Guru's Guide to Firewalking and Forgiving
Inquirer Staff Writer
Tolly Burkan was in town the other day. He dropped by the newspaper, placed an arrow between his neck
and the wall, and, with the point nestled against his throat, pressed and... snapped it.
arrow, not his neck.
he opened a suitcase and dumped 50 pounds of broken glass on the floor. He shed his shoes and socks and, though
he professes to have tender feet, strolled across this minefield of certain laceration.
Because of the fire code,
it was not possible to toast
some briquettes and witness Burkan's main shtick - firewalking. He's been doing it since
and calls himself "the father of the Global Firewalking Movement."
than two million people on
continents have attended firewalking classes
led by Burkan or his instructors. He has taught firewalking to corporate executives and
celebrities such as Geraldo Rivera, Anthony Robbins and Phil Donahue.
Burkan (pronounced Bur-KAN) was once a professional clown and magician, but firewalking is not a circus
stunt or magic trick. It's a spectacular tool for delivering his message: If you believe it, you can achieve
spells it out in his book,
Extreme Spirituality: Radical Approaches
It's a compendium of scary exercises designed
to convince you that what you regard as reality is, literally, all in your head.
"Challenging situations can be experienced in one
of two ways, either with stress or without stress,"
Burkan writes. "By assuming a spiritual perspective, any situation can be enjoyed in some fashion or
provide insight for spiritual growth."
to reach nirvana?
Stick a quilting needle through your hand. Savor the aroma of dog poop. Break a board or brick with your
fist. Jump out of an airplane.
self-help with a Mountain Dew twist.
But that's just the hip packaging. Some of the other spiritual practices are more conventional
(fasting, shaving your head, etc.), and it builds to the most difficult and terrifying spiritual exercise of all
- forgiving your enemies.
"What's really extreme is loving your neighbors,"
His book is timely because we live
an age when negative thinking is rampant,
he contends. Low self-confidence has bred low expectations.
Burkan writes: "Extreme spirituality is any experience you can use to demonstrate to
how your ego masks, limits, distorts or in any way diminishes your knowledge of a greater
and keeps you from finding your own personal power."
the book is steeped in the gospel
self-realization. The foreword was
penned by New Age luminary Andrew Weil, the alternative-medicine guru. After frying his
twice while firewalking, Weil, on his third try, achieved an altered state and
He is now a convert.
Firewalking "encourages us to recognize that we take an active part in shaping our responses to
environmental stimuli, and that we need not be passive victims of them," Weil says.
Burkan, 53, is surprisingly linear, even a
tad intense. Lean and fit-looking, he has a firm handshake,
a warm smile, and alert eyes. He
naturally, in the altered state of
Twice divorced, he inhabits a small cabin by
a stream in a canyon near Yosemite.
daughter, Amber, 17,
is totally empowered. She began firewalking at age 4;
by age 7, she was bending steel rebar with her neck.
Burkan's real first name is Bruce.
grew up in Parsippany, N.J.,
dropped out of Montclair State so he could see the world as a magician on cruise
He calls himself "a Buddhist Jew for Jesus." About Jesus, he says:
"He's a role model. I believe that positive thinking and love are the solutions to every
has made pilgrimages to
India and Jerusalem.
has lived in a trailer and a tepee
without electricity. In his early 20s, he twice tried to kill himself.
"Who I am today is not the same person,"
"We have an incredible capacity to change."
extreme spiritual practices he promotes are deliberate attention-getters, Burkan admits. When people watch
firewalking, it makes an indelible impression; when they try it, they never forget.
all the one-shot personal-growth programs we've done over the past 27 years, Tolly's is the most effective,"
says Stuart Bigley, executive director of the Unison Arts & Learning Center. "It's one of the few you can do
in one night that will really change your life."
Bigley, who has firewalked nearly a dozen times,
calls it "a psychic spring cleaning" -
"a great renewal that puts a lot of things in perspective."
Firewalking is a metaphor for facing our fears, Burkan
Walking on glass teaches us to be
patient and attentive so we can negotiate life's path, which is sometimes
Burkan should know.
1975, he was hit by a car while crossing a street in Manhattan.
Thrown 25 feet, he landed on his head
and crushed his cervical spine.
The left side of his body was temporarily paralyzed; for decades, he was in unbearable pain.
After several unsuccessful bone transplants, he still has a broken neck.
wears a brace most of the time. But it doesn't keep him from smiling - or firewalking for
peace and global harmony.
can't compromise happiness because you're in pain," Burkan says. "It's not what happens
you but what you do about it. I'm trying to practice the message I
Don't be a victim. Take responsibility for the life you want."