I want to write this blog post today whilst the feeling is still so present in my heart. We ran a new moon women's sweat today, a change from the usual full moon women's lodges. It was strong medicine!
My second time leading the women's sweat lodge ceremony, we met on beautiful land out in Cheshire, land which my friend and treasured co-creator John has been custodian of for the last 19 years. I'm grateful to John for opening the space up for me to run lodges for women; the tradition here has been for long standing mixed lodges, and since last year, for men only sweats too, but until this year, there wasn't a women only space for the sisters to gather and share this way. We all need our own space sometimes, and although there is deep delight in coming together for the mixed lodges, we certainly all benefit from having the time to share in single gender (self determined) spaces.
These lodges come from deep lineages and traditions. For me personally, it's not something I take lightly because I recognise the importance of putting in the work before stepping up, and also I genuinely seek to stay humble in my presence in the lodge either as an attendee or a lodge leader, but I'm human and I think it's fair to say that the ego can be a tricky little bugger sometimes! Still, I'm on its tail, that rascal!
I've been attending lodges now since before my children were born, so for over 25 years - that fact shocks me! Twenty five years of sweating my prayers and offering up my stories and my gratitudes. My first lodge and most after that were led by the Deer Tribe in their monthly full moon lodges over in Unstone in Derbyshire, then I attended lodges within other healing ceremonies, usually less intense in those cases as their function was more for purification cleansing before or after ceremony, and then once in my shamanic training too. They're far from an easy ride, and I value that.
Modern day life in the west can be a life of convenience; convenience food, convenience stores, and many convenient ways to short cut or bypass our thoughts, feelings and emotions. The sweat lodge will not allow you to circumnavigate your relationship with yourself, for in there, everything seems to rise up to be felt and seen.
Most lodges run for four or five rounds of 'prayer,' not in the Christian sense of 'prayer' though I guess for some it may be like that, a lodge is non-denominational whilst deeply honouring of the roots of it all. Our prayers are offered more in the indigenous sense of building a relationship with life, with nature, and intentionally walking what the North American First Nations refer to as the 'Good Red Road' or the 'Beauty Way'. In our lodges, as with many, each round of prayer focusses on one of the four cardinal directions (N,E,S,W), with the lodge leader occasionally calling in a fifth round for integrating all of the previous rounds into the fifth direction in the centre - you!
A 'round' will last for 20-30 minutes on average depending on how many people are in the lodge, how long their prayers are, and how the fire keepers are managing the rocks and the wood needed to keep the rocks heated in the heart of Grandfather Fire outside the sweat. Ultimately a lodge will usually last for 2-3 hours, and the preparation for it, the sharing, the meditating, the building of the lodge and the chopping of the wood (the labour is an important part of our humble service), and the packing down from it, those labours take up the rest of the day. We set aside a full day for this ceremony and it warrants that. There are no convenience short cuts.
Safety is of the essence - alcohol and drugs shouldn't be taken for at least 24 hours, and preferably more, before a sweat. The heat is crazy intense, and builds up with each round. By round three, usually the round in which we come to face our own shadows and personal demons, exhaustion is showing, resistance is showing, and we may want to get out at this point. Staying creates healing as we acknowledge those shadows and find the courage to sit with them, to give them space, to let go, through tears, words, gratitudes, and surrender. Preparing by abstaining from our usual or frequent habits and from food (we fast from the evening before until after the sweat is complete) is a necessary and important part of the lodge protocol.
Many indigenous cultures have a strong relationship with nature and the earth, have rites of passage, rituals with specific intended outcomes or meanings, and live in ways which honour both the youth and elders in a community for their respective blessings and gifts. We tend to have few rites of passage, few circles or councils of elders, and we relegate kids into a "what do they know place", whilst the Earth is simply something many people seem to ignore until it shows signs of biting back; if you're reading this, there's a strong chance you're probably one of the ones that don't do that (I hope), but many do. I still want to weep when I see someone wind down their car window and toss out their empty coffee cups, cigarette wrappers and old take away boxes onto the street. I do the work to raise my capacity to contribute well, to live a good life, and to be of service in the creation of a healthy, loving planet.
For me, these ceremonies grow my awareness, increase my sense of accountability and build my sense of community. They also offer me important ways to check in with what's really going on for me, to work consciously to change the things that aren't working, and to improve or develop the things that are. If I find I'm offering the same prayers in recurring lodges, then I know I have work to do in that area. Similarly, I can track the things that have shifted and which are no longer an issue for me - celebration time!
The rocks represent the Abuelos, the Grandfathers, the lodge the womb of the Earth, the Great Mother. The fire holds the energy of the Masculine which enters the lodge with reverence and in union with the Feminine aspects of life. When we pour the water over the rocks, we see the steam that is created as the 'breath of the Creator' and that breath carries our prayers out of the lodge into the aether where they may be released and transformed. It's like the Universe is rooting for us, "come on - you can do this; you must do this! The Earth needs you!"
The East holds the energy of new beginnings, the element of fire (think of the sun rising in the East), new potential, birth, seedlings of ideas, projects, and the feminine creation energy.
The South holds the energy of innocence, childhood, purity of spirit and laughter, remembering our naturalness with the element of water as we shed our cleansing tears, or learn to flow around life's obstacles.
The West holds the energy of the physical body, the Dreamtime, the darkness both within and without. It's the direction of the setting sun, of stillness and of silent meditation; it represents the archetype of the Healer, and its element is Earth, grounding, rooting, stabilising, Earth.
The North holds the energy of the Warrior; the wisdom of age, the white haired ones, and elders, and our own blood ancestors. It's about taking charge of your life and your destiny and standing firm in that resolve, and with this comes the element of Air representing mental clarity, alertness and the mind.
The word INIPI (another word for Sweat Lodge) literally means 'To Live Again'. We bring ourselves in true humility into the lodge to learn about letting go, about death and therefore about re-birth. I think it's a practice ground for conscious dying, and it's certainly not for the faint hearted. These rounds get hot, and I mean really HOT! They take us to our edges and often push us over them, and they will tear down our small world view and replace it with something much bigger if we can allow the changes to happen, because of course our work does not begin and end in a ceremony; any ceremony!
If you would like to know more about our lodges, and about upcoming dates, please request to join our Facebook Group Sweat Lodges and Healing Events. We are always open to those who are open to new ways of seeing things and of doing things. "Keep on doing what you've always done and you'll always get what you've always got" - and who wants that!
The next men's lodge is on April 29th with John, and the next women's lodge is on 13th May with Steph. Our next mixed lodge is on the Summer Solstice on Wednesday 20th June and is with both Steph & John leading together.
CHANGE YOUR LIFE!
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