Let’s be clear here: I did NOT go seeking an opportunity to walk barefoot across twelve feet of red hot coals. Just sayin’.
But when Marnie offered, it was too enticing to pass up.
It was one of those moments I have in my life, when a suggestion is made, and I know it’s as good as done.
This experience will be happening.
This was how I came to have children.
How I came to learn to fly.
How I came to build the sheepwagon.
It seems to be how my life happens, at least for the really big things:
The idea arrives fully formed and I live into it.
For the firewalk, nine of us gathered up Sleeping Child Creek. We watched my husband Wil, artisan of fire that he is, craft a tower of nicely seasoned and split fir, and torch it off. After dark, when the fire had burned down and been evenly spread to a circle of pulsating coals, we gathered around.
Marnie’s Instructions were simple.
Stand, be present.
Look across the circle, to the other side.
Imagine what you most want in your life, and put it over there.
Now imagine whatever is between you and what you want laid out here, in this bed of coals.
Ask yourself, Am I ready to walk over there?
OK, Scout. Feel into the space. Lean into that question:
“Can I do this? Is it time?”
This is obviously not a rhetorical question.
This is no time for pretense.
What is my real answer?
Feel for it again, feel for for the answer. Perhaps it is “no” again.
NO. Not yet.
Watching myself now,
Starting to feeling impatient. Feeling embarrassed.
Trying to say yes, wanting to say yes,
Not wanting to say no.
But my whole being knows how disastrous it could be to “fake it”, to move in doubt.
Wait for it.
This is mine to choose. I can say no.
Can I say yes?
Maybe. Maybe I can. In a minute.
Maybe not, tonight. That’s fine. Can that be fine?
Maybe tonight’s not my night.
Disappointment begins to well up.
When my yes came for me, it was a pulse that seemed to come from the earth itself, up through my feet, up my legs through my torso filling my heart and out my arms. It’s not clear to me whether it ever really got to my head. It was so strong in my solar plexus, heart and lungs that the decision seemed to be made right there, and then the pulse receded back into the earth, like an ocean wave retreating, taking any and all doubt with it.
That’s when I walked. On the power of that yes.
I walked across the coals without a burn. Slowly, and more than once.
The next morning, over breakfast with Wil, it occurred to me that I had learned something very cool about my flying. I recognized a firewalk moment that happens, every time, out there on the runway.
Wendy, my flight instructor had set up a gap for me, to get my attention.
I had a tendency to bounce my little taildragger on landings, hitting the main gear with the tailwheel still riding too high in the air, rather than settling down in a nice three point landing. To correct this, Wendy had taught me to completely stop before takeoff and absorb the feeling into my body of the angle of the nose when all three wheels are flat on the ground.
Remember. When my nose looks like this, this is what my tail is doing.
It had turned into a treasured moment.
It made the decision to go such a magnificent act of… of what?
I can feel the wave of joy inside me. Not excitement, not adrenaline – but a challenging desire, met. I had listened, and opened to my animal awareness, and all the animals inside were with me. We could be wholehearted, of a single mind, and fly. This will happen. it’ll be fine. And yes, so much more than fine.
Last month I got one more lesson about this animal awareness of mine.
I entered an engineering challenge offered by Mark Rober, a smart fun guy. Former Nasa and Google engineer, currently living a life of building fun, whacky engineered projects that he posts to 16.6 million followers on YouTube. You may have seen his glitter bomb, his automatic bullseye dart board, and my personal favorite, his Squirrel Ninja Obstacle Course.
During Covid, Mark had decided to put out bird feeders. It turned out he got far more interested in watching the squirrels tearing into the feeders, overcoming any contraption he could devise to outsmart them. He got pretty crafty but the squirrels always won.
Eventually, he threw in with the victors, and built an elaborate obstacle course the squirrels would have to navigate to get to their reward – a huge pile of walnuts. There were eight steps to the course – tightropes, flying leaps, a photo gallery, but the one that caught my attention was the squirrel-a-pult. This was a platform which, if a squirrel sat more than five seconds, it would get catapulted into a net ten feet away.
For me, Mark’s explanation of why the squirrel was safe was the nugget. He explained that squirrels actually are a lot like cats, in their ability to land on their feet. The way this works is the squirrel locks its eyes on its target – the place it intends to land. Using this as its directional beam, it uses its arms like a figure skater to fly in such a way that it hits the target.
I was floored by the math this represents. The phenomenal number of geometric computations that go into the split second decisions. First, it figures trajectory and speed, rules out any target that can’t be reached, and chooses the optimal spot. Then it locks in, and goes to work with its body. And its tail. All in.
And I got it. That level of calculation is available to me.
It LIVES INSIDE ME.
It’s built into my animal body, way beyond the conscious capacity of my thinking.
And when I tap into that capacity, that is when there is no doubt, no second guessing.
It’s my body itself saying, Yep. Got it. Let’s go.
This is what’s happening in those big moments of YES that arrive, and I live into. My BODY, My animal body, is saying yes.
And I thought – YES. THIS is what I want. ThIS is how I want to live. Feeling ALL IN. Able to fly through the air, trusting my body and enjoying the ride, full-on knowing I’m up to the challenge.
But then I thought…is that what I want? Is it always about being ready to be catapulted, or flying? Don’t I want other things too?
Well, yes. I do. I want that full body yes to the whole gamut of life, not just the wild epic adventures. I want the full body yes to letting it be easy and nice. I want it all. Challenged, and meeting the challenge. Wandering, restful and relaxed. Attuned, listening for what’s coming, feeling my yeses and no’s and responding.
Now I have a better feeling for how it works.
That’s when I heard the noise in the background. I turned to look and there were all the animals who live inside me, there with me. The squirrels were dancing and high fiving. Emily, my ringtailed cat, was off to the side smiling broadly.
Everyone was excited and relieved. She’s getting it!!!
Yes. I’m starting to get it. Feeling it.
My body knows how to do this. My mind is learning its part.
They are learning to work together.
My all in turns out to be something I didn’t expect:
it is deeply, profoundly peaceful.
Completion is a complex idea.
It feels wonderful to complete a task.
It feels wonderful to have accomplished a goal, done the firewalk, learned to fly, told this story.
And especially, for me, to deepen with a lifelong question.
This has filled in a piece in me, about trusting myself. About what it means to know and trust my animal self, which makes me more trustworthy. I can feel my animal self beginning to be able to trust my human, thinking side.
I’m sure there will be ripples from this understanding, large and small, for the remainder of my days.
Those ripples will lap into the future, bringing new tasks, projects, adventures.
They reach back into the past, bringing perspective, peace and forgiveness.
They circle around, becoming the platform from which the next understanding grows.
So my life continues, increasing in richness no matter how catapulted I feel.
Yes or no, it’s OK. I’m OK. I know myself better.
Each time it gets easier.
Can I do this?
Can I know myself this well, love myself and my world this much, be this wide open?
The animal in me whispers, Yes. We’ve got this. Together.