Thursday, November 3, 2011, might be one of the most symbolic & powerful days of my life. It all started in a bamboo science lab & twenty 10th graders who were eager to dissect the bloody pig hearts that sat patiently waiting in front of them. “What, Brynn? Dissecting pig hearts? Who the hell am I becoming?” after all it was dissecting pig parts 10 years ago which triggered my passion for vegetarianism to this day. But now, it is all clear. As we cut through each & every vein, artery, valve, and muscle it became clear to me what our hearts are made up of, down to each & every cell. I looked at this huge heart in my hand & I felt my pumping heart inside of me & it was then that I realize what this amazing place, space, thing… is capable of.
After school I went home to ground myself from my day at work, my breathing exercises allowed me to transition into a much more sacred space for the next journey I was about to embark on. As soon as I heard someone was bringing the old Native American sweat lodge tradition to Bali, I jumped on it immediately. All sorts of amazing people in the community also jumped on this opportunity; somehow I manifested myself a spot. I didn’t know what to expect at first, through all the readings I have done & all the stories I have heard, there was nothing that could have prepared me for what I was about to experience. It was my own.
Let me start by expressing that every person’s experience is their own & will be very different from the others around them, as well as each time they do it. To truly understand the fullness & depth of this ritual one must experience it for themselves. Therefore it is hard to put words to this whole experience, but I will try my best to explain what it is I went through.
The lodge was constructed of bamboo with a canvas cover, at the center was the pit where the hot rocks simmered & steamed. Seven women & two men entered on the left side & crawled clockwise to the other side of the hut (you cannot stand in the lodge, it is only waist height). One man stood outside, tending to the fire, tending to the rocks, providing us with selfless service. Without him there would have been no ceremony. He brought us red hot rocks four different times, as there are four different sections of the ceremony. One of the other men inside the hut led us through the different stages, he was our chief our leader, I could feel his Native American roots seeping out of him as he sat right next to me.
My Native American roots have always been a part of me, inside of me like an instinct that guides me in the right direction. On this night it was amplified, when he started beating the drum & singing traditional songs of the Native American people tears dropped from my eyes. This is a truly strong force that lives within me & I felt at home just by hearing it vibrate my ear drums. I never knew I could sweat like this. If you have been in a steam room or a sauna, it is on a whole new level. It is a spiritual ritual to cleanse oneself, to purify, & leave behind the sweat of the past, the pains, the burdens. Each section is initiated by the opening of the flap door & the invitation of new rocks from the fire. We welcomed six rocks in the first round, one in each direction & a few extras in the middle. These rocks were sizzling boulders the size of a melon. The first round was dedicated to recognition of the spirit world. At the top of our lungs, and with the warmest smiles we welcomed them to join us, and we asked for their guidance. I could feel the resistance of all the people who had joined float away at this point. Presence in this moment was all that mattered. As he threw water over the rocks the temperature increased & so did our awareness. Our consciousness collided; there was strength in knowing we are all one. When the flap was lifted & our fire tender came to the door, gratitude spilled from my heart to him as he held the space for us, singing along from the outside.
As they entered the dark lodge, the next set of rocks were glowing, this time there were seven. The second part was the peak of presence, the climax of transformation. The intention of this round is to recognize courage, strength, and endurance. The reasoning for this is quite timely because this is when your heart starts to race, your body is struggling to achieve homeostasis, you are sweating like you have never sweat before, and the steam burns your face & the heat gets to you so bad all you want to do is give up. To step outside & feel the sweet, crisp, cool air on your skin. In this session you have to dig deep because in this round the leader throws on double amount of water on the rocks. I didn’t think I could do it anymore, my body was collapsing, I was worried. I was scared. I wanted to give up. But I didn’t, I stuck through it, and my endurance took me on another path, a path towards enlightenment. For the first time in my life I realized that enlightenment indeed lives inside of me, it is not some force outside of me that I have to spend my whole life trying to discover. It lives inside of me! This was the turning point. Two minutes later the flap opened & the sweet moonstruck air engulfed my face, my body. I have never felt so alive. I gave thanks to the planet for possessing such gifts to offer life. Appreciation, acceptance, love swirled out of our lodge into the rest of the world.
