the next one. We can go straight for the hugging, and I’ll even try to stride a bit slower and more majestically, flirting with the fire kisses that past-Adele was so afraid of.
You can read feedback from the other firewalkers at this same event HERE.