You are coming
You are coming among us.
We have everything prepared for you
and we are waiting.
– From The Lakota Ritual of the Sweat Lodge: History and Contemporary Practice
My silent retreat in the Catskills was proving to be an amazing experience.
There was much to be learned when I shut my mouth. I think my biggest revelation was that not everything had to be fixed.
Being in the quiet with my thoughts helped me see that I was talking the talk of being happy but maybe there was a piece of me that was still insecure about my recent life choices.
If a steep (a steep a**) hike could help me be more at peace with every piece of me, what would a sweat lodge ceremony bring?
The night before we attended a Q&A with the leaders of the sweat. Both Sarah and Salvador followed the Lakota tradition of the sweat ceremony.
The sweat ritual would take place in a traditional inipi- it was a structure that had an igloo shape. Inside we would assemble in a circle around the stones that had been heated in a fire right outside of the inipi.
The Lakota see the inside of the inipi as a representation of the inside of Mother Earth’s womb. There are other interpretations but the idea is to cleanse and purify the soul.
You may be thinking sweat ceremony? Didn’t people die in a sweat ceremony?
I can’t speak about that experience, but I can say I felt really safe and comfortable with Sarah and Salvador.
- We would be dressed modesty (no nudity)
- The ceremony consisted of four doors
- The first door we were to let go of what was holding us back (fear, shame, guilt, past hurts, etc)
- The second door we would focus on what we wanted to have
- The third door was the pipe ceremony- no drugs. Salvador made it pretty clear that the pitch black, heat, steam and your own mind was plenty to deal with- drugs are not necessary.
- The fourth door we show our gratitude
After each ’round’ or door, the door would physically open. So, you’re not sitting in the dark heat the entire time.
If it ever got too hot you could ask for the door to leave.
Yeah, yeah you’re saying.
We entered the inipi on all fours and said “Mitakuye. Oyasin”
Salvador asked if anyone was scared- I broke my silence to squeak, ‘ A little.’
He handed me some cedar to sprinkle on the first seven stones that were brought into the inipi. The stones are carefully chosen and are important to the Lakota because of all that they have seen.
After the rest of the stones were brought in the door closed it was dark and Salvador said, ‘It’s gonna be a ride!’
We all laughed- because we were thinking- uh-oh.
But Oneika, what was it like?
In a word- hot. How hot? Not sure- hotter than hot yoga- not so hot that my insides cooked.
In one more word- it was dark. Can’t see your hand on front of your face dark.
It was hot. And I was uncomfortable. I cried. Not a lot.
And then I smiled. I hummed along with the songs.
Sharing the darkness with 15 other people and connecting with what they were feeling was a powerful and intimate experience.
It’s a very individual and personal experience.
On Sunday when we entered back into speaking we swapped a couple of experiences. I felt like the fourth door was the the hottest- almost about to call for the door hot.
Some other folks swore that the second door was unbearable. Which I thought was an otherworldly groove. So…
At times my hair was too hot to touch.
I laid down (which is hilarious to imagine because there isn’t much room and it’s pitch black) at one point to touch a space of cold dirt.
It. Felt. Awesome.
I didn’t see a wolf or feel a need to go on a vision quest. I’m not being funny (well maybe a little) but I did leave (on all fours, out of respect- and because I was exhausted) feeling peaceful.
I’m not here to recommend or dissuade anyone from participating in a sweat ceremony.
I think spiritual journeys are a very personal decision. This worked for me.
My hot yoga practice is also pretty intense so I think that may have also helped me deal with the heat element.
But as we shared stories we all got out of it what we needed.
And that seems like it is more than enough.
I’m grateful for the safe and transformative experience that Sarah and Salvador gave me.
Stay tuned for the last post on the retreat tomorrow!