Get action. Do things; be sane, don’t fritter away your time . . .
take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action.
—THEODORE ROOSEVELT, twenty-sixth president of the United States

In 1973, on an eighty-nine-day cruise around the world, I met a very special person. He was Bruce (Tolly) Burkan, the ship’s magician. I had been hired to design and direct theatrical productions on the cruise ship.

When the ship docked in India, Bruce rushed off to spend time with a guru by the name of Si Baba. Upon his return, he told me stories of miracles. He read passages to me from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. He introduced me to a life-enhancing work entitled A Course in Miracles. I thought he was pretty strange, but after the cruise, we kept in touch.

Years later I learned that Bruce had become a celebrity in Sweden teaching fire walking. He sent me photos. One showed Bruce apparently walking across flaming cinders, and another was a picture of him leading someone else across the hot coals. I was skeptical. What was the trick?

Six months later he returned to his home in a remote part of upstate California. (Where else would someone live who taught fire walking?) He phoned me in New Jersey and informed me that he was going to be presenting the first fire-walking workshop ever given in the United States. There would be about forty participants, and I was welcome to join the group. He assured me the experience would be of great value in all aspects of my life.

What made me even more uncomfortable than the thought of walking on fire was the language he was using—vision, empowerment, personal power, breakthrough, and creating reality. I wasn’t familiar with the terminology and the mere thought of revealing my innermost self in public made me feel not only uncomfortable but threatened.

I told Bruce that I was giving a lecture that day. Years later he told me that he knew I was lying; he could hear the fear in my voice. Nevertheless, he wouldn’t take no for an answer, so reluctantly I agreed to go.

The workshop was to take place at some ‘‘touchy-feely’’ nature retreat, yet another reason I didn’t want to go. I tried to get a friend to go with me, but he didn’t take the bait. So off I went. Alone.

I deliberately tried to be late, but I didn’t quite succeed. I arrived at the retreat in plenty of time and was directed to a small cabin in the woods.

I was greeted by an unexpected cast of characters. There were six people from the military in full uniform; eleven senior managers, including two CEOs from Fortune 500 companies; several scientists; and a couple of educators and doctors. The group consisted of thirty-six men and four women. Everyone was dressed very formally except me.

The cabin had a dirt floor. There was a flip chart and forty sawed-off tree stumps that served as stools to sit on. Thirty-nine stumps were occupied. I sat on the fortieth.

Bruce entered the room. He had shaved his head bald and was wearing what appeared to be a dress. I silently prayed he would not say hello to me.

Gazing at the group with love and self-confidence, he said, ‘‘I know what you’re all thinking.’’

I still seriously doubt if he could ever have imagined what we were thinking at that moment. ‘‘This workshop is not just about walking on fire,’’ he went on.

‘‘This experience is to be a metaphor for your life. You will discover how your thoughts influence your actions and how, in turn, those actions affect other people. You will learn how to pay attention, create a vision for breakthrough thinking, and turn fear into power.’’

For years I had worked as a clinical hypnotist and dealt with people on a deeply therapeutic level. I had developed and facilitated several workshops on self-esteem and personal growth. I knew then and I am certain now that what primarily keeps people from going to their next highest level is fear. What intrigued me was Bruce’s concept of turning fear into power.

For almost three hours we were lectured to and shown demonstrations about the power of the mind. Then abruptly Bruce announced that we were going outside to build a fire.

There was a sudden shift in attitude. The makings of a team began to take shape. He guided us as a group to a woodshed, where each of us picked up a bundle of wood and deposited it where we were directed. Bruce splashed the pile of wood with something flammable and threw in a match.

Whoosh! The pile of wood exploded into flame.

Wow, I thought. That’s real. I knew at that moment that, like me, everyone was confronted by reality.

We went back into the cabin and, for the next hour or so, while the fire burned, we played some more mind games. First we were told we could walk across hot coals, then we were presented with pictures of failure. Then we were reunited with the positive.

