This would be my first traditional American Indian sweat lodge ceremony.  I drove the hour with an open mind and full of wonder.  I imagined pulling up to a ranch with lots of private property, possibly some Native Americans greeting me and of course the sound of drumming.  I guess that was my cynical American mind expecting the best.  To my surprise I drove over an hour to pull into the driveway of someone’s home.  I questioned if I had the right address, wished I had brought a friend, and quite frankly was a little disappointed.  However, I can sit through almost any experience once, just for the unknown of it, so I carried on.

As I pulled into the driveway I noticed another girl standing by her car, looking just as lost as I had felt.  A wave of relief melted over me, knowing this was the right place and I wasn’t the only one.  We instantly connected, both nervously unsure of what to do.  As we walked around the house to the backyard, we heard the soft hum of drumming, smelled the campfire, and saw the crowd of people.  We both exhaled a sigh of relief, looked at each other, smiled as we began to let go.

We each made our own little prayer pouch, filled with tobacco and whatever we wished to let go of.  One by one the fire keeper smudged us with sage, releasing any negative energy as we left behind our shoes and coats and entered the lodge.  The lodge was another interesting part, again expected something other than blankets and sticks.  Something that I know now is quite normal for a sweat lodge.  As I entered the lodge and noticed nothing but the cold hard dirt ground to sit on, I hesitated and thought to myself, I didn’t want to do this.  Luckily there were two carpet squares left for me to sit on, leaving those behind me to sit on their towels or the bare ground.  I was humbled by some people’s lack of concern and open minds having to sit on the cold hard ground, something that I couldn’t imagine doing.

My anticipation increased as the fire keeper one by one filled the pit with the hot stones that had been roasting in the fire for hours prior.  The touch of my neighbors on both sides, sitting as close as possible to one another to squeeze everyone in, made me feel safe.  After the last hot stone was placed, blankets covered the entrance, shielding any speckle of light, and I listened as the door keeper led us in song.  The hot stones blazed a burning crackling red that seemed to put me in a trance while the sound of drumming and singing played in the background.

There are four rounds, each round beginning with seven splashes of water on the blazing hot stones.  After each round we received a break, a breath of fresh air and the cycle repeated over again.  More hot stones, more water and more steam.  The water hitting the stones creates the steam that instantly hits your face, engulfing every inch of your body and traveling inside, coating your nostrils and lungs.  They say that the steam are the spirits of our elders entering the lodge, being present with us in mother natures womb, where it is warm and dark.  The water cools the stones just enough so any once of light is no longer visible.  The room is completely pitch dark, which is probably the first time in my life I have ever experienced being awake with absolutely no light.  That alone is a feeling I will never forget.  The feeling of sadness, fear and loneliness without the light.  I thought to myself what life would be like with no light, a thought I never want to think about again.

The first round we each took turns acknowledging what we are thankful for, either to ourselves or out loud.  The next round we stated what we wished for others.  The third what we wished for ourselves and fourth more of what we were thankful for.  Three hours later we ended in song and all exited the lodge dripping wet.  All of us relieved to feel the fresh cool air hit our face; also lighter, having let go of anything we were holding on to.  We changed into our spare clothes and shared a meal together.  I had not known anyone at the sweat lodge, but I never felt scared or unsafe.  Everyone was extremely open and kind.  It was nice to put myself in a situation like that, where I can be open without judgment.

I am thankful for so many things in my life, something I do not take enough time to think about.  I often focus on the negative side of things, completely disregarding all the good.  It is something I have committed to think more about so I can remain in a humble state of mind.  I am thankful for all my sufferings, without them I would not be where I am at today.  I am more connected with myself, my needs and desires than I have ever been in my life.  I am also more confident, secure and sure of myself.  I owe that all to the hard work it took to overcome things like depression and anxiety.  I am also thankful for everyone and thing in my life; my boyfriend, family, friends and especially nature; with them I never feel alone and always feel loved.  I am grateful to have a very comfortable life, I have nothing to complain about.

I realize how little I need, I didn’t need a huge jug of water, I didn’t need to sit on the carpet square, and I didn’t need to have this huge transformational experience to learn something.  I can learn something from somebody every day, if I am open to it.  I can always see the positive in any experience, even if it is uncomfortable.  I look forward to many more experiences like this in life.  To remain open, non-judgmental and possibly refrain from setting any type of expectation.  I would recommend trying a traditional sweat lodge ceremony.  Not only do you learn about the ceremony, you learn about the American Indian culture and traditions.  It is a huge opportunity to heal, let go and open up.  It is great to get yourself outside of your comfort zone, forget about your work, your phone and all the stresses life brings.  To be able to express yourself fully without judgement and carry on with your life.  It’s an opportunity that too few of us take advantage of, to spend time with ourselves.  If attending a sweat lodge ceremony for three hours is what it takes to heal and reconnect, then isn’t it worth it?

What to Expect at a Traditional American Indian Sweat Lodge Ceremony:

  1. To feel uncomfortable.  Similar to yoga, a sweat lodge ceremony is meant to feel uncomfortable.  It is meant to push you to your edge and see how far you can go.  It is meant to realize and overcome the limitations in our minds, that we can go further.  We can also learn to become comfortable being uncomfortable.
  2. To sweat.  I was amazed at the amount of sweat I shed.  I work out on a fairly regular basis and it usually takes an 80 degree yoga room to get me sweating, this was a whole other level.  The heat was intense at times and towards the end it did get challenging to overcome.  We all made it through it and always had the opportunity to take a break or step outside if needed.
  3. To participate.   Even though talking out loud feels vulnerable, it is more transformational to participate.  Everyone feels the same vulnerability, the more you participate, the more you can inspire your peer to share as well.