Before attending the sweat lodge ceremony, I did not have much knowledge about it. I vaguely remember seeing it in a documentary once about how Native Americans use them to purify themselves. I wanted to do more research by watching some YouTube videos, but honestly, I am glad I did not. It probably would have put me off from trying it.
As part of the preparation for the ceremony, we were instructed not to eat meat that day and not eat two hours before the ceremony. I arrived at the location, and I could not find the sweat lodge. So I called the organizer, and he emerged from behind some bushes and led me to the forest where everyone gathered. You would have never known that there was a sweat lodge there. It was so well-hidden!
In front of the sweat lodge, there was a bonfire set up. There were logs on three sides of the fire for us to sit on. Next to the sweat lodge were some mats on the forest ground to create the singing circle space. I looked around carefully and decided to sit between two friendly Swiss girls who made space for me on the log. One of them was also experiencing the sweat lodge for the first time and she asked me how I felt. I admitted that I was excited but a tad nervous at the same time.
Once everyone arrived, the organizer introduced himself as Thomas. Then there was Vera, leading the singing circle, and her partner Grant was the fire keeper. He was in charge of the bonfire and the hot stones. The three of them collaborated on this sweat lodge ceremony, and they all had very calming and inviting energy. I remember feeling safe.
Thomas then briefly introduced that Native American and Celtic tribes used sweat lodges to purify themselves. And he also ran through the process. Next, Vera ran through some rules about hydrating enough before starting and not lifting the sweat lodge's sides when it gets too hot. After which, Grant processed to light the bonfire, and we gathered around it in a circle to set our intention for the sweat lodge ceremony. My intention was to connect with nature and to connect with like-minded souls.
While the fire was burning, we gathered away from the fire and formed a circle to sing songs. We practised singing as a tribe, and we were encouraged to sing inside the sweat lodge. It was a way to distract ourselves from the heat, which proved to be a piece of excellent advice. At first, I was shy to sing in front of total strangers. But by the third song, I was feeling comfortable singing with the group. I realized I'd not sang in a group in such a long time. Also, it felt pretty powerful to sing in a group.
After Vera did the singing circle, Thomas told us to get changed for the sweat lodge. Most girls wore a bikini and wrapped a sarong around them. The men wore board shorts, and some had a sarong around their waist. (P/S: No one was naked! Although some ladies were topless in the end as it was so freaking hot). Before we entered the sweat lodge, Vera smudged our bodies with palo santo to purify ourselves for the session. The men entered first, followed by the women.
The whole process took a while as we awaited our turn to be smudged. There was definitely an air of uncertainty, fear mixed with curiosity and eagerness. Inside the sweat lodge, we were sitting knee to knee in two circles- one right in front of the stone pit—the next behind the first circle. Finally, the last person fills the sweat lodge. Grant used a pitchfork from outside and took hot stones from the burning fire, placing them in the middle of the sweat lodge.
The first round begins. Thomas closes the blanket of the entrance and it was pitch black. I slightly panicked at that moment. He then proceeded to pour water from a wooden bucket on the hot stones, they sizzled, and a waft of steam hit my face. Sweat was gathering around my forehead and then dipping down the sides of my face. That was the beginning of the next hour and a half of sweating. But, I remember thinking that it's bearable if the temperature stays like this. Which, of course, did not stay that way! It just got hotter and hotter. In the end, there were four rounds, with Grant adding more hot stones at every round.
I remember Vera's advice to keep singing, and it was such great advice! As the heat got stronger, I remember singing louder and as if to drown my mind from the chatter. From the monkey mind that keeps wanting to give up and get out of the uncomfortable situation.
Some thoughts that came up for me were:
"What the fuck am I doing here with all these strangers when I could be at home with my kids sitting comfortably on my sofa?"
"I never knew my spirit animal is the dog."
"I cannot give up now. I gave birth to two babies! I'm stronger than that."
"How come I never think about my paternal ancestors?
"My paternal grandmother lives in me, she is me, and I am her."
"Holyshit! I never knew I could sweat this much!"
"Nothing gets more vulnerable than sweating with a group of strangers almost naked."
"You are crazy to come here and experience near death."
By the last round, I was literally on the ground, trying to get some fresh air from the sides of the sweat lodge. In the end, I was in a trance from the singing and heat. My hands shook a little, and I thought I would pass out from the heat and hunger. Finally, Thomas closed the session by asking us to reconnect with ancestors or someone who is no longer here on this earth. We sang our last song together, and Thomas lifted the blanket of the entrance.
I was so relieved to see the light streaming into the sweat lodge. Each of us slowly and gingerly made our way out, panting and gasping for air, all of us spreading out in all directions trying to catch our breath after an intensely raw experience. People were lying on the cold ground, lying on the grass and just taking it all in.
I was proud of myself that I showed up to embrace the experience. I felt like I was reconnecting to who I was as a person: a person who loves adventures, being in nature and someone who enjoys new and unique experiences. Someone who is not afraid to be uncomfortable in new settings and embracing it.
I loved the experience! I even made friends with an adorable and funny couple and like-minded souls who were into spirituality and experiencing something different in their lives. We shared our experiences and laughed at funny things, like trying to control our farts and hoping no one hears our hungry stomachs growling during the ceremony.
Would I do it again? Yes! I felt cleansed and purified from the intense experience.
Would I do it every month? No. I needed time to process what I experienced, and I even felt spacey for a week after the ceremony. I was trying to come to terms with the kind of thoughts that were going through my head. Almost a month later, I'm just starting to feel grounded.
Photos courtesy of Intisol.
To find more about the sweat lodge ceremonies, you can visit their website at https://intisol.ch.