20 Jan 2018
For many the idea of sitting in a crowded small space, completely in the dark, with intense heat and dripping in sweat for around three hours sounds like an ordeal too much to bear. Yeah, I get it. I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle it either. It was one of the most intense experiences I have ever encountered and why on earth would anyone put themselves through it right? What if I told you that as intense as it was, it happened to be one of the most profound and revitalising experiences I have ever encountered? Much like the rush felt after birthing my son this sacred ceremony left me feeling like a new human, connected and totally "blissed out". I had no idea it was possible to feel so much love and euphoria (without the assistance of some mind altering substance) but by golly for me it was a mind battle to get there. Although this is incredibly difficult to put into words and words really don’t give the experience the justice it deserves, I thought I would somehow shed a little insight into what my personal experience was like as well as some of the internal dialogue going on in my mind in the hope that you may get something out of it too. Whether it is an inkling of an idea, curiosity or just the pure entertainment of hearing someone’s story, enjoy. Take from it what you will and know that the internal mind battle happens to all of us. We are probably more alike than you realise.
** Disclaimer: this is purely through my perception on what was happening around and within me and is not necessarily what other people experienced.
The ceremony begins by calling in the spirits and lighting the sacred fire. In the centre of the fire and surrounded by wood are the neatly piled stones that will be used inside the lodge. The stones can’t be seen at this point and they begin their own ceremony of drawing in the heat from the fire (fire being a representation of the sun) as the wood starts to burn. As the flames slowly dance around the stones we then turn our attention to dressing the lodge which lays a few metres from the fire. The lodge itself is a simple dome structure roughly two metres in diameter and constructed out of long thin branches. At this stage, it is bare and contains no coverings. In the centre of the lodge is a dug out pit to which the heated stones will be placed. Just outside the entrance to the lodge is an earth mound alter which holds the sacred objects used throughout ceremony.
We start to gather blankets and cover the dome structure completely so that no light can get in. Another beautiful soul and I are honoured to go inside the lodge and adjust the blankets to ensure that not speck of light can be seen. We tuck and pull the blankets in all directions around the structure until we are surrounded in complete darkness. Wary of the deep hole in the centre we shuffle around the outer perimeter tucking and adjusting. It must be perfect. My mind starts to play tricks on me and I suddenly realise I have no idea where I am. It looks the same whether my eyes are open or shut...so weird...there are no boundaries, it’s like I am looking into nothingness. We then hear a muffled voice from one of the ceremonial leaders asking us to spend another fifteen minutes sitting in the darkness to allow our eyes to adjust and ensure there is absolutely no light coming in. After a few minutes my body starts rocking, my breathing speeds up and I feel a wave of anxiety rush over. Get out, I need to see where I am, I can’t see a thing! Eeeek...we haven’t even started with the heat yet. This is going to be interesting, I’m already freaking out!....I begin to focus on slowing down my breath and speak out to my fellow friend inside the lodge. She is there, she is OK, I am not alone. As I calm myself down, I start to feel my body moving and swaying with the vortex of energy that is starting to accumulate within the lodge. Coooool, wow this is awesome! Yes, I am going to be fine. Just go with the flow and don’t resist it.
Some time passes (no idea how much, could have been five minutes, could have been thirty) and now happy that there was not a speck of light to be seen, my friend and I exit the lodge into the brightness of the day. Whoa! Already I’m feeling different and we haven’t even begun. The grass and trees looked greener, people’s skin tone seemed brighter and every colour had so much more vibrancy. After an hour or so we are advised by the ceremonial leader that the stones were ready. We get changed into our “sweat gear” (shorts, t-shirts, sarongs) and gathered together to then enter the lodge.
Before entering we smudge ourselves (cleanse our energy fields using white sage) and pay our respects to the seven directions. We enter the lodge by crawling in, with women entering first, followed by the men. How on earth are we going to get twenty two people in here? We squish in the small space, side by side, forming two circles. Thank goodness I’m on the outside circle. I’m already feeling claustrophobic. More and more people come in. There is nowhere to put my legs. Three hours sitting like this, what am I doing? This better be worth it. OK, just breathe woman!
Everyone who wants to come into the lodge is now in. Some people have decided to stay out and participate in the ceremony in other ways. Fair enough too, this is certainly not for everyone. In fact I’m having second thoughts right now. Should I get out? Yes, get out now! No wait a minute, slow down your breathing, you are perfectly safe.
