There's something about sweating. I like it.
I'd been in a sweatlodge before. A Native American one in Southern California with the Costanoan-Rumsen/Ohlone tribes. It is a ritual, a ceremony- and it was an honor to take part in it. There were four "doors," (sections of time) each with their own focus, prayers and songs to accompany them. Women wore long skirts and covered their shoulders- jewelry had to be removed (unless given permission to wear it, but metal was fairly dangerous in there), each participant gave a tobacco offering and a prayer to the fire before entering the sweatlodge and each person was told to ask both his or her ancestors and the elder running the lodge for permission to enter.
This experience exposed me to the patience, and the faith required to "take the heat." To trust that my body could handle it, that a little discomfort is actually alright, and that indeed that discomfort, if allowed to move through it, opens the space for growth. I remember feeling quite peaceful in that sweatlodge. At the conclusion of the final door, the elder who was running the session, Robert John, asked each participant how they felt, and he pushed them to answer using the format, "I feel _____ like _____." He pushed us to connect our experience with something outside of the experience itself. At the time this direction seemed silly, but looking back now a few months later, it was an exercise in bringing the experience into our daily lives. I don't actually remember how I responded, but I know that I use the same phrasing more frequently in order to 1) connect more directly with others by using a common experience as the intermediary, and 2) maintain the sense of peace I feel when meditating, practicing yoga, or when I'm in a sweatlodge, for instance- even when I'm not in those circumstances.
I remember also feeling a much deeper appreciation for my breath during that first sweat experience. It was intensely hot, and incredibly humid for the entirety of the 3 (ish) hours of the sweat, and I was in the innermost circle of participants, which means that I was closest to the stones giving off the heat and steam. And although there were undeniable moments when I thought I'd gasp for air and find none, I always did. I surprised myself with my own ability to breathe, to continue to live in spite of circumstances that my own cognition deemed to be "too difficult." It was a lesson in faith, in the faith that I, and we, can usually do things we don't think we can.
However, not all sweats are created equal.
I've now experienced three additional sweats- in Mexico. The traditional Mexican/Indigenous (not sure the specific tradition) sweat is called a Temezcal, and as with any sweatlodge, it is designed to be a metaphoric re-entry into the Mother's womb (Mother Earth- Tierra Madre). My first Temezcal brought me in a very physical way, back to the womb.
I entered, feeling overwhelmed, internally frustrated, feeling stuck and sensing some sort of tension within myself. I don't even remember what Estella (the woman who owns the sweatlodge, provides the opportunity to sweat and orchestrates the sessions) was saying when I began to cry, but I was surprised by how it felt- foreign, like I had never cried before, and never-ending, like I'd never stop. There was this stagnant river that began to flow. I cried like a baby. Estella had the five of us each scream our own names individually and then we all screamed them back. I screamed my name, proclaimed my existence, as though saying, "Hello, universe! I am HERE!" But its not as though the universe needs reminding, we do. Or I did. I screamed my name, and they screamed it back to me, reaffirming my existence, my presence, my importance perhaps too. I cried harder, waking up to myself. If only a little bit.
We went around in turns, each of us in the womb, screaming, asking for whatever it was we needed, from whomever we felt we needed it from. Permission to let go of whatever we no longer needed, and the strength to hold on to that which we needed to hold. Whatever it was. And we cried. Or at least, I did.
After the sweat, I wrapped myself in a sheet and sat in Estella's backyard, drank tea, and attempted to regain a bit of equanimity and to steady my breath a bit. My teacher came over, squatted down next to me and offered with her presence a sense of security, of comfort- and I looked up at her and said, though grammatically incorrect, "jamás finito"- I'm never done. I tried to express my combined sense of hopelessness and being overwhelmed with the minuscule amount of Spanish I have. She met my eyes and replied, with a smile on her face, "Qué bueno, no?" And all I could do was laugh.
Si. Qué bueno. Porque, así es la vida. Such is life. To never be done is to be alive.
Entonces- Sweat on.