["Teachings of the Sweat Lodge"
by Aaron Paquette]
by Aaron Paquette]
In my first post, I described how a sweat lodge is constructed. But what is it like to be inside a sweat lodge, experiencing its ritual?
A sweat lodge ritual is divided into four quarters, one for each direction. At the end of each quarter, the lodge door flap is flung open, bringing the welcome relief of some cool outside air. The firekeeper refreshes the firepit with even hotter grandfather rocks for the next quarter. The intense heat builds progressively from tolerable in the first quarter to almost unbearable in the fourth quarter. People are allowed to leave at the end of any quarter if the heat becomes too much for them. But once you leave, you cannot come back during that particular sweat.
During each quarter, all persons who wish to do so may speak their heart without interruption or judgment. Sometimes there is singing or rattling. But a sweat lodge is more than simply a sharing circle in a hot environment. It is also more than just a way to promote muscle relaxation via heat. Its purpose even exceeds the benefit of physically sweating out toxins and impurities from the body. No, as mentioned in my first post, the sweat lodge is primarily designed to be a spiritual ritual of healing and renewal.
The sweat lodge represents the womb of Mother Earth. Its willow framework embodies Her ribs encircling you. It is pitch black inside a sweat lodge, apart from the faint glow of the heated rocks before they cool. You cannot see your hand in front of your face. As your skin and body become drenched in sweat, your whole environment turns watery like the womb as well. Often people lie down on their sides in a fetal position close to the earth in order to breathe easier where the air is a little cooler near the floor. And just to reinforce your status as a child being born again of the Great Mother, you enter and leave the sweat lodge crawling on your hands and knees like a baby.
I knew none of this symbolism going into our unscheduled sweat lodge. But laying there bathed in sweat in the hot darkness, it was easy to figure out simply due to the sheer unbridled power of the raw primordial Divine Feminine energy that was present. It was like nothing I've ever felt before or since.
Naively, I had not expected to get all that much out of doing a sweat, but the whole experience hit me like an ton of bricks. We emerged from the sweat lodge into the cool night air filled with stars and a full moon in the dark sky. I needed to walk around in solitude on the centre's woodland property for nearly an hour just to assimilate the experience and come back to myself. The Divine had encompassed me. You don't get over something like that quickly!
I'm so glad I had the great blessing of experiencing a sweat lodge when I did. Now that I'm twenty years older, my high blood pressure medication means I would not be able to repeat it today.