We were crouched in the small space, hunched over in order to avoid hitting the wall of the tent, our bodies so close we touched.
I waited apprehensively, not knowing if I could sustain the heat from the rocks or the psychological pressure of being in total darkness in this confined space. To calm my fears, I thought, what is there to fear in actuality? At this time in my life I accept the idea of life’s continuity. Now I have a chance to give up destructive thoughts and to gain a new outlook. If I passed out I’d regain consciousness. People are here to support me. If I still need to be on this plane I will be. I thought about what had brought me to this place this day for this experience, and why I was here.
“What’s an Indian sweat lodge?” I asked Tamara. “Come and find out; it’ll be good for you,” she said with a broad smile and a twinkle in her eyes.
One weekend in September, a sweat lodge was sponsored by the Lakota Indian Tribe in Wolfe City, Texas near Greenville, Texas. Tamara, a counselor, holistic health practitioner, and a Lakota Indian was one of the leaders of this weekend. Not knowing what to expect, I anticipated an exciting time catching the enthusiasm in her voice. I was offered a ride by a friend of hers and a devotee of sweats.
We left early in the morning to Wolfe City. My new friend and I talked about the various healing modalities we had explored. I enjoyed the camaraderie.
We arrived early and were instructed to change into our bathing suits. Excited and apprehensive, I and others entered into an igloo shaped tent and sat in a circle with thirteen others clad in bathing suits. Rocks which had been heated for four days and prayed over were brought in on a rake and gently dropped into a rock pile at the center of the circle. Tamara described the four directions each representing different qualities. West for insight, South for Wisdom and the two other directions. Water was then thrown on the rocks and the heat began to rise and emanate the aroma of the sage being burned. It became intensely hot. The sweat started pouring from my body The steam and the vapor were rising as the door to the tent was shut. Eyes closed, I could sense the darkness around me Unencumbered by heavy clothing, feeling the heat and the bodies of others, I felt as if I were in the womb. I sat hunched over and totally still Suddenly tears welled out of my eyes and emotions began to flow. I do not know why. I only knew that I felt both fearful and comforted actually like I was in the womb.
As my tears flowed, my body felt these strange sensations as if it were taking on the substance of the mud I sat in. I felt molten and pliable, an oozing loosening sensation as though layers were being peeled off me. It was exciting to feel this cleansing sensation, different from anything I had experienced . In a sauna, one sweats, in a sweat lodge ceremony, one peels off physical and emotional layers. I felt as if I were letting go of dead weight and being cleansed Tamara said, “Pray to the Grandmother and Grandfather and ask what you each need. We each alternatively had a turn to pray out loud. After each prayer, the person who spoke said, “Ho.” The quality of this light , expulsive sound felt appropriate after the prayer. My turn came. “Father take away my blocks to feeling whole and one with the universe. Ho”. I felt better after I spoke We continued until each had a turn Then we sang an Indian led by another guide in the group.
For the second round, Tamara began, “Now pray for your personal families, the universal family, and the extended family of the people on the land with us.” As we went around this time, my feelings came more honestly. A man asked, “Grandfather, let my inhibitions be removed. Allow me clear vision, clear wisdom.”
I thought about how much the same we really are and how separate we all appear in this business of daily living. Finally, a man’s voice cried out with heartfelt emotion to the Grandfather for release and surrender and he began to sob; cries suddenly filled the tent as his release seemed to bring permission for all of us to cry out.
I felt a surrender, a oneness with the group. How wonderful an experience it was to be able to release in unison this way. I was filled with joy that a group of strangers could come together and share so much, such heartfelt releasing and purgings. I felt connected to the source of life and one with the transcendent and the mystery.
Slowly the crying subsided and we sang and chanted. After several songs Tamara directed us, “As you leave the tent, walk in a counter-clockwise circle around the fire.”
As I walked out the bright sunlight hit my eyes and I felt physically drained. I lie on my blanket near the tent, yet wanting to be back inside, feeling the comfort of the experience. My energy began to return and I felt fresh and light I looked around and saw Tamara by the tables laden with food. I walked over to her and she hugged me. Her hug was so comforting as I felt the warmth from her body. I felt joy and thanked her for the experience and kissed her cheek. I said, “Tamara I feel so good.” she said, “That’s what it’s all about, with a beaming smile.
Then my friend and I walked over to an incline strewn with blankets feeling the beauty of life; the smells of the fire and the sage burning were exquisite to my senses. The hazy midst created by the fire framed the background of the woods. I was absorbed with the greenery and the laziness of the people milling about: a child playing, a dog barking, people lying comfortably on their blankets, holding one another, gently stroking each other, husbands, wifes, friends, all gave me such an exquisite feeling.
Random thoughts flowed. “I am relaxed. I am whole. I am free. I am one with the universe. We are one. I am good. God is good. God is me. I am…I am..I am…l
The moon was out. I looked at her, our great teacher who comes nightly, brightly, easily. People walking, slowly eating, comfortable, comforting. I felt so much peace. I began to breathe deeply, fully, allowing myself to know a free filled expression of the life force which in the usual bustle and daily living I cannot even begin to sense.
The weekend ended with a final ceremony, smoking and passing the peace pipe. Warsa, the main Indian leader spoke and gave gifts to those who helped set camp, build fires and been with them throughout the weekend we stood in a circle and smoked the peace pipe, the stem and the base representing a man and a woman, apart and then coming together. I took a deep breath and inhaled the exquisite aroma of the tobacco. I felt lifted from the fumes, filled with the aroma and the sense of being part of the whole. The peace pipe was passed around the circle. When the fumes died down we exchanged hugs and acknowledged one another in our godliness. The message came from the heart. Love was the message, sharing and exchange was the message. I acknowledge you in all your divinity. You acknowledge me in mine. We are one and we are beautiful.
I left Wolfe City, Texas with a different sense of who I am, much lifted, much lighter, much more in appreciation of life and all its richness wonder and splendor.
The joyous states are our birthright.