Walking The Path

Here's Health Magazine

Here's Health Magazine

Walking on broken glass to ‘challenge your fears’ might seem a little radical, but Lisa Howells reckons it works.

I’ve never really considered myself to be daring. A bit brave, yes. I had felt brave, for example, when I gave up my job and home to realise my ambition of becoming a journalist. But there were other things in my life that I still didn’t feel I had the guts to do. So when the opportunity arose to ‘join other daring people on a simple and exciting journey of self discovery’ I thought it was time to try.

I had recently challenged my greatest fear, heights, by abseiling over an 80ft cliff, so the thought of walking on broken glass didn’t seem too daunting. But as I entered the old church building and found myself sitting opposite a path of broken glass at a ‘Path of Daring‘ workshop, began to think again.

About 20 edgy people were already gathered at the workshop wondering what to expect. As I walked in, I had asked someone else why they were there. Their answer was much the same as mine – they needed to find the courage to change something in their lives. As we sat quietly our workshop leader, John Christian, spoke. A healer counsellor, John spent many years, he said, trying to escape being the ‘average man’. This ‘average’ person is characterised by a ‘victim consciousness’. Scared of change, the ‘average’ person is their own worst enemy. This hit home with all of us. Each of us was holding ourselves back because of old thoughts and habits we had picked up. I have had a particular problem with trust for the last five years which has affected all of my subsequent relationships. So, after an hour or so, when it came to doing the trust exercises, I experienced my first real difficulty of the day.

'As I stepped off the glass my feet felt sore, but my faith in myself was restored.' - Lisa Howells

'As I stepped off the glass my feet felt sore, but my faith in myself was restored.' - Lisa Howells

RIGHT: Lisa imagines herself as an eagle before trying the arrow dare and, BELOW RIGHT, walking on broken glass: ‘a liberating feeling, doing something most people would never dare do’.

In small groups, we stood in a circle; one person would close their eyes and allow us to push them between us. I could not physically let myself go and trust them to keep me up. For about a minute, I stood with my eyes squeezed shut, not breathing, while I tried to let myself go. John asked us to write what we felt; I knew I had exhibited an ‘average’ reaction. My old belief that I will be let down again if I put my trust in someone, would not go away. Unless I could change this attitude, I wondered if I would ever be able to rise above the ‘average’.

lisa2After lunch, everyone was feeling less self-conscious and the mood in the room was cheerful and excited. All of us had previously expressed the wish that we could let go of the fears that held us back. For some people they were associated with work, for others it was relationships. Common to all of us was the feeling that we were not living up to our potential because we were scared of what might happen if we did.

Then John produced a box of archery arrows. This was to be the next ‘dare’. We eyed him with amusement until he placed the metal tip of one arrow against his throat, placed the other end against the wall and lunged forward, snapping it in two.

John suggested that we hold an image of ourselves as being like eagles and, on the third breath, push through as if nothing stood in our way. Not one of us believed that we would be able to do it, but within a few minutes one woman went up to try. She had been questioning John all morning and it seemed like she couldn’t quite believe that any of this was going to make a difference to her life.

As the arrow snapped she dropped to the floor in a flood of tears because she ‘didn’t think I would ever be able to do it’ – she was not alone. The next volunteer had a phobia of metal piercing her skin and she was also sobbing afterwards. For all of us, it was turning into a truly inspirational and cathartic experience.

As I stepped up to do it – not quite believing I was about to try something that looked so scary – I experienced the same fear that I had felt standing at the top of the cliff when I had been abseiling. I could see my heart thumping through my shirt; my legs began to shake. I couldn’t do it when I first tried, but would not let myself give in. As I tried, again I suddenly experienced an incredible moment of clarity, when I knew without a doubt that I could do it. I opened my eyes and looked at John who had seen it, too. He just told me to go for it and I closed my eyes, lunged against the wall, and the arrow snapped. I felt elated, as if I had taken my first step towards really changing my life.

‘Fear won’t go away unless you really want it to’, confirmed John. You are the principal. What you allow to go on is completely up to you.

This was the message to remember before tackling the last obstacle – the path of broken glass. If I had had any; doubts about its sharpness, John dispelled them as he slashed a piece of paper with a piece of glass. By this time, I had started believing that I could readily do this, and would later be able to do anything. We went through a meditative technique of deep breathing and visualising ourselves walking on the glass. I pictured myself merrily romping up and down. As we opened our eyes, John warned us that ‘fear of the worst would be struggling to get in’ and we had to truly believe in ourselves.

I felt I had to do it, as I knew I would feel I had let myself down if I didn’t. My confidence evaporated as I stood in front of the glass. John stood with me and reminded me to visualise myself getting over it. He restored my confidence and, probably as much to save face as anything else, I stepped on to the glass. John’s last words to me had been: ‘have fun!’, and I found myself not just dashing across the path, but turning around and doing the walk again.

I wouldn’t describe it as ‘fun’; one person said it felt like walking on pebbles; another said it felt like a pavement; but although the glass did feel sharp beneath my feet, I was aware that it wasn’t cutting into me. It was a liberating feeling, knowing that I was doing something that most people would never dare do.

When I stepped off the glass my feet felt sore enough for me to sit down and check them – but they weren’t cut at all. I didn’t feel the same adrenaline rush as I had done after breaking the arrow, but my sense of faith in myself had been restored.

The strange thing for me was that the people who I had thought were the ones who had been desperately seeking change needed no help to get across, and they didn’t feel any pain at all. ‘It’s OK to feel fear,’ says John, ‘just be aware that you are more capable than you let yourself believe.’

And this is what I carried away with me. Even those who didn’t walk on the glass went away with the knowledge that somewhere within them is the potential to go further. ‘If you really want something then you have to change your expectancy and really believe that you want it,’ was John’s parting shot.

Many of us had reached a realisation of what it was we needed to do. I had wanted to take up kickboxing for months but had ‘never got round to it’, as fear of the unknown was putting me off. Writing this, I picked up the phone and signed up for a class as soon as possible – and I really believe that I will go on to do the things I have been too afraid to do before.

The Path of Daring workshop was organised by The Middlesex School of Complementary Medicine. Call 0181 204 4477.

Here’s Health OCTOBER 1999 23

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