The Spirit Lodge

What lies inside the lodge? Read on.

I believe an important part of life is having new experiences and adventures. Today I joined several other people from my small spiritual group to take part in a spirit lodge (sweat lodge). I’ve heard firsthand accounts of these lodges and have read several accounts, both good and bad. Yet it seems to open the possibility for some very spiritual experiences. Fortunately for me, our church group’s leader is an honorary member of the Lakota tribe, and one of the very few white people who has been authorized to perform some of these ceremonies. I signed up months ago and have been looking forward to this ever since.

I don’t give a full account of the ceremony, but write this to explain the process and reflect on some of the highlights of the journey…

We meet on the outskirts of Boulder, on the grounds of a sort of Zen temple or meditation center. It’s mid afternoon and the weather is very hot. I’m in shorts but I’m already perspiring through my t-shirt. The area is lovely. I walk to the site and greet fellow travelers. A stream runs right through the property and we’re about 20’ from it. There are lots of trees on both sides. The rains we’ve had over the last month have brought fast water to the stream but also lots of mosquitos. There is an unbelievable number of big, bloodthirsty mosquitos swarming around us. I start to get several bites immediately. We were told to spray ourselves with some of the natural bug sprays since we’ll be in close quarters and don’t want to be breathing Deet, but. But this is ridiculous; those sprays just don’t do the job when there’s a swarm. I spy some Deep Woods Off someone has brought and give a little spray after I’ve gotten a couple dozen bites. I seem to have some natural smell that insects love. Is my blood really sugary? I’m the one in the group who gets the most bug bites wherever I go.

There is the pre-sweat before the actual sweat lodge. I mingle for a bit then walk around the fire pit and take in the scene. The fire master lights a huge fire and we helped bring extra kindling then larger branches and logs. After the fire is lit I stay nearby, trying to use the smoke to combat the mosquitos. Our leader gives a general overview of the ceremony. I sense a quiet reverence from the group as we circle around him. As he’s halfway through his remarks, a large buck with velvety antlers walks through the stream and right by us. Really he’s just about ten feet or so away from us. He doesn’t seem concerned at all. Then he heads upstream and out of sight. This seems like a good omen. Everyone is beaming. But now it’s time to enter the lodge.

The lodge feels much larger on the inside than it looked before we file in. All 12 of us fit inside easily. The heavy tarps and skins allow no light in whatsoever. In the complete darkness it’s easy to forget there are people right next to me on either side. A blanket on the ground makes it comfortable enough. It’s time to settle in for what could be a fairly lengthy amount of time. Eventually I sense that time feels different inside the lodge as well. There’s no set schedule or necessarily set words. It starts and kind of flows naturally.

I allow my wandering thoughts to pass. I relax. They bring in the first round of hot rocks to the center of the lodge. I focus on my intention: healing my body and connecting with Spirit; strengthening my will to do good. He pours some water on the rocks and the steam circles out into the group. This feels nice, like a vacation sauna. I know it’s really warm, but it’s comfortable. Again I try to focus my thoughts and listen to the words and the songs.

There are three more rounds of additional hot rocks and steam. Lots of singing and drumming. Prayers in English and Hebrew and Lakota. It’s very special. Before the water is added to the flaming hot rocks he sprinkles a mixture of cedar root, juniper root, and other ingredients that make the rocks sparkle. I won’t write all my thoughts, which would be impossible anyway, but summarize by saying there’s a sense of elation and extreme peacefulness, shared by the people in the group who have come prepared and are seeking spiritual gifts. The ceremony lasts for a good while and by the last round of hot rocks and steam, it’s intensely hot in there. At one point I lay backwards where the air is a bit less thick, down closer to the earth. I give my brain a little break from the heat up by the top of the interior.

Eventually we all exit one by one, opposite the direction of how we entered. We put tobacco grains which we have brought as offerings in the main fire. After the altar is blessed, I burn my paper of personal intentions in the fire also. It was written on a sparkly little drawing my youngest daughter made to help me remember my family. I feel good.

The ceremony is over. Afterwards we all give each other sweaty hugs and share snacks and food we have brought. Someone has brought a tray of salty things like pickles and olives and I savor the salt in my mouth. I chug some water and say goodbye and head home. On the drive home I see a rainbow in a break in the clouds. What an amazing sight and end to an amazing day.