Did you hear about the people who got burned walking across hot coals? And they paid more than $2,500 for the privilege. D’oh!
It happened last week in California, at a four-day Tony Robbins seminar called “Unleash the Power Within.” Mr. Robbins, born Jay Mahavorick, looks eerily like Lurch from “The Addams Family” and talks like he gargles razor blades. He may, in person, be a lovely man. But he spits when he speaks and is SO big, and SO toothy, and SO manic, he scares my dog. The only thing he motivates me to do is change the channel on his infomercials.
After a day of screaming, fist pumping and falling backwards into the arms of strangers, participants at “Unleash” seminars walk barefoot over hot coals at the end of the first evening. Last week, 6,000 folks lined up to trudge across 12 lanes of coals measuring 10 feet long and heated to between 1,200 to 2,000 degrees. (Water boils at 212 degrees, in case you were wondering.)
The point of the exercise is that our minds are capable of amazing feats. We can even convince ourselves—with Tony’s guidance, of course—that smoking hot coals feel like cool moss on our feet. (That’s the mantra he provides: “I’m walking on cool moss. This is cool moss. Cool…. Aieeeeeee!!!”)
Confession: I’ve been fooled by a smooth talker before. When I was three, my brother T-Bob put a drop of iodine in a glass of water, stirred it briskly and told me it was Tang. I took just one sip before he was stricken with remorse. He knocked the glass out of my hand. It broke, I screamed and Mother came running. T-Bob quickly confessed and received the beating of his life, which caused me unholy glee.
I learned a valuable lesson that day: Iodine actually tastes better than Tang. No, I learned to be suspicious of any drink I haven’t seen prepared with my own eyes, which makes me a drag at parties and restaurants.
Back to the firewalk. There are some things in life we just know better than to do: Blow-dry your hair in a bubble bath. Wave a red flag at a bull. Hop into the tigers’ cage at the zoo. Play golf in a tinfoil suit during a thunderstorm. One would think “walking barefoot over smoldering coals” would be high on that list, but no. Some
suckers participants learned this the hard way.
The throng walked from the San Jose Convention Center to a park for the “Firewalk Experience." At 11:30 p.m., the experience began. Shortly afterwards, so did the screams.
Twenty-one people must not have drunk the Tony Robbins Kool-aid, because they suffered second- and third-degree burns. Three were transported to hospitals.
Some people reported hearing “wails and shrieks of pain” as, one by one, firewalkers lost their focus/mantra/gullibility and were burned.
To be fair, Robbins had permits for the event and the San Jose Fire Department was on hand. Which was a darn good thing, because paramedics had to treat some nasty burns.
In a masterpiece of understatement, the fire chief commented: “We do not encourage people to walk on hot coals.”
P.T. Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” and social behaviorists say everybody falls for something, whether it’s firewalking or magic fat-melting pills.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, and some people think that’s stupid. It may be--but the last time I checked, my feet weren’t on fire.
Julie R. Smith, whose callused hooves probably wouldn’t feel boiling broken glass, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.