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This Girl is on Fire by Emma Johnson​

“Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise.
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise.”
Maya Angelou

There is a moment, just before you step onto hot coals, where the whole world seems to hold its breath. The guiding arm in front of you falls away, and there is nothing stopping you, the path ahead is clear. And although it’s just a small step forward, it feels like a vast black void of impossibility.

The heat from the coals is intense. You can feel it pressing against your skin, your legs, your trembling hands. You can hear it burning, a crackling hum that stretches out in the night beyond. The only light is from the coals. You look down at the glowing red embers, and all around, pressing close are people, holding their breath too, some whooping with encouragement, hands pressed to their faces, wondering if this final step is truly a step you can take.

And then, just when it feels impossible, ahead of you, through the flickering sparks from the fire, stands a man. He is looking at you, and only you. His whole gaze seems to come from across the fire and onto your face, white and humbled by the night. This alone is impossible to stand. If you have lived your life trying to be invisible, trying not to count, trying not to take up too much space, to have all the energy and focus of this moment directed just at you feels entirely alien.

Behind you, some of the most extraordinarily brave and broken women you know are shouting your name. Behind them stands your family, smiles and awe cracked across their faces, the children jumping up and down on the wet grass. In that moment, you are mummy, wife, daughter, friend, sister, leader, follower, broken, hopeful, powerful, firewalker.

And you are totally, absolutely there. There is no escaping it. This is a moment for you. This is ALL about you. You DO matter. You are NOT too much. You are completely you. And you are here, in this moment. Now.

You raise you hands to your hips, echoing the warrior woman stance you have practised earlier in the day, in an exercise that you weren’t sure would make a blind bit of difference to your ability to walk on fire. And yet, as you stand, framed in this powerful silhouette, staring straight ahead, you feel the possibility rush through you. You jump up and down on the spot a couple of times, feeling your feet connecting with the earth, feeling the power juddering through you.

“Are you ready,” shouts Chris from across the coals. Eyes up, looking right back at him, meeting his gaze. “Yes,” you shout, in a guttural cry that comes right from the very bottom of your soul.

“What is your name?” he asks. Closing your eyes for a moment, you reach inside for the strength to shout your chosen warrior name out.

“Right Fucking Here,” you yell into the night, into the crowd, into the fire, into the past of a life where you told yourself that you didn’t count, that you didn’t deserve all the things you hoped for. Your voice is like nothing you’ve heard before – strong, loud, cracking with emotion, pinched with pain, wobbly with courage. It is time.

“Walk,” commands Chris. And there is nothing between you and the fire now. You step out, never taking your eyes off Chris. Beneath you, the coals are so hot, like boiling rubble underfoot. It is a powerful feeling, but you are more powerful. With each step, the fire intensifies, but so does your strength.

Six, maybe seven paces, and you’re across the fire. Chris grabs you in a powerful hold, his hands clasping the tops of your arms, you jumping from foot to foot to kick off any stray embers.

“Yes,” he says quietly. “Yes.” And you are dancing away from the fire – a smile writ large across your face, tears swirling in your eyes. You are bursting with possibility now, power surging through you, strength fizzing in your fingertips, courage coursing through your veins. Giddy with knowledge. Warrior. Firewalker. Woman.

“Mummy!” call your children. Their eyes bright with pride, they reach their hands to your face, unable to believe this firewalking goddess is real. Your husband looks at you as if he has never seen you before, wonder all over his face. Your mother smiles back at you through the darkness, a fellow firewalker, she just knows.

You walk the fire two more times that night – on the last time, the coals are 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, flames are licking at the edges. You walk with total joy, whooping as you finish, sparks kicking from your heels.

Later that night, you will find the only mark left from the fire, a crescent-shaped fire kiss, curled around on the sole of your left foot. But otherwise, your feet are unscathed. You are not burnt. You are not in pain. You are simply alive, truly present and right fucking here.

A group of people standing in front of a fire with a check.

Walking on fire with Chris Jones and his extraordinary team was one of the great privileges of my life. From the moment I entered the room, until we had crossed the coals for that last time, I felt so held, so seen, so acknowledged. “Thank you for getting up and carrying the load. Every day. For what you do. You’re fucking warrior mums,” said Chris at one point, which brought most of us to tears.

The training was a true glimpse into another world of possibility, an extraordinary experience with inspiring, beautiful, thoughtful people. It was truth, and courage, and incredible joy. I am part of the fire tribe now. I belong.

Firewalking is not something you just rock up and do. It takes enormous preparation and commitment to the moment. We walked at 9pm, but we started the process at 3pm. It was a room charged with emotion, not least because it was filled with 24 women who had all experienced crippling post-natal depression, anxiety, psychosis and OCD.

