I walked on fire

fire walkIt’s 9pm on Thursday night and 7,000 people are chanting ‘YES! YES! YES!’ in a pitch black car park in London’s Docklands.

The mood is tribal.

I feel like we’re on our way to a ritual killing. Maybe our own.

We’ve already signed waivers that warn us that what we are about to undertake could result in ‘physical or emotional injury, paralysis, death….’

I feel sick with anticipation but I keep putting one foot in front of the other.


tony imageThen, we are faced with our task: a dozen lanes of hot coals. They glimmer grey and red in the darkness. There is a hush in the air.

It’s the moment of truth: we are to WALK OVER THE COALS. THE BURNING HOT COALS.

The idea is that once you overcome the fear of walking on coals of between ‘1,200 and 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit’ you can ‘conquer the other fires of your life with ease’

But I don’t conquer anything with ease. It’s not in my nature.

‘AM I REALLY DOING THIS?’ is all I can think.me and tony

But still, weirdly, there was not one bit of me that was going to back out. I am determined.

For the last two hours we’d been whipped into something ‘Peak State’ – a place where you are so mentally strong you can do ANYTHING – INCLUDING WALK ON FIRE.

This is the trademark stunt at Tony Robbins four-day-long UNLEASH THE POWER WITHIN seminar. These events have been going on around the world for thirty five years, with millions of people spending between £500 – £1200  to spend four days with the GOD OF SELF-IMPROVEMENT (who has advised everyone from Bill Clinton to Serena Williams, Leonardo DiCaprio to Oprah – who calls him ‘superhuman’).

I wanted Robbins to be one of my months – because he embodies that kind of ALL-American, I CAN DO IT!!! approach to life.

His is a classic rags to riches story. Determined to transcend his poor childhood and abusive mother, he became obsessed with self-improvement. He’d listen to tapes and go to lectures before going on to give talks himself.

Fast forward to today and his net worth is in the region of half a billion dollars and he charges $1million to coach private clients. He has a few books – but it’s his events that he’s really famous for and I can see why.

It’s was unlike anything I’ve been to before. The crowds are crazy. We walk into the conference hall (my lovely friend Lucie is with me) and there is a bank of what looks like telephone kiosks at the back of the hall – each containing translators – Russian, Chinese, Polish…. It turns out there are 7,500 people of 38 nationalities in the audience, and the event is translated into 32 different languages via headphones.

There’s music blaring and dancers on stage. People are jumping up and down in front of their chairs. It was like being at a One Direction concert.

And after half an hour standing by our cramped, plastic chairs – God arrives and screaming goes off the wall. He is a 6ft7 mountain of a man, perma-tanned, white teeth, lantern jaw… he is like something that a Mills & Boon writer would dream up. It’s not my thing at all – his look is so cheesy – but as the day goes on I change my mind.

Tony’s basic message – (I’ll go through the details of what he says in later posts) – is that ANYTHING is possible if we just get our minds and bodies into the right state. He says we are all defined by our limiting beliefs and that if we get rid of those (he mostly does that thorough a process called Neuro Linguistic Programming) then ‘The Impossible Just Gets Done.’

He is the KING of the Catchphrase. I keep writing them down: ‘It’s impossible to love yourself when you’re not being yourself’, ‘Change your story, change your life…’ These nuggets come out of his mouth, non-stop from 1pm to 9pm. He is a machine. He doesn’t take a tea break and neither do we. He keeps going. He doesn’t drop a sentence or pause for a second.

It’s extraordinary, I’ve never seen anything like it. Just the sheer energy of him. He is funny too and somehow manages to be self-depricating while telling you about his MEGA SUCCESS. I find myself thinking that he is the living embodiment of human potential, then I realise I’m swooning. I turn to the Norwegian man next to me and say ‘I think I’m in love…’ he smiled and says: ‘Me too.’

