The First time I Sat in Lodge
I sat cross legged on the earth and watched the fire heating the stones. Earth cradled my hips, heat from the fire warmed my body, pine and aspen scented smoke filled me with contentment. The waiting door of lodge was to my left. I dropped into an internal silence. The busyness of people tending the fire, preparing to enter lodge faded. Looking east, I could see Denver and the prairie that lay beyond. Lodges had been here long before the city and it seemed diminished by the ancient reverberations of all that had crawled into sweat lodge for help and healing. Present were the spirits of willow bones of all the lodges that had gone before, the people that held the ceremonies, the stones, the herbs that were placed on the stones and the invisible ancestors that came to watch over the people who were waiting to enter the lodge. I knew this as if I had participated in this ceremony hundreds of times. This was my first lodge.
My husband, son and I lived in the mountains at about 7800 feet up Flagstaff Road ten miles from Boulder, Colorado. A month earlier, a man named RedHawk had called me and asked if I had some land that his community could build a lodge on. We did, as a matter of fact we had recently acquired 35 beautiful acres bordering national forest. RedHawk and twenty some odd people spent the better part of three weeks preparing the site, building the lodge, a medicine wheel and carting supplies and water up the steep hill to the clearing surrounded on three sides by large rocks, aspens and fir trees. The fourth side faced east as far as you could see. I waited for the sweat lodge leader to arrive, a Sioux medicine man. His name, Oyate, was spoken in hushed, reverent tones. He arrived two days before the first Sweat Lodge ceremony and came over to meet me and Stephen where we lived at the base of our land. His shirt was off and his chest displayed two recent wounds acquired by piercing the skin and putting a small stick through. This stick was fastened to a rope attached to a sacred tree in the middle of a ceremonial circle. He had just completed a Sundance, where he danced prayed and tugged on the rope until his skin gave way and the small stick pulled free. I had read about this ancient ceremony, but had never met anyone who had participated let alone a Sioux Medicine man. He was very friendly and thanked us for our generosity. I found it difficult to speak, fear and excitement running through my body. I had met famous teachers, grew up around Native Americans and was seldom at a loss for words in any circle. Ah, the hoof beats of change, a future not yet known. A familiar feeling, but not always welcome. I was afraid.
Before the first lodge, I spoke to RedHawk about approaching Oyate to be my teacher. We had been instructed to communicate through RedHawk, although many of the women flocked around him and he didn’t seem to mind. When it came time to go into lodge I was positioned in the row next to the stone pit, directly across from the door, the hottest place in lodge. It was a place of honor. I didn’t know this, nor did I know it was a test of intention, my willingness to suffer the heat of lodge and an honoring of me as the keeper of this land.
My naked body was wrapped in a towel, a futile attempt to be modest since men and women were sweating together. My occupation with keeping that towel secure dissipated as I sat on the earth and gazed out the door of the lodge toward the fire. I knew the stones would be hot, I knew the lodge would call me to a place remembered only a moment ago. I was home, a home never visited in this lifetime.
The door of the lodge closed and silence was wrapped in darkness. Hot stones are been placed in the pit in the middle, their heat breathed in. Water was poured on the stones sprinkled with cedar, the scent and steam penetrated by body. The silence was broken with gasps and sighs of discomfort as lungs filled with moist hot air. Sounds of distress, suffering, filled the lodge. A song began and the beat of a drum brought ease. Suffering was abated. Prayers were said in native tongue as well as English. Stories were told about the spirits that had been with the people as long as stories had been told. These spirits came in the form of eagle, coyote, bear and buffalo. Others were holy people of long ago who still visited lodge when called upon and the spirits of the herbs were called and spoken to as one speaks to a wise man. More water was poured on the stones. It was very hot and some people were crying. Oyate called for the door to be opened. The doorkeepers responded quickly and cool air rushed in. Sighs of relieve filled the lodge. Water was passed around and refreshed, we all settled in for another round. Looking around I noticed the faces, the bodies of my companions. Many limp and laboring to breath still had the faces of renewed energy. Others said in silence savoring the palatable presence of invisible spirits, faces shining with ecstatic rapture. Some quietly visited. Everyone was dripping with moisture and towels were askew exposing naked bodies. I did not feel hot although my body was covered with sweat. I was not afraid and I longed for the lodge to continue, to never end. I felt clear and knew if I spoke my words would be true, but I did not want to speak. I felt overflowing love and let it pour out of my eyes as I watched the others, the stones, the fire and the trees on the west horizon. My body felt strong and weak at the same time. I felt pulled from the place of my chest, my heart, my lungs and I felt there was someplace I was to go, something I was to do. I did not know what that was, but felt the knowledge would come as we continued. My belief was absolute. I would be given something that I needed. I had trust. I knew sweat lodge was my holy place, my sanctuary, my spirit home.
Faith was born. It was very unfamiliar as a lifestyle. I had been raised in a socialist, agnostic home where intelligent people always questioned their emotional response. Feelings were suspicious guides, not to be trusted and love was never guaranteed although often given. Yet, as the door closed for the second round I felt trust, love and believed I would be guided, touched encouraged in some way. My life as a questioning person did not end, but took a turn, a different direction. Why did I feel this way? Who were those spirits? How could I get to know them better? I had bypassed the holy man and gone straight to the universal spirit of lodge and all that it contained. It was a blessing for me. I do see people’s imperfections and perfections and can get distracted by what I considered their shortcomings. After that lodge I was able to see sincerely being in service to something larger than the sum of the parts without a hidden agenda dissolves all imperfections. My heart, my breath, my mind and my body were responding to the truth. It would take a while for me to understand that this is the contextual essence of the earth-centered path, the indigenous mind. It was a state to be inhabited by every part of me and the universe was participating.
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