First Sweat

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John telephoned and asked, “Susanne, would you like to go to a sweat with me?” I said, “Yes, I would love to.” He then explained what I would need to take with me for the sweat. I listened as he shared that the women wore something modest, like a moo-moo with sleeves type dress. He said that he would pick me up Saturday at about noon. He also talked about a Native American medicine man coming from South Dakota for the sweat.

He picked me up in Norman, and we drove East to the country. John asked, “Would you like something to drink?” I responded, “Yes, a coke.” He stopped at a convenience store/gasoline station where he could fill up with gas. He went inside to pay and returned with snacks and drinks for each of us. We were visiting and enjoying snacks when I suddenly spilled my diet coke on the floor in front of me. John said, “Do not worry. I will get it.” He hurried inside the store and came back with a rag to sop up my mess. I noticed that he was as calm as could be! My spill did not irritate him at all. He wrung the liquid out of the rag and returned it to the store. When he came outside again, he had another coke for me. I loved it! He got a huge star for this. My first two husbands would not have been kind about the spill, and I may not have been given another coke. Do you remember that I wanted kindness and put it in one of my affirmations?

When we pulled up in front of a beautiful home, others saw John and happily came to greet him. John introduced me to each one and then took me inside and introduced me to the owner. Afterward, John asked if I would like to see the sweat lodge. We began the trek to the lodge, passing a swimming pool surrounded by a wide concrete sidewalk and sitting areas. Next came a circular yurt. John wanted us to see that as it was new. Down the hill from the pool and the yurt, we turned to the left, I saw a dome-shaped frame made of bent willow branches. In front of it was a dirt mound which John explained was like an alter. About ten feet in front of the mound was the fire pit. People were working on covering the dome of willow branches with cloth tarps while another man was tending the fire to be used to heat rocks for the sweat.

We headed back to John’s van, got our towels, and what we were to wear for the sweat. John took food and a small picnic-type basket from the back seat. He handed me the small basket to carry. I had no idea what was in it and did not ask. We then returned to the house to leave the food and the clothes that I brought to wear for the sweat. He explained, “Everyone brings food to share with others. There is always a meal following a purification ceremony, which is the proper name for a sweat. The women will be changing clothes for the ceremony in the house or the yurt while the men will change down by the lodge.”

As we stepped out of the house to go back down to the lodge area, a petite blonde was entering the home. She introduced herself. Her name was Elizabeth. She explained that she was Gary’s wife. Gary was the Lakota Sioux that was to lead the sweat. Elizabeth had a southern accent, and I learned that she was from New Orleans. I liked her, but she was not what I expected. I thought she would be Native Amerian. We walked back down the hill to the lodge, sat down on the ground, and John opened the small basket holder I earlier carried. It was full of different colors of material, yarn, a pouch of tobacco, and scissors. He smiled and said, “Okay, are you ready to make prayer ties?” Me: “I am ready.”

Others at the sweat for the first time joined us as John explained prayer ties. I listened, and I understood. First, we take a piece of cloth and cut it into a two-inch square. Next, say a prayer as you place a pinch of tobacco in the middle of the square cloth. Then carefully fold the material in half. Then fold it again, and it looks like a tiny pouch. Now you tie this small pouch onto this string of cotton yarn I will give you. Add more prayer ties a few inches after the previous one. This reminded me of my God Box I used at home, the God box I encouraged others to try. A prayer is released into each pouch. Prayer ties allow people to have something tangible they can touch and see. This form of prayer is experiential. A person’s energy changes as the prayers go into the small cloth with the offering of “natural” tobacco because the body releases the problem. The problem literally moves from the inside to the outside. He told us to take the prayer ties into the lodge for four and leave them there. They would be good for four days.

John also explained there were six colors of material with each color representing a direction: Black represents the West; Red is for North; Yellow for East; White for South; Blue for all that is above; and Green for the earth and all that is within the earth. He then told us how many prayer ties of each color we needed to make for this sweat and explained that the number of prayer ties to make for a different sweat might change. I later learned that when everyone makes prayers before getting into the sweat lodge, the energy is better. When we make a prayer, a path opens for the prayer to be answered. As each person releases problems before entering the sweat, their vibrational level improves. With prayers, each person becomes more balanced. Thus, it will be more balanced within the lodge rather than chaotic. This making of prayer ties felt unbelievably good to me.

