You’ve probably seen Tony Robbins and some of the others out there who have shown the power of firewalking but you probably don’t know the story behind it. Firewalking spokesman and founder of the international firewalking movement Tolly Burkan’s approach to firewalking resulted in a global phenomenon of over 4 million people attending firewalking classes due to his pioneering strategies. He said the mental structure required to go through that and how to avoid doing it in a dangerous way is important to know. Tolly recounts how his path to path of self-discovery and personal realization led him meditation and eventually to firewalking which created a very significant change in his life. Tolly says the thing about firewalking that is so remarkable is it opens a door in your brain. Discover how you can be capable of doing more than you ever realized so you can break free from thinking small and create larger goals as Tolly talks about the power of firewalking.
We have a great show because we have Tolly Burkan here. Tolly is the one who taught so many people how to firewalk. You’ve probably seen Tony Robbins and some of the others out there who have shown the power of firewalking, but you probably don’t know the story behind it and how the mental structure of what you have to go through to do that, what’s required, and how to avoid doing it in a dangerous way is more important as well to know. It’s fascinating what Tolly has done and he’s got some interesting work.
Listen to the podcast here:
The Power Of Firewalking with Tolly Burkan
I am here with Tolly Burkan who began teaching in 1973. At that time, he presented The Science of Happiness invented by Ken Keyes. Tolly and Ken taught together and co-authored bestselling book How To Make Your Life Work Or Why Aren’t You Happy? by Simon and Schuster. Tolly is most renowned as the founder of the International Firewalking Movement. His approach to firewalking resulted in a global phenomenon of over four million people attending firewalking classes. Due to his pioneering strategies, firewalking seminars are now regularly offered on six continents. He’s taught Andrew Weil, Regis Philbin, and Tony Robbins. It’s a really interesting list. I’m happy to have you here, Tolly. Welcome.
Thank you so much for having me on your show, Diane.
You’re welcome. I’m very interested in what you do. I have never done the firewalking thing, but I’ve always been so curious about it. I want to get into that. I like to have a little bit more background in case people don’t know your background. Can you tell me how you got into this whole thing?
The most significant thing about my background is that when I was in my early twenties, I twice tried to kill myself. I was relatively depressed. I was overwhelmed with self-doubt. The first time I attempted suicide, my heart had stopped and they revived me. I was three and a half months in the hospital and that’s the most significant thing in my life because that motivated me. When my second suicide attempt failed, I thought, “If I’m going to be alive, I’m going to have to try to figure out how to make life work.” I went looking for answers and I got answers to questions I never even thought of asking because I met a man named Ken Keyes. He wrote a book called Handbook to Higher Consciousness and he never once mentioned in his book that he’s a quadriplegic.
When I met him, he was 54. He got polio when he was 27 and for half of his life, he had been in a wheelchair. He had to be carried to the toilet, he had to be fed, he had to be washed, dressed, and what’s struck me is he was radiantly happy. In my entire life, I had never encountered a person that was so happy. It literally radiated from him like sunshine. What was so incongruous is that the man was paralyzed from the neck down. I thought, “How can you be happy? Here I am so miserable, but compared to Ken, the circumstances of my life were wonderful.” I needed to find out from him what is it that he knew that I did not know and so I started studying with Ken. He put me on what you might call the path of self-discovery, the path of a personal realization, and I was never into what you might call self-development or developing my potential.
I met Ken and as a result of meeting him, I started meeting other people who were also on a similar path and that was the significant change in my life because that was the tipping point. I went from being unhappy, miserable, depressed, to being so incredibly happy. It was almost impossible to believe that I had tried to kill myself literally only nine months before I met Ken. As a result of being on this path, I was constantly meeting people who were introducing me to things that I was not familiar with, such as meditation. I discovered Hinduism and Buddhism and then a friend of mine whom I had been networking with mentioned to me that she was now working with a Buddhist man in San Francisco and a part of what this group was doing was firewalking. I had had heard of firewalking.