The third set of rocks allowed us space for prayer & expression. We passed around a little teddy bear which traveled from the America’s to the other side of the planet, it was given to our leader from his mother; her last gift to him. Similar to the talking feather tradition in the Native American culture, when you held the object it was your time to speak & the others turn to listen, although, our leader did chime in from time to time to articulate his wisdom. I was towards the end of the circle, and I knew the longer the heat persisted by the time it was my turn to speak I would be on another plane. I listened to the others, each one describing their pain & the healing they yearn for. Each person offered their own form of expression, their own stories, and their own levels of openness. The rest of us sat in silence, listening, and occasionally exclaiming in agreement “Aho!”
When it was finally my turn I held the bear with my moist hot hands & gave myself a minute to breath and become centered so I was speaking from my heart & nowhere else. My first prayer was to the Native American people, the ones still living today & to the spirits who were joining us tonight, I could feel their presence. I gave recognition to my emotions, because it was such an emotional experience my voice was trembling. I gave thanks for the ride my emotions have given me in this lifetime. I gave prayers to the children of tomorrow, may they do better at protecting our home. To the Balinese people who are enlightened on levels I am still trying to grasp, and to their children to stay strong enough to maintain their cultural traditions in the turning of time. I forgave myself for being so angry at the people who destroy our planet, and I forgave them & I found peace in the new turning of consciousness in humanity. And I said prayers for my ego, & the judgment I place upon myself, may it be humbled, and may I allow myself to tear down the wall that is getting in the way of spreading my love & beauty to the whole world. I sent prayers to my family in America, as we have been through a lot, let us see the light that is within us & inspire others to acknowledge the same. My last prayer was to the new family sitting around me, sharing the space, having their own experience. Thank you for being here, sharing this with me. Namaste.
The flap opened & in came the precious resource: drinking water, I could have collapsed in my gratefulness. Clockwise, we passed around the cups & nourished ourselves internally & externally. It felt like my body temperature was brought down 20 degrees. What a relief. WATER! WATER! So precious!
The flap closed again, the final round of rocks was dedicated to spiritual healing. To self-renewal & recognizing that from growth & maturing, healing comes. “It is time to consider healing: healing of ourselves, healing of a loved one healing of adversaries for peace among nations, and healing of the harms done to Mother Earth.” We chanted songs, we contemplated, our lungs vibrated to the sound of the drum beating, together we healed. Together we thanked ourselves, we thanked each other, we thanked everything we could possibly muster. “Oh Great Spirit, I pray for myself in order that I may be healed, Oh Great Spirit” we yelled. This session brought some of the greatest lessons, the perfect words that soared through my soul at the exact moment I needed them. One of the strongest was the lesson of generosity. Our leader challenged us to examine our commitment of giving, is it enough? “You should always question yourself in every situation, on every occasion: How can I help?” I accepted this gift of wisdom humbly.
The ceremony had now come to an end (it was maybe 3 hours in total). We gave thanks to the rocks for cleansing our bodies, our souls, our minds, and we left behind the sweat of our old selves. As we walked out of the lodge a new beginning had unfolded. As I gazed up at the bright sky & connected again with the moon I sensed a state of balance like I never have before. I walked out of that lodge acknowledging that the darkness & negativity that has entered my life has come for a reason & it is as important as the light & positivity. I should welcome them both as a sister & brother born into my family.
I am ready for this next stage in my life. I am open to the transmutation my soul stumbled upon on this beautiful evening. And I am willing to bring this wisdom into each and every day, every moment.
The next day I sat with my grade 10 students (the ones I dissected the heart with), we sat in a circle with the HUGE smoky quartz crystal between us. The energy of this crystal is almost as powerful as a pit of burning hot rocks. I taught them about the rituals of my people, the sweat lodge and the talking feather. I started with the feather & shared my sweat lodge experience with them, I told them this was one of my most powerful experiences in my life, and I asked them to share a powerful story of their own. As the feather passed from one child to the next I learned things about these children that I would have never guessed. We all sat enchanted by each others stories, listening, crying, & giving empathy & love. The dorks, the jocks, the druggies, the “cool” ones, all completely connected.
No matter what shape, size, color, or texture, we all have our own stories, our own pain & happiness, our own struggles & our own achievements. May we all find the beauty that lies within ourselves, and the light that lives within each & every walking, swimming, crawling, flying soul on this beautiful planet Earth, because we are indeed,