An Offering Of Suffering For Those Who Suffer
I love ritual and ceremony. Not because it’s grand and elaborate, although in the right moments, that has it’s own power. Ritual can be as simple as lighting a candle and sending a prayer out into the Universe. Someone once told me that ritual is 99% intention. I cant remember who they were, but I think they were both brilliant and also a little wrong. Ritual might just be 99.9% intention.
When I was invited to join some of my Shakti Rising sisters at a women’s sweat lodge, hosted by lovely San Diego community, Emerald Village, I tried really hard to remind myself how much I love ritual. The moment I said yes, my brain thought of ALL the reasons that I was totally justified to back out. And let me tell you, there was a sizable pile of those reasons.
I had only done one other sweat. And lets just say it wasnt my favorite experience. For one thing, I had been told to fast, which I learned was not an appropriate choice for my body, and my level of preparedness. I had also gone alone, and didnt know anyone at the lodge. Certainly a rite of passage, but again, not the best of choices. After that sweat, I barely made it home, driving with an unbearable migraine.
Also, did I mention how much I *hate* being hot? So yeah, I had some compelling reasons to want to run for the hills. And yet something inside me was nudging me to sweat. I decided to acknowledge all of my fear and resistance and just do it anyway. This definitely didnt make my fear and resistance go away. Those suckers stayed with me right up until I crawled into the lodge.
About 5 days before the sweat, my intention came to me in a flash: Sweat for the drought and the doubt. I would sweat for the drought on our land, that our parched earth could feel the nourishment of rain. I would sweat for the drought within myself - those places where I still resist and deny my own flow. I would sweat for my doubt in myself, in our culture, and even in the Universe…Of course, sweat lodges are often only as intense as the intention that you bring in with you. I dont know if you’ve noticed, but we’re in a pretty righteous drought, folks. I wasnt looking forward to sweating that one out.
Then, a day before the lodge, I saw the forecast for rain on Sunday. Ritual is 99.9% intention. I had already set mine, and the Universe was responding. Rain was coming. I could do this. Spirit had my back. I could let go of doubt and trust.
On Saturday, I ate a nourishing breakfast and lunch. I felt both my powerful intention as well as all of my fear and resistance rattling around in my mind, heart and body. I voiced it all to the soul-sisters who would be joining me on the journey. And I did it anyway.
Before going into the lodge, we each created a strand of prayers and intentions - little colored squares of cloth filled with tobacco (a sacred plant to many Native American tribes), tied together on a string. These would be tied to the ceiling of the lodge, to join the colorful symphony of prayers from all the other souls who had cleansed and sweat in that lodge.
Inside the lodge with the door flap closed, it’s pitch black. Eyes opened or closed, it didnt matter. Every so often the bundled prayers hanging from the ceiling would brush my face or arms in the darkness, and I would jolt as though some strange jungle creature had slid past me in the night. Then I would remember, no, it’s the prayers of others, flapping by like moths seeking the light of Spirit. My own moth prayers among them.
We went for four rounds, with each round comprised of 3-4 Lakota songs. In between, the door flap would be opened, and after a little reprieve, more brightly heated lava stones would be passed in and added to the pile. And as the pile grew, the heat increased. Inside me and outside of me, the heat increased. When it wasnt enough to sweat it out, I cried, deep down from the bottom of my lungs. I cant even tell you why, and I dont think it matters. In the darkness, I could feel a sister’s hand fumble against me until she found my forehead and stroked me tenderly. I had done the same for her the round before. I didnt feel alone. In the depths of that dark womb, I was held by the earth, and also by each woman there with me.
As we went into a new round, our lodge leader shared that part of the sweat lodge tradition was to offering up some intentional suffering, in honor of those who suffer around the world. That our suffering within ritual might ripple out and provide even a moment of respite for those who are truly in need. So we raise our voices in song, we prayed harder as it got hotter, and we sent out our offerings, devotion and love to wherever it was needed. To the land. To those suffering around the world. To our loved ones. Even to ourselves.
Spirit, please take this flaming ball of suffering and do something good with it.
Our last round was dedicated to gratitude. Hotter than I thought I could bear, I pressed my sprig of fresh sage against my nose and breathed through it, deeply grateful for a hint of freshness in the inferno. I pressed my body as close to Mother Earth as I could manage, grateful for the gentle coolness of her body. I turned my whole focus to gratitude almost as a lifeline. Thank you, Spirit, for giving me this life. Thank you for showing me my purpose, and sending the support and encouragement that has helped me walk that narrow path even in fear and doubt. Thank you for this moment, for this body that wants to escape and even for this mind that thinks “I cant do it,” way too often. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all of it.
Crawling out of the lodge and meeting the incredible blessing of cool evening air, I thought that maybe next time I say yes to a sweat, my mind will be a little more encouraging. Or at least a little less vocal about it’s doubt.
Sunday, the rain came. At night, it poured down with that incredible, steady rhythm that felt sadly foreign to my ears after such a long dry spell. My body was still wobbly and exhausted, my mind still fuzzy and a little achy; but, I offered up that suffering too. It was worth it.
If you’re feeling called to a powerful experience of ceremony, cleansing, prayer, indigenous wisdom, mind-over-matter, and community, consider Emerald Village’s monthly sweat lodges. There are both co-ed and women’s only lodges. Transform your suffering into prayer.
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