A guest blog on her solo firewalking adventure by Jacquelyn McInally
When people opt for an aisle seat on a plane, it’s usually because they want additional legroom, but not me. I have to sit there for completely different reasons. The added sense of responsibility is nice, but to be honest, I don’t really trust any of my fellow flyers to open said exit, in case of emergency. What if they haven’t read the leaflet? What if they have a bad arm? What if they are just a complete idiot!?!
This type of thinking doesn’t just apply to airplanes. My natural thought processes seem to constantly take me to the worst possible outcome, generally within 3 or 4 associations, which most people would deem fairly ridiculous. So around 10 months ago, when I was diagnosed with large fibroids, my world started getting a lot smaller. Living in London, away from my family, I began to feel isolated, then scared, then more scared, then terrified, then powerless, then useless, then worthless.
This problem that I had, has slowly but surely drawn a veil of terror over every single aspect of my life. I have used everything that I possibly can to try to gloss over the fact I need to have surgery. New diets, exercise programs, detox, work, mentoring, alcohol, sleep and eventually when that didn’t work, I withdrew. I stayed in bed for 5 days and stared at the wall in my bedroom, avoiding answering the phone to friends and loved ones and wishing myself into oblivion.
Thankfully my parents are a bit smarter about the whole thing and after too many apathetic and despondent telephone conversations, I was swiftly recalled to Glasgow; “You are coming home tomorrow, your flight is booked, end of conversation” was pretty much how it went. I know I need to get the operation, the laparoscopic myomectomy, but the problem with that is, I need to recover for anything up to 2 months afterwards. Cue panic. I can’t take that much time off work, I am too overweight to convalesce for 2 months, risk of hysterectomy, killing my opportunity to progress in my career, I’ll put on 5 stone, I’ll never have children, they’ll replace me at work, I’ll get diabetes, I’ll be menopausal at 31, I will never professionally amount to anything, they’ll have to amputate my feet!
So in my head, I went from having a procedure that thousands of women successfully have every single day and probably being fine, to this procedure leading to me dying alone in a council flat at 25 stone with stumps for feet!
Yup okay, so now I am CRAZY too. Thankfully I know just the person to get my train back on the tracks.
Part of my distraction technique was to get involved in a mentoring programme with Govan High School in Glasgow in conjunction with The Daily Telegraph and Google and, as I advised and spoke with my mentoring students, and spoke to them about overcoming fear and tackling problems head on – and being brave enough to chase solutions when everyone was against them, I realised that not only am I off my proverbial rocker – but I am also a massive hypocrite.
How could I stand there saying this stuff when not only was I not doing any of it but I had given up, lost my resolve and thinking what the hell is the point of anything. As I was speaking to Lesley about the mentoring, the wall came down and the realisation that I needed to start helping myself before I could be any use to any one else, but I couldn’t do on my own, and I didn’t want to be a burden on anyone else or a source of worry or stress. As select all and delete wasn’t an option, I began to talk to Lesley, and that is when she came up with a proposition. A solo firewalk.
Now this might sound odd, but when people say I’d walk over hot coals for you, I think and what? I would walk over hot coals for me, for you, for anyone. It’s the best thing you can do to stop believing things that seem undeniable. The idea that glass cuts and fire burns and laparoscopic myomectomies leave you overweight, alone and footless – are not correct.
Because its not about the glass, the fire or the procedure. It’s about the person making the journey and this time the journey was one I had to make alone, with a little help from my friend Lesley. I have walked fire and glass before with her, but only after a few weeks notice and along with a good number of other participants – so the proposition of doing it alone, was quite something.
Fire walking works by getting your energy up and steeling yourself and knowing and feeling that you can do anything, and in a group it’s scary but you rely on the other people to get you over it, in a very group-think-tribal approach. There can be primal screaming, dancing around a fire, howling at the moon, chanting, singing, clapping; it’s a myriad of energy and ecstasy taking part in a group firewalk – knowing that you trust and love the people around you, of which there are a few.
