Shamanic Sweat Lodge
Last Sunday I went to a sweat lodge with a group of friends. Earlier in the year, my friend introduced me to a shaman, and ever since, I have been a frequent visitor.
We all met near San Blas on Sunday morning. Kush came down to meet us and drive us up to his house. Seven of us piled into the back of his white jeep and began the bumpy trek up the winding mountain– the houses growing more and more distant as we made our ascent.
None of my friends have ever met Kush before or gone to his house, so they weren’t sure what to expect. I didn’t know what to expect either since I had never been to a sweat lodge. When we arrived, Kush’s helpers were stoking the fire and setting up a canopy outside with a table underneath for lunch after the ceremony.
The actual structure in which we were going to sit was a circular stone bench, low to the ground and big enough to fit around 25 people. The wall was about 3 feet tall. Blankets and tarps strapped across the top, eliminating any chance for light or air to filter in. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to breathe at all inside. When the stones were ready, we began the ceremony. We lined up outside of the lodge, and Allen, Kush’s apprentice, was smudging with smoke. He then told us that if we wished to connect with the energy of the Cosmos, to walk in a circle counter-clockwise, and if we wished to connect with the energy of the Earth, we could walk in a circle clockwise.
Most of us walked clockwise and ended the walk with a crawl into the darkness of our hibernation. We filled up every empty space inside, and Kush brought in his 1 and 1/2 year old daughter–Cusi ( which means joy in Quechua).
In the center of the circle, there was a pit to hold stones that were going to be brought in from the fire outside. The stones (known as abuelos or grandfathers) were brought in four groups of seven to honor each of the four cardinal directions. Each group was brought in and handled with the antlers of some type of deer. When the first group was brought in, Kush poured water over them, releasing steam over all of us. Our breathing simultaneously grew louder. We all had instruments and listened to the drumming of whoever wanted to play. This was a space of opening and sharing, of being the primal human outside of the world of time and structure. Everything inside was pitch black so insecurities could be shed with relief and without hesitation.
Tears started streaming and rolling. Screams were let out–healing began. We all recognized this as a safe space to let go of all the judgment and self-doubt we’ve been taught to accept since we were young. Any vocal crescendo was contagious. Pretty soon we were all howling like wolves in the night–releasing any past conditioning we were ready to let go of.
When the last group was brought in (after about 2 hours), I knew that this was the last round I could stand to take. My eyes were like jelly at this point. I had to surrender into everything my body was feeling.
Kush shouted “Puerta!” for the fourth and final time. Allen opened the blanket covering the door, as I crawled out I was met by his smiling face in the open air. I said to him, “I feel like I’ve just emerged from the womb.” He laughed and said, “I think that’s the point.”
I immediately crawled over to Lolo, the dog, and laid next to him and stared up at the muffled gray sky, listening to the stubborn thunder in the distance. A light rain started to drizzle, and after everyone was out, we all gathered around a huge bucket of water and dowsed ourselves with it. We then slowly moved inside to eat a delicious meal cooked for us by Kush’s family and friends.
The sweat lodge offered us a chance to realize a connection to our animal side–a connection to the place in ourselves that existed before we were ever told we weren’t good enough. That raw, creative, uninhibited energy. And that energy still exists in all of us, but some are numbed by the constant repetition of expectations of how one should act, how one should think, and so many more soul-depriving restrictions.
Those seeking redemption will find it. It can be found anywhere–a sweat lodge in the Cusco Valley of Peru, the mountains of Montana, or the lakes of New York. Healing is afforded to anyone willing to sit a little more quietly and breathe a little more deeply.
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