I remember when I was first experiencing sweatlodge and listening to water pourers and elders talk about it.  Some come from what is deemed a warrior perspective: it needs to be hot, it needs to be difficult, you need to wrestle with your issues, be broken down, and then build yourself back up through getting through it, failing, succeeding, and cracking yourself open through hard work and overcoming your resistance to the process.  Others come from a healing perspective:  you’re going back to your essence, back into the womb, you need to be receptive and patient with yourself, really listen to everything including yourself, be honest, feel what you actually feel and leave judgement outside the door.

And I learned from everyone I worked with, continue to learn from every experience, and am honored each and every time I go into the lodge whether I’m pouring, fire tending, or a participant.  But what has always remained as the most striking piece of advice and insight about lodge was the elder that pointed this out.  Some of the most potent lessons you will ever learn may be outside the lodge.  So if you need to get out, get out.

Now, this seems completely opposite of the whole enterprise.  I mean, going to lodge is no small feat.  It takes about 24 hours of prep including appropriate hydration, getting potluck and gifting items prepped, packing your gear (with Native ceremonies there is ALWAYS gear), then getting there, changing into the gear, socializing with the fire tender and water pourer and other participants, getting into the right frame of mind (getting rid of all the ‘to-doing’ that got you there), then there is going into the lodge which rarely lasts less than 2 hours and can go more than 5, then finishing lodge, getting cleaned up and back into your regular clothes, eating the potluck, gifting the pourer and the fire tender and the lodge keeper if they are there.  I mean, if you are not only prepped but motivated and excited to go through this process (and who wouldn’t be), then what would motivate you to stop in the middle of this roller coaster and sit on the sidelines?

Well, it happens.  Because if you believe in the process and you’re actually paying attention to yourself and listening to what is going on around you, then you will notice when it gets ‘too hot’ even when no one else feels that way.  Not just uncomfortable.  Not the usual slightly queasy, ‘my blood sugar is dropping’ feeling that can happen from a sudden change in temperature, but too hot ‘my blood is boiling I’m going to become bacon’ feelings that set off every warning your body has. Seriously!  I can’t tell you how many times people have come with every intention of getting in there and ‘doing the work’ and then it immediately becomes too hot for them or they get sick and need to get out. Now, if they take the mindset of this being something they need to overcome, then they hang in there until the end, are miserable and sometimes actually get burned, get heat stroke, have to be medically treated and have serious after effects.  Those who, although confused and frustrated and sometimes angry, do get out, they have the most amazing experiences, ones that help them heal, get clear, lead them to insights that change their lives forever.

Sometimes we don’t need to overcome our fears or our ‘failings’ because they are doing what they are meant to do.  They are giving us messages we should listen to.  And if we listen to them we may start becoming the person we wanted to be all along, fear and all.