Scenes from a Sweat Lodge

Several years ago, I was invited to participate in a sacred Native American prayer ceremony called a sweat lodge. A “sweat” is basically a cocoon of people praying together in the heat and the dark, in a hole in the earth covered by sticks and tarps. Red hot rocks are shoveled into a pit in the center of the lodge and water is splattered on top, causing intense steam to rise up.

This goes on for 7 or more “rounds.” It’s a test of physical and psychological endurance and, by the end of the ceremony, you feel purified and even transformed. This particular sweat was led by an author whose work I’ve always admired, Lewis Mehl-Madrona, MD (Lewis is Cherokee-Lakota).

So there I was, crammed into this tiny earth-womb—doing something that I’d wanted to experience since I learned about this Native tradition—and by round 2, I’m asking myself: WHY the heck am I doing this again?

It was intense to the point that two people had already dropped out. Lewis made some comment about the Grandfather Spirits making the stones hotter than usual.

By round 4, we were all suffering. Two more people had exited. Then, the woman to my left wanted out quickly—she was feeling nauseous and faint. I was blocking her way, so I grabbed her arm, walked her out of the lodge, sat her on a blanket and looked around for a bottle of water to offer her. By then, the lodge door (basically, a blanket) was closed and round 5 had begun. I sat and listened as everyone ELSE sang and drank the medicine of geranium-frankincense-clove.

Now I was on the “outside” and, not knowing the protocol, wasn’t sure I could go back in. I lay back on the dirt, drenched in sweat, really internally upset. The mental theatrics began:

Why am I out here? Should I have thought just of myself and gone directly back in? Others outside the lodge could have helped that woman…was I using her as an excuse to not go right back in? I think I have courage but maybe I’m just a wimp.

Eventually, the person guarding the door came over to ask if I needed anything. “I want to go back inside!” I said. Before the next round, he opened the door and I quietly slid back in. The final rounds were the most ecstatic.

Wow, a second chance in the circle! An opportunity to find a deeper courage that speaks to what I really wanted: The experience! Being on the outside was more suffering than taking the suffocating heat.

So, I offer this creative thread for the day: what is it that you’ve started to write or create, then stopped because you didn’t think you had the courage or stamina to keep going? Are you suffering more now because you stopped? (Be honest!)  If so, return to this project.

Or perhaps there is a situation in your past that you would like to “rewrite.” Face your own fire and allow your creative spirit to purify and transform this situation. Writing is powerful that way—it has the ability to transmute. So, step back in the circle. As of this moment, you have officially been granted a second chance.

Image courtesy of D. Gordon E. Robertson [CC BY-SA]


Gina Mazza
Gina Mazza
Word provocateur | creative muse | author | book editor | publishing consultant | content writer | freelance journalist | creativity coach | poetess | intuitionist | conscious evolutionist | Everything Matters, Nothing Matters

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  1. Great stuff Gina. I believe we all have unfinished business in this world. We all need some sort of “sweat lodge” to get ourselves back to center, whether it’s an unfinished story, a mountain we need to climb, or some other challenge. We only need to step back and meditate on which piece of the puzzle is missing…

    • Hi Aaron, I am just now seeing this comment, so apologies for the late reply. I love what you’ve said here, and how timely that I posted this (and you responded to it) then COVID hit. Quarantine is the perfect time to face that unfinished business. 🙂 Much love.

  2. Gina – My definition of the worth of a writer is whether they’ve kept me thinking long after the last bit of punctuation. And you have, so thank you. I appreciated your story and how you wove it into a thought-provoking lesson.

    As I sit here thought-provoked, I’m wondering if we have to achieve “7 Rounds” in every aspect of life, or are there specific circumstances under which we achieve a “7”? If we exit at “5,” are we the lesser for whatever the challenge was and life? How do we know which “5” prompts us to “go back inside”? I never went on for my doctorate in history after earning my masters – frankly, I was exhausted – and yes, it’s sometimes a regret. But I also look at what I did with those years instead: I taught history to high school students, and maybe I impacted a few with my lessons. Is my not achieving my doctorate a “5” that I should seek to turn into a “7” now?

    Related, I am reminded of the easy charge on the part of some to “Move beyond your comfort zone!” If I don’t, am I a “failure”?

    If I focus a second chance on a “4” or a “5,” do I lose focus on whatever “7s” I’ve achieved?

    Oy, is my inner critic ever awakened early this Sunday morning!

    Welcome, you thought-provoker, you!

    • Hi Jeff, Talk about thought-provoking! Your comments! They have me thinking even more deeply into this experience that I posted about. It’s got me pondering how our society places an overemphasis on achievement, success, pushing through self-imposed barriers and the “no pain, no gain” mentality. There doesn’t seem to be a respect for “non-doing” or simply being content with one’s life as it is, and in complete appreciation for it. In recent years, I’ve definitely moved beyond being a “seeker” into a place of fulfillment and no regrets. Where are you at these days in the midst of COVID? Much love.

  3. Welcome, Gina to BC360! I hope the experience is as rewarding for you as it was for me. In terms of my life, there are no shortages of situations I would love to rewrite but we know the past can’t be changed. Writing was one of the most pleasurable things I used to do. It is just not possible to go back to that time again even though I can but probably do not want to. Perhaps someday. Someday can last forever and a day.

    • Hi Joel, so you used to write and don’t anymore? Curious as to why you feel it’s no possible anymore? Thanks for the warm welcome. What a great platform here. Much love.

  4. Putting pen to paper most often, draws a blank in the beginning. I put the pen down, focus on something else, while the thought of what I want to express nauws at me. What? you want to write? Naw, just forget it, you have nothing to offer! Perseverence takes hold and once again I pick up that pen. Thank you for this post!

    • Hi Linda, As a writing coach, I find what you’re saying here to be very common. It’s true that “inspiration has to find you working” but at the same time, some of my greatest writing inspirations have come when I’m not in front of the blank page–but rather, weeding in the garden, driving in the car, even waking from sleep.

  5. Welcome, Gina! What a fascinating story. I wonder if I would have the stamina for that. In answer to your question: “Nothing.” I have never backed away from a creative project that, in my bones, I knew was worth the effort. I’m stubborn that way. Great question.

    • Hi Sherry! That’s fantastic! Not many people can say they’ve never backed away from a creative project. Kudos to you! You’re an inspiration!

  6. “What is it that you’ve started to write or create, then stopped because you didn’t think you had the courage or stamina to keep going? Are you suffering more now because you stopped?”

    Every time I put pen to paper and begin to bang out an article, my inner demons get the best of me. “This is crap,” I often hear my inner critic say. Then, I give it a break, and come back to it. I hate the process, but I do believe it makes me a better writer!

    • Absolutely, Andrew, writing sometimes needs to ‘air out’. My wish for you is to find more joy in your writing process. Peace and write on!