After completing my ties, I went to the house to change into my loose cotton dress. I returned to the lodge to wait for more instructions, but none came. We visited, and then it was time to get in line. I did what the other women did. Holding my bright colored prayer ties in one hand, I moved towards the man holding a wand of sage that was smoking. A woman behind me explained that the sage smudge was to remove negativity. Now while I was waiting in line, I thought…”Okay, I have been trying to find a fit for me and looking at what I believe, but maybe, just maybe… I have gone too far. What am I doing here? Perhaps I should not get in.” But then I thought, “Wait. Give this a chance. You have gone to different churches along your path and have received from each of them. Go in and see what you might receive here.” So I remained in line. About that time, another woman turned to me and said, “Once you get in here, you will never be the same again.” I wondered what she meant.

Then I remembered my prayer. I said that I would turn my life over to God and Jesus and allow them to guide me. I said that I would stop trying to do this by myself and would watch for signs. Their signs had brought me to this very moment. The result of this sweat was amazing. Listening to this Lakota from South Dakota as he intermittently poured the water on hot stones while communicating his wisdom and understanding touched my soul. He shared Lakota prayer songs, prayers, teachings, and understanding. Seeing what happened when the lodge was pitch dark, feeling the gentle energy within, seeing images and shapes above the stones was most amazing. I learned the first round invited Spirit in, the second round was a prayer round where every participant prayed out loud, the third was for healing, and the fourth round was thanking Spirit for coming. The door was raised between every round. It felt like we were in the lodge for a short time, but I learned we were inside for a little over two hours.

When I stepped out of the lodge, I was wet from head to toe. Something gritty covered my arms. It was like salt. I was so glad that I was open enough to come to this purification ceremony with John and spend this time inside the sweat lodge. Afterward, I visited with Gary. During our conversation, I asked if he did vision quests? He replied, “Yes.” I said nothing about the vision quest adventure that I had with Cathy. I thought about a vision quest all night, and by the following day, I knew I would like to commit to one and have him guide me through it even though I did not know what it would be like to do a real one. I continued my discussion with Gary. “I would like to do one, so what do I need to do?” Gary replied, “You present me a pipe.” John and Gary were both surprised by what I was saying. John showed me what to do when requesting Gary to do my vision quest, and John loaned me his pipe to request Gary’s guidance in doing the entire vision quest. Gary accepted the borrowed pipe I presented to him when I committed to a real vision quest. After accepting the pipe I presented, Gary asked, “How many days and nights?” I said, “Three.” Gary: “Are you sure?” Me: “Yes.” So his teaching and sharing began. Most of my teaching came to me through my own experiences as I performed suggested activities Gary told me to do to prepare, dreams while sleeping, and more signs from God. In the Native American path, I was not told how to believe. I was guided to my own beliefs and understanding.

LESSON: Do not judge. I never dreamed that I would be sitting in a sweat lodge. As I shared my experience with my father, he was stunned! As I went to more ceremonies, some friends could not understand. I had gone to church my whole life. I read the Bible. Sometimes we do not understand what others are doing. My faith was increasing with each event and was lasting! Let go of trying to control and allow them to either learn from a mistake or soar! Know God is in the middle of every situation. The ceremonies brought the Bible alive for me. Rather than just doing a short prayer, I was praying with prayer ties for hours at a time. I knew God and Jesus guided me to this.

GIFTS: My faith was increasing with each event. The ceremonies brought the Bible alive for me. Rather than just doing a short prayer, I was praying with prayer ties for hours at a time and throughout whole weekends. I knew God and Jesus guided me to this. I believe we limit God and Spirit due to our own beliefs. In taking the limit off, God and Spirit seem to expand and bring more experiences and more answers in new ways if we allow ourselves to open to them.

I was praying out loud at home as well as in the lodge. When we pray out loud, it goes into the universe stronger.

I learned to set ego aside when making decisions or when communicating with others. We learned to set our ego aside for every ceremony we attended, for however long we would be there. What if I learned to look at everything that happens in life is happening “for me” rather than “to me.” Looking at what happens this way helps us learn more about this school we are in on earth, the lessons we are to learn on earth, plus our reactions.

This way is certainly not for everybody, and I did not even try to convince anybody else to go in this direction. If someone asked if they could attend a ceremony with John or me, they were always welcome.

One thought on “First Sweat”

  1. Teresa Begley says:

    Thank you Susanne for truthfully telling the story of the sweat lodge. I think people will find it fascinating. Another great blog.

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