Bless You Mother Earth
"Aho Mitakuye Oyasin" (We are all related)
The saying of the prayer signalled the end of the second round of the Sweat Lodge and before the water pourer had finished asking "Does anyone wish to go outside" I had begun crawling towards the door.
My head was spinning, my only thought, the cool night air that lay outside. Crawling just far enough to get out of the way of the door I collapsed forwards to rest my head on the cool Earth.
"Bless you Mother Earth" I whispered as I breathed in and felt the heat begin to leave my body.
Gradually my heart slowed and the pounding in my temples resided.
I was there as support for the men who had chosen to do a Vision Quest. We had arrived at the plateau late in the afternoon and had spent the time before dark carefully laying the blankets over the Sweat Lodge and stoking the fire so the rocks within would be red hot.
As the sun had gone down we had stripped off, been smudged with white sage, and had entered the lodge.
The Sweat Lodge is a purification ceremony, used in this instance to prepare the people for their Vision Quest which would begin at dawn the next morning. The four rounds follow the four directions of the Medicine Wheel and at the start of each round more hot rocks (representing our Grandfathers) are brought into the Lodge.
"Time to come back in guys", the water pourer called.
Taking a few last deep breaths and a gulp of water I crawled back to the door, bowed down to honour the Earth again and said the prayer,
"Aho Mitakuye Oyasin"
"Welcome brother" was the response.
I'd been ok in the first round, content to sit in the North. But when that round had ended the person sitting in the West, the hottest part of the lodge because it is opposite the door, had asked to move and I had been asked to take his place.
Now as the third round began I steeled myself for the heat once again.
I've sat in many Lodges over the years but no two are the same. Whatever is going on for you at the time dictates how easy or hard the Lodge will be.
I see it as exploring the edge.
For only so long can you sit there in a hot dark Lodge and maintain control with your rational mind. Eventually you must submit to the process and along the journey you feel the edge of your power. As the temperature builds one part screams "Get me out of here NOW!"
It is then that you feel the panic and fear rising. It is then that you see your weakness and have an opportunity to tap into your strength.
I relate it to Vipassana meditation and the strong determination sessions that one must do in the course of a 10 day retreat. In those sessions the pain arises in the body and the aim is not to react to it but rather to feel it and have equanimity towards it thus allowing the samsaric loops to unwind.
Sweat Lodge is the same. How strong is your will at the edge?
Leaving is not an option if only for the fact that a friend has brought his 7 year old son along and after two rounds he has declared that Sweat Lodge is "Fun".
I hold my resolve and find my voice channelling the energy up and out of me. After the fourth round we finish the Lodge, cool off and share a meal. It has been intense but is only the beginning of the journey.
At 5am after barely 3 hours sleep we arise in the darkness so those doing Vision can go out to their spot at sunrise where they will remain without food or water for 24 hours.
The day passes slowly. There is no mobile reception, TV or books. The sacred fire must be tended to as it will burn for the entire three day ceremony.
I'm tempted to play games on my iPhone but spend almost two hours instead communing with a friendly Kookaburra that lets me get to within almost an arm's reach. There is only myself and the leader left at camp and when we eat, we eat for those who are sitting Vision. Our role is to hold space for them.
That night we take turns to get up and feed the fire. Sleep is deep and my dreams are profound although memory of them eludes me. At 4.30am we arise to get the fire and the stones ready for the 'dust off' Sweat Lodge those doing Vision will come back to at sunrise.
The sheer beauty of the rising sun absorbs my consciousness. How could anyone treat our World with disrespect? Have we forgotten where we came from and what holds us?
Just after 6am the drum is played to call the Vision Questers back.
They stride back into camp, disrobe, have a few mouthfuls of water and are smudged with sage once again so they can enter Lodge.
It is hot but this time I am at least by the door as my role is to place the Grandfathers (stones) in the central pit.
Soon I feel myself again at the edge as the Vision Questers relate their experiences.
The simple act of sitting on the Earth for 24 hours has been profound. A sense of awe surrounds them.
How have so many of us lost this connection?
A sharing circle and sacred pipe ceremony follows Lodge and then the prayers ties are burnt and the circle is closed.
Three days has seemed like many more. I need time to process what I have experienced. I honour those who had the courage to sit for their Vision Quest. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve. I am grateful to the leader who held the ceremony and to the owner of the land.
Above all, I bless you Mother Earth.
In peace and love always.