Who would have thought? My first experience in a Native American Sweat Lodge took place last weekend here in South Africa under the supervision of an African Sangoma, or traditional spiritual healer who, by the way, happens to be white, and a woman.
The days of having to travel to the Amazon rain forest to experience the potent medicine of Ayahuasca, or traveling to India to find your guru are over. Thanks to technology, cheap travel, increased interest in spirituality, and the courageous spiritual leaders and practitioners who are following their own hearts in service to the world, we’re moving more and more towards a kind of ‘Spiritual Globalization’, that just like McDonalization, is bringing the benefits of Yoga, Ayahuasca, Medicine Wheels, Sweat Lodges, Kahuna Reiki, Chi-Gong, Feng-Shui, and thousands of the world’s traditions to your own hometown.
Isn’t this a great time in our history of human kind to be alive? I’d like to think so.
As a Heart Intelligent Coach, I’m always amazed that many of the processes I instinctively use in my coaching, seminars and retreats, bear many similarities and parallels to the profoundly transformational rituals used for healing and purification by some of our ancestors.
In this article, I’d like to share with you my experience in participating in a Native American Sweat Lodge, and compare it to what participants of my Heart Intelligence group coaching and retreats get to experience.
The Heart Intelligence of a Native American Sweat Lodge
The ceremony began shortly after 6pm in Hout Bay, a beautiful, lush, mountainous town near Cape Town. There were 23 of us including the facilitator and spiritual healer and her adopted son who served as the ‘fire keeper’. When my friend Danie and I arrived the fire was already burning, gently warming the ‘grandmother stones’ hidden within the smoking flames.
We sat in silence just outside the Sweat Lodge in a circle. Then, by request of our leader, each one of us smoked the Peace Pipe – she never actually called it that, but being a fan of The Lone Ranger since when I was a kid, I’m assuming it was the same Peace Pipe Kimosabe often smoked. We then spoke our names and intentions for being at the ceremony on that day. Mine was clear from the beginning…
“My prayer is so that we all remember that not one person can give you the love that you long for or need. For the love we all seek and strive for lives only within our own hearts, the only place our Creator writes his/her message for our souls.”
After everyone had smoked and spoken their prayers or intentions out-loud, we were invited to enter the Sacred Lodge, the women first, followed by the men, and the spiritual healer last. As I stood in line waiting for my turn to go inside, I felt my heart start to race with excitement, almost as if it knew beforehand what was about to happen.
Here’s a description of what happened and the similarity with what takes place in the Heart Circles I facilitate.
Entering with Humility: Embracing darkness, stillness, and the unknown
Before entering the Sacred Space within the Sweat Lodge, each one of us was required to kneel and touch the ground with our foreheads. Touching the ground with our head, or kissing the ground, is an expression of humility – the word humility, by the way, means ‘earth’. It is a symbol of letting go of the perceptions held by our limited minds, and grounding ourselves on something that is True and Eternal.
In my Heart Intelligence programs I teach that entering the heart requires humility. It requires being able to bring our heads down to the ground, and entering a place of vulnerability – represented by the darkness inside – and admitting our own helplessness, darkness, and ignorance. This is represented by that moment when we simply admit that we don’t know. We don’t know what to do next to get out of the problem or situation we are in, we don’t know what to say, where to go for help. It takes balls to reach this point which Dr. David Hawkins calls the stage of courage, which coincidentally means ‘heart’ in french. It is the place of surrender and the beginning of this journey from the head into the heart.
Opening the Heart: Drumming, Singing, Dancing
Once everyone was inside, our spiritual leader and guide welcomed each stone by saying, “Welcome Grandmother.” Then, after 6 of these red, hot Grandmother stones were gently placed inside the pit by the fire-keeper, the gate was sealed, and we sat silently in the dark. My heart beats became louder and faster. A few moments later our spiritual leader began to lead us into several songs, while some participants beat their drums, and we all joined with our voices. What made the experience surreal for me was that we sang not only some Native American Songs, but also Sanskrit Mantras, Brazilian Songs, Christian Songs, Spanish Songs, and even Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’. How’s that for Spiritual Globalization!
In my group work, I often use drumming, singing and dancing to bring people into their Hearts. I believe that the fastest way to our hearts is through our bodies which are intrinsically designed for movement and joy. How else can you explain what often happens when we sing and move together in a group? When we sing, dance, and move together in a group, we actually begin to create an amplified field, that is greater than the sum of its parts, where we begin to entrain or synchronize with each other. This entrainment creates the conditions for what happens next.
Receiving the Medicine: Sharing your Story
As we continue to chant, our leader applied water mixed with herbs to the Grandmother Rocks and the steaming temperature began to rise. It became hard to breath. Inhaling through my nose burned the interior of my nose. If I ever wanted to know what being a dragon feels like, this is it. It was very uncomfortable being there. I wanted out. Next thing I know, the music stops, and a person in the group began to tell their story of heart-break, loss and betrayal while we listened with our hearts. As I listened, I completely forgot about my discomfort, simply because I was now feeling her pain, taking in her medicine.
