Firewalking: Mind Over Matter or a Tool for Personal Growth, or Both?

"GMA" anchor Diane Sawyer and writer Lara Naaman race across firey coals in Times Square, Feb. 27, 2008. (Ida Mae Astute/ABC)

"I rarely let go control of my mind, so my dare was to get in that zone," Sawyer said last year, "to get in that self-hypnotic zone where you can firewalk, where you can master anything in your life. This is one of the oldest and most universal symbols of achieving your goals -- walking on fire."

Many people say that firewalking is something anyone can do by calling forth his or her internal focus and energy, and, thus, be propelled into a more personally fulfilling life.

But skeptics say that's not true. "Anytime you're doing something dangerous, it's good to be mentally alert," Nickell says. "But there's nothing mystical about firewalking."

Maybe what's needed here is some legal advice and expertise; like, for example, from Judge Darrel Lewis, a retired California Superior Court trial jurist who now spends his time between serving as a legal mediator and, interestingly, as a firewalk instructor.

Nutritionist and bodybuilder Jeff Lewis, left, appears unfazed as he firewalks, while his father, retired California Superior Court Judge Darrel Lewis, right, prepares to step on a hot bed of coals in Sonora, Calif., April 2007. (Courtesy Darrel Lewis)

"I would say to the skeptics that there are some things that we don't understand," he says. "Several hundred years ago, people were convinced the world was flat or that Earth circled around other planets.They had all kinds of evidence to support that, and we ultimately found that it wasn't true."

Lewis became a firewalk instructor when he discovered how it improved his life as a mediator. "Particularly after seven or eight hours of mediation, when people just say that this isn't going to work, I stay calm and focused," he says. " And that's what firewalking taught me; to keep walking, keep your focus, be persistent and believe it's going to happen.

"And I fervently believe that your beliefs can be transmitted to others around you. And I was about as conservative as you can get."

Even in a sagging economy with record unemployment rates from coast to coast, Americans want to be happy, want to feel empowered to lead productive lives.

Perhaps firewalking is a path that can help people find their way through the struggles of the economic crisis in which they find themselves.

On New York's Long Island, Lorraine Simone will soon offer firewalking to her many clients and students at Moonfire Meeting House, a global community and wholistic wellness center she founded in 1990.

Walking over hot coals "makes me feel as though I can do anything I put my focus on, anything I intend to do, because I feel part of a bigger picture of life."

Barefoot in the Glass

A teacher since 1969 with a master's degree in environmental science education, Simone knows how she'll use firewalking in her work. "I've needed to find ways to inspire and encourage people, to have them step out of the little box that they've been living in, to expand their awareness and their skills."

And then there's glasswalking, another challenge presented to me at the firewalking event. Spread out on the floor was a 50-pound mixture of different colored broken pieces of beer and wine bottles, over which each of us in attendance -- or those willing to -- would slowly walk, barefoot.

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