After a while Bruce told us to prepare ourselves. ‘‘I want you all to remove your shoes and socks,’’ he instructed. ‘‘Gentlemen should roll up their pants legs. If your clothes come within a foot and a half or less of the fire, they will burst into flame.’’ He glanced at us. ‘‘We don’t want that, do we?’’

At that moment everyone in the room regressed. We became scared, excited children. He led us, barefoot, out to the fire and told us to stand in a circle. Standing in the center of the clearing with a rake, Bruce requested we all hold hands.

That was my first truly uncomfortable moment. Holding hands with a group of strangers is not my idea of fun, and it was even less fun for some other people in the group.

Bruce looked around the circle and said, ‘‘Now we are going to chant.’’

Holding hands is uncomfortable enough, but chanting really makes me feel foolish.

‘‘And here’s the chant we’re going to do,’’ he continued. ‘‘ ‘Open up your mind. See what you find. Bring it on home to your people.’ ’’

Picture, if you will, forty resistant adults, holding hands while standing barefoot around a fire and reluctantly mumbling, ‘‘Open up your mind. See what you find. Bring it on home to your people.’’

Eventually we got into the spirit, partly because the chant had a rhythm to it, but mainly because it went on for nearly an hour.

Bruce picked up the rake and moved toward the fire. It was so hot he had to reach out, using the rake as an extension of his arm, to avoid the intense heat. He knocked off one partially burning log and then another. As he was raking, we were chanting; and I was making my first mistake: I was observing. Instead of being totally absorbed in the process, I was being a spectator, judging and letting my thoughts overwhelm me.

Within minutes I noticed that a significant number of our group had taken a little mind-vacation. Their eyeballs rolled back and they were chanting away. ‘‘Open up your mind. See what you find. . . .’’ And so forth.

Bruce finished raking out a bed of coals that seemed to go on forever but was, in reality, approximately twenty feet long and two feet wide. Putting down his rake, he clapped his hands and pulled us back to attention. ‘‘I’m going to walk first,’’ he declared. ‘‘When the spirit moves you, you can walk.’’ He raised his arms. ‘‘Now chant.’’ And chant we did.

What followed was the most powerful sight I have ever seen. Bruce stepped to the edge of the hot coals, calmly focused his attention somewhere in the distance, lifted up his caftan, and walked, slowly and deliberately, across the burning coals. He stepped off, crossed his arms, and waited.

No one moved. No spirits were moving anyone to walk on that fire.

My mind was racing a mile a minute. I knew I had to walk because I had told everyone I knew that I was going to walk on fire. So the question was not ‘‘if,’’ but ‘‘when?’’

I determined to wait until fifteen people had walked. If they made it without screaming and running off into the woods, I would do it. Waiting for twenty to walk would make me a bit of a wimp, but fifteen made sense. I could still tell everyone I was one of the first.

No one moved. I was suddenly re-experiencing past events of my life when I didn’t have the courage to act. I made a decision: This would be my personal breakthrough. I would walk . . . third.

I waited. Still no one moved. Time crept by and I suddenly did something incredibly spontaneous. Some may even call it stupid. A little voice in my head screamed, ‘‘GO FOR IT!’’ I jumped out of the circle and stopped in front of the pathway of hot coals.

Let me tell you the difference between fear and terror. You can still function with fear; terror paralyzes you. As I stared at the red-hot coals, one thought kept repeating over and over: ‘‘I’m going to burn myself.

I’m going to burn myself.’’ Then my attention shifted to the trees. I realized I had been holding my breath. That’s what terror does. I started talking to myself: ‘‘Okay, Mapes, get yourself together. Breathe. You teach this to people. Use your stuff.’’

I looked at the coals again. I’m going to burn myself. Then I tried to employ what can be the greatest joke of the human mind . . . positive thinking.