But this fire was different, it was a personal fire.
As we drove to the location in separate cars, there were so many thoughts going through my head, mainly; “this is excessive, a wee drive in the country is all I need to clear my head, I’ll tell Lesley she doesn’t need to do this for me”. As well as “wow, how lucky am I to know such an incredible person who would arrange a firewalk for me at such short notice, I don’t deserve this.”
Then we got there and suddenly I didn’t feel so crazy!
Having gathered the firewood, the newspapers (Daily Mail of course, not the Telegraph), the firelighters, the flasks of tea, notebooks, pens, herbs, buckets etc etc from Lesley’s house, we went to find the location for the fire.
Sometimes barriers are physical rather than mental, and that’s exactly what we came up against, a barbed wire fence. Now as a girly girl I was never enthused by the outdoors, like some of my peers have been. For me a barbed wire fence says STOP. With Lesley in toe, it means here we go and go we did, over the fence and down what felt like a cliff.
I was trembling with fear, the whole way, my negative thoughts almost paralysing me every step of the way. But we got to the area for the firewalk. It was different to what I was used to, there was no cabin, no preparatory glass walk, no even surfaces. As my head automatically started processing all of the things that were surely about to go wrong…. – tetanus from the barbed wire fence – broken ankle from the uneven terrain – concussion after slipping on the rocks – broken leg / back / neck from falling 50 feet down the hill – I started to realise how ridiculous these thoughts were. It’s me in my body on my pre-diabetic (still there) two feet and I actually might be able to do this. That was until we had to go back to the car for the supplies, but after the long clamber down the hill, crossing a river in twilight, staying upright most of the way, I started feeling a little lighter.
As we took a rest at our campsite to be, Lesley produced a notebook and asked me one of the most philosophised-over question in the world. “Why am I here?” I started breaking it down, and I started with “I” Who is that? Telegraph project manager? Glasgow Uni Graduate? The trouble maker who brought the uni into disrepute? The daughter? The lonely terrified child? Not good enough? A bad person who had brought this on myself? I had no idea. I am all and none of these. I am Jacquelyn Louise McInally and that terrified me – but why?
I moved on to “here”, in a forest? in the middle of nowhere? stuck in between Glasgow and London? stuck in my career? Unwell? Pre-eoperative? Stagnated in life and powerless to make decisions?
What have I gotten myself into? I slowly realised, with guidance from Lesley in the middle of the forest and pre-fire, that for years I was so focused on faking it ’til I make it, that at some point I had made it and didn’t realise I wasn’t a fake or a fraud. I was just me, trying and succeeding. Not necessarily at the perceived required pace, but at my own pace and I wasn’t doing too badly.
So where was all this negativity coming from?
With any problem, a plan to solve it is required, Lesley’s four point plan, that consists of knowing 4 specific pieces
. 1. Know where you are.
2. Know where you want to be.
3. Make a plan.
4. Stick to the plan.
So I set about making a plan which was remarkably simple. Arrange operation, have operation, go home to Glasgow after operation, get better, return to London to continue my career. This concludes the easy bit. The next bit is figuring out how to stick to the plan and identifying what in myself I needed to release to help myself to do that. It took a while and a bit of questioning, but eventually Lesley got me to realise that the thing I was lacking was the belief in myself and the need to start challenging the negative beliefs that I hold and swap them over for positive beliefs, but first I needed to raise my awareness of my beliefs within myself and stop continually seeking external approval and worrying about getting into trouble and looking stupid and letting people down.
I learned that I needed to lighten up. Stop thinking ‘Jacquelyn you are an asshole‘ and start saying ‘its okay JacJac, we messed up a little there and it’s going to be okay’. Easier said than done, but it was time to start programming my mind to start letting go of the big stuff and move on.
Suddenly I realised what I had to do, stop doubting myself, actually start enjoying what I am good at and start appreciating the fact that I am a strong capable woman and I am in charge of my own destiny!
