“Is that what you’re going to wear to sweat?” Gentle Eagle asked me.
I was wearing long yoga pants and a t-shirt.
My logic was that since we were going directly from the “light sweat” straight to being taken “on the hill” for the Vision Quest, I figured more layers would make sense.
I decided to change my plans and throw on one of my weekend Emerson Fry short tunics and some shorts.
“That’s much better,” I was told. “Perfect for the sweat.”
Apparently when we were told we would be having a “dust-off sweat” (less intense than the full sweat lodge session planned for later in the week), I interpreted that as light.
But that was fucking stupid of me.
The dust-off sweat was to help cleanse us before we were to begin our three-nights-and-three-days Vision Quest in isolation. We would go into the sweat lodge, spend some time, and then come out in a vow of silence… Then would be taken directly onto the trail to be put into our spots for the quest.
After lunch, which would be our last meal for a few days, we layered large blankets over the small skeleton of a hut made of branches. We were instructed on how to create doorway flaps in the blankets so that there was a West-facing door and an East-facing door.
We would be entering in the East, and exiting out of the West.
But before we could begin our sweat, we had to get the fire going outside of the lodge. We were instructed to pick a lava rock from a pile nearby. There would be heated up, and then brought into the lodge one-by-one during the sweat. Since there were 10 of us, it would be 10 rocks.
“Pick a rock, and then put your intentions into it,” we were told.
I looked at the pile and saw a small rock amongst some five times its size.
“Yep,” I said to myself. “This is the one.”
Small. Quiet. No one will bother it.
I held the rock up in my left palm and hovered my right over it.
“I want to be a better storyteller. I want to be more critical and useful with what I share,” I thought.
I didn’t know why I put that intent in. I figured my intention would be something more along the lines of, “I want to be stronger. More confident.”
You already have that, the inner voice said.
“Interesting that you chose a small rock,” one of the shamans said to me as I put it on the pile.
Interesting why? I asked.
I didn’t get an answer.
I knew they wouldn’t be judging me for choosing a rock. Or maybe they are? I thought.
“Best for you not to care,” said the voice.
The fire was begun, and we were told the rocks needed an hour or so to heat up. We went back to our tents to do our final pack for what to take on the hill.
I rolled up two blankets and my Scooby-Doo yoga mat that I had brought with me. Those, along with my two Koshi wind chimes, my journal, yoga pants, hoodie, extra shirt, underwear, and two pairs of socks went into my backpack. I rolled up the sleeping bag and attached it to hang from a clip on the back of my pack.
No books. No computer. No tent. No food. No water.
We dropped our packs off along the start of the trail we would be following after the sweat. We were told to put them in order of how we wanted to be dropped off. I was second in line.
My strategy was to be as close to camp as I could be. After three days in isolation with no food or water, I didn’t know how if I’d have the energy to get back to camp if I had a long ways to walk.
We were ready for the sweat. There would be 13 of us in the lodge… 10 questers, two shamans, and one staff helper.
We lined up behind Gentle Eagle. He would be the first to enter the sweat lodge. I positioned myself right behind him.
In order, we were saged, and then got on our hands and knees and crawled through the small doorway of the lodge.
“Mitakuye Oyasin,” we said as we each entered the lodge.
(A greeting meaning “all my relatives.")
The ground was laid with sharp rock, dried grass, and dirt. I followed Gentle Eagle around the small hut, making a circle a clockwise, and ending just to the right of the doorway where we had entered. Everyone else followed, with Scott being the last to enter.
It was completely dark. And already stuffy without the heated lava rocks inside.
Gentle Eagle handed me a drum and a mallet.
“Hit this like this throughout the ceremony,” he demonstrated, with a ba-bum-ba-bum rhythm. “It will be the heart beat of this womb space.”
One-by-one, the lava rocks were brought into the lodge. They would be dug up from the fire, burning, and brought to the doorway of the tent on a shovel. Scott would use a pair of tongs made from antlers to grab the rock, and put it in the center of the tent. Some element would be rubbed on the rock. Then the doorway would be closed and Gentle Eagle would take the bucket of water inside the tent and fling water onto the rock. Steam would fill the air.
The shamans would lead us in songs and chants for a few minutes as we took in the sweat.
Then the next rock would be added. And the process would happen again.
I was saturated with sweat after just a few minutes. Dirt was caked onto my skin. My dress was stuck to my body. All while I kept beating the drum.
“The closer you sit to the rocks, the easier it is to handle,” we were told.
I scooted closer. As close as I could. The warmth felt nicer up close.
It felt as though a few minutes - maybe 20 - had passed. I’d taken off my glasses before going into the tent, so I really had no sense of time or really anything visual.
Towards the end, water with electrolytes and watermelon juice were brought in and passed around. These would be our last liquids for a few days.
The ceremony was over, after lots of singing and chanting and stating of our intentions. We crawled out, in clockwise formation, of the tent the same way we went in… Only through the doorway on the West side of the tent.
“No talking once you get outside,” we were reminded.
The vow of silence was beginning.
The air momentarily felt refreshing. I was quickly starched by the change in temperature, with the cold bringing discomfort and a paranoia to me.
I grabbed my glasses and put my sandals on my feet. I looked down at the mess I was.
“Thought this was supposed to be cleansing,” I joked silently.
Everyone was out of the tent and putting layers back on. I’d changed my plans to walk on the hill in my sweat clothes, in the hopes that they would dry out some on the sunny walk.
We went to the line up of where are packs had been placed earlier. By each pack was a jar.
This was the diluted peyote tea that had been made for each of us to drink on the hill.
I picked up my urine-looking jar and gave it a gentle shake. I could see the peyote “buttons” (mushroom-like things) in the bottom of the jar.
These would be the only things we could eat or drink for the next three days.
I pulled my sack on my shoulders, which made my dress riding up a little and sticking to the shorts I was wearing underneath.
We were exhausted. We’d spent about an hour in the tent, despite it feeling like much less time.
We walked in silence, one-by-one, following Gentle Eagle and Scott on the trail.