The stones are called for and the wonderful people tending the fire then bring the scorching stones in one by one with a pitch fork. The stones are bigger than I expected and looked heavy. Each stone is welcomed in and placed into the pit. The stones are then arranged into place using deer antlers. I lost count after the first few stones were put in; there were at least seven though, possibly more. Sage is sprinkled over each stone and the lodge starts to fill with smoke. The heat intensifies quickly as each stone comes in. A bucket of water is also brought into the lodge and then the door is shut and we are in complete darkness. Twenty two bodies are cramped into the tiny space which is smoky, pitch black and rapidly heating up. The ceremony leader ladles water over the stones. Wumph, instant steam! He then ladles on more and more. Gahhh, it’s so hot! Instant sweat but at least the smoke has dissipated. Someone calls out. They want to get out now. Someone else wants to move closer to the door, then another. Block it out girl, don’t get caught up in their stuff, just breathe, you can do this.
The ceremonial leaders begin to sing songs. There are clap sticks within the lodge but no room for drums. Some people outside the lodge start to play drums to the rhythm of the songs. The beat takes my focus of the heat; I listen to the beautiful harmony that is taking place. My leg starts to ache, I have to move it. Accidently kick the person next to me. Ooopps...so sorry hun. Need to move, this heat is intense, there is no space, good gravy what am I doing? I feel invisible walls start to cave in and I want to scream and stretch out but I hold it back. It’s OK, just focus on the beat. Feel anxiety start to creep back in. Is it mine? Is it the person next to me? Is it a collaboration of everyone’s stuff? I don’t know. All I know is that I want out. I feel like I am suffocating and I’m not sure how much longer I can hold this. The singing stops. No please keep singing, it’s soothing, keep the beat going, it is reminding my heart to continue to beat, without it I think it will stop. Or will it. Wait a minute, what’s going on?? Someone has to get out. The door opens. A little relief, a little air, a little light. Round one is over. Another three to go. I feel dizzy. Some space opens up as someone leaves, I can now stretch my leg out a little. Ahhh, yeap that’s better, I can do this.
More stones are brought in. This time cedar is sprinkled over each one and a lovely aroma starts to fill the lodge but by golly that temperature is rising and fast. Surely it can’t get much hotter than this can it? Drip, drip, drip, the sweat is pouring off my body. I have to use the towel to shield myself from the intensity of the heat coming from the pit. Oh my goodness these poor people on the inside circle right next to the fire – they are copping it hardcore. Should I give up my place so they can have a break? I don’t know if I can. I’m being completely selfish I know but I don’t know if I can do this as it is. Someone else needs out. My neighbour next to me needs to lie down. We shuffle until everyone is as comfortable as possible then the door closes again. More water is ladled onto the stones, then more and more. As each one goes I feel a part of me sink a little further into the ground. The heaviness of each breath is exhausting. People want more water on there. Really?? WTF peeps? Are you nuts?? OK do as you will. Sure why not? Let’s push this to see how far we can go? That's it, I’m done! Can we stop now, please???
By now I’ve lost all sense of boundaries within my physical body. I have no idea where my space ends and someone else’s begins. I feel like a big pile of hot liquid goo. Far out this is intense! OK so second round is when we say our prayers. What am I praying for? To get out of the hell out of here? I seem to come in and out of awareness hearing what people are praying for and then it all just sounds like muffles. My goodness some people waffle on. Let’s get on with it so that door can open again! OK snap out of it, this is a sacred space – listen to what people are saying, be present. The battle continues: this is torture, people get to the point. Let’s get this show moving! Another part of me answers: Here I go again, wishing my life away. Let it go woman, how often does one get to experience this?
By this stage, my neighbour has finished her prayer. Oh no it’s my turn. What am I praying for?...Dunno – some waffle comes out of my mouth and I say it as quick as possible. Each word is draining to speak, as I try to repress the negativity that wants to burst out. Onto the next person. I have to move, sitting still I feel like a time bomb ready to blow! I start to rock from side to side. Ahh that’s better. Dispel some of this wound up energy. It’s like releasing a pressure valve. I can now focus on what people are saying. Stay focused. I stop rocking as I feel I am impeding on the ones that are sitting next to me. Nup, not a good idea, I think I am going to be sick, keep rocking, it’s all OK.