I was a professional magician and I used to perform on luxury liners and travel around the world as a magician. I just assumed it was a magic trick and I asked my friend if she wouldn’t mind just building a fire and showing me. They’re in the forest. I’ve been living in the forest here in Nevada Mountains in California since 1975. We were very isolated and we built this large bonfire at a clearing and then when it had burned down to embers, Linda smoothed it out with the branch from a tree and she proceeded to walk barefoot across these charcoals. My mind was literally blown away. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing because I knew this was just a person. I had known Linda for years and I realized if she could do it, then I could do it.
Without even giving it a thought, I took off my shoes and the socks and I walked across the fire. When I got to the other side, I didn’t even think to look at my feet, I just turned around and I walked across again and I thought, “How is this possible?” She said she didn’t know. I went to the library and I researched it, but everything I read contradicted everything else I read. I realized the only way to really investigate firewalking is to get as many people as I possibly could to walk on fire with me so that I could observe and draw my own conclusions. When I sent you that bio, it was written when there were only four million people globally who had walked on the fire. Now, over six million people have walked across the fire.
I’ve trained thousands of instructors so it’s readily available to anybody who wants to do it. You just have to surf the Internet and find a firewalking class that’s near you. The thing about firewalking that is so remarkable is it opens a door in your brain. You think, “Here’s something I thought would be difficult or impossible, and I did it easily. I wonder how many other things I’m not doing because I think it’s impossible, but it is possible, and I didn’t do it?” As a result of this, many big corporations have invited me in to demonstrate this to their management because it shows people that you’re thinking is too small. You have to create larger goals and realize that you’re capable of doing more than you ever realized.
That ties in so well to what I am writing about in my book on curiosity. There are things that hold us back from being curious and one of them is assumption. We assume something is true or isn’t true or we don’t look into it because of that. My assumption would be your feet are going to burn if you walk on these coals and you don’t really know why they don’t. It’s mind over matter. Has anybody ever had their feet burn?
Yes, when I started doing my research, I read an article that was published in a journal called Scientific American and they had a theory that you never touched the coals because the coals are so hot. The moisture on your feet is being vaporized before your foot touches the coal and that there’s a vapor barrier between your foot and the coal. I believed it was not possible to get burned. The first time somebody was horrifically burned and hospitalized, I realized that theory is not true.
I say they don’t get sweat on their feet. You want sweaty feet in that situation.
I have my own theory now and there were so many different theories. Based on the fact that I’ve been doing this longer than anybody else on the planet, I have proved that these other theories have exceptions. If it’s a rule, then there should be no exceptions to the rule. One theory is conductivity. A scientist says you can reach into the oven with your bare hand and the air is 375 degrees, but you don’t get burned. You touched the cake pan and it’s also 375 degrees but the metals are more conductive and obviously the coals are not conductive enough. If that was true, why were so many people getting burned when I was learning from my mistakes and that’s literally what I had to do, was learn from making mistakes? What I’ve come to believe and no scientist has just proven this, is there’s a connection between your mind and your body and it’s not simple physics.
You can put a steak on a grill and you can measure the results of what is happening with the steak. When scientists try to compare the steak to the human foot, there’s a big difference. There’s no mind in the steak. I don’t call this mind over matter, I call this mind and matter. Learning to do things with your mind that change what’s going on with your body. Every cell in your body is connected to a nerve. Every nerve is connected to your brain and you can do things with your mind that changed the electro chemical composition of your brain. For an example, if I was telling you and all of your audience right now that I’m sucking on a lemon means, “It’s a juicy one, this lemon.” What happens is people who are hearing me talk about sucking on a lemon, they actually have some sensation in their mouth.
