lessons from the lodge.

Lessons from the Lodge

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The other night I experienced my first sweat lodge ceremony. It was intense, but I learned a lot. I started seeing repeating numbers the day of the ceremony - all day. I saw 222, 333, 444, 1234 on the clock, in license plates, and on buildings. I knew spirit was ready to communicate but I didn’t know how.

I woke up pretty early on the day of the ceremony, around 4:30 am. Most of my day was pretty normal - aside from all of the repeating numbers and excitement, but normally on days that I wake up early I go to bed around 9 or 10 pm. The ceremony started at 8:30pm so I went into it already tired (note to self, or anyone planning to do a sweat: take a nap).

My friend who invited me to the sweat lodge gave me a few instructions to make sure that I would be ready. These were my instructions:

  • Bring a small plate for the feast, and a small tobacco offering for the water pourer.

  • Women wear long cotton skirts and cover their shoulders.

  • Women do not attend on moon time, because this is a time for women to be nurtured and honored.

  • No jewelry or shoes worn in the lodge.

  • Bring a towel and a change of clothes.

  • Drink plenty of water all day to prepare.

  • Have an intent & prayer.

When my fiance, Mike, and I got to the location of the lodge we were nervous but excited. I think he was more nervous, and I was more excited. We gave our offerings and met everyone there. A woman, who I later learned was Aztec, explained more about the lodge to me. Men and women would be on separate sides of the lodge to balance the energy. Before going in, we would walk around the fire clockwise, kneel down, and say aho mitakuye oyasin which means all my relations. I had heard that before, aho mitakuye oyasin, in other ceremonies. She also told me if I ever needed water or needed to get out to use the restroom or anything I would say aho mitakuye oyasin and ask.

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Before we went in, we were smudged by my friend with white sage and juniper berries. An altar was set up with a buffalo skull, and elements that represented each of the directions. I had journaled earlier in the day about my intentions and prayers for each direction. In the Lakota tradition, there are seven directions: center, west, north, east, south, above, and below.

  • Center represents Wakan Tanka (Great Mystery), or Spirit.

  • West represents the Introspection round. It is connected to water, rain, purity, releasing ignorance, The messenger of the West is the Black Eagle and is also home of the Thunder Being. This is the round where we pray for babies, born & unborn.

  • North represents the fulfillment round. It is home to winter, wisdom, and the buffalo nation. The buffalo means a great deal to the Lakota people and represents sacrifice. The messenger of the North is the crane. This is the round where we pray for teenagers.

  • East represents the healing round and new beginnings. East is associated with the sun and brings light and life to all creation. East is home to the elk nation and the messenger is the brown eagle. This is the round where we pray for adults.

  • South represents celebration of love and truth. It is connected with life after death and directs those who walk into the next phase. South is associated with the owl nation and the messenger is the bald eagle. This is the round where we pray for elders.

  • Above is the direction of the sky, and is called grandfather.

  • Below is the direction of the earth below us, called Unchi Maka or grandmother.

My overall intent was to connect to Spirit and receive clarity. I journaled something for each of the directions and had prayers written out. Maybe I should have reread it more because honestly the heat made me forget all but my intent to connect to Spirit.

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The women walked in first and I was between the other two women. We walked clockwise around the fire, past the altar, kneeled and said aho mitakuye oyasin, then crawled into the lodge going clockwise around a pit that would later be filled with hot stones. The Aztec woman was to my right, and another woman to my left. Seven stones were brought in for each of the directions and they burned sweetgrass, one of my favorite smells. It’s sweet yet earthy and it’s one of those smells that feels familiar, like sage or palo santo.

The first round felt lighthearted and warm, but not intensely hot. Four songs were sang, I didn’t know the words so I couldn’t join in but I remember thinking how much I loved it and how I wanted to keep coming and eventually learn the songs so I could sing too. Three people had drums in the lodge. The sound of the drum is so grounding for me. I felt at home.

After the first round they opened the door and cool air came in. Then they added many more stones, I can’t remember if it was 14 or 18 but it was a lot more.

The second round we prayed out loud. I had never done this before. All of the prayers and intentions I had journaled earlier in the day completely left my mind. I said a short prayer when it was my turn. The other prayers were much longer. I tried hard to listen but I was so hot my heart and head were pounding. I started to lay down, earlier I was told that laying down made it less hot. It kind of helped. I must have been hyperventilating though because my arms went tingly and numb and my hands started to involuntarily ball up into fists. That freaked me out. In retrospect I was totally fine. But I didn’t feel fine, so I asked for water halfway through the round. Normally after the prayers we would get water anyway, but since this was my first one I didn’t know that. I drank water and poured some on myself too to cool down.

The third round was the healing round. This was by far the hottest and most intense. Fourteen more stones were placed in the lodge. A chanupa (a ceremonial pipe) went around with red willow in it. I layed down the entire time, which felt like a long time. It got intensely hot and the same numb, tingly feeling happened in my arms. I tried repeating mantras in my mind to stay grounded. It kind of worked. This was the most humbling round for me. I waited for a message from spirit; a sign, a feeling, a vision, something. But what I was expecting never came. What did come instead really surprised me.

