The Sweat Lodge Lessons, and Living a balanced life…

I just did my first healing “retreat” called The Natural Reintegration Project. It has been on my mind for quite some time, a retreat that challenges us to slow down and feel the things that are more subtle in life. To share the practices that have striped away the aspects that can cause added suffering to my life. As well to work together with the people from my community the Samahaquam band members, who are already teaching our culture and ceremony in the St’at’imc traditional territories.

I went into this feeling as though “I” had to make something happen for people. I thought that they would need me to help them to find their way.  I have experienced the value of the sweat lodge, walking the land, cold water cleansing,  and mindful food preparation. I would say it was my ego that felt like I needed to be the one to facilitate some kind of change for people. This was a bit selfish on my part, My work here was to share an experience with everyone, not to lead them through something but to be in the experience together.

During our first cold water bath, I was so concerned about the others that I was not fully in my own experience.  Thinking that by focusing on them I could “make” their experience something greater.

 Next we had the Sweat Lodge Ceremony, This ceremony was guided by Vern glenn Shanoss. It is 4 rounds, each round has a specific focus, round one is for the self from the heart,  to the body, then mind, and finally to the spirit.  It was in this round I noticed I continued to think of the participants, wondering about their experience.  Hoping it was enough for them. The Ceremony facilitator Vern Shanoss asked us to think only of ourselves in this round even though it would be challenging. I was able to bring the focus back to myself in this round. To notice what my own needs were, to come back to my core, because from my core I know what is needed at the moment.

The second round is focused from the self, into the family unit.

When I really feel the connection to family it is rare that I am not brought to tears of powerful emotions. To feel the support coming through so many people. My mother stands out even now as I write I feel a powerful surge of support and love coming from her. I also felt so much love and support coming from the mother of my son Sunaya, she was behind the scenes being with our son during the ceremony. Although we are not together in a typical relationship, we are a team for life in raising a resilient boy into a man.  My sisters Sara, and Tatyana were also there as well, helping to keep things on track, bringing extra food and supplies to do their best to help the retreat to be a success.

Round three is to focus on community, This round I focused on the communities I am part of.  The Samahaquam nation is the community I was born into, and what a privilege it is to be a part of a community that still holds its traditional ceremonies, songs, and some still speak the language.  The acroyoga community is one that I am deeply invested into. I noticed that the acroyoga community is global and has a common language that connects people regardless of barriers that could normally be present.  This is what caused me to want to offer The Natural Reintegration Project in the first place, was to bridge the gap in myself between these two aspects of my identity, as well act as a bridge to connect these two communities as well.

Round four is the round of completion, it is the round where we were asked to share about ourselves. As well we were instructed to send our negative thoughts into the rocks and back to the earth. Each round more stones are added so the heat gets stronger, in this round all the stones accept one are added to the lodge. This one is quite a challenge as it can be extremely hot as well sharing ourselves can be a challenge as well.

After the sweat it felt much easier for me to relax and hold space for the participants to use the tools we learned and choose their own experience. I gave support when it was called for and did my personal best. These lessons were not learnt for good and now I can just go on with my life. Everything is perfect style. I will need to revisit these places in myself by keeping up with daily practice, bringing that sacred into my daily life. To cook my own food with extra care and patience.  To move and connect to myself with care as well not to use my body to do the things I love, but to connect to my body through the physical practices I love. As well to stay connected to my family unit and to my communities.  Finally to make it a priority in my life to visit my home territory, to be a part of the community and be a part of ceremonies more often.

This Retreat took place in September of 2019. I am noticing that 10 months and a global pandemic later I am in alignment with my goals set after this experience. I have been doing my best to begin the day with connection to myself, to check in with family next and make family time a priority. I have set time aside to connect and share with my community once per week. As well I have a practice of closer for each day reflecting, and releasing.

I have just now realised that in making choices I need to do my best to check in with how they will affect myself, then my family, next my community. In our current society from my perspective we are pushed to make choices from the opposite side, we are pushed to make choices thinking of the community and work first, and often are pushed to neglect ourselves and our families.