They’re not sucking on a lemon. What is happening is when I’m putting the thought of lemon in their mind, that thought in the mind does something to the brain. What it’s doing is it’s changing the electro chemistry of the brain and that’s transmitted along the nerve and so that’s why I say it’s mind in matter. What I tell people is when they’re standing in front of the fire, not to walk on the fire, but to take a look and see what’s going on inside your head. If you’re in and you’re absolutely sure you’re going to burn yourself, then don’t walk on the fire, but if you feel that, “Six million people have done it and I’m no different than them, I can do this and I’m not going to burn my feet.”
If that’s the way you’re feeling, then take that step and walk across the fire. My theory is based on an experiment my science teacher did when I was in eighth grade. He boiled water in a paper cup and I was stunned, how is this possible? The water boils at 212 degrees. The longer you leave it on the flame, it never gets any hotter, it only turns to steam, but as long as it’s in the state of water, it’s 212 degrees. The 212 degree water in contact with the paper prevents the paper from getting any hotter than 212 degrees. The paper can’t burn until it reaches its kindling point, which is over 400 degrees. As long as there’s water in that cup, it’s not going to burn. The water will keep boiling.
The blood in your body is very similar to the water and the paper cup and the skin on the bottom of your foot is like the paper. We all know that the blood is 98.6 and as long as the blood is moving through the flesh on your foot, it’s constantly cooling the flesh down to 98.6 and your foot’s not in the colds that long. You’re not standing there. You’re taking a few steps and so in the seconds that your foot is in the fire, it isn’t going to raise the temperature of your blood very much. Your blood is keeping the flesh at a certain temperature and it can’t reach its kindling point so it’s not going to burn. The people who get burned, or the people who stop, they go and take a class with somebody who’s not a certified instructor and they make the coal bed much too deep. There are so many various factors and I had to learn through my mistakes and it took me years to realize how to do this safely.
At that point that I started teaching instructors, so that they didn’t have to make the same mistakes that I did because I send so many people to the hospital. Now it’s so rare for someone to get burned because we know what kind of wood to use. We know how deep to make the coal bed. We know how to counsel people so that they don’t bound on the coals without looking in their heads. Even the scientists say they don’t believe in mind and matter. They believe in their theory, which gives them the confidence to take that step. It’s really a state of mind that determines what’s going to happen with your foot.
You don’t have to have a belief in a higher power or some other thing like that. You just have to be able to put yourself into that state of mind. You know what they say, you have to have faith, to believe in twelve step programs or different things like that. Do you have to have a sense of faith in something?
Imagine you’re standing in front of the coal bed. You’re not stupid. You’re not going to take that first step if you think you’re going to burn yourself. The only people who take that first step are people who know before they even take that step that they’re not going to burn their feet and that’s a state of mind. That’s an electro chemical change in the brain and the person who can’t take that first step, they’re dealing with fear and doubt.
One of the things in the seminar is how to look at your fear, how to look at your doubt, because one of the reasons sales organizations love doing this with their people is because fear and doubt prevents them from attaining their goals. Once they understand what holds them back in front of the fire, they realized the fire is just a challenge. It’s an obstacle. Just like any other challenge in life, whether it’s health or relationships or monetary, the tools you learn for overcoming a challenge during the firewalk can be applied to the rest of your life. Now, you’re able to deal with challenges that used to stop you.
You mentioned health. Somebody experiences pain, let’s say they have back pain or migraines or whatever pain, can this be used for that? You were talking about Ken being a quadriplegic, can you use it for medical?
He’s no longer alive, but Norman Cousins wrote a book called the Anatomy Of An Illness. He had a “terminal illness,” so he was told he was going to die. What he did was while he’s lying in his sick bed, he had friends bring him videotapes of old fashioned comedy like Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, The Keystone Kops, and he was just lying in bed day after day, laughing and laughing. We call him the man who laughs his way back from the grave. He participated in a study at Harvard University medical school to see what is the chemistry of laughter. In that study which is talked about in his book the Anatomy Of An Illness, they finally saw there was a link between the mind and the body that what you do with the mind can determine whether or not you’re going to heal from an illness or succumb to it.
