Sweat Lodge

21.5.10

The Sunday before last I participated in a traditional sweat lodge ceremony in a beautiful spot here in Reykjavik. An awesome and enlightening experience. Realizing there has been bad press regarding sweat lodges since the tragic event last fall, in Arizona, I wanted to give my own experience, because when done correctly, and I use the word correctly quite strongly, it can be a wonderful and beautiful process to go through. Obviously, it's been done for centuries in the Native American tradition, and had it's place in the larger scope of spiritual development in their culture.

In light of what took place in the unfortunate event the spiritual leader of the Lakota tribe is quoted as saying:

"Our First Nations People have to earn the right to pour the mini wic'oni (water of life) upon the inyan oyate (the stone people) in creating Inikag'a - by going on the vision quest for four years and four years Sundance. Then you are put through a ceremony to be painted - to recognize that you have now earned that right to take care of someone's life through purification. They should also be able to understand our sacred language, to be able to understand the messages from the Grandfathers, because they are ancient, they are our spirit ancestors. They walk and teach the values of our culture; in being humble, wise, caring and compassionate. What has happened in the news with the make shift sauna called the sweat lodge is not our ceremonial way of life!"

So, I'll put this out there right away, if you ever decide to participate in a traditional sweat lodge ceremony it is imperative you do one with someone who knows what they are doing! 

The sweat lodge leaders in Iceland have been doing ceremonies for over 20 years on a regular basis. Though it was challenging, I never once felt unsafe or uncared for. Through and through, it was a joyful experience in healing and transformation. You could feel the deep respect for the tradition, and the ancestral wisdom connected to it emanate off the sweat lodge leaders. One went on to tell me his deep love and respect for the Earth and how representative she is of abundance, love and support. He expressed how often in hard times we look to the sky, up toward the heavens for answers never really truly connecting to what is down below. The way he explained this was deeply touching, and more than just words, I felt his resonance with this connection through his energy. A special thing to witness.

The group was made up of 20 individuals almost equally divided between male and female. In the beginning we were given numerological readings corresponding with a color. The first color given is the one you are born with, which corresponds to a chakra. This is part of our essential make up. Then we were given a color for this year which again corresponds with a chakra which deals with lessons and challenges of this year.

I was told my essential color was light blue which connects to the throat chakra. A free spirit energy. It's important I express myself through various outlets. He went on to tell me more, which for now, I'd like to keep to myself. One thing that's quite interesting is much of what I was told didn't come as a surprise. Funny how we know the answers inside - all it takes is someone from the outside to tell it like it is for us to listen. Haha. More and more, I've come to the realization that I simply need to listen to my heart. It's knows.


The first part of the ceremony, we dance! Yes we dance! Dance! Dance! I had to dance for one solid hour in front of people I didn't know (no alcohol either, ha). For someone who can be quite shy in the beginning, I had to let it rip and start moving. Talk about a freeing experience. They played music to a high volume and the dancing seemed to go on and on and on. At first I was like, why? Then I got it. After while I felt like I was in a trance, opening to a space of feeling, movement and rhythm.

Next was the sweat lodge. I'm not sure how many have seen a sweat lodge, but it looks like a small hut of some sort, this one being round in shape. Beforehand, special rocks are heated for hours over an open fire to heat up the lodge. There are certain protocols during the ceremony, such as only entering in clockwise and leaving that way. Once everyone settled in, the rocks were placed in the middle of the lodge. We have to "welcome" each rock that is placed in the middle. When all the rocks were placed the leaders started with a few words. They spoke mostly Icelandic, with at bit of translation, but I got the gist. Basically we were told the more we put into the experience the more we will get out of it. To heal you must feel. They passed water around and towels dipped in ice cold water for everyone before closing the opening of the loge. Soon it was pitch black.

Sitting in an area absolutely pitch black is something like being in a time warp. Even one of the leaders explained it like this. The time spent inside never seems quite as long as we were really inside. Interesting. Right away you notice the blackness, and the heat. Then the leaders lead us through a series of chants. They said when loosing yourself in the chant one is better able to withstand the heat. Often our minds will make a situation feel worse than it is through obsessive thoughts. Hence, chanting really gets you through. During the round water is poured over the heated rocks, and the hut fills with hot steam.

We did a total of 6 rounds increasing with intensity. After each round the entryway is opened as a rush of fresh air came in. A welcome relief. The leaders made sure we consumed plenty of water before heading into the next round. Every round has a theme, and each one feels as if something were being released, and let go of. I allowed myself to be fully present in the process, chanting strongly with the others. There's never a need to be shy or insecure, heck it's so dark there's never a worry. Even though I was in there with other people, with the darkness, there is also a feeling of it's just me, and what's being pushed to the surface.

After the ceremony I can't even express how great it feels. Omg. It's amazing. When I went to change and quickly glanced at myself in the mirror I had to do a double take. I looked different. It was like I was wiped clean, and totally rejuvenated. I felt that way too. I had the cozy feeling of being deeply held. I had the best sleep ever that night.

This was actually my second sweat lodge experience, and the interesting and ironic part is that my first ceremony was in the outskirts of Sedona, Arizona where the tragic events actually happened. However, I was there for a totally different purpose, and my sweat lodge leader again knew what he was doing, and didn't differentiate from that. He took us to our edge, and with that being said, we always had control over when enough was enough.

In the same breath the grief I felt for those who lost their lives to this experience has tugged at my heart deeply. It's unfortunate on so many levels. Ceremonies such as this shouldn't be put into the hands of just anybody.  It deserves respect from where the ancestral wisdom came from and handled with utmost care. The leader needs to have gone through their own rites and rituals to then be able take others on such a quest of purification.

Will I do it again? If it presents itself in the fashion my previous experiences did I definitely will. They were never anything I've looked out to experience, but they found me. These rites of purification have a way of doing that no matter what they are.

It was magical, and to have done it in Iceland made it all the more special.

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