Sweat Lodge

Fall 2021


The dark soft air and the sky speckled with stars. I walk away from the group a couple steps up a knotty incline and already feel lightheaded from the peyote; my head is up and the ground feels purple. When I return to the group around the fire, your sweatpants tied around my waist and tucked into fresh socks and boots, some ceremony is beginning. We throw tobacco into the fire to give it our thoughts. A song is sung, and we prepare to enter the tent.

Circle around the fire clockwise, and enter the tent similarly, women first. The ground is cool and muddy. Cross-legged, I look to the pit in the center of the tent, where hot stones are brought in and placed, glowing red, shuffled and stacked so all will contact one another. Each stone receives a plant offering that purifies the air and emanates blessing. Lisa brings her hands from the fire towards her to bless herself from the sage.

If you see anything in the glowing stones, that is a vision for you.

We each have a different view of this fire, and each one is important to make up the whole.

We are all looking at the same thing.

A couple percussion instruments are passed out; the door is lowered, now nothing is visible.

Was that before or after Alvin called the spirits to the ceremony? He called whistling with his eagle pipe. He could go into war with that staff and be unharmed; the bullets would dodge him.

The mother turtle, the eagle, the spirits from the beginning of creation.

At the beginning was light and all lived in harmony, but then darkness was created to make things more interesting – like the Christian Genesis. But darkness wants to destroy everything it cannot have, like the colonizers and the aliens do. We are all good, in this lodge, we are all good inside and blessed.

In the dark, we hear a drum beat and Al’s song, voice true, resounding fully. Now the others joining in the response, hums grow to confidence. I drum the earth with my fingertips. If it is so dark, why do I imagine it was so colorful, full of red orange yellow green blue; are my eyes closed or open? My body and self join the song. I become one of the group. It’s on par with the most belonging I’ve felt, like when I was a child among friends with no anxiety about how to be. Each of us is part of the tribe in our role, in any time period, ancient or future. Seated swaying on the ground, I’m in the fundamental reality. I’m in any of a thousand parallel lodges, all different color schemes and periods in time.

Ssst when the water is poured on the stones, it gets hot, fast. The fly I felt buzzing is one of the hundreds stuck on the draping walls behind and around us. With the steam and the darkness, I feel primal in the chanting; I can see my face looking up, wet like my chest and back, calling out to God. I’m aware that the more I surrender, the more I will experience, but I don’t surrender fully. I stay conscious of trying to sing along to new songs, and to sit up straight, and to relax. I become aware of my thoughts in the dark as distinct from the chanting of the group, but at some point, without realizing, my thought vanishes and I’m just aware of everything around.

Solar flares, get underground. The sun will protect its child the earth from these parasites like any good parent. The tent is periodically opened to let in cool air before more hot stones are added. 

At the opposite end facing the door, I feel like the last one to get cool air, but I’m good with the heat. We do not go through all the stones, people are getting hot and there is school in the morning!

When it is done and we exit the tent the way we came in, we emerge into the open night, aglow with an almost-full moon. The first thing I see in the light is you. Your body is glowing, face and chest glistening, yellow from the fire and pale blue from the night. Some people lie on towels outside the lodge, the rest of us come around the fire and put on clothes. I don’t recall the conversation, just sitting there for awhile. At the end, I remember turning back toward the lodge, to see Alvin and Lisa by the monument containing the American flag and an animal skull and what else? I don’t know. Praying for our country’s leadership to heal and not be so evil. The money-seeking government, controlling so they can put a price on things that would be otherwise free and easy from the earth. Alvin tells of aliens; I only half understand; half of my mind is elsewhere. Perhaps that’s where it was healing, and I was rewiring and letting it go, and lost memory of my conscious train. I was aware, but not cognizant of the conversation right in front of me for words at a time. Alvin and Lisa smoked a pipe. I shouldn’t have taken offense that they tapped my shoulders with it in a blessing, but let you try a little. I had kept my head bowed, watching the fire.

