My phone has been ringing and e-mails coming in with people’s reactions to the loss of lives and physical injuries people experienced at the Sweat Lodge facilitated by James Arthur Ray during a Spiritual Warrior Retreat at a resort outside of Sedona, Arizona. I used to live in Sedona, so you can imagine how many reactions this has stirred-up in the hearts and minds of people that live there, and for many of us.
First of all, my heart-felt condolences to the family and friends of those that crossed over. I can only imagine what a tragic and shocking loss this must be for them. My heart goes out to those that were involved at every level. For whatever reason(s) this occurred, the lessons cannot be easy.
I’ve been hearing a lot of assumptions and speculation about what happened, including from me. Let me suggest we all step back from what we do not know, and instead focus on what we can learn for ourselves, so that such an event does not happen for us…unless that is our conscious desire.
I speak of conscious desire because, as I shared with a friend this weekend, if I knew it was my time to cross over, I can’t imagine a more loving, Spirit-supported place in which to leave. It would be like choosing to cross over while in the church of your choice, surrounded by beautiful Spirits in prayer and in relationship with the Divine. That said, I personally would prefer it be a conscious choice.
Some years ago, a woman had been suffering for years, and when I sang to her I could feel and hear her asking me to hold space for her so that she could finally cross over. I was honored that she trusted me and found so much Spirit in my song that she could go, but I was not prepared to hold that space for her and asked her not to leave on my watch. There was a conscious interaction in the spirit-world that we both also consciously acknowledged in the physical world. Today, I might choose differently, but then it was the right conscious choice for me to make.
However, since then, as others I have known have laid dying in their beds, I have willingly sung their song to help them easily make their transition, with their permission, and all done consciously.
Whatever unconscious agreements were going on in that lodge that day, I can’t help but consider a lesson, perhaps for many of us, about becoming more conscious participants in our journeys.
Sweat lodge is a ceremony—a serious ceremony to be respected—and not taken lightly by the one that facilitates it. When I was invited to learn the ways of and offer sweat lodge in a specific Native tradition, I knew I would need to go to the lodge in my most humble nature, stripping myself of ego, and learning how to hold safe, yet powerful space for those that entered the lodge with me.
When I was invited to participate in lodges poured by elders, roadmen and water-pourers of various Native traditions, I made sure my own intuition was saying, “Yes,” to enter the lodge. If my intuition says, “No,” I don’t go, no matter how much I might want to, and no matter how well-trained or skilled the facilitator of that lodge may be.
I only sweated with people that had been trained and were deeply connected to Spirit, following Spirit’s guidance over their own will and desires. And, as I said, I only sweat when everything in me is guided to do so. If I don’t already know, I ask about their training—what tradition they were taught to pour lodge in, how long they have been pouring, perhaps I’ll ask about who apprentices them, or what kind of lodge they pour. I want to know if it is a healing, visioning, warrior, or purification lodge, for example.
There are many kinds of lodges, poured for different reasons and done in different ways, depending upon the tradition itself and the purpose of the lodge. Each can be powerful in its own way.
I ask what they expect from me. I want to know what clothing is appropriate in their tradition, how many doors they have (how often the lodge is opened for people to have a break and get fresh air and cool down). I’ll ask their guidance on when a person may or may not leave the lodge if my body becomes over-stressed (such as between rounds for example). I find out how many people might be in the lodge and ask if they recommend making prayer ties to take into the lodge. Water-pourers I have met welcome questions. It is best for everyone if you are clear about this as being the right place for you before you enter the lodge.
I know the pourer has responsibility for my journey while I am in the lodge. So if I have an existing health condition that might be exacerbated in a lodge, I let them know. If I have been fasting, I expect them to be able to hold space for me in that state of being. But I also know ultimately, I am responsible for me. The best time to make my decision about what I’m going to do is before I ever enter the space.
Because many of us are not familiar with sweat lodge, or are entering one for the first time, we might be inclined to neglect our responsibilities in taking care of ourselves, thinking the water-pourer knows better what we need than we do. And in terms of facilitating lodge, some of us assume that because we have been to one or a few, we understand how to pour a lodge and don’t need help or instruction. In either case, we are not assuming personal responsibility and this is where and how such harm can occur.
May I suggest that we learn from the deaths and injuries of this lodge, and with greater awareness of our responsibilities, approach this powerful ceremonial space with the full respect that it and we deserve.
A Sedona Sweat Lodge Prayer.