Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sweat Lodge -chapter three

At the beginning of the second round of the sweat I leaned over and asked Debbie - Stan's assistant during the sweat who had told us she was from Boulder, came up for a sweat after her mother died and, basically, never left - if there would be more sharing during the second round? She said no, just praying. There is a ritual with water that is done while the doors are still open and someone had brought flashlights so we could see as the sun had completely set at this time .... though I had no clue what time it actually was. After this water ritual Stan asks that doors be closed. I looked over at my good friend who had to slip out just before the first round and she was already in her towel tent ... she was staying!

Several folks have emailed me asking what is worn for clothing as well as what the heat might be compared to. The Addison's are a very modest bunch and this is not a Swedish sweat so clothes are worn and all of us were very conscious about being discreet regarding the length of the shorts we wore and the tightness of any tops. But basically once that water is added to those hot rocks the towels are the most important thing you can have in the sweat with you, and big enough to make a tent to cover your head and face as well as other towels to cover your legs and any other exposed skin. The heat is so incredibly intense that no steam bath comes even close in comparison. I think all of us experienced moments of panic at some point with this wall of heat. I found the advice my friend, Roseanne, had given me about taking small sips of air through the open mouth to be the only thing that kept me from screaming for the doors to be opened. If you breathe too deep it actually feels like your lungs are burning and thus your breathing is so compromised that it can bring on panic. But if you can sit with this and breathe through it there is something beyond this panic .... if you stay with it, sip the air that you can and dig deeper into your own reserves ... there is a hugely spiritual thing on the other side of that panic. This is one of the many layers of power that the sweat lodge seems to offer; to be tested to your breaking point and be able to move beyond it .... there is another level that one can reach.

As this second round began and the doors were closed Stan said a few words of thanks and prayer and then asks that the water be added. Again, the heat slammed into me and the sweat began to pour off me. I have never felt the flood gates to my pours open like this; the sweat poured down my face dripping off my nose and chin, cascading down my spine, soaking the towels and my clothes. I would open my mouth to take my little sips of air and suck in water as it drained off me.

And then the praying started. Stan started to sing in his native language the high careening and flute like trilling of the Native American chanting. He has a beautiful voice and when Daniel joined in the sound hit me in the solar plexus, or heart chakra, and my body began to rock. There was something very ancient and completely familiar to me in this music. My tears of gratitude and grief for Jim were mixing with the waterfall of sweat so that I couldn't tell one from the other. As the young Addison girls joined in there was a higher pitched ensemble added to this miraculous melodious prayer. It is one of the most amazing and gorgeous music I have ever heard. Then it stopped and the doors were opened and we all funneled outside once again.

I went and sat with Daniel on the rug under the canopy of the Milky Way. I pointed out a few constellations that I could recognize to Willo and Molly. Daniel shared with us one of the stories of the Milky Way that he had grown up with that involved horses and buffalos. And then he began to sing another song for us ... and again my body began to just rock and a huge smile grew on my face. I so loved hearing his voice, hearing this language, hearing this music. Sitting out under this brilliant display of stars in the chill of the Wyoming air while being sung to by this Arapaho man in his land was more then I could have ever asked for, more then I ever expected and I am eternally grateful to this family for their acceptance of all of us white women who came to them for healing, who embraced us with their songs, who enveloped us in their ritual sweat lodge and brought us all to an understanding of what equality is, what shared pain is all about.

Loving you all back
(and there is still one more chapter regarding the 4th round of the sweat that was incredibly wonderful)


  1. So beautiful -- the tradition, the location, and your ability to evoke it for everyone else.

  2. Hannah, thank you. I do like getting these comments and I appreciate the fact that you understand this!