The Fear and The Sweat

Your eyes are still burning. When you entered the house, you were trembling. 

Before the sweat:

“My name is Katie and I am here in part because I live here. But I am also here because I would like to take advantage of this opportunity. Some time ago, I quit my job and reduced my life to a backpack, and here I am, at Sli Na Bande…the world was supposedly ending. I have definitely experienced some of that fear and anxiety over the past year, and I would really like to see that gone. This is not something I have ever done before and I will try anything twice. I also have this secret desire to do things expressly because they are difficult. So, I am looking forward to this as an adventure in and of itself, but also as a way to kick off the larger adventure positively, without all of this fear.”

Or something like that.

You passed the talking stick to Maria on your left. Others shared their name, their reason for being there and what they hoped to get out of this experience. All you knew was that this was going to be very uncomfortable, and you were going to be naked in a pitch black dome praying with 10 strangers for the next two hours. 

But backing up a little bit…

The one thing that has become abundantly clear to you in recent months is that you have a lot of fear. You are a worst-case-scenario thinker and can be very negative at times. It is especially true since you have arrived in Ireland. You were afraid of hitch hiking, afraid of walking around cities, afraid of getting shot when you hopped the fence into the forestry to steal a Christmas tree… This negativity however, has an inward focus. Your life is 90% happiness. But what is there, is a personal fear. Something you carry with you at all times and it is getting quite heavy.

You are traveling, and understandably that can be scary at times, but it hasn’t been so far. Not once. No serious hardship has come upon you, and certainly nothing for you to truly fear has presented itself. In fact, everyone you have received lifts from has been exceedingly kind and generous.  And yet, you have felt fear, you have felt anxiety, and it is causing you to have a negative feeling toward this journey you’re on.

The circle finished sharing and Marlene beat her drum as you all scribbled your intent onto little slips of paper. You hastily wrote on yours “My intent is to let go of needless fear and anxiety, and replace it with optimism and enthusiasm.” It was time to draw a card.

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You had to draw three. Your Angel card, your Devil card, and your Sweat Lodge card. The Angel card is meant to represent the quality that you will gain from the experience while the Devil card represents a quality or attribute that you will not gather. The Sweat Lodge card is the overall theme of your experience. You drew the following:

Angel: Creativity

Devil: Boredom

Sweat Lodge: The Material

The SL card you found interesting…you read it and were struck when it said “Relinquish your fears of scarcity” and “lighten your load.” Are you kidding me? Didn’t you just do that? You reduced your entire life to a backpack for fuck’s sake how else can you be more trusting that you will be provided for? Well, at least one part was right. You would certainly like to relinquish your fears…of everything. So it was a start.

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Earlier that day you and Maria had put the lodge together and Douglas made all of the preparations for the fire. When it was time to light, Marlene walked around the space with her drum and asked the spirits for protection. It was cold. Very cold. By the time you were all ready to head inside the sweat lodge you had been standing outside, under a light mist, in a typical Irish evening of about 34 degrees in a bath towel. 

The Sweat: 

“For all my relations.” you said. then you crawled inside. The ground was quite literally freezing and you could not see a thing. You huddled inside with all the other participants and finally, Marlene came in with her drum and her pot of sage water and the flap was closed.

The ceremony is done in quarters. In the first quarter, you call across the children’s fire, anyone or anything that you would like to protect you while you participate in the ceremony. Most people called relatives and power animals. You can only hear voices and the hiss of the water as it hits the red-hot stones in the center of the dome. It is so dark that you cannot tell the difference between when your eyes are open and when they are closed. You know there are others close to you, and far away, but anytime anyone speaks, it seems as though they are right in front of you. It is also getting hotter and hotter.

You were fully engaged. It seemed silly not to be. You called a few people across the children’s fire.

Once the rocks are exhausted of their heat, the flap is opened and more rocks are brought inside. Then once again, the flap is closed, you are sealed off in utter darkness, and the second quarter begins. This time, people send out prayers to the great spirit for others. This is where things got more interesting. They got personal. People sent prayers out to ex husbands, children, people they had never met, humanity itself, and even animals.