There are doctors like Bernie Siegel and Carl Simonton, who are medical doctors working with cancer patients, teaching them how to use their mind to bolster their immune systems. Many people believed in the old days that cancer was a death sentence. They don’t believe that anymore. They joined these support groups and they learn how to rally their inner resources and so many of them are recovering and that’s the truth. When you are given a physical challenge or a challenge in your relationship, any challenge, either you’re going to give in and succumb to that challenge or you’re going to rally your inner resources.
In so doing, you discover there are resources within you that you never even knew existed. That’s why the firewalk is so powerful because it’s just a metaphor. You don’t need to have this skill. It’s not going to help you in life walking on fire, but the metaphor is how many other challenges stop you cold and now you’ve got tools so that you can overcome these challenges. I don’t just use firewalking, I take groups skydiving. I use all kinds of challenges because if you just learn a lesson by reading a good book when you most needed, when you’re confronted in life with something dire, most people forget those lessons so quickly. The way I teach the lessons, they become available. People don’t forget them ever. Not as long as they’re alive.
You’ve taught a lot of very famous people. How did you get involved with Andrew, Regis, and Tony?
When I first started teaching firewalking classes, I was the only person on the planet teaching firewalking classes. If somebody wanted to do firewalking, they had to come to me. This periodical called New Age Journal contacted me, and they asked if they could do an interview. I said sure. Once that came out, all of a sudden, I was contacted by the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and Wall Street Journal. At that point, it was no longer a secret what I was doing. Everybody knew about me and so Andrew Weil he had been fascinated with firewalking for years and he was getting ready to go to India to study it. Instead, he invited me to the University of Arizona College Of Medicine to do it for his medical students and the dean of the medical college.
Then Tony Robbins, nobody ever heard of Tony Robbins. He saw a flyer in Pasadena and came to my firewalking class and that’s just the way it happened very organically. A lot of people who have taken classes with other firewalking instructors, they think, “I want to learn from the person that Tony Robbins learned from.” People started coming literally. I’m retired now and I trust that people will read my books and get the information because after teaching for 40 years, I deserve to retire. Before I retire, I no longer travel because I have a disability and so I would be here in my home in the mountains and I would be doing my classes and there’d be people here from India, people here from Vietnam, from Russia, from China, Japan because my books are in sixteen languages.
When I stopped traveling, the only way people could get here would be to fly into California, rent a car, and come up to the mountains and stay in a hotel. I was amazed because I did invite a few of my neighbors and then they talked to the other people in the class and find out if there’s people there from Europe, from Asia, from Africa, from South America. I get a kick out of this because I don’t have a college education.
You have created your real-world education from this and that’s so important. Some of the stuff you’ve done, it’s not just the firewalking, there are other things you do. I’m curious about the mind over matter thing that you demonstrated on national television where you influenced the slot machines in Nevada. Can you talk about that?
The way people phrase it is inaccurate because it’s not really mind over matter. The brain, in fact, the entire body is an electrochemical magnet and this electrochemistry can be altered with the mind. What I do is I show people what you can do with your mind and how it will affect the body. For example, if you were around somebody who had had a huge fight with his girlfriend and he was so angry, you could probably feel the anger coming off of him in waves. Even if he’s not speaking, you can sense it. There’s something in us that I would call a charge. When we’re angry it feels a lot different than when we’re in bliss, and so I learned this from another person.
She said what you should do is you try to make your heart open. You use your mind to think about love and all of the things that put you in your heart and your listeners can have an experience of what I’m talking about. Think of what it’s like when you’re sitting at the table or your desk paying your bills. Imagine for a moment, you get up from the table and you turnaround and some magic happen. There’s a flight of stairs behind you. It was never there. You walked down this magic flight of stairs and you open the door at the bottom and you walk in and you’re in the sanctuary. You’re in a holy place. You can feel the sanctity. That feeling is a lot different than when you were paying your bills. When you’re paying your bills, you’re in your head, but then when you go down to the sanctuary, you’re in your heart.
