Last week, several major news programs reported on the injuries sustained by 21 people who had attended an event called “Unleash the Power Within”, hosted by motivational speaker Tony Robbins in San Francisco. The individuals suffered burns while walking across coals that had been heated to between 1,200 to 2,000 degrees for approximately 10 feet. Three of the injured people required treatment at hospitals.
So, be honest … some of you are thinking “What idiots! Everyone knows, unless you’re a Guru from the Himalayas, if you walk on hot coals, you’re going to get burned!” (Duh!) But having recently attended the “Unleash the Power Within” program myself, it is not difficult to understand what happened …
Last March, I had the opportunity to attend the 4 day event in NJ. While I was familiar with Tony Robbins (more so from his ability to hypnotize Jack Black in the movie “Shallow Hal” than from having heard him speak personally), I would not have thought of spending a couple of thousand dollars to watch a motivational speaker in a room packed with 5,000 other people. But, as it turns out, my sister invited me and so I went with no other expectation other than having a bonding experience with her.
And so we arrived at the convention hall which was literally packed with bodies from every walk of life … entrepreneurs, recovering addicts, VPs, teens, people in their 70’s, and just about every ethnicity from across the globe. People were chanting, shouting, dancing … and if you weren’t, your neighbors made sure you were. It was not “acceptable” to attend as a spectator. It also became apparent early on that we were surrounded by Tony Robbins “groupies” … people who attended several other programs with him and came back for more. The energy level was so intense, it was almost frightful.
The next several hours were spent going through a variety of exercises designed to keep you focused and to teach you to deal with your fears … to know that you can overcome anything … with the climactic experience occurring post mid-night. After sitting, standing, jumping on and off plastic folding chairs for over 12 hours, with no official bio or meal breaks, you would then leave the arena and enter the parking lot, where coals had been set to burn, and where you would officially join the breed of “Fire Walkers” . (That was the mantra towards the end of the night … “you will now be part of a unique group … the Fire Walkers” … Ooh! Aah!)
What was amazing to see was how one man could stand on stage for all those hours (again, keeping in mind the no meal or bio break!), and radiate this perception of complete invincibility, compelling 5,000 individuals that they could do anything, including walking on fire. While I know it sounds a bit dramatic, I became lost in thought for a moment … I visualized Hitler standing at a podium convincing millions of people that the Aryan race was supreme, and Jim Jones stationed in the temple pavilion persuading almost a thousand people to take poison, committing “revolutionary suicide” in protest of an inhuman world.
I was snapped out of my delusions when my neighbor turned to me and said, “So, aren’t you psyched about the Fire Walk?” Psyched? Not really the first word that came to my mind! The hot coals were definitely not part of the anticipated bonding experience. I explained that I had not yet decided. Wow! I might as well have had 3 heads growing from my neck and been speaking a mix of Russian and Chinese. It was apparent that it was incomprehensible that I would contemplate not participating. What was even more amazing (frightening?) was that I actually began to question myself … if 5,000 other people are ready to walk on coals because Tony Robbins says they can, then what’s my problem? Maybe I’m not getting the point of the program … I’m supposed to be “dancing with my fears”, going along with them and not letting them control me. Isn’t that the kool-aid we’ve been drinking all day? What’s wrong with me? Maybe my sense of thinking is warped … and on, and on, and on …
But my “out” (or my reality check, as I prefer to think of it) came at the last possible moment. As everyone was getting ready to disrobe their feet and roll up their pants, Tony shared a story signifying the importance of staying “in focus” even after crossing the coals. He indicated that in a previous Fire Walk, a person who had prepared properly, and who had actually made it across the hot coals, was severely burned by a coal that had stuck to the bottom of their foot. At that point, “wimping out” was my decision. And as 4,998 people headed for the exit (my sister stayed with me), they shook their heads in “disapproval” of my lack of ability to deal with my fears (OK, so not all of them shook their heads, but it did feel like I was the “lone man” standing at that moment.)
After reading the news reports last week all I kept thinking was that wimping out was probably not such a bad idea, but I also understood why those people had tried to go through with the Fire Walk.
So what’s the point of all this? Don’t succumb to peer pressure … do what’s right for you … if it’s taking the risk of getting burned, then do it … if it’s wimping out … that’s fine too. But do it because it’s right for you and not because you feel like you “have to” (even if there are 5,000 people around you!).
And that’s my two cents (for whatever it’s worth).