Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Sauna: a Modern Day Sweat Lodge

The sauna: one of the places I go to find peace

Everyone has sanctuaries - places they retreat to when they need to regroup, think (or cease thinking), places that are safe and quiet where answers or even just peace comes. For some, it might be a church or place of worship where they feel close to their creator; for others it might be within nature.

While I usually retreat to the woods for these quiet times of introspection, one place I frequent for peace is the sauna at my gym.

In fact, it has been one of my favorite places for over a decade now.

A sauna is a place where I feel like I can come to literally sweat out all the toxins in my life, ridding myself of negativity, angst, worry. After a nice run, some quiet time in the sauna, followed by a hot shower, seems to rinse some of the tension of life away.

My first introduction to "sweating it out" was from my friend, Dr. Larry Martin, professor of English and an Ojibway Native who now lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. In 1997, Larry invited me to a traditional "sweat" ceremony.

"With the help of Medicine Men and Women, they could repair the damage done to their spirits, their minds and their bodies. The Sweat Lodge is a place of spiritual refuge and mental and physical healing, a place to get answers and guidance by asking spiritual entities, totem helpers, the Creator and Mother Earth for the needed wisdom and power." Adapted from this site where you can learn more about the traditional sweat lodge ceremony.

It was a cold Sunday in late fall. A light snow was on the ground at his house when I arrived. The sweat lodge was in a field along side of some woods by his home. It was made of thin saplings and branches that formed a sort of rounded teepee, with tarps over them. Inside, a pit was dug in the earth. There was sage and cedar burning, the sweet smells of these healing plants.

Outside, a huge fire roared. Rocks were heated to a great temperature from this fire and taken inside the sweat lodge. Larry pulled back the East-facing door to the lodge and I stepped inside. It was hot - amazingly hot - and the pit was filled with the scorching rocks. Larry poured water over the rocks then, and a great steam filled the autumn air inside the lodge. He smoked his pipe, and we spent the afternoon inside, emerging every now and then for air, talking and telling traditional Ojibway creation stories.

Tonight, I sat for nearly a half hour in the sauna - the closest I can come to that sweat lodge. I had a lot of thoughts flying around in my head and needed peace. I thought of Larry, Nanabush, and the traditional things I had learned.

I emerged rejuvinated, grounded.

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