What I do is I take people into casinos and I say there’s a difference when you’re in your head and when you’re in your heart. It’s an electrochemical change in you and I want you to learn how to recognize it. If you sit in front of the slot machine, you can influence the slot machine with your electrical charge and the reason I know this as a fact is because the slot machine is run by a computer chip called an REG. A Random Event Generator and there was a physicist named Helmut Schmidt who experimented with this particular chip because his research was on psychic healing on prayer chains. He says how come when your friends are all praying for you to recover, there’s a better chance you’re going to recover than if you’re sitting alone moping in your room? He wanted to know if there was any scientific way to demonstrate this.
He used this computer chip and he had two groups, a control group, and the group with the actual chip. The words he used was there was a statistically significant difference between the two groups and so if that works in the laboratory, let’s try it with the slot machine because it’s the same computer chip. When I was traveling, I’d have to go to Atlantic City or to Nevada and when my disability stopped me from traveling, I said, “God, this is the most incredible work that I’ve ever done. If you want me to keep doing it, you’re going to have to build the casino in my backyard.” Within seven years now there are two Indian casinos within a few minutes of my house and it’s so people would fly in and I would take them to the casino. At the last casino seminar I did, every single person left with more money than they came with. What more can I say?
You’re a card counter to them.
I used to get the players’ cards and bring my group in and get name tags for everybody. Then we noticed that we were being spied on. The security people were following us around. Now we never tell people who we are or when we’re going to be at the casino and this way they leave us alone. If people want to see it, you can go to my website, TollyBurkan.com and there’s a five minutes video of the reporter coming to expose me as a fraud on Inside Edition and then he wound up saying, the numbers don’t lie.
There are other things on your website that we were talking about before we got on the air. You want to talk about the quilting needles.
The quilting needle is the most dramatic of all the things I do. The reason I even know about it is because when I was on Geraldo Rivera’s television show doing a firewalk. He had other people demonstrating phenomena on the show and he had a gentleman on the show who put a five inch quilting needle through his hand. I’d always had a really phobic reaction to needles ever since I was a small child and so I said to him after the show, “I want you to teach this to me. I want you to come in and teach it in my classes. This is remarkable.” He came to the class and he demonstrated this and the thing that was most amazing to me is that nobody was grimacing.
People were putting this needle through their hands and they were grinning from ear to ear. It’s such a dramatic example to show you how your mind influences your body because the body is very, very fluid. The space between the cells, the space between the electrons and the protons and truthfully you’re mostly just space. You think of the needle as going between the cells, going through this empty space, and you just visualize that the cells are separating. When you are able to use your mind with that focus, you again realize that this needle is just a metaphor. It shows you how your mind has stopped you from so many things in the past and the needle is a dramatic challenge. Jumping out of the door of an airplane with a parachute is a challenge. I have taken thousands of people barefoot on shards of broken glass and not one of them has cut their feet. This is a challenge, but like most challenges, you just have to stop, look within and prepare yourself and when you feel prepared, nothing can stop you.
I’m curious if they don’t feel pain at the time, but is there blood and do they feel pain later? Is there any other part? Does it just go through the space?
People need to see it to believe it because if you go to my website, I have a bunch of different clips of the seminars and classes I do and so you can see people walking on the shards of broken glass. You can see the room full of people putting the needle through their hand grinning and when the needle comes out, there’s not even a red mark. There is no pain and everybody goes home feeling so disappointed. They wanted a little spot so they can show their friends. “Look, I put this needle right through my hand and out the other side,” but unless you see a video of it, you wouldn’t ever believe that person did it. There’s no evidence on the skin at all.
How big is this needle? Is it like a sewing needle thick or is it like a crochet thick needle?