After the third round, food that represented each of the four directions came around. Someone explained that we enjoy each bowl passed around so that the spirits can enjoy it too since they do not normally get to experience food. The bowls started with the woman to my left and went clockwise so I was last to receive each bowl. We began with water. Then corn, which is food of the first people and eaten by most tribes. Then, buffalo meat. I’m vegan. Because it started to my left, I knew far in advance what was coming my way. At first I didn’t really know what to do. It felt like it was a part of the ceremony, but at the same time I didn’t think that I would offend anyone if I didn’t eat any of the buffalo meat. I was kind of torn. When the bowl finally got to me I said a little gratitude prayer for the sacrifice of the buffalo. And then I instantly knew that I had to eat some. I thanked it in my mind as I ate it. As I ate this buffalo meat, I felt the spirit of the buffalo. I almost cried. I felt its’ warmth, its’ strength, it’s willingness to sacrifice itself for others. I felt it’s beauty.  I can’t express in words the gratitude that I felt. It wasn’t the type of gratitude you feel in your body, it was a deep, spiritual gratitude. It gave me strength.

This was my message from spirit. This was my lesson. Not to start eating meat and change my lifestyle, but to embody the buffalo. To live in service for others. To use my strength, my warmth, my compassion in service to others. Without the sacrifice of the buffalo, the Lakota people would not have survived the harsh winters. So the buffalo is respected, honored, and loved. The next bowl that was passed was a bowl of blueberries. Eating sweet blueberries felt like a celebration. I received my message from spirit in a way that would never happen outside of the sweat lodge.

The fourth round began with 8 stones, fewer than the rounds before and so much less intense. This round felt more celebratory. There were drums and singing again. A few people shared songs from their traditions. The Aztec woman next to me shared hers. Her voice was beautiful and reminded me somehow of childhood. Her song felt like a Christmas song in Spanish that I had forgotten, even though the song wasn’t in Spanish. I felt tears stream down my cheeks and mix with the sweat that had been running down my face all night. I cried the entire time she sang.

When we finally left the lodge, the air felt cool. I then understood what my friend had said about feeling as though you’d been reborn. The lodge itself is warm, dark, and humid - as if we were in the womb of mother earth. I received so many lessons in the lodge, that leaving it felt like being reborn.


Benefits

There are many benefits to doing a sweat lodge ceremony. The benefits clearly are not just physical, but also mental and spiritual.

Physical Benefits: the body is detoxified, provided with antibacterial benefits, and wound healing benefits.

Mental Benefits: the mind is cleared of any distractions. You have to learn to be in the moment, or your mind may create stories about the heat and keep you focused on the discomfort. It is a very meditative experience.

Spiritual Benefits: the ceremony allows for introspection, connection to the earth, and connection to spirit.

Chanting, Ganesha, & the Magic of Yoga

Something amazing happened. Unknowingly, I took my first step onto the path laid out for me. 

 

I was maybe 21 or 22 years old. I was married to someone who had been keeping big secrets from me since the very beginning. My heart knew something was off, but my head couldn't figure it out. Knowing that you're being lied to, but not having any proof or any reason to believe it is a tricky situation. I was in love. We were riding this roller coaster together. Big highs, and even bigger lows. Sometimes I felt like I was losing my mind. Like pieces of me were getting lost along the ride. I floated on.


I don't remember how I found it. But somehow I learned about a group of yoga teachers that taught all donation based classes outdoors.  I found this great teacher and I went to her classes really regularly. Sometimes I was the only one who showed up. It was my therapy.


Those hours spent doing yoga in the park made me feel sane. They helped me see that there was so much more out there. And that it was okay to want more.


One day after asana practice she taught the group the chant to Ganesha. I had never chanted before. I had no idea who Ganesha was. I'd seen pictures of him before, but I never really knew who he was or what he represented.


She explained that Ganesha was the remover of obstacles. He is depicted with the head of an elephant and the body of a boy. His ears are large, for listening. His belly is large enough to digest any problems, any obstacles, anything that we can't stomach alone. He is often depicted riding a mouse, which symbolizes how light he is - free of any attachments to weigh him down.


Chanting felt... natural, but also other worldly all at once. I felt like this weight had been lifted. And it felt good.


Chanting opens up the most beautiful space around everything. This space is always there. Sometimes we forget because we're so focused on what's happening in our minds. When we chant, the sounds bring us back home to that space within.


After that very first chant to Ganesha, I had a strange almost out of body experience. Maybe not out of body, but certainly out of mouth. I went to the teacher after class to thank her and give a donation, and something strange came out of my mouth. I asked her where she trained to become a yoga instructor. I told her that I had been thinking of becoming one myself.


In fact, that thought had never crossed my mind. I felt like I had just lied to her. But to my surprise, she told me that she knew that I would do it. That I would become a yoga  instructor. Her faith in me gave me faith in myself. I let the thought linger. 

