In October of 2005, I traveled to Massachusetts to do an empowerment/firewalking workshop for DEAF, Inc. – a nonprofit organization serving Deaf and Hard of Hearing people in the Boston area. We had around 40 people in the group…while most were Deaf themselves, there were a few hearing individuals participating as well; most were members of Peace Abbey – the spiritual retreat that hosted the workshop. However, one of them was my Dear Friend, Fellow Witch, and Spirit Sister – Crystal Dolphin.
Shortly afterwards, Crystal wrote this story for our spiritual group on her experience at the workshop, and what she gained from it…not merely from walking the fire and participating in the activities, but also as a hearing person with basic signing skills interacting with a group of Deaf people. Even though it has been over a year ago, “Crys” still talks about this event and the profound impact it had on her. (And I’m still working on trying to convince her to get into an ITP…I think she’d make a great interpreter!)
I enjoyed what she had to say, and I think you might as well. With her permission, here is Crystal’s story on that magickal evening…
What a magickal weekend indeed…and it all started before Ocean and I even arrived at Peace Abbey. The series of “coincidences” that intertwined along the way were quite interesting. The snow was a surprise – this area hasn’t seen snow in October in many years. But that worked out okay too. Peace Abbey looked quite beautiful with the snow falling outside and a light blanket of white on the grounds.
It turned out we had one determined group who wanted to continue with the firewalk despite the dropping temperature and the wet snow mixed with a bit of rain. While Ocean and the Firewalk committee were taking care of some set-up and preparations prior to the workshop, I met some of the Deaf people and a couple of the interpreters who were attending. Being understanding of the fact that my sign skills are pretty basic, and they tend to get rusty from lack of use (as Osh explained to the group later, my local Deaf friends are oral and don’t sign much at all, so I don’t get the continued practice of conversing in sign) the ladies talking with me when we first arrived slowed down their signing so that I could understand them – and some spoke and signed together. At first, while Osh and Stephanie were outside with the fire department, I was able to respond to questions and take part in a conversation with a couple of the women, utilizing both voice and sign. Although later on, partly due to my hands freezing from the cold, and partly due to the excitement overwhelming me, I did have to enlist the assistance of the interpreters or Ocean. But as long as we were all communicating, that’s the most important thing, right?
I’ll skip over the beginning of the workshop, which was Ocean explaining the reasons for and goals of the workshop, and sharing some of her personal experiences. I have a little side story instead. There were some hearing people who are regular attendees of Peace Abbey events that joined in, and we were all sitting nearby the voice interpreters. There was a gentleman and his daughter sitting behind me, Dave and Kelley – who were surprised upon their arrival to learn that the seminar was being voice interpreted, as the instructor was a Deaf woman who would be signing her presentation. I think they had just shown up at the Abbey as regular visitors, not knowing what was taking place, and had decided a firewalk workshop sounded interesting so decided to participate. The interpreters explained to them and the others about all the hands waving in the air being applause. But as there was a Deaf-Blind woman participating as well, applause also included feet stomping on the wood floor. At one point, Dave leaned over and asked me about that, but as I started to answer, he figured it out on his own – so that the Deaf-Blind woman (whose name is escaping me at the moment) could feel the applause. Several times throughout the workshop, I heard him say to his daughter, “This is great!” and he said to me later that it was a combination of both the workshop itself, and the different forms of communication they were witnessing and learning about. Kelley was a young lady (I’m guessing in her late teens) and she was rather quiet and shy to start with. She kept to herself. She totally didn’t want to participate in the activities like snapping the arrow and breaking boards, even though Dave, her father, would go first and complete these challenges. He tried to give her a little encouragement without being too pushy, but she would still shake her head no and stay put. She did however, with a little encouragement from her father and some others in the group, decide to walk the coals. Before they left, I told her I was proud of her (as I had watched her slowly come out of her shell, start interacting with the others in the group, and finally decided to face her fear and “go for it” at the fire bed). She gave me a big smile and said she did enjoy the workshop and was glad she walked in the end.
So, back to the workshop activities. The group was outside, working together at stacking the wood to build our fire bed. Then it was time to light the fire. At that point, the snow had turned to rain, which made lighting the wood a bit more difficult as the upper level of the stack was quickly getting wet. One end of the stack did catch and was burning, but the other end where I was standing was being less than cooperative. I squatted down and worked on a corner of that end, trying to get my flame underneath where the dryer wood was, for I don’t know how long before it finally caught. When I stood up, a lady behind me chuckled and said to me, “You were determined to get that end burning, and you did – good job.” I laughed and said that it was kind of a mission I was on there, “I am damn well going to light this fire (or part of it at least) that I’m going to walk on later!”