In a heart circle we practice holding space for each person so that they can explore what it is they are wanting regarding a particular situation, relationship, or area of their lives. It is a space where each person who ‘takes space’, can feel safe enough to expand their emotional range by sharing what is real and true for them. Because we’re entrained emotionally through our hearts, we feel each other very deeply, and even take each others medicine that eventually brings in the healing Sometimes that medicine is sweet like kids’ vitamins, sometimes it’s bitter like castor oil.
Following your Heart: Receiving the Wisdom and Direction
Our leader asked the fire-keeper to bring new, hot Grandmothers inside the Lodge. I managed to inhale some of the fresh air that quickly entered the Lodge before the gate closed again. The cycle of drumming, singing, silence, and sharing repeated itself at least 3 more times. With each passing time, I noticed something new wanting to emerge. At first it was a group of memories, new thoughts, feelings, desires beginning to arise. My heart was now speaking to me. “It’s not how I thought it would be”, I thought. As I went deeper into the depth of my heart, I saw a scene from my childhood beginning to play right inside my mind. I was 7 years old, and it was my birthday party. My friends were there. They were honoring me. Yet, I felt small, ashamed, afraid to be me. To let in their love. I notice how that same pattern continues to affect me even today when I compare myself with others and put myself in a pit. The Grandmothers lifted me up from the Pit, as they spoke into my heart and said, “What’s done is done. You can create a new history any time you want. It’s time for a new dream. Let the old one die with the fire inside your Grandmother’s heart.”
Heart Intelligence is all about learning to listen to the wisdom in our hearts. The heart speaks to us through thoughts, feelings, sensations, desires, images, or sometimes just a deep intuitive knowing. The mind will want to immediately belittle the heart’s wisdom, make it wrong. That’s all it knows for, after all, it’s been running the show for a very long time. When the mind begins to listen, truly listen to the heart, and follow it’s guidance, it becomes a Super Mind, or a Coherent Mind.
Coming Back Home: Crawling out of the Womb
I then started to feel a renewed sense of clarity. The kind of clarity I’ve experienced before after several days of detoxing and fasting. Yet this clarity came only after less than two hours since we’ve been inside. I knew what to do now. I knew what my next actions were regarding some of the problems that were facing me then. It all became very clear. I started to feel light, grateful, and free. My body was drenched in sweat. I experienced that same feeling you have after marathonic hours of lovemaking under the sheets, yet this time, there was a coolness in my heart. I was at home with myself, at peace. As our spiritual leader gave us instructions on how to exit the lodge, I noticed the sparkling eyes of a person next to me. It was Danie. He appeared to be in an experience of bliss. We gently crawled back out of what I now understand was a womb. Drenched in hot fluids, like a new-born baby, we emerged from the dark.
The greatest benefit not only I, but my clients and workshop participants receive when accessing the intelligence of their hearts, is a high sense of clarity. We take and hold space with humility, embracing that we don’t know what it is we really want. And we leave the circle with a new-found clarity. Somehow things look different. Our hearts have changed it all. As Doc Childre says, “A change of heart changes everything.” Such is the power of a small group, with an expanded and open heart!
Integration with Joy
Like at the beginning, we found ourselves standing once again in a circle around the fire. The cool air of the night was mana to my lungs. I felt light, everyone felt and looked feather light and I had a sense as if I was seeing everyone for the first time, truly seeing them. We hugged each other, sweaty hugs, all boundaries had been removed. We then took the time to appreciate and honor each person for what they brought to the circle, what they shared, what they left, what they received. Above us the starry Cape Town sky witnessing a scene it’s seen for thousands of years… men and women in greater union and coherence with the planet, the Universe, Life itself. We then got dressed, walked upstairs to enjoy a light vegetarian soup. Hardly anyone spoke or said a word. It was if each person was still in a state of selfish bliss. I got home that night with a feeling of love and appreciation for the gift I had received, aware that I would need some days or perhaps weeks to integrate the experience, and the new awareness found into my everyday life.
It was that much familiar feeling I have when I come home after facilitating one of my 3-day Heart Intelligence Retreats or group programs. That sustaining joy that arises from being a participant and witness to others’ experience of coming into their hearts where most participants walk away feeling joyful, open, receptive, available and free.
The heart is a sacred chamber. A chamber we more easily access when we come together with a group of people with the intention to hold a safe space where we can be real, present, and connected to each other. In this sacred space miracles happen. You see more, feel more, smell more, let more of life in. From this new vantage point you receive the answers, the wisdom, the guidance that you need. Your life is transformed. You become more your true self. You become more Who You Really Are.