When Al and Lisa were packing up, we walked back to the car to get cash for them. We said a few words about the experience. We said a few words about it later, too- You said that, while the first time you danced to the music, this time you kept your attention focused– on the words he was saying- You tried to stay in stillness as sweat dripped down your back, and this made it a better experience for you. You stepped out of the tent, leg asleep, in success. A meditation. What else? You’re pretty good at speaking a thought clearly, while I meander through, tumbling out these half thoughts as they come, seeing what sticks -otherwise I wouldn’t get anything out at all. We sit in the cabin with Al and Lisa.

Al has more to tell of his past, his freedom, the doom coming.

As above so below; what happens in the galaxy happens on earth. But there is peace somewhere in the galaxy, and never on earth, and not looking like there will be.

He gets facebook messages with scammy looking graphics, a video of Bill Gates making the vaccine that alters DNA. Bill’s buying up the farmland to sell mass-produced food to China.

Why don’t we all have our own gardens and fulfill our urge to forage by actually doing so?

Ditch vehicles for walking, although it is slower.

The humanoid alien part bug thing. The advanced reptiles that want to conquer us. Don’t be surprised to see aliens in your lifetime.

Lisa looks tired of the conversation. I am too; I want to get up and move. Al and Lisa sing more songs. You ask us all to write a poem; half sheets of paper are passed out. I don’t even remember Al or Lisa’s poems; I’d have to see them again, but they were good. I drew a total blank. No thoughts, my head was empty. But they saw the beauty in that. They went to bed and we kept talking quietly.

You said you grace people’s lives briefly, just passing each other through, so they might see you like a Jesus figure, and be given hope, not see you as human being? I don’t think that’s fair, to anyone. connection, community. And I think it’s grandiose to manipulate your effect in people’s lives like that- to try to be influential and important. I think the best leaders are called, and are humble and themselves, not putting on any act? But, you are all those things, and influential. I believe in you fully. And I felt like Mary Magdalene to your Jesus as I whispered about how changes are effected, and rolled my eyes a little at myself. Al called down, Let them sleep, so we went out by the fire.

Brief talk about trust and relationships. Yeah all will end: I’m a sounding board, nonchalant, wanting to say more. Sometimes when we talk, it moves from topic to topic so quickly. I speak carefully, I’m standing on the edge: scared of overwhelming you, enjoying the discourse.

I didn’t know this history with Michelle. The lies and cheating were bad enough. It’s so wrong; hard to wrap my head around. I listen. I didn’t say why my relationship ended when you asked. Jealousy wasn’t nice but I was willing to work through that. I think the ceremony or our chat helped bring things up, because I returned home with more understanding, wrote it out.

It’s 2am. I had picked the bunk diagonal from you to give you space, but as I settled in I wished I would’ve picked on the same level.

You said we each need to know who we are and then accept that person as much as possible. To go through all kinds of trials to see what we can take and how we react. To try one thing and then another until we find it. To cry and scream a lot. I appreciate your thoughts, these especially, but don’t talk as if I’ve never been there. Maybe that’s just my frustration at hearing you say I’m not on your level. (In retrospect, you’re right.)

In the morning, as we head home. I’m thinking about how what I want is different from what I think I want. How I was perfectly content out on that farm. Being around new friends, being in the outdoors. When I think I want to be in some city, that I need all of these particular circumstances to be happy.

We talk about convincing yourself to like something that you don’t feel you like. It’s funny, that you can make yourself like tomatoes or something. And the mental flexibility! But it makes me uneasy.

Sadness of endings. You leaving to move and do something on your own.

I think those were most of the things we talked about. We also saw a play that took a strange turn, the festival of course with homemade brooms and lightning art and feather earrings, toured a beautiful event venue, we ate a bell pepper and bought some clothes, and you ate beef that had sat out overnight (are you ok??), and we had a great morning, writing thank-you’s, playing guitar, chatting with Narin, riding in the back of the truck as the sun blew through us, and things like that. I’m glad you waved me back to church as I was leaving; what a time.! You asked me to write this essay, and I’m sorry I was too afraid to ever share it.

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