Once the fire was lit we went back inside, had some hot tea and coffee to warm up, and started with the activities that would work us up to walking the fire. When it came my turn to snap the arrow – I did it without hesitation. Didn’t even think about it – told myself “JUST DO IT”. Although I’m sure the look on my face said, “Wow, did I just do that?” When it came to breaking the board, that was a little more challenging. I thought I was ready, and I would just do that too, but I did not break it on my first try. Instantly, the fear of not being able to do it took over. Ocean came up to me and gave me those little reminders “Let it be easy…” etc. But at that point, I drew on something from one of my favorite TV dramas, “Lost”. The lead character had once explained a frightening situation where he had decided that to get through it, he had to let the fear in, let it take over and do its thing – but only for 5 seconds and then he would send it away – so he counted to 5, let himself feel the fear during that count, then let the fear go away and did what he had to do. So I took a deep breath and counted to myself…1…2…3…4…5 – BAM! And there was my broken board in front of me, and the group cheering me on. And I felt wonderful, mentally stronger, and ready to move forward.
I had been sitting next to Madeline from Peace Abbey throughout the workshop – great lady, had fun with her. When we arrived outside at the fire bed, we looked at the glowing red coals, then at each other, and had pretty much the same thought, which we expressed about the same time, “I don’t know if I’m ready for this.” Madeline said, “I don’t feel any more prepared for this than I did at the beginning of the workshop.” But after a few people had taken their walk, off came our shoes and we got in line. Madeline said to me, “You first.” I said, “okay, fair enough” – she had gone first with the other activities. Then we were ready. After a few minutes in line, my feet were quite cold from standing on the wet, snowy-slushy ground. I stepped up, and without thinking about it, walked across to Osh and got my hug. Although it seemed like I didn’t feel anything, I realized after that I did feel warmth under my feet – and that warmth was quite welcome on that cold night! I believe Madeline did walk right after me, but I didn’t see her and we ended up getting separated in the crowd, so I didn’t talk with her again until back inside. After everyone had taken their turns walking, Ocean led a conga line walk over the coals. I hopped in line behind her as I wanted to walk with my sistah, and several others fell in line behind us. That time, I was stepping more on the glowing coals than the smoldering darker ones. Again, all I felt was slight warmth under my feet. Amazing.
Everyone started back to the building. I stuck around as the coals were being sprayed down with the hose, and walked back with Ocean – both of us walking back to the building barefoot on the cold, wet ground. That helped me to ground my energy. Back inside, vegetarian munchies and more hot drinks were being enjoyed, everyone was mingling and conversing – laughter filled the rooms and hugs were flying around everywhere. Before Ocean gathered the group back together in the workshop room for the “wrap up” and the chance for everyone to share their thoughts and feelings, she and I were warming up and chatting by the fireplace. I told her that I thought breaking the board was the hardest, and I’m sure she knew that I was a little disappointed in myself for not being focused which resulted in my not breaking it with the first blow – so she asked me if I wanted to break another one. She plunked another board up on the blocks, and still barefoot, I stepped up – didn’t feel the fear this time, took a few deep breaths, and BAM! YAY! I did it!
But now I must recant that statement, Sis. Upon further reflection, I must say that even though breaking the board was a difficult challenge for me…in actuality, that wasn’t the hardest thing I did during your seminar. Toward the beginning of the workshop, Ocean asked me if I would share with the group what brought me to the seminar – my reasons for being there. I have always had a fear of public speaking. One on one or with a few people, I’m okay – but standing in front of a large group, I’m a nervous wreck. And I’m just not good with improv when in front of a large group of people. Although I think had I prepared for that, I could have done better, I did get up in front of the group and winged it. With Susan, one of the interpreters, signing for me, I told a little bit about what had crushed my self-esteem and confidence (although it was lots of little things that led to my feeling pretty miserable about myself and life in general, my being fired from my job was the last straw – the blow from which I was not recovering), and how I kept saying I didn’t want to participate in the seminar, I hadn’t felt that was what I needed to get back on track. But that it dawned on me a few days before that it was exactly what I needed, that I needed to face my fears and doubts to be able to rebuild my confidence and self-esteem. The whole time, I was struggling to find the words to describe what I felt and I was shaking like a leaf. But although it wasn’t the best of speeches, I think I got my basic point across and there was one of my biggest fears faced right there.
All in all, what I loved most about the evening was being a part of the group, which was made up of very diverse people. Deaf and Hearing individuals from different backgrounds and different faiths, all coming together – being accepting of each other and our differences…communicating, learning and growing together, supporting each other, and celebrating together. Not only did I leave Peace Abbey that night feeling better about myself, empowered, more confident that I can do anything I set my mind to, and with my spirit renewed…my faith in humanity was also renewed. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to share this time with my dear friend, Ocean – and also to have met such a wonderful group of people to share this experience with!