 

That night a friend of mine who is quite psychic read my tarot cards. The message could not be more clear. The cards told me that I was stepping onto my life path - the path of a healer. They told me to follow through with the thoughts that I had been having.

 

Sometimes signs are subtle. Sometimes they're so subtle that we may miss them. Other times, signs are neon

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Packing 101

I am gearing up for a one month backpacking trip through Europe! I leave in five days and I haven't given much thought to packing yet. This isn't my first long trip through Europe, nor is it my longest so I'm actually not worried about packing at all. In fact, I've made plenty of packing mistakes in the past so I feel super ready to never make those same mistakes again. At this point I'm kind of a pro - which is why I am sharing my do's and don'ts of packing for long trips!

Montserrat, Spain 2013

Montserrat, Spain 2013

Do:

  • Check the Weather:

Get a solid idea of what weather you should expect in each place you're going to. This will help you avoid having clothes you never end up wearing. But also - pack layers in case the weather changes unexpectedly. 

  • Take Only a Backpack:

I took a three month trip to Europe a few years back and made the gravest rookie mistake of all time. I took a giant suitcase. It was the biggest hassle and such a pain to carry up and down steps ALL. The. Time. After a particularly long day partying in Croatia, I went to leave my hotel in this beautiful, old, but very lively area with super worn down stone steps wearing my favourite combat boots. I got about one step down carrying my giant suitcase before I slipped on the slick, worn stone steps and landed right on my tailbone catching the giant 50 pound bag in my lap... in front of several outdoor restaurants and tons of tourists.  You don't need more than a backpack's worth of stuff. And trust me, you really really don't want more than a backpack. I promise. 

  • Leave Some Space in your Case. 

Don't take a case, definitely take a backpack - but backpack doesn't rhyme with space. Leave room for things you'll want to buy. My last trip I started out all fine and dandy with my backpack...until I had to buy a second backpack to wear on my chest because I couldn't fit all of my new stuff. You already know you're going to want to buy things. I would definitely try not to buy too many things in each spot but leave a little room in case there's anything you really love or want to buy for people back home. 

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland 2015

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland 2015

Don't:

  • Don't Forget an Adapter!

It's so much easier to get the adapters you need while at home than it is to have to go find them while traveling. Check to see if different countries you're going to require different adapters. For example, the UK uses different electrical outlets than the rest of Europe so you'll need both. There are also universal adapters which are super clutch. 

  • Don't Take Appliances!

 For starters, you don't really need them. I've brought hair straighteners and curling irons with me before and didn't even realize that they didn't work until weeks into the trip. Because I never even tried to use them. Oh and also reason number two why you shouldn't take them is they won't work. Sorry. Let your hair go au naturale for your trip. Many AirBnB's also have hair dryers anyway so if you really must use one you can probably find one where you're staying. 

  • Don't Sweat It!

Other than your passport, you can pretty much buy anything wherever you're going. If you forget toothpaste it'll be okay, they brush their teeth in other countries too. If you're taking trains everywhere, it may even make more sense for you to buy full size toiletries once you arrive, rather than buying mini ones to take on the plane and then just having to buy more once they run out. 

 

Sevilla, 2013

Sevilla, 2013

inspiration.

Sometimes it's good to remember that inspiration comes with preparation. When I have no inspiration, if I push myself to at least set up my space- whether that means setting up my easel and putting everything into place and mixing paint, or making tea and getting a notebook and my laptop ready for writing - the simple act of setting up my space creates the right mood for inspiration to come join me where I am.

Sometimes you just have to start. Light a candle. Make it special. Dress a certain way to prepare yourself for it. Put on music that inspires you. 

When I was younger, if I so much as painted  my nails I would get struck with ideas for a new painting. If I tried to do homework, simply holding a pen or pencil made me want to sketch. But I think as we get older and we get more responsibilities, we become less inspired because it feels like there isn't enough time for creativity. Of course that's not true. Creativity fuels you. Creating can give you energy to do everything else you do with just a  little bit more joy. 

Let inspiration hit you. And if it doesn't, seek it out. Create space for it. Tell the universe " I'm ready". And let inspiration meet you where you are  

 

set yourself free.

So humbled.


One of my students today shared with me after my chair yoga class that she cries in closing meditation every time. She lost her son to a car accident in January and she takes care of her sick husband at home. She has nowhere to cry. She hasn't been able to grieve.


I could see her pain. I could see her confusion. She almost wanted to stop coming so that she wouldn't cry.


Two other women noticed her crying and came over to comfort her. These are the two self appointed "chairmen" of the class (it's chair yoga, get it?). And it just made me realize what an amazing little tribe I have. They support each other, they laugh together, and for many of them that class is the highlight of their week. And the three of us just talked with her about what was going on and reminded her that it's okay to cry, and why it's healthy to cry.


We release things when we cry. When we bottle up emotions they cause tension in the body, and sometimes they can cause some very real harm.


Crying sets your pain free.


Human beings are not meant to carry the heaviness of emotions with us. We're meant to feel them. Process them. And then, let them go.


And in doing so, we set ourselves free.

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