Each time someone speaks, more water is dropped on the stones, and each time it is followed by a hiss and a cloud of heat that hits you and doesn’t leave. The smell of sage is everywhere. Of course you prayed as well. You will admit that you prayed for people close to you, and not. You prayed for people who probably haven’t thought twice about you in years. Something was beginning to take you into this. 

By this time, you were really sweating. Not only were you constantly taken by surprise of voices around you, but you would feel sweat rolling off of your back and down your limbs constantly. It was after the second quarter that you looked forward to the flap opening, even though it meant bringing in more hot rocks. 

The third quarter allows for the opportunity to pray for yourself. This was your opportunity to cast away your fear. You could feel it in the dome. You were even slightly concerned about the rocks exploding when the water touched them. That is how ridiculous your condition became. However, into the third round, those concerns were gone. You had trouble telling if your eyes were open or closed and you could swear you were seeing the faintest image of a mountain range off in the distance. The distance that was, no more than two arm’s length’s in front of you, and full of people.

Looking into an abyss is terrifying. It is especially terrifying when you are so hot that your eyes are burning and the heat is inescapable and all around you. Putting your hands on the ground to steady yourself was all you had to remind yourself that you were still somewhere. 

You were determined to get what you came for, and you did.

In the fourth quarter, you give thanks to the great Spirit for three things, then you offer something to others, and then you cast away something unwanted.

“Great Spirit, thank you for the people in my life, my opportunities, and Maria.” (gay, you know).

“I offer my openness and my empathy, and I let go of fear and anxiety.” (legit)

You touched your head and noticed that you were completely soaked. It was as if you had been in a shower. You had no idea your body contained this much moisture. It was incredible. (You weighed yourself after, discovering that you had shed approximately 6lbs). You wanted to die. You were silently praying for it to be over. Your view of pitch-black nothing was replaced by flashes of white light. Is this normal? Were you going to pass out? 

Your “vision” was so affected by the darkness that you were actually afraid at one point that Marlene had actually opened the flap of the dome, but you could no longer see. It was subsequently a happy moment when you saw the light come through and realized you could, in fact, still see. 

After the Sweat:

You crawled out and stood by the fire for some time (the only reason for this was just to say that you had been naked, outside, in the rain, in Ireland, at night, in winter). You felt exhausted. It was almost midnight and you were dead to the world. You felt different, but were you just tired? When you entered the house you did notice that you were not hungry at all despite feeling so empty. But you felt very comfortable…the word you want to use is complete.

Now the abstract…

That all sounds a bit crazy. It sounds exactly the kind of hippie “bullshit” others might expect from a place like this. You would urge them to keep and open mind and consider this:

The following Sunday you would attend service at a Methodist church. It was the service before Christmas and you piled into the church with about 40 other people and listened to a sermon, sung some hymns, and said the Lord’s prayer. And you know what?You could not get over the disconnect you felt from the spirit and from those around you.

Granted, you and church have a sordid past. You have gone to church many times in your adult life, services that were much more engaging than this, and were always open. If you’re going to be there, you might as well get as much as you can from it. But you always had to try to squeeze meaning out of it. It was a struggle every time. 

What you have realized with all of this homeopathy and magic at Sli Na Bande…is that there is a lot of power within a person to change their outlook, and change their life. The people in the sweat lodge took a deep, sincere look within themselves and chose something they wanted to change. They chose people in their lives to pray for, and identified things to let go of. The point is that you were not looking for the same thing as Maria, or Tracy, or Marlene, and it was your responsibility to focus on something for yourself. 

There is something to be said for identifying and articulating a lesson you would like yourself to learn, or how you would like to see your life changed. It is a very different experience than listening to someone else tell you what you should be learning or deriving. You did not have to try to get something out of this sweat lodge. It came very easily on its own. 

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