It’s a quilting needle. It’s five inches long and it’s a little bit thicker than a sewing needle. You need to see it to understand. Before I show the video of people putting needle through their hands, they say in the camera what came up for them and all of these challenges. Most people say of all the challenges, the needle is the most remarkable thing that they’ve ever done and this is after they’ve rappelled down a 200-foot rope into a cavern after they’ve gone skydiving and after they’ve walked on a 40 -foot long coal bed. That’s why I take these dramatic things into my classes because I know people will not forget these things as long as they’re alive. When they need a reminder, this thing will be right at the front of their mind and we’ll be able to serve them for years to come.
All these people that we mentioned before, Andrew, Regis, Tony, how about Donahue and Geraldo and all these people, who has had the hardest time accepting that getting their mind into that way of thinking of the famous people with whom you’ve worked?
Here’s a little bit of full disclosure. I flew into New York, The Geraldo Show, I believe it was 1990, maybe 1991. I was able to fly at the time, and I should mention that I’ve broken my neck twice. My neck has been reconstructed with cadaver bones and parts of my hips. Before these surgeries, the whole left side of my body was paralyzed. I was a pedestrian hit by a car and so it’s a result of all of these surgeries that keep me homebound now. I’m a very happy person as long as I’m at home. I used to fly and so I flew in to New York and I had to give Geraldo the class privately in his office and I said to him, “Let me show you all of this and then if you should get burned, don’t let on. You’ve got millions of people watching you. When we go back to your dressing room, I will show you a healing technique that will heal the burn.” He says to me, “Nobody burns Geraldo.”
I thought to myself, “This man is going to burn his feet. I know it,” and sure enough, he burned his feet so bad. I told him, “Don’t let on.” He knew it and so he had to disguise it. Then he comes back to the dressing room after the show. I said, “I’m going to teach you this healing technique. I want you to do this before you go to bed for twenty minutes.” 6:30 AM, my phone rings, it’s Geraldo. He said, “My feet are perfectly fine.” He said, “If I didn’t burn my feet, I would have thought the coals weren’t hot enough, it wasn’t long enough because that’s my rational mind. I needed to burn my feet to understand that this was a real fire.” He said, “The most amazing thing is that I have a power to heal myself that I never knew I had. That for me was far more dramatic than if I walked on the fire without burning my feet.”
Did he ever walk on the fire again or was that his last?
That I don’t know, but the healing technique, it’s called Jin Shin Jyutsu. Somebody taught that to me when I was firewalking in Sweden. I got burned because in the early days, I learned from mistakes. He said, “Let me show you this healing technique.” After he showed me in the next morning, my foot was fine. I included that in every firewalking class they ever did. I said, “I’m going to show you this technique and if you should get a blister or burn when you go home, do this and the next morning your feet will be fine.” That’s for many people is more impressive than if they walk without burning their feet.
MythBusters tried to prove this, what happened with that?
MythBusters wanted me to show that there was nothing paranormal about this. Then when they did the broadcast, they made us seem like we were a bunch of weirdoes, that we think it’s paranormal. It totally changed what I thought they were going to do on the show. I showed them, I said, “As long as you don’t run, you just take normal steps.” Then they go back to San Francisco and they have their show host walk on fire in their parking lot, but they don’t give him any of the information that I provided. He runs across the coals and winds up in a wheelchair. That was a malicious and deliberate misrepresentation because they wanted the drama, they wanted the press coverage.
What do you think of Dr. Strange then? Is that close to you?
I have no idea who Dr. Strange is.
There’s the Marvel comics character that does all these fantastic things through mind in matter. He uses some of the techniques. He is a character who was very much logical and reasoning and he gets in a car accident and has to redo all his way of thinking. It might be a character you could relate to. It’s the same thinking process. You have to give up what you think, the things that have always been, and open your mind to new ideas is what the thought that the premises behind his character.
