Citation: Anuzha. "Pressure Cooker for the Soul: An Experience with Sweat Lodge & Fasting (exp78535)". Erowid.org. Jul 2, 2018. erowid.org/exp/78535
Pressure Cooker for the Soul
Sweat Lodge, Fasting (food & water)
In January 2008, I took part in my first ever sweat lodge. I also was firekeeper in February, and took part in lodges in March and April of 2008. These were my initial experiences with sweat lodges, and they were very transformative (especially in April of 2008). I don't know how authentic the background for those lodges was, but it *felt* powerful and loving of the traditions and was focused on the right things.
But real transformations began a year later, when I began apprenticing with an elder on how to pour for a Buffalo Lodge. We had one sweat each month (last Sunday of the month, midday) for four months.
While I could talk about each individual experience, the last was by far the most powerful. In April 2009, the group gathered the evening before on the Native land where the sweat lodge was being held. I live and work on this land, which means I was very busy all day making sure everyone had everything they needed. I got up very early and had a light breakfast (oatmeal and orange juice). From 7:30am until around 5pm, I did not have anything to eat or drink. After getting up, I fed the horses, cut down saplings for the new lodge we were building, put up the new lodge, started a fire in the rain (very challenging), and then like flint we were already about to start the lodge. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was exhausting myself while fasting.
So we went into the lodge. This lodge, unlike any other lodge I had been in, had nearly 30 people. We had two rows of people filling the lodge. It was just about as many as could fit in there. As usual, we said blessings and Grandfather led. Very quickly, after just the first few rocks, the lodge was beginning to get quite hot. I always have a hard time with the heat, cramped quarters, and such of a sweat lodge, but this was already getting pretty rough. Then we closed the door into total darkness and began saying prayers.
We made it through the first round alright, but many people were very hot. Grandfather allows people in these lodges (most of the participants are not natives) to go out if they're hot or need water between rounds. My native aunt says lodges she pours don't allow that. I vowed to stay in for the entire lodge, and not take any water until finished.
The second round began. This time, Grandfather asked me to pour, since each of the apprentices receiving his blessing to lead lodges would pour that day. The heat was unbearable, especially since I was moving the rocks onto the pit myself, as well as pouring the water right over the rocks (steam coming up to me). It took all my energy to do my duties, but I did them. The whole time, I was dripping with sweat. The heat was beginning to be unbearable. After each prayer, I had to lift myself from the ground to the bucket to get water and pour it over the rocks; which made it even hotter still! I prayed and prayed that I could make it through. I actually found that the space where I was allowed for me to get very cool ground, so I was disappointed when Grandfather said he'd have the other apprentice do the 3rd and 4th rounds.
At the end of the 2nd round, I now had a splitting sinus headache. I was completely stuffed up, dripping like I had walked out of a lake, and my sunburn from the day before felt like it was on fire. It is amazing what the body can go through! For the 3rd round, I was now sitting in the back row, rather than the front where I had been the first two rounds. I hoped this would be cooler. It was, but by this point, I was trying to avoid cramps as I realized that I might be suffering from dehydration due to the fasting and sweating. Last summer in the desert, this was an acute problem that brought me to the med tent, so I was very aware of this now.
To add to this, between the 2nd and 3rd rounds, Grandfather gave medicine to the apprentices he was giving his blessing to. He had talked about this for a while over the last few months, and I was sure he meant to give it to me (because he had specifically mentioned me leading lodges many times). But he did not give me medicine. My mind reeled at this. Had he forgot? He can be very forgetful at these lodges and even said more than once, 'I feel like I'm forgetting something...' No one else mentioned that he had not given medicine to me. I was baffled, confused, and wondering if the spirits meant for me to not get the medicine.
For the 3rd round, the heat began to become unbearable. My headache throbbed, my legs were trying to cramp (but thankfully didn't), my mind was racing with attempts to panic (but I've learned to keep it in check), and all my skin felt on fire. I began praying harder than ever before, at one point even whispering to spirits, 'Please help me, please help me...'