So this leaves me at an interesting cross-roads,  The old way of putting community and work first.  And the New to me way of following the ceremonies in my life, specifically with decision making. I have already made the choice.

In a broader perspective when making a choice to offer something to the world I first need to do my best to remember to give myself time to think about the idea, the work, time, energy, and money that will go into it. Reflect on the idea in ceremony to make sure it is in alignment with my spirit, body and mind. 

Next I can bring the idea to my family because I know they will give honest feedback about the idea and share openly their support as well as things I may have missed. This allows me to loop my family unit into more aspects of my life. 

Finally I can bring the idea to my community and see if this is an offering that people need. In this way what I am doing can be an act of fulfilling a need and will be an act of service. 

This process is much slower than just slapping something together and telling people they need it. 

This is something I am feeling more at peace with each day, slowing down the process. Just like making a broth at home is a long process, and offers such a depth of nourishment to our bodies, minds, and spirits. I imagine giving time and space to more fully form ideas, the projects they evolve into can be more deeply nourishing to those involved. 

Looking forward to connecting with myself, my family, and my community when the time is right.

2 thoughts on “The Sweat Lodge Lessons, and Living a balanced life…

  1. I had the privilege of attending Devon’s first Natural Reintegration retreat in September 2019 and aspects of it still resonate for me 14 months and a pandemic later. The Sweat Lodge built from scratch from branches and tarps by Vern, and the ceremony masterfully and authentically guided by him, blew me away. Just enough room for a half dozen humans to sit knee to knee in a perfect circle, in near total darkness, if not for the central pit of red-hot rocks glowing just inches away from our knee caps; water added exploding into instant steam, sweating out toxins, burning out dead thoughts, exposing intense feelings yearning for an outlet; releasing from the heart with friends and strangers who quickly become collaborators on an unexpected journey. I can still hear Vern’s deep audible exhales acknowledging the pain being shared in a way no words can. Soulful sound bites that become part of your DNA.

    Jump to the second highlight, cold water immersion in a tributary emptying into the beautiful and wild Lillooet River. I had always dived into cold lakes and rivers but never entered slowly, consciously, with full awareness of breath and body. One problem was the ingrained idea it would hurt way too much. It actually did not. I have been doing it this way ever since. Stand calf deep for half a minute to acclimatize (thanks for that tipper Devon), then sink your body slowly with as much awareness as you can muster til you are totally under. Stay a minute or two or just a few secs, exit and then repeat, if desired. Let your breath increase, dramatically even, as your heart starts pounding like crazy. Bitch it wakes you up and you probably won’t ever die from a heart attack! When you get back on shore, even if it’s cold and raining your body feels warm and tingling.

    Finally, it’s about the people. I suck at people skills but I can identify authentic humans and there is something about the facilitator, Devon, his amazing family and extended tribe that make all the difference. I realize I have much to learn from distinct communities with unique traditions, knowledge and experience, and have been missing out with so much indigenous spiritual wealth in my back yard.

    There was a lot more of course — the “secret” free-for-locals hot springs in the middle of the night complete with cold dunking tubs, punctuated by a couple discretely making love in the dark by one of the pools; spontaneous handstands that an unsuspecting participant might not recall seeing on the retreat description; our host graciously serving an unexpected but much needed espresso; guided tour of natural medicinal plants to cure multiple ailments and copious free samples to take home to brew up; a flat on the rough road out in Devon’s reliable but overloaded little car, followed by a $200 tow after the spare tire also blew; difficulty understanding it had nothing to do with Devon’s driving style, based on the faster you go, the lighter the car flies over the Lillooet Lake forest service road’s deepest potholes; and, witnessing how community there operates, with four tires showing up and getting installed in the middle of a Sunday night, when absolutely everything in Pemberton is closed.

    And Devon’s sister who also had a unique experience on the drive out, shared in the form of a photo: the unmistakable image of an angel in the side of a mountain, that for sure was not photoshopped!

    Roger

    Liked by 1 person

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