After what seemed like an eternity, everyone had finished their prayers. The energy of the lodge was intense. Like a bubble about to burst. The door is finally opened again and I can now see some of the people around me. Some are lying down in the foetal position, some with their head between their knees, some rocking, some still but all seemed to be melting into the floor. As crazy as it sounds, it was a beautiful sight. The rawness of the experience was upon us.
We are at the half way point now. Some herb infused water is passed around. It’s like magic and I had never tasted anything so good. It’s so sweet, mmmm...I guzzle it down greedily and then pass it on to the next to get their fill. A fleeting moment of bliss in what seemed like an eternity of anguish and pain. The peace pipes were passed around and we all had a small puff of tobacco. Remember what they said, don’t inhale the smoke. How do I do that? I only know how to inhale?! Oh well, give it a shot. Did I inhale, I have no idea. Too hot to care anyways. The peace pipe leaves the lodge and then more stones are welcomed in. More?! How many more could possibly fit into that pit?! Sweet grass is burnt over each stone and then the door closes once again. The water is ladled over the stones again and again and wumpf! The intensity just got turned up another few notches. How far can we actually push this? Singing starts and someone calls out that they need to leave. We make space and she crawls out collapsing on the cool ground outside. Should I follow her? No, stay where you are. The door closes again and more water is added. Singing and drumming starts up again. I can’t stop rocking, my body shakes with the intensity of whatever was going on in there and I can no longer fight it. I just let it go and do what it needs to. My mind screams and I feel like I am breathing fire. The singing intensifies, we start chanting, and I start to see flicks of colour here and there. I feel the energy build up and up and up and just when I think it can’t go any more, IT. JUST. KEEPS. ON. BUILDING! I hear someone dry retching, others cry out in anguish, someone sounds like they are giving birth and there is crying being heard from outside. We were all fighting our personal battles but not alone. We were together and it was beautiful. Let it go, let it go... I keep telling myself. Next thing I knew, the third round was over. That wasn’t so bad. One more to go, I can do this....
More scorching stones are welcomed in. Oh look a little bitty one, that’s the last one. Awesome, let’s go. Lavender is sprinkled on each stone. I can’t smell it. I think my olfactory nerve has shrivelled into nothingness. Surely I will be able to smell again right? Hmmmm....Must straighten out both legs. Feel some of this cool wet earth beneath me. Oh thank you mother earth, where would I be without you? Check on the ladies next to me. Yeap they’re OK. The door closes again. Some people want to move away from the heat. Can I take one for the team and move forward? No I can’t. Stop trying to be a martyr woman, you are at your limit.
Water is being poured over the stones. Then more and some more. Gahhhhh, I’m burning from the inside out or is it outside in? Surely I’m breathing fire. Need to shield myself from the stones, the heat, and the steam. Bring towel up over my face. Gahhhhh, what’s going on! This is safe right?! I feel sick, dizzy and really freaking weird right now. I can’t feel my legs, my arms, my anything. Am I being dissolved into the heat? Surely not. Where are the boundaries of where I am and the person next to me, or even the people outside. How do I bring myself back into my body? Am I outside my body? Does my body even exist? Why are people are talking? What are they saying? I tune back in. What’s going on? Oh yeah, now we give thanks and share what we want to. Beautiful prayers, songs, chants are being shared. These are really special but man I got to get out of here. I can’t handle this intensity. Yes I can. No I can’t! I want out, how do I even move my body? Wait, I am moving, rocking. I’ve been rocking this whole time. How do I stop? I can’t, must keep moving. Breathing really fast now. Far out this is intense! Why on earth would anyone put themselves through this? They have been doing this for centuries, there must be something in it surely? Why? Pay attention, come back to the now. F@#$ “the now”! Now is too intense! C’mon people let’s get this done. Got to get out of here. Snap out of it. Whose voice is talking? The lady next to me. Argh, my turn next.
I want to scream but I hold it back. A fleeting moment of clarity and awareness comes through. Wow, this is amazing, what an experience. There is such a fine line between pleasure and pain, sanity and insanity. Does the line even exist? Who put it there? What defines what? Oh wait, come back I need to say something. Wait can you feel that...whoa...I think I feel everyone’s heart beating in synch. No wait, must be my imagination...nope pretty sure that is what I am feeling. One huge heart beating as one, pure magic. Oh yeah, got to talk now. Do my vocal cords work? Yeap. I give thanks to everyone and everything. And I actually mean it. Wow, I really feel this gratitude in my body. I think I want to cry. It’s all amazing. You are all amazing, what an experience! Onto the next person. Just keep it together, we are almost there.
