So I went to a sweat and this is how it was…
OK, so it wasn’t exactly like the picture… but I did go to a sweat at the Potawatomi Reservation over in Kansas. I have been to a number of sweats in the past, so it wasn’t something I’ve never done before. However, the last sweat I went to was 3 years ago, and was pretty hot, and I hadn’t been to one since. So, when I got the invitation for this one, I was just a little bit nervous about it.
All of the other sweats I’ve been at were either do-it-yourself-out-of-a-book run by me, or led by a visiting medicine man, teacher, shaman, etc… and largely attended by New Agers, pagans, and Native American spiritual wanna-be’s. In other words, mostly “white” people.
This one was way different, most of the people there were Native Americans and sweat lodge veterans… we had a fair amount of young warrior types. Plenty of good male energy, that’s for sure. And I started feeling a little bit worried about how vastly different their idea of a nice sweat would be from my idea of a nice sweat. Would it be something like this?
hot versus HOT!!
It was a little bit worrisome. So when we got there, the fire is all blazing hot, nice big fire… you can’t stand within 4 feet of it without getting blasted, and I’m thinking… hey… I need to make friends with the heat.
So I spent some time, standing as close to the fire as I could manage it, saying to the cells in my body “heat is good”, talking to the rocks … saying stuff like “hi, I’m Shirley, I’m your friend” … and at the same time sending all kinds of good vibes to the little Native American guy (Edmore Green) who was running the sweat… Sending him silent mental messages that said stuff like “please don’t kill the white lady” and “I’m not all that white you know, I’ve got Comanche and Chickasaw ancestors” and “please be kind” etc. etc.
But everybody was really friendly and sweet, so I started to relax a little bit, and decided that maybe I was worrying over nothing. As people showed up, they went around and introduced themselves and shook hands, which really really nice.
The lodge itself was like the Taj Mahal of lodges. Nice and big, not real low to the ground, and I took that to be a good sign. The higher the interior of the lodge, the cooler it tends to be, and it looked to me like it was almost shoulder high. The floor of it was covered with carpet, so we wouldn’t be sitting on the bare ground which was also nice. And it didn’t look like there would be a problem with crickets, grasshoppers, or spiders… another bonus!
So, I was feeling really good about the whole thing when we all piled in. There were so many people we had to sit in a double row, and I ended up in the very back (one of the hottest parts of a lodge), but thankfully I was in the back row, not right up next to where the rocks would be, and there was room to stretch my feet out.
The two guys sitting next to me counted the people (27) and then they counted the rocks as they were brought in (28). It didn’t occur to me until later what that actually meant… 28 rocks. Big ones too. That last sweat I was at, the one that was so freaking hot I thought I might die was a 24 rock sweat…
OK.. so there I am feeling all confident and comfortable, the rocks are all in, and they drop the door down and it’s like pitch dark. That lodge was one well insulated little space! Right away it got hot. Really hot. Then he poured some water on the rocks and said some prayers and started singing poured some more water… within 3 minutes I was about to die. I noticed a little bit of sniffling and coughing… and then one guy started really coughing! He was coughing and gagging and puking. At least that’s how it sounded to me.
I was thinking, “Wow!” That guy is really feeling it too. Maybe Edmore will be kind and tone it down a little bit. But no, more water, more steam… It’s fricking hot. And the guy that’s gagging, and coughing and choking and puking doesn’t quit. So, I’m thinking… OK… if he can do it, I can do it. So, I’m sitting there, rocking back and forth talking to myself… it went something like this:
“OMG I can’t stand it!”
“Yes, you can. If he can do it you can do it.”
“No, I can’t.”
“Yes, you can. You’ll get used to it.”
“That guy is going to pass out.”
“Well good… then they’ll open the door and let some of the heat out.”
“I can’t stand it! I really can’t.”
“You have to stand it… you are not leaving until it’s over.”
Finally, the door is opened, and the first “endurance” is over. I was thinking to myself… OK… there’s a reason why they call them endurance’s. He did leave the door open for a really long time, long enough for me to get completely cooled off. And I’m thinking, that now it’s all going to be alright because now I’m used to it, and obviously Edmore is making sure that whoever it is that’s been about to die doesn’t actually die… and if this sweat doesn’t kill that guy, it’s sure as hell not going to kill me.