When that round stopped, I broke my personal promise and went out of the lodge to get water. This was a case of possible dehydration, so I had to break the fast. Thankfully this wasn't a vision quest or anything more serious. There was no penalty for breaking the fast. It was my own agreement with myself, and I had to keep in mind my health first. I sat down with water for 5-10 minutes, and after a while re-entered the lodge. I was determined to make it through the 4th round.
Again, I was on the ground whispering, 'Please help me, please help me...' I was loosing any ability for structured thought. Yet when my opportunity to pray came up, I switched to another dimension of myself, fully coherent, sitting straight up and said the shortest and densest prayer I've ever said, with all the perfect points hitting like I wanted. I finished with 'aho,' and laid back down as the heat engulfed my body once again.
During this round, I could hear other people having trouble. Some were breathing hard. This is the opposite of what you want to do in a sweat lodge, since heavy breathing increases your intake of outside air (which is hotter). You only want to breathe heavy when the cold air is coming in while the door is open between rounds. Others around me were laying on the floor, and a few were crying and sobbing. The energy of the room's 28 people was beginning to overwhelm my sensitive spirit.
In the 4th round, we just ask Grandfather permission to speak to say our prayers. Some people who somehow were getting through the lodge alright were saying long prayers while others sobbed and were having a tremendously difficult time. I was crushed by my failure to be given medicine by Grandfather, something I felt obligated to achieve for the land here, so I could do sweat lodges for the people here. I felt I had failed the land itself. A tremendous disgrace weighed on my shoulders. Meanwhile, the community of people in the lodge felt as if they were melting away from the pressure of the heat, the spiritual energy flowing through, and the dark closeness.
Finally, when things were just getting too much, I sat bolt straight up again, receiving a blow of heat to my face, yet it now felt cool for some reason. I quickly asked Grandfather permission to speak. And I said a prayer for everyone, for relaxation, easy breathing. And then, I said something that I still regret, even if it was the right thing to do. I prayed that there would be 'a speedy end to the lodge... if it [was] so meant for us.' I didn't know if it was appropriate to say in the lodge, but I knew that the spirits wanted this. They had my back.
Then Grandfather said, 'With that, I'd like to end this round.' I felt like I had interrupted something, said something I shouldn't, as if in my state of ego-destruction (not receiving the medicine), I was lashing out disrespectfully. I got out of the lodge after the round and sat at the edge of the ceremonial area. I weeped and weeped. I felt like I had failed the land and disgraced myself in the lodge. I didn't know what to do.
Most people stayed on to talk for another non-round in the lodge (door open). I was completely disoriented from dehydration, spiritual stress, emotional distress, and physical exhaustion. One of the firekeepers brought me home to my place on the grounds where I took a nice long shower. I knew I had to shower, but I didn't realize until I was in the shower why. I had to cleanse myself of all the stuff I had just sweat out, the toxic energy of my ego, my attachments, the sympathetic energies I had been feeling from others, and more. Washing oneself after spiritual work is a great method of clearing the energy. I regained full coherence and physical stamina in the next half hour.
But my emotions were still crushed. I still had crying bouts that evening and the next morning. I decided to take a half day off the next morning, since I had been working far too hard (all week and all weekend on top of HEAVY spiritual work). It was a godsend. I continued to say prayers for guidance, as I felt a bit lost now. Where was I supposed to go on my spiritual path, now that I was in such a terrible position?
Around noon on that Monday, I went down to the office where Grandfather was speaking to my boss (my native aunt). In that conversation, I got to ask him. I said, 'Grandfather, did you intend not to give me medicine yesterday?'
'I didn't give you some?'
'No, did you forget?'
'Yeah, I must've forgotten. I'm sorry!'
The next day, we went back up to the ceremonial area where he gave me the medicine and his blessing to lead sweat lodges. Additionally, he said that I had not disgraced myself at all. He said it was okay that I had prayed for what I prayed for. I'm not sure that would have been okay with other native elders, but he didn't seem to mind at all and thought it was okay since people were really having a hard time in there.
It turned out that all my fears and bad feelings were manufactured in my head, but served to keep my ego in check. When I finally received the medicine and his blessing, I was VERY grateful and extremely humbled before our ancestors after this amazingly transformative experience.
To experience something really magickal without having to ingest any special substance, sweat lodges have been an amazing way to pray. I am eternally grateful for those who have helped me set on this path. Aho!
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