Reborn – Part One of Two
by Alexis Cox
For years, I have heard of Native American sweat lodges–from friends, movies, the news and even my own mother. I held them in both a sort of revered fear and a hushed ecstasy. I wasn’t a hundred percent sure what happened in these lodges of sweat, but I knew that anything from overheating and potentially dying (as recently happened to an unfortunate three participants in Sedona) to a transformative psychedelic experience was a possibility.
Friends have told me they’ve encountered their spirit animals during the experience, which for me always conjures an image from Natural Born Killers, where the old man in the sweat lodge is chanting and the snake appears seemingly as a manifestation of the murderous protagonists. There might have been some peyote involved in that scene too. I figured one day I would be in Sedona or New Mexico somewhere and meet a Native American shaman and have a chance to meet my spirit animal…or more likely, get overheated and ask to leave. It never occurred to me that it was something that I could do close to my home in Los Angeles.
As it turned out I happened upon a sweat lodge, or it happened upon me, in the form of an online Meetup group sent to my inbox that must’ve been related to something else I had once shown interest in. I wrote the group for permission to be a part of it (they have a screening process to ensure only sincere participants partake). I was accepted. The event was to be held at the house of the lodge leader, Patrick.
I did a little research and found that Patrick is a life coach, meditation trainer and leader in the “human potential movement”. On the website for his company, called the Living Purpose Institute, there was a pleasant looking picture of a man in his 40’s with a full head of brown hair and a natural smile. He has numerous speaking events he does on empowerment and has hosted thousands of “sweats” and other Shamanic rituals and ceremonies. He seemed to be knowledgeable and experienced, and on paper was nice enough, as were the other Meetup participants.
The next thing I knew I was driving my way to the All Nations Lodge in Ventura after work like it was a casual dinner party. The information sent to me after I signed up said to bring some sage or a large rough stone the size of a cantaloupe. I wasn’t sure where to get (or how to carry) such a cantaloupe-stone, so I brought some sage. It also said to bring something comfortable to wear inside the lodge (i.e.; loose, cotton) and a towel or two for, I assumed, mopping up our sweaty bodies when we were done. Oh, and a drum, if we were so inclined. I’d invited a friend to join me there as I was going to be a bit late, and thus found myself walking alone up to a suburban-looking house at the end of a cul-de-sac in a spacious neighborhood just outside of LA county.
As I approached, I could hear the sound of drumming in the background. I was a little nervous about the heat aspect of the experience, but overall I was excited. I walked up and joined my friend and the 23 other bodies seated on wooden benches in the backyard. They were grouped around a blazing fire in front a large, domed teepee, maybe six feet high at its center and 12 feet at its diameter. A deep feeling entered me; this was happening. Patrick was speaking when I came in. He had a long stick that was wavy, strong and smooth. He held it while he talked in a low tone that was serious and somewhat intense, but also kind and knowing. He told us that we would pass the stick around and introduce ourselves; say a little about what brought us there, our experience–or lack thereof–with sweat lodges, and whatever else we wanted to say. The mood was marked by the fact that it was the 22nd of December, the day after the Mayan calendar ended, and therefore a popular day for people to purge, pray, meditate or just join with others to celebrate the next phase of human consciousness.
Patrick started. The slow and steady sound of drumming continued. The stick was passed. Person after person spoke of their pain, their family’s pain, their hope, their passions and dreams, what they hoped to let go of and what they hoped to bring into their life. The people gathered were anywhere from early 20’s to 60+ years old, men and women, spiritually inclined and spiritually seeking. There was a guy just brought along for the ride by a buddy. Some people were nervous about speaking aloud, others thoroughly enjoyed their time in the limelight. We were all so different, yet strangely so much the same. Our pain, our fears, our hope and our driving force all seemed to emanate from one similar place within. One man didn’t speak and just thumped the stick on the ground three times before passing it on. One girl spoke for the first time of serious childhood abuse. One after another, we cracked open our thoughts and felt what was inside. It was beautiful. The ground was damp with the remnants of old rain and the certainty of more to come. The fire crackled with fierce beauty. It was solidly built, formidable, like each of us in our own way, as we courageously trusted each other to listen, to care.
When we were done speaking, Patrick prepared us for the sweat lodge; where we would change into our lodge clothes–women inside, men by the fire; how we would enter, and what to do if we needed to leave. He told us where we should sit if it was our first time, and tips on dealing with the heat (like getting down on the ground, where it’s significantly cooler). He had sent us an email instructing us to stay hydrated throughout the day prior to the sweat. It said not to drink extra water right before the ceremony, because then we would have to go to the bathroom, which is discouraged. A lot of people did take extra swigs off their water bottles during the fire ceremony, likely suffering from anticipatory nervousness about overheating. We could drink water in the lodge, but he asked us to try to do it in the breaks between “parts” of the ceremony within, so as not to interrupt people’s sharing with excessive noise. Obviously, if you felt you had to drink, you should.
He gave us the words that he would be using ceremoniously, and told us we were free to say whatever words were comfortable for us to speak. It was a non-denominational sweat lodge, and while he followed the ancient traditions, he did not ask us to conform. I felt safe. Ultimately, the purpose of sweating is to purify oneself, physically and emotionally. Just like a workout at the gym might sweat out your toxins and fat, so is this to sweat out toxins in our body and in our mind and the excess stuff that is not serving our higher purpose, our best selves. It is a process that takes place from both the heat and the ceremony itself. TO BE CONTINUED… Please click HERE to read Part Two!
© Serve the Warrior 2013 All Rights Reserved
TFGP Editor – Pamela Haber
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