When Burkan first learned how to create a firewalk, he was under the impression that it was all a trick, until he tried it a few times. "Immediately, I thought, you know, this has the potential to knock people out of the rut of conventional thinking," he says. "This is remarkable and potentially life-changing."
Burkan decided to take the idea of firewalking out of the circus, sideshow arena and make it more available to the public as a personal-growth tool.
"I was the first one, and I knew that the key was I had to present it to people in such a way that they would take that first step," he says
And, in recent years, through Burkan's efforts, firewalking has been included in executive empowerment seminars at companies such as Microsoft and American Express.
Burkan was invited in the mid-1980s to the home of Dr. Andrew Weil -- the internationally recognized leader in integrative medicine and founder of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona in Tucson-- to conduct a firewalking seminar.
"I was very distracted at that event, I didn't do it in the right state, and I ended up with minor burns," Weil says.
At a later firewalk, where the pit was 40-feet long and much hotter than his previous attempt, Weil had a different experience. "There was no sensation of heat, it just felt crunchy," he says. "I could've done it all night, it was amazing."
Weil, who has twice appeared on the cover of Time magazine, believes that the difference between getting burned and not was in his mental state. But he doesn't think it's mind over matter.
"I think it's a mind-body phenomenon, that in a certain state of consciousness, the body can conduct heat away from the surface and not be injured," he says. "I think it's very relevant to medical practice and healing."
All of the mind-body implication stokes the critical fire of the world's leading skeptical organization, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.