When I was 19 years old, my family went to visit my brother in Montana. He had committed to a year of living and working with the Northern Cheyenne Tribe through the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC). While we were visiting, the Cheyenne treated us like their own family and offered us the experience of participating in the ritual of the Sweat Lodge Ceremony. This was truly a transformative moment in my young life!
Hot red rocks sizzled as our guide poured more water over them, saturating the air with steam. My clothes clung to my drenched skin and the air felt too thick to breathe. “Just focus on the chants,” I told myself. If I focused on my discomfort; the difficulty breathing and the claustrophobic dark space, I would panic. I had to take my mind elsewhere. My physical experience kept me fully present to the moment and out of my usual ruminations about the past or worries for the future. Instead, I soaked in the repetition of the singing chant of words I did not understand. This inability to understand the words kept me from clinging to the meaning. And even though the words had not been translated, I could bodily feel the significance of them moving through me in the way the guide’s undulating voice groaned out all I desired to release.
Every time I was beginning to think that it was all too hot to bear, the guide would briefly open the flap to let in a little of the cool spring air. Having both the guide carefully monitoring the experience and my family in it with me brought a level of support that carried me through the difficult moments and helped me navigate through a deeper space within me. It was like being in a womb…warm, dark, safe, supported, loved, but still a bit scary.
ELATION is the only word to describe what I felt when I stepped out of that hut, knowing that I had not just survived it but had crossed over into another side of my mind and spirit. My head had never felt clearer or my body lighter! And to my total amazement a double rainbow was stretching across the whole sky. If you have never been out West, you can’t fully imagine how huge the expanse of sky is there. I could see each END of the rainbow…which I had never done before. And I had never before, or even since that day, seen a double-rainbow. It felt magical. It felt like a consecration of my experience and my connection with the whole of the universe and the Divine.
What were the transformative components of this Sweat Lodge Ceremony?
The intensity of the heat kept me fully present in the moment and out of my head. At the same time, it lead me to a deeper meditative state because I wanted to focus on something else beyond that moment. Not to mention I was actually physically releasing toxins through my sweat.
Doing it in community brought a level of support and a feeling of bonding with those going through it with me. I not only felt closer to my family but to the tribe and to all who had experienced it before or will in the future. It wasn’t hard to imagine other spirits sitting there chanting with us.
Sacred chanting and wailing led by a guide provided a vibrational and emotional release. It also gave me a place to focus my mind when it began to feel too difficult.
I learned that 3 things are invaluable if you desire a transformative, healing experience. These 3 key components are a novel or difficult experience, a guide, and a supportive community to go through it together.
If you would like to be guided through some spiritual exercises with a group, click the link below.
About the Author: Julie Glaser is a healer who creates sacred spaces for people to share, release, and grow. She’s in the habit of being in awe and wonder and writes to share her own experiences and learnings with other inquisitive souls in the process of transforming.