The flap shut and pitch black descended, a faint red glow turning the black to deep brown just above the hot stones. Fear spiked through me, raw panic.
Blindness. Claustrophobia. Isolation. Suffocating heat.
“Please,” squeaked my little voice, “can’t we leave the flap open just a little crack?”
“No, we need to seal the space,” was the reply. “Do you need to sit next to your friend for comfort? Do you need to leave the lodge?”
We were buried in the earth, under a small dome structure covered in layers of burlap and skins, circled around a broad fire pit piled high with rocks that had been baking for hours in the huge bonfire outside. Ten men were crowded together on one side of the circle, a similar number of women kneeling in the dirt on the other.
“No,” my voice squeaked getting slightly stronger. “I honor the intention and sacredness of this space, and will be alright.” Sensing the two women bracketing me in the blackness, I asked, “Can you hold my hand?” Warm hands immediately clasped each of mine.
I was not alone trapped in the dark. I was supported. I released the electric current of my fear, and could feel the others immediately relax in the darkness. All energy was now available for focus on the healing intention. Adjusting my body into Child’s Pose, pulling the towel over me to trap cool air near the earth, I surrendered to my breath and the searing heat. With “The light is within” as my mantra to occupy the mind, the visual of a glowing white lotus blossom in my heart to occupy my other senses, and the sound of my breath flowing in and out, I overcame fear.
White light slashed into the space, brightening the inside of my towel to a monochrome grey and bringing me back from wherever I had gone. What happened? Did someone have to leave?
I struggled from under the towel, as the cool air flowed into the cramped lodge and washed over my wet skin. Fifty minutes had passed and the first healing round was over. It felt like five minutes. Where had I gone?
“Will you be alright?” asked the leader before closing the flap again for the next of the four rounds.
“I’m perfectly fine,” I replied. I was better than fine, I was giddy with my power.
(Lakota Sweat Lodge, excerpt from Do You Think You Will Break?)