School of Movement Medicine - Mindfulness in Motion

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Issue: July Newsletter
Sweat Lodge and the State of Being

By Tamara
The other day, as I was lying on my couch focusing on the breath and relaxation of my body, eyes bathing in the greenness of the tree in front of my apartment window, I relived a memory from not so long ago a memory of being in the sweat lodge during the Phoenix Retreat a year ago.

Trying to remain present and not to go with any impulse of my body to get up – this impulse which tries to avoid the unpleasant tension that paradoxically rises with relaxation – this memory reminded me to go back into the wisdom of my experience during the sweat lodge.

This sweat lodge was the first one in my life (or at least in this lifetime). I remember my hands shaking when I had the honor of starting the fire as being the youngest member of the group that day. As a 25 year-old at the time, I felt that all the knowledge I had gathered in my life so far could not prepare me for what will be happening as soon as I would enter the sweat lodge.

Even though I was excited, felt very strong and approached the ceremony decidedly and fatefully, on the day of the ceremony I started to listen more carefully to the parts of me that were ready to sabotage. Since my journey with Movement Medicine had started only a couple of months before the Phoenix Retreat, getting ready for the sweat lodge made me question every decision I had made up to that point – including the one which accepted me into the Movement Medicine Apprenticeship Programme.

Even though I have been dancing for years, and even though I do honor the intelligence of my moving body, there was something in the teaching of Movement Medicine that scared my courageous self to the bones. At the same time this work encourages me strongly to remember more and more of who I am and what my being holds – in ways my mind can only bow to and step aside.

So, there I was that day of the sweat lodge, dressed down to my most natural self, scared, excited and feeling deep respect for the ceremony that was about to happen. Even though I was a cataclysm of emotion and thought, with a couple of big life questions moving inside me to bring to the Great Spirit, what was worrying me the most was how my body will react to this heat since I was having my period. The scene of walking out with blood on my thighs was my worst case scenario: It was a time of my life when I was still struggling with shame around femininity. I was on the quest to discover what does being a woman really mean, what kind of woman am I and how can I accept my femininity with pleasure and respect.

I have learned very early in life to keep all my struggles to myself and not let it show. Therefore, I was surprised when the gates of the sweat lodge had closed for the first time and the darkness started to absorb every familiarity around me, that I was grabbing the closest hand to me as tightly as I could. In the next couple of hours I dived into a journey through the parts of me that were ready to come to the surface. I remember I had to remind myself as often as I could that there were many before me that went through that ceremony and got out of it alive. There was a part of me ready to remind me of this, whenever I needed it. I must admit I was not afraid of dying, I was afraid of the fear itself.

After the first wave of panic my lungs and body remembered how to breathe in such a hot and steamy air. My mind was the next one that needed justification: In the middle of the song we were all singing together I suddenly remembered that for years I have had a strong fear of darkness accompanied with the fear of small spaces. The sweat lodge was the perfect place to be reminded of this. I began sensing the tension in my body and releasing a scream that was only heard in my mind. At the same time I was thinking how fascinating it is that I have had a blank spot in the memory of my fears months before, when I knew I’d be going into a sweat lodge ceremony – no part of my consciousness connected the dots between those fears and the fact that a sweat lodge will be dark and small, incredibly hot and full, and the gates would be closed. Apart from my ability to stay focused, I received a great deal of support: from my teachers Susannah and Ya’Acov, from my companions in the lodge whose courage and fear reminded me that I was not alone, and from the drumming all around us – literally and metaphorically, support from what is seen and unseen.

As I was sitting there round after round, catching myself screaming ‘door’ in my mind every two minutes, I was on the edge of what I thought was my sanity. I was feeling layers of fear, anger, desperation and disbelief rising from somewhere within my body to my consciousness. They were getting ready to be released to the chanting, to steamy air, through the sweat of my body, into the cold ground holding my weight, to the fire and drums in front of the lodge and to the heavenly starry night above us.

Being able to stay present with what was happening within me, and at the same time keeping and holding a certain distance and not acting upon it, I finally reached the point where my ego and mind were ready to surrender. I entered a place where deep prayer was the only impulse I had. I heard my voice starting to get louder and louder saying 'O?e naš, koji jesi na nebesima, sveti se ime tvoje, do?i kraljevstvo tvoje...' (Our father, who art in heaven, hollowed be thy name, thy kingdom come...), a prayer which I hadn’t spoken the past twenty years. In that moment I could feel tear drops full of relief coming to my eyes and running down my cheeks. I could feel with every cell in my body, with my entire heart, with every part of my being that everything is all right, that everything was and everything will be all right. I could feel there was something so much greater than me – something so great, loving and kind that every word fails to describe it. I could feel I was a part of it and it was a part of me.

As I feel today that this ceremony lasted longer than these four hours we were in the sweat lodge, I can sense how much preparation was necessary beforehand. And I don’t only mean the practicalities of preparation of that day, which connected each and every one of us closer before we entered the lodge. I dare to say that the preparation for this ceremony (and each one to follow) had been growing inside me my whole life. And my life up to that point had been lacking living the wisdom that has been passed on for centuries. If I think today which part of me was resisting the most, which one tried to manoeuvre around facing the storm inside me, I can see that it is a part that I love a lot – a part that is ready to do whatever is necessary to keep me safe. The place of doing is a part of my legacy: doing something about it, doing something is what I have learned to do. Yet, if this sweat lodge has offered me anything, it is that being with it instead of doing something about it is sometimes even more valuable. When my thoughts and emotion were changing so quickly and intensively, my state of being is what I needed to witness yet another wave rising inside me until it would go back just like a tide to the darkness. To let go, to surrender, to accept whatever was happening was the only way possible to go from one minute to the next.

As much as I value working my way through whatever it is, since that sweat lodge I have learned (and am still learning) to honor this state of allowance, acceptance and surrender with as little intervention as possible. I have learned (and am still learning) that, in order to fully embrace the answer to my prayers and the gifts that follow every hard work, sometimes I just have to sit still and wait for the magic called Life to happen.

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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of the School of Movement Medicine. Roland Wilkinson, Nappers Crossing, Staverton, Devon TQ9 6PD, UK Tel & Fax +44 (0)1803 762255 http://www.