It’s hard to know where to begin to describe this amazing experience, of which the actual sweat is only a part. We arrived at our hotel after taking a bit of a circuitous route as I’d put myself on auto pilot and took the 5 instead of staying on the 210, then got stuck in the far left lane when I might have gotten back on track by taking the 134 to the 210, so it took us a bit longer to get there, especially with a couple of patches of traffic caused my accidents along the way (fortunately, it did not appear that anyone was seriously injured in either). We checked in, dropped off our overnight stuff and did a little walking to find a place to eat and walk off nearly two hours of sitting. After lunch and another quick stop at the hotel, we headed over to my friend, Frances’ ranch. As we’re reading the note on her front door directing everyone around back, I hear, “She’s Here!” and Frances bursts out the door and envelops me in a warm hug! We embark on a tour of her beautiful home which of course, includes being introduced to all of her non-human children and I see how she’s set things up so everyone is protected from their natural predators but everyone is allowed to coexist (predators included). The cats have an outdoor area that is fully screened so they can go out but the bobcats and coyotes can’t get to them, but at the same time, they can’t get to the birds, squirrels and mice which they might otherwise hunt. Chickens are in two screened in enclosures, one for the older birds and one for the younger, with a separate enclosure within an enclosure for a disabled bird that she might be protected from attacks from the other birds. (this is rambling all over the place, but I’m just trying to get all of my thoughts and observations down!).
I see the infamous gardens with strawberries, artichokes and many varieties of lettuce (which I understand the squirrels find tasty as well). Along the small hillside, I’m sure I spot some kind of squash plant as well. Perhaps pumpkins?
A short walk past the garden we come to the area where the sweat will be held. A huge pile of logs lays waiting to be used to stoke the fire which is enclosed in a pit with a metal cage along the back to minimize the risk of sparks flying into somewhat dry vegetation (this year’s rains surely held off the drying). A path delineated by small rocks, and cleared carefully leads to the large domed structure which is covered in heavy tarps which appear to be quilted together. As the tarps are being shaken out and readied for the ceremony, Frances leans down and starts picking up little gray bits of something. The “somethings” turn out to be baby mice who didn’t even look like they had their eyes open yet. Mama seems to have taken off when all of the activity started, leaving the babies behind, so they, being another living being, were taken back to the house to be looked after and hand fed a gruel by Frances’ youngest daughter and the Sweat Master’s daughter. Tables, benches and chairs are scattered around and a faucet which is linked to the irrigation system in the garden yields sweet, clear well water for drinking as well.
This sweat had a lot of first timers, so both Frances and Robert John, the Sweat Master took a lot of time educating us all in the protocol of the sweat ceremony, and making sure we all felt comfortable about the experience we were about to have. A great deal of time was then spent just talking to the other participants, getting to know each other, sharing pieces of ourselves. What was truly amazing was that, before we even entered the circle before the ceremony, we already had a sense of community. There was no sense of awkwardness at meeting new people, everyone was open and friendly and quickly found areas of common ground. In looking back, I am sure that where we stood was sacred ground, either because of it’s past history, or because of what Frances, her family and friends have made it. There is such a sense of peace and harmony that you can’t help being affected by it, and more, want to return to it to live that experience again. Everyone there was connected in some way to animals as well as to earth and to old traditions. The ages ranged from children to older adults, but everyone was treated with respect and other than the responsibilites certain people held and for which they were, what I can only call honored, there really was no hierarchy, or any need for one. I truly felt the fact that we are Divine beings having a human experience, and as such, human age has no bearing on the age or wisdom of the spirit within. Especially strong for me was the fact that religious beliefs were respected, regardless of what they were, and everything was accepted. We had all come together for the purpose of the sweat ceremony and differences didn’t matter, were simply part of each of our uniqueness and what we brought to the overall experience.
Driving home, Heather, Mathom and I discussed the experience and began to understand that the sweat ceremony does not begin or end when you enter or leave the sweat lodge. The potluck meal afterwards continued that sense of community whereby we could sit in a small enclosed space with people who might have been strangers to us before we arrived, but with whom we are part of the whole to which we all belong. Everything from beneficial foods and cooking to experiences to be had later in the weekend and beyond were shared as we enjoyed each others’ offerings and Frances’ hospitality and Robert John’s wisdom. (I think someone is trying to inject something here, as a book and a can of dust remover just jumped off the bookshelf. The book was Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons) But that’s only the start. We were all profoundly affected and the effects will continue to become clear in the coming days, at least. We hope to attend their last sweat before they stop for the summer which will be next (or is it this?) month.
