Four Things I Learned From A Sweat Lodge
Do you remember the game “I Never”?
The one where someone says something outrageous - that they have done - and if you have done it too you are still in the game, and if you haven’t done it, you are technically out of the game?
“I never you spent an hour and a half in dark stone hut that was over 100 degrees”.
(And yes, I am totally using this one next time I play this game!)
It’s quite the experience!
What Is a Sweat Lodge?
Sweat lodges are ceremonies, they are not about just sweating.
To describe them best, they are purification rituals or ceremonies, used for many different purposes depending on the culture. These ceremonies are mostly associated with Native American cultures, where they are used to give thanks, heal, seek and purify the mind, body and soul.
They are dark, they are hot and they are humid! To give you some idea of measurement and how hot and humid - Bikram classes are traditionally approximately 95-108 degrees F, and the humidity is about 40%. The Shaman, who is the master of ceremonies, explained to us, it is about equal heat, but about 50% humidity.
Sweat lodge structures are domed, and the fire is heated by stones that are lit directly outside the structure and carried into the lodge and placed right inside a fire pit inside the dome. The dome shape signifies the belly of mother nature. When you enter, you are entering back into the womb of mother nature.
The contents are all natural - stones, grass, sand, wood, plants and such.
During the ceremony there are “four doors”, or what I like to describe as “gates” about 20 minutes each in length. While there is only one door in and out of the lodge, the door opens 4 times. During this time, you have the opportunity to leave, but if you do, you cannot come back in for the rest of the ceremony.
The First Door: Remember Who You Are.
According to our Shaman, the second door is known to be the hardest, as it is hottest, and most challenging emotionally. But for me the first one was the hardest.
As soon as the door shut, I felt myself wanting to get out. I felt trapped, I wanted light (I am not ashamed to admit I am afraid of the dark), and my mind was racing. I tried to focus my eyes and couldn’t, even though I was breathing it felt like I wasn’t. I felt scared and alone.
When I reached for the person sitting next to me, she was right there, and grabbed my hand, reminding me, we are never alone. We were all together.
I could begin hear and feel my breath again and my focus came back.
The Shaman encouraged us the whole time by speaking to us and chanting to us.
“Who are you? Where did you come from? Who are your ancestors and what was the culture that you were taught growing up?”
Our root Chakra, which starts right at the base of your spine - Mulhladara - was the focus during this first door.
The Second Door: Feminine Healing and Letting Go
Our Shaman, who stood by us each step of the ceremony talked to us, sang to us, challenged us, and asked us to call upon our female ancestors during this gate.
This door focused on the second and third Chakra, the Sacral and Solar Plexus.
When we called upon our female ancestors, we asked them to helps us send out love, forgiveness, and healing to people in our lives that need it, including ourselves.
This process helps us remember to have empathy, care and forgive others, and let go of what may have harmed or hurt us in the past so that we can move forward and live out our lives the way that we are supposed to - serving our purpose and dharma without constriction.
The Third Door: The Heart, and Masculine Energy
Our Shaman told a story of the hummingbird. Hummingbirds are the smallest bird, but they have the biggest heart of all the birds. In ancient Native American culture, hummingbirds were believed to grow to become eagles - the most respected bird.
We were challenged to think of what we are committed to. What are the things that mean the most to us that we want to give our energy to?
The Fourth Door: Consciousness, Rebirth and Awakening
We were all given a new chance on this day. Each person who experienced this hot, humid, and dark space in Mother Nature’s womb was given a rebirth.
Our Shaman asked us to visualize ourselves as we were that day, and thank the person who we saw in our minds eye, for bringing us as far as they had, for doing our very best. Then we said goodbye to that person.
The person that we were, was exactly enough to get to us to that moment. However, the person that we all had the opportunity to be when we left the lodge was a different version of ourselves. One free from burden, fear, anxiety, loss, and any other emotional or thought weighting us down. Instead, we were welcomed by our Shaman to fly, and be re-born.
Who Am I?
My roots and my family are strong. I’m incredibly blessed. I have a strong family foundation that no matter where I go or what I do will always be with me. I can always return to this.
My Feminine Energy and Forgiving:
My female ancestors - my Italian great grandmothers, grandmothers, and even great aunts played an instrumental part of making me the human I am today. My earliest memories are of these strong women working hard, cooking nutritious and delicious meals, celebrating life and milestones by my side, and most of all, loving me unconditionally and immensely.
Knowing this, I have the same responsibility, to love unconditionally.
My Masculine Energy and Commitment:
My three words that I committed to (and shouted loudly three times at the top of my lungs during the ceremony: family, love, and service). I am committed to family - not just blood relatives, but rather my community, those connected to me and part of my life. And, I am committed to serving, and being of service to this world in whatever capacity I can help to leave this planet better than I found it.
My Rebirth and Awakening:
I left the lodge feeling wide awake, and that I had faced my fear of darkness, amongst other things that often hijack my movement forward. My path felt really clear, and my mind was calm.
Here are some thought provoking exercises that you can do, similar to the sweat lodge experience that can help you:
The First Door: Remember Who You Are:
Go back to your earliest childhood memories and think about those that raised you, and taught you about love, family, and connection. What are the things that stick out?
The Second Door: Your Feminine Ancestors and Forgiveness:
Call upon your ancestors that are no longer with you, ask them to help you let go, ask them to help you have empathy and forgiveness with something that could be holding you back.
The Third Door: The Heart, Masculine Energy:
Challenge yourself to think of the top three things, just one word, that you care committed to in this life. Think of three words, and recite them as your mantra everyday.
The Fourth and Final Door: Your Re-Birth:
Spend time each day being grateful and acknowledging all that you have. Appreciate and love yourself exactly how you. You are exactly where you are supposed to be. Love yourself, recognize the work you have done. Spend time on self recognition.