I first met Adam and his girlfriend, Stephanie, at the first yoga teacher training weekend. They showed up with meditation stools and other fancy accouterments of yoga. I was totally in awe. These guys were the real deal.
But when we got back from our lunch break, the ideal was dashed for as we took off our shoes and got ready for the second half of the day, I saw their Taco Bell cups. I laughed and asked them about it and Adam said it was one of his favorite places. I love it. They are both real people down for a meditative experience or “weird shit” as Adam describes it below.
For today’s post, Adam explains what it was like to visit a Native American sweat lodge. Pretty interesting stuff, so enjoy!
For about the last 18 months of my life I would say I have spent approximately 51% of my day-to-day mundane — take out the trash, put the seat down — existence being happy. While this is not an overwhelming majority, it is a majority and (I hope) represents a fundamental shift in my happiness set point (google it). Regardless, for a hot minute I’ve been happy more of the time than I have not and that’s pretty cool.
Honesty affords me the opportunity to admit it may be a coincidence, but I believe it otherwise. I believe that because I am willing to do weird shit in the pursuit of spiritual experience and growth, I am happier. In the last 18 months, I have spent 22 days in noble silence, completed a 200 hour Integrative Yoga Therapy teacher training, was a long-term residential server at a meditation center (Dhamma Pakasa in Pecatonica, IL) meditated for hundreds of hours, generally lived the life of a Dhamma Bum/wandering yogi and have relocated to Denver, the setting for the experience I am about to relate.
Because the nature of what I am about to tell you is very individual and experiential please try to keep in mind that I am sharing my experience. Should you ever come and participate in this ceremony, your experience will be different from mine. Also, there is a certain segment of the Native American population that believes it is heretical for a white man to participate in this ceremony or know about the Red Road (google that too). Threats of violence have come to the leadership of this circle and for their safety names and exact locations have been excluded. It is my goal to impartially share the structure and form of this ceremony and relate some of my individual experience in the given context.
Through some old and new friends in the Denver metro area I was invited to participate in several open healing/dreaming/teaching sweat lodges. I am grateful for these experiences and approach their description with reverence and humility.
When I told my family I was going to do a lodge they were all like “people die in those things.” Emphasis on die. This is not a place like that. The first fundamental principle of this ceremony is do yourself no harm. Whatever that means to you, it is your duty to honor that spirit, however that looks. If your experience on any level becomes too intense you are always free to leave the lodge and take respite outside. I think this nurturing, do no self-harm (spiritual or physical) attitude is borne out of another fundamental principle of the lodge, intention. There are certain specific rituals, prayers, words and songs but the form or execution of these traditions is secondary to the intention a participant holds in their heart. As long as your intention comes from a place of respect and goodwill, basically, you’re good.
The actual ceremony begins a few hours before most of the participants arrive. A specially selected pile of stones are chosen, prayed over and then heated over an open flame for a few hours. There is no set heating time and once the stones are chosen the ceremony runs on “Indian Time” or by a third fundamental principle of the lodge, instinct. If it is someone’s first time attending a lodge in this tradition they are asked to arrive about an hour before the planned entering time to receive a teaching about the ceremony and the practical logistics of praying in a warm space with some other people. While this teaching is occurring, more experienced participants dress the dome like lodge structure (affectionately referred to as the grandmother) in blankets and canvas.
The lodge is then prayed over and blessed and the participants form a line at the door. Once everyone has entered the lodge, a specific number of stones are brought in and four rounds of prayer commence. The rounds of prayer are led by the water pourer who guides the ceremony. As the prayers are offered the water pourer pours water on the hot stones to symbolize the prayers of the participants being heard and rising up towards the heavens. Each round of prayer has a different intent and in between each round a water break is taken and participants can leave the lodge to recoup.
The first round of prayer is prayers for self. Here, I shared out loud the secret aspirations and hopes my own heart has for itself. It’s nice to hear other people praying for themselves and there is a shared sense of humanity in this journey. I may say the words in different ways but what I am really asking for is to be made perfect in my love for myself. I also ask that I would not negotiate with love. It’s my opinion that beginning with prayers for self is much like how Buddhist traditions with which I am familiar begin their Metta practice. If we cannot love and pray for ourselves, how can we be of love and service to our fellows?
The second round of prayer is prayers for others. Here we express our well wishes and particular requests for those involved in our lives. I put out into the ether specific things and wishes I have for the well-being of others. Whether or not these things come to fruition as I may or may not like, I have expressed the love in my heart for another being and that creates a sense of connection and investment in their prosperity.
The third round is the give-away round. The give-away is twofold. First I give away the impediments I carry that inhibit my personal growth. Then I also give away my talents and skills that can benefit others. The idea is to not hold onto anything. Good nor bad. Be a hollow bone.
The fourth round is one of participant silence. The water pourer tells this tradition’s the story of creation and the lodge door is opened. You are welcome to sit for as long as you like once this end occurs. Your exiting of the “grandmother” womb is intended to symbolize your rebirth into the world, awakened to the prayers you have offered.
Once the lodge is complete, everyone shares in a communal pot luck feast. Food has never tasted better.
I can’t say exactly what I get out of a lodge. Mostly, it’s about coming together and being open.