The heat is too much. I place my hands on ground. Grounding, yes I need grounding. A weird, almost orgasmic sensation is being felt around my sacral area. A buzzing, tingling, swirling of energy. Intense love, unconditional love. Wow that feels awesome! It creeps up higher and higher and stops at my heart. Whoa! It feels like a bursting of love through my heart chakra. Wait it’s still building. My body tingles all over. It goes up the back of the neck and my third eye feels like it is beaming. My whole head is buzzing. I think my brain is about to explode, doesn’t matter, feels good, go with it. More prayers are said, songs are sung and water ladled onto the stones. Whoa! It like a million degrees in here. My body is boiling, it’s too much. I need to get out, I need to get out. I MUST GET OUT! Hurry up, come on, come on! It’s OK, go back to that feeling....nup I can’t, I’ve lost it. I. HAVE. TO. GET. OUT. OF. HERE. NOW!!
By this stage I am breathing so ridiculously fast, rocking, and swaying, to and fro. Round and around in circles I go. So intense. Only two more people left, thank goodness, stay here, stay here, stay here in your body. So exhausted, can’t keep going, open the door. Pleeeeeaaasssseee open the door. OPEN THE FREAKEN DOOR! And just like that the door opens. It’s over. We are done. We did it! We actually did it! I slowly use whatever is left in me to crawl around to the door. I kiss the cold earth as I leave the lodge and leave all my emotional baggage behind me. Do with it what you will cosmos, I’m done with it! I then crawl over to a cold wet patch of grass and collapse in a heap. The cold earth embraces me. I look up to the sky and see the trees above me breathing. Everything is pulsing, everything is alive. Everything looks so different and like nothing I have ever seen before. Such magic and miracles everywhere. Breathing starts to come back to normal and I shake some of the stuck energy in my hip out. Go, I don’t need you anymore. Go in love and thank you.
Water is passed around and is like ecstasy for the body. I feel love pulsing in every direction from every being - physical and non-physical. This is euphoric, this is real! I look into the eyes of the people around me and see their souls sparkling before me. I feel the unconditional love pouring forth, I gratefully receive it and beam it out to everyone in return. Hugs all round. You guys are amazing. I love you. I actually really love you and I don’t know a thing about you! I don’t even know half of your names! The barriers had been broken down and we were one pulsing, unconditional loving entity beaming brightly. These people who were strangers before now feel like my family, a part of me. I must hold onto this feeling and beam it out for as long as I can. Forever. Can I do hold it forever? If everyone in the world could experience this feeling just once in their lifetime...wow what a different world it would be. It occurs to me that anyone can tap into this at any time. We just need to let go of all fear, all labels, all conditioning, all self righteousness and all judgements. We are all one, all connected. Wow, I’m just going to sit in the bubble of bliss for as long as I possibly can. This is actually what it feels like to be alive, present and connected. Am I high? What was in that water? Who cares, this is awesome. Wow, just WOW!!
My thoughts then continued on like this for some time and I was determined to keep that feeling alive for as long as possible. Over the following days the feeling started to fade but it will not be gone forever. My perception had shifted once again. I feel lighter and am able to tap into that beautiful feeling that lies within. I came to truly understand the message conveyed by the ceremonial leaders about the importance of community and connection in healing. We are each other’s medicine, we just need to allow it to flow through us.
As I write this, I sit here and I wonder. Why on earth do we choose pain and separation when there is this astonishingly indescribable feeling of unconditional love available to us all? We get so caught up in the mundane, societal expectations and “real life” which has been forced down our throats that we are unable to remember we are connected and one. If anyone of us is hurting or sick, we are ALL hurting and sick. Is it not time to stop turning away and start turning towards each other? We’ve got each other’s back we just got to get our egos and fear out of the way. Community heals, isolation and separation breaks us apart. Sure there are times when solitude may be required and necessary but in times of sickness and distress, we need each other. Someone to listen, to really listen, without judgement or criticism. To feel like we are loved unconditionally regardless of our beliefs, thoughts and the ridiculous internal mind battle that we all seem to have. If you are reading this and even if you are not I want you to know that you are loved unconditionally and I am grateful that you are here with me in this time and space. You might think that this is some hippy tree hugging fluff and yeah so what if it is. It feels good and it feels real. Let’s rise above the bulldust peeps and make our real life real xo