And the Universe, in it’s infinite wisdom continues to whack me over the head so I don’t forget my soul purpose. In instructing us about the sweat ceremony, one woman mentioned that her mother had committed suicide and that the sweat ceremonies had helped her release the negative feelings and accept. We talked a bit about my book and how I wanted to explore not only my feelings and experiences but how others had felt and coped and resolved their issues with family suicide. She talked about a student who had gone back to school at 40 after serving in the military. He’d been deployed when his son committed suicide and was still trying to come to terms with it. As she spoke, I learned about yet another dynamic I’d like to include in my book eventually. (Could it be that this is meant to be a series of books rather than just one?) Currently, I have my own experience of parents, and will hopefully learn more about her experiences with her mother. If Janet is up to it, I’d like to explore her experience with her son who lived close by, and with whom they had been using “tough love” to try to get him to straighten out his life. I hope to have the opportunity to explore, also, the dynamic of a child’s suicide when you’re out of the country and had no knowledge or understanding of the depths of their despair, nor the ability to help. In short, as I continue to open up to people about my own experiences, I learn about other dynamics which, I think, no matter how much research I do on the internet, I’ll never glean from anything short of talking to people. The fact is, the internet, however useful, still has an impersonal element, and the impersonal is not what I envision for the story I need to tell, to share. Only by injecting a very personal element will I really reach people who have lived through the aftermath of a family member’s suicide and come out the other side, different, changed. Some will have come through, better for the way they dealt with the experience, and others may have never really dealt with it at all, and as with everything, there are many levels in between. I can certainly see the woman at the Sweat Ceremony as the extreme who came through it stronger, better, more loving even, for the experience. And the way she learned to work through her emotions is certainly not one that would work for everyone. Janet in particular is a devout Catholic, and I know that in a lot of ways, her own faith has helped as well as her connection to so many of her son’s friends. And they, too, have been deeply affected by Matthew’s passing.
Anyway, back to the sweat ceremony. I regret to say that I didn’t make it through the whole thing as I started feeling extremely nauseous between the second and third sections, and decided, after the third which, thankfully, was quite short, that I needed to ask to leave. I must have really been feeling weak as the girl next to me had to repeat my request for permission to leave as the Sweat Master didn’t hear me. But once again, the sense of community meant that everyone looks after everyone else. In the same sense of humor he used throughout, the Sweat Master told me that they didn’t mind if I barfed on the rocks. Somehow, I don’t think the resulting stench would have been good for all concerned! As I walked slowly back to the house, not the least bit chilled despite the drop in temperature that sent us all for jackets when the sun started going down, I ended up talking to Frances’ and Robert John’s daughters until everyone else started coming back to the house to set up the potluck. They, too, were very down to earth and open, but young teenage girls as well. It was clear that they’d been friends all their lives and were close and comfortable in each others’ company. Through the teasing and light bickering, the love they have for each other was as clear as if it had been written in the air above their heads. But they spoke to me about their hopes and dreams for the near future as if they’d known me forever as well. Meeting 13 year old girls who are that comfortable in their own skins says a great deal about how they’ve been raised. If we all raised our children the way they’ve been raised, the issues with our environment would soon be resolved, self esteem issues (which lead to so many unpleasant actions) wouldn’t not exist, and cruelty would be dealt with so kindly and patiently that it would be unable to thrive and would wither away. So I learned even more from spending time with Rebecca and her friend about Frances and Robert John and others who have chosen a kinder, gentler more respectful way of life.
I realize that not only did the copious sweating bring physical toxins to the surface that they may be released from my system, but it also brought emotional and mental things out which will take longer to actually work through (despite the fact that I seem to be coughing up a great deal of goop from my lungs right now!) and those things needed to be pulled out and dealt with so that, as Robert John said, scars can form so there are no open wounds. (A fantastic analogy, by the way, and one the kids and I discussed for a bit on the way home. As another thought occurs to me that the long drive home was also a good thing as we were able to just sit and share our thoughts)
So today I end my post as I normally do, but with a lot more meaning than I’ve had in the past.
Love and Light