Okay. Home time? No. Fire time.
As I worked with Lesley to place the logs and kindling and paper I thought of what I was trying to leave behind, and what I was trying to take forward. We lit the fire with two small fires, one created by Lesley to signify support and one by me to signify the start of my journey. As the fire started to burn down we talked and I calmed my mind, I made prayer ties that were to become the physical reminder of each sign of my journey. I prayed to the Great Spirit to give me strength and knowledge and to provide me with all of the teachings I could handle, and Lesley cleansed my chakras.
As I prepared to rake out the fire I knelt on the forest floor and spoke to the trees, I asked the birch saplings for their permission to remove them from the earth and sacrifice their growth for the sake of my own. I thanked them and gave an offering of tobacco in their place, knowing that that the appreciation and the offering would possibly allow their roots to thrive under the carbonated soil. I walked to the waterfall and washed my hands, with only a niggling concern that the natural spring was maybe run off from a field – momentarily allowing myself to start thinking of the possibilities of whether or not I would end up poisoned by effluent, by the end of night.
But I walked to that waterfall over the same terrain that had me shaking like a leaf only an hour or so earlier, with a calm confidence that made me feel like maybe everything was going to be okay.
I returned to the fire and prepared to walk over the coals. And I felt up for it. Lesley asked how I would get my energy up for the fire, and I didn’t have the answer – I doubted myself for a second and panicked just a little. I walked round to the other side of the fire and took at deep breath and crossed the fire.
Ouchy! I messed up. I failed. I wasn’t good enough. Only one foot went in, it felt bad, what was I doing? Only one foot went in and it didn’t feel very nice. As Lesley reassured me, I pulled myself back in and made my affirmation once again, I am Jacquelyn Louise McInally and that is OKAY!
No. “I AM JACQUELYN LOUSIE MCINALLY AND THAT IS FUCKING AWESOME!” I screamed into the darkness. And then it happened, I finally believed it. I stomped into the fire one foot after the other and the energy that flowed through me was something else.
This wasn’t group think, this wasn’t me faking it, this was me stomping over hot coals in an environment that was more suited to Bear Grylls than me! But I was there and holy shit was I owning it! I crossed the fire again and again from the other direction and I knew I had what it took to do anything I wanted.
The healing process has begun. Lesley reminded me to quiet my mind and let my subconscious take in the lessons that it had learned over the course of the evening and as we climbed back up that hill in silence, I felt like I had rediscovered what it felt like to be that strong capable woman I always suspected I might become.
As I looked at my right foot and saw the small and tingly fire kisses that my fire left behind, I realised that I has taken part in a journey that would set me up for the next few months, and that those fire kisses were the physical manifestation of my stresses and fears. They were insignificant and moreover they would heal, just like my surgical wounds will heal.
I drove through the night with a silent mind for the first time in 10 months, when I got home, I slept better and more calmly than I had in a very long time. I awoke the next day just wanting to put my Mum’s mind at rest so I told her what had happened and she was astounded at the change. As I ran about high on life for the next two days recounting the awesome experience of how I had gone from feeling awful and like a huge disappointment and failure, to feeling like I could achieve anything, I didn’t notice my resolve slipping. And before I knew it, I was sitting once again sobbing at my Mum’s kitchen table begging her not to send me back to London. But she’s way tougher than me, so I had no chance.
The minute I got on the plane I got my prayer ties out and looked at them and held them and started writing this from the notes I have been making all week. I realised that until I had written this down and relived the experience in my head and in my heart, I would lose the strength that I had found from my fire and maintain that in light of daily challenges was the hard part. As the plane landed I knew that I wasn’t leaving the airport until it was documented, as I can’t walk that fire everyday. I have much harder challenges to face but remembering the strength that I got from my good friend Lesley and my fire, I think I am going to be okay.
No. I know I am going to be fucking awesome!
Jacquelyn’s video account of the evening is on YouTube in 2 parts; My Solo Firewalk (1)
Part 2 ~ The Learning;