Remember you’re talking to somebody who tried to kill himself two times when he was in his twenties. Now, I’m 70. To go from that end of the spectrum to the complete opposite end of the spectrum, to me, that’s more miraculous than firewalking or putting a needle through your hand. In life, people have all kinds of challenges. In their marriages, their kids are expelled from school, they have to go through divorce. They get a diagnosis of terminal cancer. People need tools to deal with these things. Even if they succumb to their cancer, they should be able to enjoy their lives and be happy people right up until the end. That’s what I’m showing people, it’s to take charge of your own consciousness. More people are going to be able to read my books, then get on planes and fly to firewalking classes and you don’t have to go through a firewalking class to benefit from the tools. That’s why I’ve written the books. That’s why I’m doing this interview on your show is because I want people to have tools to improve their lives. Not tools so they can show off at the next family barbecue.
I’m thinking about, what would you recommend for someone? I know some people who have health issues, maybe just not major things. Maybe they just don’t feel well. I’ve had a friend I know who had her gallbladder out or just announce it feels nauseated or something that just gets her down. What recommendations do you have for people who just have minor, not quadriplegic issues.
I wrote a trilogy called the Self-Empowerment Trilogy and the first book is Dying To Live where I talk about how I turned my life around after being hell bent on suicide. There’s one scene in the book when my brother introduced me to his meditation teacher and her name was Hilda. She was an old woman and she said, “Why are you trying to kill yourself?” I said, “Hilda, life is painful. Just getting out of bed in the morning is a difficult task for me and she started laughing.” She said, “Where’s this pain? Is it in your legs?” I said, “No.” “Where’s the pain? Is it in your head? You’re getting a headache?” I said, “No.” She said, “It must be in your heart. Get me a stethoscope, somebody. I want to listen to his pain,” and she just kept laughing at me and I said, “Hilda, the pain is not in my body,” and she said to me, “Wait until you’re happy and then kill yourself.” When she said that, something happened inside my brain.
For the first time, I realized who I was. I was independent from the circumstances of my life and my body. If most people understood that their consciousness is separate from their physical body, they can do things to develop their consciousness so that they have tools within their minds to deal with physical challenges. That’s why it’s not mind over matter. It’s literally mind in matter and you’re talking to someone who has broken his neck twice. I’ve been operated on for cancer twice. I’ve had heart surgery, I’ve certainly not had a cakewalk for my life. I’ve had a lot of challenges and that’s why I’m the messenger for this message because when I put that needle through my hand is when I got the inspiration for one of my books. When I put that needle through my hand, it was so difficult that I felt paralyzed and a voice in my consciousness said, “Let it be easy.”
I realized I’m the one who’s making this difficult and when the needle went through my hands so easily, I thought, “How many other things in my life am I making difficult?” I wrote this book, Let It Be Easy, because it shouldn’t be a struggle. I’ve changed my life 180 degrees from being constantly thinking of killing myself to someone who is writing books and teaching people how to be happy and how to be more effective. I know that what I’m doing is working because I’ve been invited to teach this for companies and medical schools for decades. I would say to people, when life seems hopeless, whether it’s a physical challenge or something in your circumstances, maybe you’ve just been fired, you’ve got to do something to improve your state of mind. My books aren’t the only one on the subject. There are so many books, Think And Grow Rich. Now more than ever, these kinds of books are on the bestseller list.
I’m curious if you feel that this ties into religion, maybe not religion, but belief in God or any of that does it to you. Do you have to have that sense or is it separate to you?
I believe when you say God, a lot of your audience are going to have a different impression of what God is. I need to tell you what my definition of God is. For me, God is all that is. If God is all that is, I’m looking outside right now at a pine tree. How did God make that pine tree? Well, if God is all that is, then God became the pine tree. I don’t have to understand how. I don’t have to understand the science behind an orgasm to enjoy it. I don’t need to have the science behind firewalking to have it changed my life. I don’t have to understand how God became the pine tree, but if God is all that is, then how did God make me?
