Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Scenes from a Sweat Lodge

Recently, I was invited to participate in a sacred Native American prayer ceremony called a sweat lodge. A “sweat” is basically a cocoon of people praying together in the heat and the dark, in a hole in the earth covered by sticks and tarps. Red hot rocks are shoveled into a pit in the center of the lodge and water is splattered on top, causing intense steam to rise up. This goes on for 7 or more “rounds.” It’s a test of physical and psychological endurance and, by the end of the ceremony, you feel purified and even transformed. This sweat was led by an author whose work I’ve always admired, Lewis Mehl-Madrona, MD (Lewis is Cherokee-Lakota).

So there I was, crammed into this tiny earth-womb—doing something that I’d wanted to experience since I learned about this Native tradition—and by round 2, I’m asking myself: WHY the heck am I doing this again? Two people had already dropped out and Lewis made some comment about the Grandfather Spirits making the stones hotter than usual. By round 4, we were all suffering. Two more people had exited. Then, the woman to my left wanted out quickly—she was feeling faint. I was blocking her way, so I grabbed her arm, walked her out of the lodge, sat her on a blanket and looked around for a bottle of water to offer her. By then, the lodge door (basically, a blanket) was closed and round 5 had begun. I sat and listened as everyone ELSE sang and drank medicine of geranium-frankincense-clove.

Now I was on the “outside” and, not knowing the protocol, wasn’t sure I could go back in. I lay back on the dirt, drenched in sweat, really internally upset. The mental theatrics began: Why am I out here? Should I have thought just of myself and gone directly back in? Others outside the lodge could have helped that woman…was I using her as an excuse to not go right back in? I think I have courage but maybe I’m a wimp, a wuss. Eventually, the person guarding the door came over to ask if I needed anything. “I need to go back inside!” I said. Before the next round, he opened the door and I quietly slid back in. The final rounds were the most ecstatic.

Wow, a second chance to go back in! A second chance in the circle! An opportunity to find a deeper courage that speaks to what I really want: I want the experience! Being on the outside was more suffering than taking the suffocating heat.

So, I offer this creative thread for the day: what is it that you’ve started to write or create, then stopped because you didn’t think you had the courage or stamina to keep going? Are you suffering more now because you stopped? (Be honest!) If so, return to this project. Or perhaps there is a situation in your past that you would like to “rewrite”. Face your own fire and allow your creative spirit to purify and transform this situation. Writing is powerful that way—it has the ability to transmute. So, step back in the circle. As of this moment, you have officially been granted a second chance.