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 Firewalking improves mediation skills



judge Darrel Lewis
Note: Red-hot coals appear white in flash photos.

Some may say that retired Judge, and now mediator, Darrel Lewis, walks on water because of his ability to settle difficult cases. Judge Lewis has to deny that ability, but he can now say that he does walk on fire. He recently walked bare-footed on a 20-foot-long bed of 1,200 degree coals.

Since retiring from the Sacramento Superior Court eight years ago, Judge Lewis has resolved hundreds of legal disputes, and he continues to take courses to enhance his mediation skills and his understanding of human nature. He says that research has shown that a mediator’s experience in mediation and self-confidence are the most critical factors in a successful mediation. Recently, he decided that, if he could walk on fire, his confidence would be boosted even higher which would, in turn, result in an even greater success rate in his mediations.

In April 2007 he contacted Tolly Burkan, of Twain Hart, CA, who has taught firewalking for the past 37 years.Unfortunately, Burkan no longer teaches typical firewalking seminars to the general public. He does; however, teach three-day long seminars to select groups of people from all over the world, teaching them to be firewalking instructors. Judge Lewis decided if he was going to trust his safety to someone, he wanted the best in the world. Consequently, Judge Lewis is now a certified firewalking instructor. The Judge says one of the best things about the course was that his son, Jeff, took the course with him. 

The Judge says that walking barefoot on 1,200-degree coals does not involve any “trick” or “illusion.” The coals are actually that temperature, and will, in fact, severely burn one who is not mentally prepared and properly focused on the task. Lewis added that he walked on the coals multiple times each of the three nights of the course and that his experience differed each night depending upon his degree of concentration. The first night he was very focused and felt no heat whatsoever each of the six or seven times he walked on the coals. The second night, he was distracted just before he walked and it felt like walking on very hot sand, (later that night he discovered that he received a couple of minor blisters.) The sensation was the same each time he walked that night.

The third night he was again very focused except for the last two steps of the twenty-foot walk. He felt no warmth or discomfort for the majority of the twenty-foot walk on the third night, but he suddenly felt fairly intense heat on the last two steps. Each time he walked on the coals that third night the sensation was the same, i.e., no feeling of heat until the last two steps. Looking back on the experience, he concludes that he was probably prematurely relieved to reach the end of the walk and his concentration slipped a little. This variation from night to night confirmed his belief that the key to firewalking truly is state of mind because his degree of concentration was the only variable from one night to the next.

The total course involved hours of classroom lectures and exercises plus other “events” intended to overcome fears and anxieties or to simply teach you that you can do things that may seem impossible or dangerous if you simply focus on what you are doing and make up your mind that you are going to do it. These activities included: breaking boards and concrete blocks with his bare hand; walking bare footed on a bed of broken glass bottles; bending a 10-foot-long piece of steel rebar by having two people face each other, placing an end of the rebar at the base of their throats, then walking firmly toward each other until the bar bends into a “U” shape. Other exercises included rappelling into a 200-foot-deep cavern; breaking the shaft of a target arrow by placing the metal tip against his throat and the feathered end against a wall, and then stepping firmly toward the wall until the shaft of the arrow snapped. The final exercise involved pushing a 5-inch-long sewing needle through the web of skin between his thumb and first finger.


Judge Darrel Lewis' son, Jeff
Judge Darrel Lewis' son, Jeff

Lewis said, “The entire event was very much a spiritual experience because we spent 12 hours a day with 30 people from all over the world, learning various forms of meditation, concentration and formation of intention. Some of the events were very emotional for some people, depending on their specific fears or phobias. Some people would cry, whoop or just be extremely quiet after accomplishing a particular feat.”         


For Lewis, there was no great epiphany after any one specific event, but reflecting on the entire course he says it was very empowering, and has made him realize that you can accomplish nearly any goal if you just focus your energy, believe in yourself and be persistent regardless of the pain, resistance or disbelief that you, or others, may have. Lewis stated that, “This experience did, in fact, increase my self-confidence and persistence in achieving resolution in mediations. I know that my self-confidence and inner belief that resolution is possible will transfer to the parties and attorneys in a dispute and will result in more signed resolutions. I truly believe that my confidence and my strong intention to reach resolution is felt by the participants and, in turn, it increases their creativity, confidence and determination to reach resolution even in the most difficult of cases.”

If you wish further information on firewalking you may consult Tolly Burkan’s website

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