The same way God made the pine tree, God became me, and so when I understand that, I realize that I am constantly connected to the source of all that is. If I think in those terms, it gives me a sense of empowerment. Whereas if I think I’m separate from God, I’m just a speck and God is this huge universe. I feel isolated, but my God is all that is and that includes me, so I’m connected at all times to a higher power and that gives me confidence. It gives me optimism. It gives me a better quality of life than the person I used to be when I was always miserable and depressed, feeling unworthy.
What did your parents think of your change of going through all this?
My parents were very doubtful because they sat at my bedside when my heart stopped and they were parents and it wasn’t until I became a parent that they finally breathed a sigh of relief. They said, “He’s not going to do that to his kids. He may do that to himself, but he’ll never do that to his kids.” They saw how seriously I took parenting. I have to say they never really understood what I discovered and you can read the books and I have to say honestly, it depends on the person. Some people will read one of my books and it will change that person’s life forever and another person is not going to touch them. It may be more dependent on what they did before. If you’re going to plant a seed, it’s better to till the soil and prepare it so that there’s a better chance of it sprouting and growing. A lot of people’s lives are changed by reading my book, but it’s probably because of what they’ve done before they read that book.
You’ve authored eight books, right?
I’ve authored eight books on my website. There are several that are free e-books and people can download them. They don’t even have to leave an email address. It’s totally free.
Can you share your website name one more time and how people can reach you because I’m sure they’ll want to find out more?
The website is www.TollyBurkan.com. I have lots of free books, free music, and lots of free videos. People can spend hours watching the videos and you’ll see people walking on fire, on shards of broken glass, putting the five inch needle through their hands. The thing that’s so neat about seeing the other people is just see they’re ordinary people like you. If other people can do these things, anybody listening to this can do it.
I assume you don’t advocate doing it on your own, that you want to have people that have been trained to do this professionally.
Don’t just watch the videos and try doing it on your own. There’s no shortage of instructors. There are thousands of instructors on six continents and I’m also available by email even though I’ve retired, I love answering email and doing interviews. If people have a question they can contact me and the contact info is right on the website.
Thank you, Tolly. This has been so fascinating. I really appreciate you being on this show.
Thank you. There are a lot of people suffering and I have to say my suffering was a gift. If it wasn’t for the suffering, I wouldn’t have been motivated to discover the resources that I’ve found.
I appreciate you sharing that with everyone and I hope everybody takes some time to check out Tolly’s site.
I want to thank you for being my guest. What a fascinating show. I was interested when Tolly contacted the show because I had never thought about what went into firewalking and some of the other things that they do with instead of mind over matter, of mind in matter, as Tolly put it. To do these unusual activities, show how powerful the mind is and it fits in with what I’m researching on curiosity. It’s important to see how much our assumptions of what we think the way things are can be impacted by our brain. It is something that there’s so much control that we have over our curiosity, over how we look at the world and I love what Tolly is working on to show people that they can work on these things and get a different perspective in a much better outcome in the long run. Thank you again, Tolly. It’s been a really interesting show. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take the Lead Radio.
About Tolly Burkan
Tolly Burkan began teaching in 1973. At that time, he presented “The Science of Happiness” invented by Ken Keyes. Tolly and Ken taught together and co-authored the bestselling book How to Make Your Life Work or Why Aren’t You Happy? published by Simon & Schuster in 1976. Tolly is most renowned, however, as the founder of the international firewalking movement. Tolly’s approach to firewalking resulted in a global phenomenon of over four million people attending firewalking classes. Due to his pioneering strategies, firewalking seminars are now regularly offered on six continents. Tolly retired in 2017, although he is still available for interviews. He has authored eight books that are available in 16 languages, and has been featured in over 70 books, hundreds of magazines and newspapers, and on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. Since 1984, Tolly regularly appeared on all major television networks and was a guest on Donahue, Regis, Geraldo and MythBusters.