Monday, 7 March 2016
On Saturday morning I woke feeling particularly pensive, not quite as reflective as I might have liked.
Somehow I’m not at all preoccupied, nor trepid. Indeed, when prompted, I described myself as ‘calm’, not an adjective I usually associate with my feelings.
I have elected to participate in a Sweat Lodge ceremony. The plan is to crawl into a tent, with burning hot rocks and water vapour inside, outlast the desire to leave when the tent is hottest, and somehow, in the end, emerge a changed man.
Something has been different about today. We participated in a short sharing. Everyone is more taciturn than usual. Their auras are different. Perhaps smoother, but also colder.
Perhaps not having breakfast was an unusual experience for everyone? I also noticed a change in my own aura, though I am struggling to find the words for it. It is fairly common for me to not have breakfast.
Another thought is that everyone is still feeling a little burnt out by the previous two days, which felt more like one continuous day of 36 hours. We walked in the Scottish Highlands, danced on the table, sat together on the couch, planted minuscule seedlings, and sat on the bus for many hours. I was definitely burnt out by the evening. Too much information and plenty of inspiration. Where are we now?
At 14:30 we will regroup and dismantle the existing sweat lodge in order to build a new, bigger one.
Perhaps we were all feeling spiritual overload. If that is indeed what that was, then for me I can describe it as a pensiveness just short of active sadness.
All in all we spent about 48 hours mentally and physically preparing to do the sweat lodge, which at times felt very drawn out, and certainly served to, at times, heighten my fear, and at other times, allow me to find space, peace and calmness. It was like jumping between the two emotions relatively quickly.
One of the other directives was to fast, or at least to eat as little as possible. I, already a light eater, elected to eat half what I normally do, on the Saturday, and then eat almost nothing on Sunday. This apparently reduces feelings of nausea during the sweat, and also has an apparent spiritual purpose. Personally I've not seen much value in fasting, as it usually has the consequence of making me feel weak and ill.
We built the new sweat lodge, slowly and mindfully. I felt a bit torn between accepting the mindful silence gracefully, and thinking it all a little ridiculous and frustrating, and wanting to ‘get on with it’.
I went to sleep feeling less pensive than I had felt that day. When the next morning rolled around, I didn’t feel pensive and spiritually overloaded anymore. Instead, I felt collected, focused and ready.
Christopher and I went on a long, silent, contemplative morning walk....
and then we went back to the bunk house for a short preparation, and then walked to the sweat lodge area. I felt as if I was going to my execution, but was determined not to falter in step nor stance.
We spent hours preparing wood and stones, and eventually lit a giant bonfire, whose flames shot up over four metres high. This was to cook the stones to a temperature of 500 degrees Celsius.
So, some of the uninitiated might now be wondering exactly what a sweat lodge is.
It is a round structure, in this case built on flat earth, from bendy sticks, in the shape of a womb (more or less). In a way this makes it more primal (and creepier).
Over the sticks, we draped sixteen fur blankets, and then covered the blankets with two large tarpaulins, leaving the inside completely dark.
We sat around the bonfire we had made, made a dedication to each of the Four Elements, and played with musical instruments until the sun went down, and the rocks were glowing red.The wait was over.
And then the sweat lodge began.
The first round was held for women, and lasted just under half an hour.
On the second round, after the women had exited, I pulled off all my clothes and joined the men and entered by the Southern side of the entrance due East of the lodge. (Directionality is very important to sweat lodge rituals.) I went to the ground, whispered “For all my relations” to the earth around me, and crawled inside, clockwise.
It wasn’t too hot… just yet. That is because air does not conduct heat very well. Even with six red-hot rocks inside, it was just pleasantly warm.
Then the entrance was closed, and the room sheathed in complete darkness. The only visible light was from the glow of the rocks.
Splash! Craig threw some water on the rocks. Within a few short seconds I could suddenly feel all my pores opening at once. Before much longer, my body was covered in sweat. Behold, the ability of water to conduct heat much better than air.
Each of the men took a turn to honour the other men in his life. I myself stated how, while I have no hangups about being a ‘man’, I have always found the concept of gender quite divisive, and far more often unnecessary than necessary. Yet I also found in myself no opposition to holding a women’s and a men’s space separately initially, for the plan was to bring us together in the third round, which I do appreciate. If my life could be in the service of more gender equality and gender unity, then this should make me happy.
I don’t feel that too much time passed before every man had spoken, and we were allowed out again. It had taken perhaps just over twenty minutes, by my reckoning. Craig asked us who was ready to go again for round 3. I eagerly accepted, and crawled out, clockwise, of the Northern side of the entrance.
Dizzily, head spinning, I brought myself to the ground, lay in silence for about a minute, and then made my way to the ‘plunge barrel’, filled with cold water. I jumped in, splashed myself, breathed audibly, got out, almost fell over from dizziness, and then lay down and looked up at the stars.
Not long after, everyone was ready for their second round. The women and men came together this time, repeated the entrance ritual, and soon we were all inside. In our discussion, we honoured the present (remember to breathe), and also made some very loud noises as a group. I said that I was feeling very happy to be where I was, and felt that my whole life had led me to coming to Findhorn. In my expression I yelled “YAAAAAAAY!” at the top of my voice, and the rest of my group joined me. It felt so good!
But, after each and every speech given by a person, the focalisers would throw water on the rocks again, and again, and again. By the half hour mark, I was lying down in the sand (cold air falls, cold air falls, cold air falls… eeeeeek! Remember to breathe!) edging as far away from the rock, and covering my body with about as much moist sand as I could, feeling more and more faint.
Eventually we managed to make it through the second round of speeches, and when given the chance to do so, I made my way to the exit as quickly as possible. I knew I was close to passing out.
* * *
We sat around the fire in near-complete silence, holding each other for warmth, affection, and yes, I dare say it, love.