In between the talks there’s lots of bouncing around to songs like ‘Life will never be the same’ and there are a few Chariots of Fire moments. There’s also a lot of hugging and high-fiving. We tell each other ‘You’re FREAKING AWESOME!’, with crazy grins on our face.

I figure there’s a decision – either get embarrassed or go with it. I go with it. I think we all do.  As the day goes on we become more and more pumped… then time for what we’ve all been waiting for/dreading: THE FIREWALK.

Apparently, out of the million odd-people Robbins has guided through a fire walk, only 12 have been burned.

The technique for doing a fire-walk has been drummed into us -.walk, don’t run, wipe your feet on the cold moss afterwards – but most importantly, we need to stay in ‘Peak State’. To get us into Peak State, we’re told to think of the best moments or our lives, the moment we felt strongest, most at peace etc. Each time we do we are told to squeeze our fists so that every time we squeeze our fists these memories will come back. We are also told to find a move that makes you feel powerful… I pump my fist up in the air.

I can’t believe that I am now officially a fist pumper. It’s so not me.

We’re told to visualise walking over the fire and to imagine that getting to the other side of it represented moving forward in some big way in our life. We’re told to feel the excitement of being on the other side…Tony keep shouting ‘DO YOUR MOVE’ over and over again to loud pumping music. My fist keeps going up into the air. I’m yelling ‘YES!’ like a mad woman.

Finally, after a lot of jokes about burning flesh, he gives us a mantra to repeat as we were walking over the coals. ‘COOL MOSS, COOL MOSS, COOL MOSS….’ He said that if we focussed on those words over and over again, we’d do it. And do we did.

We took off our shoes and socks, marched out the conference centre and WALKED ON FIRE.

It was over so quickly I didn’t quite believe it happened. I remember standing on the damp grass that they lay at the beginning and end of the 8ft long bed of coal. I remember two men wearing bandanas instructing me to: ‘Do your Move!!’ so I pumped my fist, shouted ‘YES!!!!!!!!’ then went for it. I put my foot on the coals. I felt nothing.

All I remember is on my last step feeling heat from the coal – and thinking ‘Oh god’ but then I was done and on another bit of cold grass and my feet were being hosed down by helpers, who do that with everybody’s feet (in case there are bits of hot coal stuck between toes).

It was done. I had walked across a bed of hot coals. It was so easy it was almost underwhelming.

How on earth had I done it? Why didn’t our feet burn? Is that it? Did I imagine it? Tony says he can’t explain how it works but it just does – tribes have been doing it around the world for centuries – but I’ve seen online that scientists argue that coals are a poor conductor of heat so as long as you keep moving you’re going to be fine.

I don’t know. I don’t care. I’m just stunned I did it.

On the tube home I was thinking that for the first time I could understand how people fall under the spell of cult leaders – I totally fell hook, line and sinker for Tony Robbins. I didn’t expect to but I did. There were moments when I was jumping up and down with the crowd, out screaming the best of them, when I thought ‘What are you doing? You’re nuts – this is nuts’ but then I just thought ‘F**K It, go for it’ because it felt good.

After all my navel gazing and introspection it felt great to be in a massive room with thousands of others who are all trying to improve their lives. It’s now Thursday and I’m still on a high.

The whole event sums up self-help as a whole: so easy to take the p*ss out of but so powerful too if you’re willing to let go of cynicism. Which is hard, I know. Us Brits are hard-wired for cynicism.

And for most of my friends this event would be their idea of hell. I’ve told them about the dancing, the whooping and chanting and they look like they want to vomit. They’re also horrified at the prices: ”Why does he need to charge that much when he’s a gazillionaire and it stops a lot of people from benefitting from them?’ – which is a fair point.

But what can I say, except that I loved it. It was a pure shot of energy, something I really needed as I come close to the finish line of this blog – and there was a lot of wisdom impart too.

So for the next 10 days I’ll do my posts based on the four day conference and then I’ll be moving on to my FINAL BOOK!!





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