I felt I needed to share my experience with the tradition of the Lakota sweat lodge ceremony. I know many of you well and many of you appreciate reading the inner experiences of others as a way of learning about ones self. First question that some my ask is: why would anyone do such a thing? Well if you ever sat in a sauna then you know every reason why you would want to build a lodge. It feels absolutely wonderful on a cold, rainy winter day. Especially, after spending 4 hour digging trenches and fanning wet wood.
Second question might be: why in woods, using real rocks and beating dreams and saying prayers? That is the cultural experience of the native Americans that have held these lodges for centuries. The purpose of the lodge in the Lakota tradition is for healing. Healing through fire and water. It became a right of passage because it is very strong medicine. The heat and the steam and the sweat work at cleansing the body. The Lakota recognize this lodge as a special gift from God for the people on earth. And so, a ceremony built up around the lodge as a way to honor that gift. Really quite special way to experience another peoples culture.
I can confirm the great health benefit of the lodge.
Now for the inner experience that occurs. The lodge is a scared place in the tradition and the medicine man is in control of the space and the ceremony. In our case it was Brain, a good friend of Dan. He was trained and studied with the Lakota on the Pine Ridge reservation for the last 20 years. He can speak Lakota and was blessed to perform lodges for others.
After breakfast we got our shit together and headed to the lodge. It’s built from willow saplings once a year by the medicine man. He spends many hours in a area before picking the site. He built this one back in April. We arrived to find an inch of water on the floor, and the grandfather pit in the center full of water. Luckily, there were six of us, all healthy men. I could immediately see how to get the water away from the lodge. 4 hours later things were ready. It was monumentally difficult to move all the water but as group we were determined to have this lodge today. It was the winter solstice. It had to happen.
We put our swim trunks on and headed in after smudging with cedar smoke. We entered and circled the pit in a clockwise fashion and picked our spots. The medicine man began with prayers and songs, then called for 5 stones. The stones were placed and blessed with cedar and prayer. The warmth of the stones after the cold and rain and work was euphoric. Only way to describe it. Euphoric. The rocks are glowing red hot. I had never really seen that before. Rocks have to be around 1200 degree Fahrenheit to glow red. Luckily they were smallish. Maybe 3 to 6 inches in diameter. But the heat from the rock immediately warms your face. It warms you to the bone. That was a pleasant beginning.
Now the lodge is divided into 4 rounds. The medicine man will close the door, pray and sing for a specific purpose on each round. The first round is always the most intense because of the heat of the rock. It is dedicated to the ancestors. The medicine man prays then pours water on the rocks repeatedly. That action produces the hottest steam you can image sitting in. It felt like I was breathing liquid lava. I am not exaggerating. It also feels like there is no air in that steam and your going to suffocate.
Now there is zero pressure by anyone to stay in the lodge if its uncomfortable. I was free to get up a go out. But we were a group of six guys, so there was this unspoken motivation to not be the guy who can not take it. Remember guys and girls have been doing this same thing for centuries. Warriors would sweat before big battles. They did not run out of the lodge on the first round.
So thankfully, the medicine man had given guidance to go low if it gets to hot. I laid on my side at first, but still to hot. I ended up with my nose almost touching the bare ground at the back edge of the lodge. There was one tiny stream of cold air. Once I found that, I thought I had a chance. But the medicine man kept pouring. My body was pouring out sweat. Panic was setting in. Real panic. Not the kind of panic you feel when you forgot your cell phone. This felt like life or death. That kind of panic. At precisely my breaking point, the medicine man called for the door to be opened.
O the relief of that cool air rushing into the lodge. Felt like redemption from hell. I bolted out the door. 30 degree rain hit me. Instant main line of a pot of espresso, would be the right way to describe that. Fully awake.
Round two. This one is dedicated to your family and friends. For their healing. The stones are still very hot. The medicine man gives some reminder and guidance about letting go of the panic, to feel the medicine of the heat. He instructs us to have a short prayer of our choosing. And in the panic moment to remember it and focus only on it. “Oh crap!”, I thought, I am not prepared for this. I did not come up with one before going in. I did not come across that in my research of the Lakota tradition as something I should have prepared. So I kept it simple.
“Health, Wealth and Happiness for All“.
The prayers and songs began. The pouring of the water all the while. HEAT comes again. Panic. Liquid lava in my nose and mouth. There is no air in this lava. I’m going die. O the prayer. Say it. Say it again, nose on the ground, say it again and again. All in my mind. I’m about a minute from running to the door again when he calls for to door to open. Round two completes as I run out the door again.
Round three. This round is dedicated to your personally healing. The rocks have lost some heat now. The pit where the stones sit is filling with water from the saturated ground. We placed a pile of used grandfathers in the bottom because we knew that would happen. The rocks now sizzled slightly as the water rose in the pit. The medicine man prays and sings and pours. It is still liquid lava if you sit up right. I lay down to survive. I say my prayer. I relax a little. I begin to feel I’ve fallen asleep and a dream forms. It is the wise women. She is one of my life long spirit guides. Others would call her a guardian angel. I’m laying on the ground in this dream, exactly where I’m laying in waking life. But there is no lodge and no heat. I’m laying on the ground with my nose almost touch a little patch of mud I uncovered through the blankets. One of her hands was on the back of my head and the other was on my back. She was saying without words, It’s going to be OK It’s going to be OK. And I relaxed further. Another guide appeared, a brother of mine in spirit. The land where the lodge sits is special and he wants to explore it and will tell me later about what he finds.. The medicine man called for the door to open.
Round four. The rock are cooler now. This round is dedicated to freedom of spirit. Yours to use. Prayers and singing and pouring. No more liquid lava. Now it feels like a Norwegian sauna. Awesome. Still very hot and by now you have sweated a gallon and your body has figured it out. But this round is where you can sit and use the heat as medicine. I sit and try to assimilate the experience I just had and absorb the healing of the lodge and the wise women who stands on my left .
After the lodge is a ton of work. Poor Dan has to take 30 blankets to the laundry mat to wash them. They were wet so they weight ten pound each. Monumental. But a good tractor and couple of idiots can accomplish anything. We finally got all the stuff to garage. As I stood in his garage in the dark, she came again on my left and revealed that she is committed to my family. She watched over my mom and many of my other family members. A tradition of sorts.
Gratitude is all I feel now. Gratitude for my friends who pushed through a little adversity. Gratitude for Angie for letting me spend 17 hours in the woods with 5 other crazy, idiot wild men. Gratitude to God for gifting the experiences and helpers in my life. Great way to spend a winter solstice.