I’ve been going to a sweat lodge.
A sweat lodge is at one level just a tent with hot rocks in it in the middle of a field filled with about 30 hot, sweaty, muddy people, most of whom don’t know each other.
At another level it is one of the most deeply moving and profound experiences I have experienced.
The people who hold the lodge as well as the people who come are not lentil eating, navel gazing, ‘I can’t work because I’m being spiritual’ types, they are men and women with jobs, careers, families, friends and communities. Each of us arrives on a Saturday morning after a week of commuting, child care, office politics and money worries and we all end up lying pressed to the mud, grateful for it’s cool support after the heat of the lodge.
So what is it that draws these normal, functional, diverse group of people to sit in a pitch black tent in searing heat?
Each person comes with their own story, their own reason for being there and the sweat lodge offers a place to connect with the elements, the earth, with each other and with our wiser and higher selves.
The connections are built through circles. I experienced a sharing circle for the first time in Kalikalos in Greece 5 years ago. Everything we do in the sweat lodge is done in a circle; from lighting the fire which heats the stones, to the rounds of appreciation, release, prayer and love in the lodge itself.
For me one of the most moving parts of the whole day is the sharing circle before we go into the lodge. Each person has a chance to tell us about them self, why they are there and what their intention is for the lodge. We speak one at a time, taking the time we need and when it is not our time to talk, we listen intently to each other. There is no conversation, no dialogue, no fixing each other, we just speak and are heard.
And it is moving and beautiful when people speak their truth and open their hearts.
I am moved and humbled at the battles people fight, the losses they live with, the shame they share to let go of, the courage of the human heart to be a better person, to be more loving and more compassionate.
When I listen to people in the circles I feel hopeful for the world; hopeful that love and peace and connection are possible for even those who have been harmed or have harmed others, for those who have been betrayed and have betrayed, for those who are sick and those who are well, for all of us living our lives, caring for our friends, our families our communities.
When I listen to my fellow human beings, men, women, of different ages and nationalities, I am sure that this is the way to deal with the conflicts in our world. As I drove the the sweat lodge I listened to Radio 4 still reeling from the Nice lorry attack . Then this week I read of France’s retaliation and know with my heart that violence can only lead to more violence and hatred and suffering.
South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission did the impossible, it moved South Africa from violence to an albeit imperfect, more peaceful democracy and when you read the transcripts, you can see that they are are formal listening circles; where people speak their truth and are heard.
The people I meet at the sweat lodge are not Truth Commissioners, but they are people who take their truth and their hearts back into their families, their communities and their work to make a difference. The teacher who is able to find more compassion for his pupils, the corporate strategist who can bring calm kindness to work, the youth worker who can guide the troubled young people with wisdom, the scientist speaking her truth in the lab.
I feel so powerless when I read about Nice and Syria, there is so little I can do. But I can make a difference in my village, in my work, with my family and community and I am convinced that this is how change will happen, from the bottom up, from our roots. We give our power to the politicians and forget we have our own spheres of influence, that each day we make a choice to show up in the world as a force for peace and love or a force for fear and hate. We make those choices daily, moment by moment and it is in those choices that we can incrementally make a difference.
I have sat and meditated in a Buddhist retreat in the Himalayas with eagles souring above the golden corn terraces with the white peaks of the mountains stark against the clear blue sky. It was easy to feel peace and silence when surrounded by other meditators, by monks and in such beauty.
But my life has been to come down off that mountain and to find that peace, love and connection in this life, here now, with kids, washing up, dogs, work, partner. I do not always find it. I am often thrown off balance, but I know that it is only in this life, my daily life that I can make a difference and when I go to the sweat lodge and meet other people who are making a difference in their lives, not just by what they do, but by who they are and the qualities they bring to their worlds, then I know that change is possible, that there is a different way to live, where bombs are replaced with circles where retribution is replaced with truth and reconciliation.
I can not hold a sweat lodge, I can barely sit up in the heat let alone hold the space for others. But I can hold the space for Wisdom Circles where men and women can come and speak their truth and let go of the things that weigh them down so that they can be forces for good in their worlds, in our world.
They will be monthly, locally and on line and anywhere people want me to hold one. Email me if you want to join me. Ghandi said, we need to be the change we want to see in the world and this is what I can offer.
- What is the change you want to see in the world?
- What can you do to encourage that change?
- How can you embody that change in the way you live?
- How can you be the change you want to see in the world?
The Elders of the sweat lodge hold the the following intention for the lodges. I leave you with it as an intention I aspire to.
‘…Teach the people of the ancient practices of Unity, Love and Understanding….teach of Harmony among people in all four comers of the Earth.
… Once again they would be able to feel joy in solitude and in councils. They would be free of petty jealousies and love all mankind as their brothers regardless of colour, race or religion. They would feel happiness enter their hearts and become as one with the entire human race. Their hearts would be pure and radiate warmth, understanding and respect for all mankind, Nature, and the Great Spirit. They would once again fill their minds, hearts, souls, and deeds with the purest of thoughts’. (www.sweatlodge.org.uk)
Ps Free Ebooks for anyone who needs them (just click on the links)
- How to be LessStressed: From Survive and Strive to Revive and Thrive
- Getting over the End of a Relationship: Relationship Recovery
- Domestic Abuse: how to get support for people living with it
Ps..here are other places you can read my stuff
- Psychologies Magazine LifeLabs
- For teachers and schools: SecEd, Innovate Your School, SchoolWell and Staffrm