Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sweat Lodge


I reconnected with a cousin on my father's side of the family - the side we both walked away from because we decided to be open and honest about the family secrets.

She's now a medicine woman at an Indian High School and she is a sweat leader.

I participated in my first sweat last night.  I have always been interested in doing a sweat and was waiting for an invitation.  When you are ready, the teacher will come.

It was a co-ed group - there were male and female high school students.  The singing and drumming was beautiful.  The prayers were strong and heartfelt.  There was a lot of pain to release.

Being my first time, she'd check in on me after every round,  "how are you doing, Ale?"  I was doing great.

The ritual starts outside by picking a tobacco leaf and offering it to the fire with a prayer.  Then you are smudged (passed over with a sprig of smoking sage) - front and back.  You ask permission to enter the lodge and crawl in on hands and knees through the small opening.  This is symbolic for the males and females.  Men should always ask permission to enter when dealing with Mother Earth and women.  It also symbolizes crawling back to the womb and an opportunity for rebirth.

The floor is dirt and with each round of steam and heat becomes slightly muddy.  The coolest spot in the lodge is the earth.

It is pitch black inside and you may see visions.  After each round, the person tending the fire brings more hot rocks to the sweat leader.  The assistant picks up the rocks using deer antlers and ritualistically places them in a dirt hole dug out in the middle of the lodge.  The sweat leader sprinkles a potpourri of medicinal herbs on the hot rocks and it smells amazing.

In the first round we introduced ourselves - name, tribe and place of origin - and prayed for ourselves.  The young people were Lakota, Apache, Navajo, and other smaller tribes I don't remember now.  All I could say was my name and place of origin - I don't yet know what my tribe is.  My cousin said it smelled like copal because there was a Mexican Indian in the lodge.  I'll take that moniker for now.

In the second round, we prayed for mothers, grandmothers and women kin - the heat blazed in this round.  In the third round, we prayed for our fathers - only one person in the lodge was still closely connected to his father, a medicine man.  I realized in this round that one of my earliest wounds was not being claimed by my father and the resulting vulnerability that created.

I'm 43 now and claim myself.  I am committed to looking out for myself now.  I am committed to loving myself now and all the joy that brings.

A reader told me recently:  Apapachate tu misma.  Vive para ti, aprovecha.  Vive la vida, tienes derecho.  Amate tu y busca todo lo mejor para ti.  Quierete todos los dias.  Yo, yo, yo, fijate en ti.  Tienes que ver por tu vida.  Tienes que ser egoista. Abrete. Piensa en ti. Piensa en ti.  (Essentially, "put yourself first, self-care, self-love" and all that jazz.)

Especially for social workers, groomed and paid to care for the needs of others,  paying attention to our own needs as well requires a paradigm shift and new neuronal grooves and pathways in our self-sacrificing brain. A win-win solution is always possible if we look for it.  It is worth it for ourselves and all our relationships, including clients.  We can't teach, model or expect self-love and self-care from our clients if we haven't really experienced it for ourselves.  Practicing self-love and self-care is good for those around us.  If we are okay, they will be okay too - we are all connected and that's how systems work - we influence each other.

In every round there was singing.  The leader belted some songs and at the end she taught us a simple song about wishing us tranquility.  The boys, especially the son of a medicine man, also belted songs in their language.  It was sweet, beautiful, powerful and moving.

The sweat leader had a message about the importance of self-love and how the lack of it is why people cheat and get drunk and start wars.  At the end of the first round, she encouraged us to say, "I love myself."

Everybody had a story.  Everybody had some pain.  Everybody had a reason to be there.  Everybody had a really good sweat.

No comments:

Post a Comment