We were raising money for Shine, a charity which supports women through creativity, peer support and a solid network of friendship and solidarity. To say they needed this firewalk, would be an understatement. All of us have had moments of black despair from which we never thought we would recover, but all of us have stood up, got up and kept going. We were phoenixes in every sense of the word. We just didn’t know it yet.

But, it turns out, Chris needed this firewalk too. With inspiring honesty, he explained that this was his first firewalk since COVID hit, and his sense of trepidation was clear. He’d also never spoken to an entirely female group before. He was a father, but he wasn’t a mother, and he had no experience of PND. Could he do this, he asked us? And of course, it was this moment of candour that meant he could. His willingness to be vulnerable, gave us all permission to do the same.

As he slowly, but lovingly, broke us down and then built us up, we started to connect with the things that were holding us back, facing truths, acknowledging pain. We cried, a lot. But we also laughed, danced, hugged. We found solutions to dealing with the bitter voice inside that tries to bring us down, and we discovered that our collective power could help others do things they were afraid of. We wrote the worst things we think about ourselves on pieces of broken glass, and then walked across that glass in bare feet. The cracking sound underfoot making us tremble.

Later, when we sat in a circle for what was meant to be a brief session of sharing, we saw the effect that Chris’s vulnerability had given us all. Every single woman, even those terrified of speaking in public, took the microphone to share their stories. As if a tap had been turned on after years of being rusted shut, pain and grief poured forth from us all. No-one held back, everyone exposed their shattered, fragile hearts to the group around them, and found those hearts carefully picked up and returned to them with love and total acceptance.

The sharing session ran for over an hour. We were clearly so late for our firewalk.  But Chris – who later said he was both silenced and humbled by the incredible courage of these 24 women – held that space for us in a beautiful way.

As then, as we dried our eyes, and reached out to our friends for comfort, we took off our shoes, felt our feet on the floor, and stood together – a tribe now, after all we had shared and overcome – and prepared to walk on fire.

In these last moments, there is such a powerful transformation, such an incredible moment of reaching inside to find your warrior, of roaring like a banshee into the night. Outside the hall, our families were gathered, listening to our warrior cries, a thought that only made us shout all the louder.

And it was here that we faced our fears. It was here that I truly understood what firewalking can do. There’s no clever magic, no technique for walking, no voodoo science. It is about finding your way through the fear of what’s ahead, and stepping forward with intention. Feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

“You will still face crises in your life,” explained Chris. “And the fire is like a mini life crisis. Your fear of it will show up in your body like a crisis. And then we will take that fear, that feeling, and we will deal with it. We will walk on the fire anyway. We will show our bodies and minds that there is another way to face adversity.”

And, if there is a big ‘secret’ to walking on fire, it’s this. There is no secret. The truth is, if you walk quickly enough, with intention and focus, if you don’t wobble, you won’t get burnt. If you focus on that warm, generous face on the other side of the coals, if you just step forward, and keep going, you can walk on hot coals and come away completely unscathed. If you feel that fear, and do it anyway, you realise that the worst thing of it all, was the fear, not the walk. Because truly, the biggest thing to fear in life, is fear itself.

A fire burning in the ground.

And so, we walked. Some of us cried, and stared at the heavens. Some of needed the collective swell of love that we all felt from our firetribe girls. Everyone reached deeper inside themselves than they had ever gone before. “I’m a fighter,” shouted Claire. “Yes, you are,” said Chris, when she reached the other side.

“Rainbow warrior,” called Charlie into the night, evoking the memory of someone lost but deeply loved. “Self-belief mother fucking warrior,” shouted Shona, fist pumping the air, who has already walked on fire once, but found herself overcome with emotion as she stared the coals down again.

“Wonder Trace,” called Tracey, her voice cracking with emotion as she stepped forward, breaking down in Chris’s arms as she faced her own power.

“Lionness mother,” called out Becs, as she walked with such grace into a bolder future. “I will survive,” said Zoe, courage and vulnerability all over her face as she walked.

“Valkyrie,” screamed Rebecca, her name drawing a roar from all the girls, as she stepped forward into the embers, single-minded, powerful.

And we were all Valkyries. Phoenixes from the flames. Firewalking warriors. Goddesses.

We stood together, and we walked together. A sisterhood born out of pain, and fused together by courage.

This is the power of firewalking. Yes, we walked across fire. Yes, we faced our fears. Yes, we can do the impossible. And we are stronger together. No longer will we suffer in silence. No longer will we hide behind our masks. We matter. Our feelings matter. Our pain matters. And our strength will set us, and others, free.

We have seen the truth and power in vulnerability, we have seen each other’s hearts. And we are warriors.

“She’s got both feet on the ground, and she’s burning it down…she’s got her head in the clouds, and she’s not backing down. This girl is on fire, she’s walking on fire. She looks like a girl, but she’s a flame, so bright she can burn your eyes. You can try but you’ll never forget her name, she’s on top of the world, and she’s walking on fire.”
Alicia Keys

Support Shine here…

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