The second endurance wasn’t so bad. It was hot, but not as hot as the first one. I was like patting myself on the back. Feeling pretty good about it. Like I was somehow “tougher” than the Native American dude on the far side of the lodge. I never did figure out who it was that was doing so much coughing. But he did continue to cough through the second round. And at this point, I decided that it had to just be that terrible kind of cough that makes you gag and choke because I never once smelled vomit, and I think it would have been smelling pretty bad in there if he had actually been puking.
When the door opened after the second endurance, Edmore went and got some medicine and passed it around for anyone who was coughing. A really nice way to offer help to the guy having so much trouble while still allowing him to preserve his pride. I don’t know what the medicine was… I couldn’t see it since it was dark in the lodge… too dark to see anything even with the door open, I think it must have been some sort of herbal chew or something… we passed it around.
He also talked about how there was this bad cold stuff going around, and that he had planned for a really hot sweat to break up the congestion and stuff since so many people there had gotten the flu….
Right after that, he passed around a cow horn full of water for us to drink… each person taking a few swallows … and passing it on… It’s a good thing I don’t believe in germs. Because I was drinking that water! Every time he passed it around, I had some. That horn went around 2 or 3 times each time the door opened. I kept telling myself… “Shirley, you don’t believe in germs.” and “That water was blessed.” and “Water! Thank you God! I love water!”
So, come the third round and I’m pretty sure I’m going to live through it just fine. Having had my confidence boosted by that milder second round, and by the fact that I had lived through the first one. Then they shut the door…
And people are praying, and Edmore is singing, and it’s really cool, and sacred, and communal, and hot… really really hot. The prayers go on and on and on and on. The guy with the coughing problem keeps on coughing, he sounds just terrible. And I’m saying to myself. “If he can do it you can do it.”
Every now and then I start having anxiety, but I just go with it, doing all this self talk, and the whole time I am really deeply appreciating that guy who is having so much trouble. I’m like blessing him and thanking him. If it wasn’t for him, it might be way hotter, I might be the one puking and dying… so I’m like LOVING this guy! I feel like he’s saving my life in some obscure way.
After what seems like hours … we finally come to the end of the third round. Just one more round to go. OK… so far so good. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. And even though I know that the last round is usually the hardest one, I’m feeling like the worst has got to be over. He’s going easy on us because he doesn’t actually want to kill anyone, and I’ve made it this far… and I’m saying to myself “How bad can it get?”
Don’t ever ask yourself that when you are in a sweat lodge filled with Native American men who like a nice hot sweat. Trust me. Just don’t.
The first thing I noticed is that the dude that was coughing … has stopped coughing. Totally stopped. And the lodge gets hotter and hotter and hotter and hotter. I start to feel really anxious, like what if I can’t breathe or something. So I open my mouth to take in a nice deep breath… and the air is burning hot. I started to imagine blisters popping up all over my lungs. So I said “Shut up with that shit.” And turned off my mind.
And then I tried putting my towel up to cover my head but that only made it worse. Like it stirred up some dormant corner of hell and sent it swirling around me. Ever heard the expression, “fanning the fire?” Well, that’s what if felt like if I moved. So I stopped moving, except for my compulsive rocking back and forth, which is keeping me calm and stopping me from clawing my way out through the wall.
Finally, the prayers are completed and Edmore starts singing his shaman songs. And all the while, it’s getting hotter and hotter and hotter. And Edmore is singing this song and that song, and dumping more and more water on the rocks, and my head is starting to hurt, and my eyes are burning, and I’m just rocking back and forth doing my silent mantra. Around and around in my head, I was singing my own shaman song. It was very silently dramatic and went something like this:
- (Red = hysterical silent screaming)
- (Green = tone of voice useful in dealing with lunatics and hysterical children)
“Shut the fuck up and open the door!” “You’re OK, Shirley. No resistance. The heat is your friend.” “I’m dying back here – open the frickin door!” “It’s OK… everything is OK… you are OK… no resistance… just relax.” “Enough already with the singing! Shut up! Open the fucking door!” “Everything’s going to be OK. Just relax now. Keep breathing.” “Who’s going to take care of my dog if I’m dead? Huh? Huh? Huh?” “We’re almost done. You’re not going to die.” “Hey, coughing dude… start coughing again… please!” “Be calm. It can’t last forever.”
Finally, he stops singing, and throws the door open. The heat and the steam goes billowing out the door. I’m toasted. But I made it… then everybody gets out their pipes, and pipes get passed, pipe songs get sung, and I’m just happy to be alive.
Important note: I shared this story on my old blogger blog way back in March of 2008. Totally forgot about it. Just saw it today. So much fun!!
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