I’ll tell you a secret. Positive thinking does not work for negative thinkers. It only makes them feel guilty. Positive thinking works for positive thinkers. Try telling a negative thinker to look at the water glass as half full instead of half empty, or to make lemonade out of lemons. Try telling that to a negative, fear-abed thinker who has just lost his or her job after thirty years or has just had some personal tragedy, and you may just get a black eye.

Standing there, I remembered something Bruce had drilled in to us throughout the workshop. ‘‘See yourself already across the fire. See yourself already where you want to be.’’ Very simple. At that moment I was able to see myself across the coals and on the other side. I launched forth.

I remember only the first two steps, and admittedly they were warm. Suddenly I was on cool grass. I had done it. I had walked on fire.

I felt a powerful emotion welling up within me and I burst into tears. It was the release of all that tension. That twenty-foot walk was an incredible experience for me. Not just because it was possible, but because I had really believed it was impossible.

This experience changed my definition of ‘‘impossible’’ forever. My ability to walk on hot coals implanted a mechanism deep in my subconscious, a mechanism that, from time to time when needed, reminds me to challenge my assumptions.


IMAGINE THAT! Igniting Your Brain for Creativity and Peak Performance is the first web-supported book with access to 21 video-coaching clips. Please go to the home page , read the description and you will find the direct link to Amazon.

“I just wanted to take a moment and tell you that I have finished reading the most brilliant book. From the time I received it in the mail until a few moments ago in reading the last words - "IMAGINE THAT!" is genius!” – Shard Drury, THE 360 Career Coach

Author's Bio: 


An extraordinary keynote speaker for the uncertainty of 2017, James Mapes defies categorization. When philanthropist/Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen quizzed Mapes as to how one person could do so much during his life, James’ answer was simple: “Because no one told me I couldn’t.”

A true Renaissance man, James is considered the world’s foremost authority on applied imagination, having studied human behavior for more than 30 years. Since childhood, James wanted to make the impossible into the possible. This has led to a life-long fascination with the subconscious and the power of the imagination.

Speaker, coach, best-selling author, clinical hypnotist and award-winning performer, Mapes is recognized for his ability to inspire, motivate, educate and guide others to develop and enhance the unlimited potential of their creative imagination and incalculable powers of the mind. His programs address creativity, motivation, leadership, change, wellness and peak performance.

As creator of Quantum Leap Thinking™ and the Transformational Coach™, James Mapes is one of the most sought-after international speakers in the corporate industry today. He has worked with hundreds of public and private companies in more than 70 countries.
His clients include financial institutions, software companies, the military, the healthcare industry, major non-profit organizations, along with training & development divisions of large corporations. Companies, associations, universities and business schools including - IBM Corporate, U.S. Coast Guard, Lockheed Martin, The Pentagon and The Princeton Center for Leadership Training - have quoted Mapes in training manuals and textbooks.
In addition, Mapes has ignited audiences with his critically acclaimed hypnosis show, Journey Into the Imagination. More than two million people have marveled at this unique presentation at Performing Arts Centers and universities, plus Manhattan’s Town Hall and Lincoln Center - winning praise from the media, including the New York Times, Variety and the New York Daily News. He is branded as “The Imaginologist.”

His engaging, enlightening new book, IMAGINE THAT! Igniting Your Brain for Creativity and Peak Performance is the first web-enhanced volume of its kind. A provocative adventure of the mind, IMAGINE THAT! is a cutting-edge roadmap showing readers how to lead an exceptional life by learning to apply their imagination for productivity.

Mapes delves into hot-button topics like reframing thinking patterns, shattering limiting myths, self-hypnosis, transforming fear into love and forgiveness. The beauty of this ground-breaking book is not only the relevant information but also how it rides the wave of technology by giving the reader access to 21 short video clips of James Mapes’ demonstrations and coaching.

His previous book, Quantum Leap Thinking: An Owners’ Guide to the Mind has been published in ten languages.

James is a weekly contributor to The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. O) 203-261-1200