The Sweat Lodge

A Tamaskal is the Mayan form of a sweat lodge; it’s a small dome with a pit in the middle for water to be poured over hot stones. Before entering the Tamaskal I sat through a long ceremony in which we made our intentions clear about what we wanted to take away from the experience –almost like a wish made through meditation and prayer.

70 women could fit inside the dome, and before we went in we all got naked and sang songs together around a fire. Everyone was enjoying the ceremony until we noticed that there were some locals from Palenque watching us. It’s important to understand that everyone at the Rainbow Gathering is naked pretty much all the time –it’s really nothing special, just natural. But clearly to these locals whom have probably only seen a handful of foreigners before in their life found it a scene worth taking time off the farm to watch.

All 70 women crammed inside the tiny dome one by one during song. We were instructed to sit in the fetal position with our legs tucked into our chest and arms hugged around our knees; everyone was shoulder to shoulder and back to legs. No gaps of air anywhere. The Mayan elder told us that if we feel like we’re going to pass out to put our head between our legs, airplane emergency style and breath but under no circumstances were we allowed to leave. Now he tells us. I was the second girl in so I had the joy of waiting for each person to come in and get “comfortable” (try not to focus on comfort, that informed us –great). The smell was awful –not like body order or dirtiness or anything like that. I can only describe the aroma as extreme closeness and earth and maybe anxiety. They opened the flap to the dome and started bringing in hot stones from the fire and then the shaman poured water over them. In a single, intense wave the stinging hot vapors rushed throughout the dome. It stung my throat and seemed to penetrate each pore. This isn’t cool, I thought, I want O.U.T! The shaman made a little speech but it was all in Spanish and I could barely here the translator, plus I just couldn’t focus on the spiritual happenings of this ceremony –I just wanted to survive it. I imagined a bunch of hippies trying to resuscitate me in the middle of the jungle; I’ve passed out a couple times before, it could totally happen now. Who would contact my Mom to tell her that I was in a coma from extreme hippie water vapor?! No one even gets phone reception out here! And no one knows where the hospital is if there even is a hospital! Then everyone started Oming and I could barely make the sound for a few seconds! It was too hard –this heat of strangling me. I cleared my throat and tried to jump back into the Om but that didn’t help. It was like I had no air in my lungs and my vocal cords were wet noodles, incapable of making any sound.

The second round of hot rocks came in followed by an even bigger splash. Instantly every pour in my body began to spill out sweat. Annoyed by the tickling sensations of sweat running down everywhere I scratched my whole body (the best I could, being that there were four girls encasing me) like a mad women. Even my hair felt like it was sweating –can hair sweat? Great, then everyone was singing songs in Spanish and I don’t know what their singing, I can’t even follow the melody. What a mess, I’m trapped in this hot place and I’m not even going to take anything away from it because everything is in freaking Spanish! The third round of rocks came in. I put my head between my legs in despair.

Time passed, I realized I didn’t feel the third wave of vapors. I leaned my head all the way back into the heat and zoned out for a period of time, then felt a sensation I can only articulate as ‘starry’, my Mom and all my Grandmas images kept popping up in my head but nothing else about them –just their image. The fourth round of rocks came in and this time I felt more upbeat. I waited for the splash and, using my hands, guided the vapor flow into my mouth, eyes, and noise. I inhaled the heat but it didn’t feel hot it felt smooth.  The shaman started another Om and this time my voice felt strong and never seemed to tire. I could feel the sound’s vibrations in my feet and the hair on my arms and head felt perked up like when you get goose bumps. I kind of zoned out while making the Om and I only stopped when I realized everyone else had stopped.

The flap opened again to let in more hot rocks and three girls jumped up and crawled over other girls to escape. They were totally freaking out. The Irish yoga teacher next to me was crying but I didn’t try and understand why. I felt euphoric like I had just existed a roller coaster, when you feel strong from your bravery but weak from the speed and sharp turns. I could feel a huge smile on my face and when the next splash came I sucked it all in once more. More girls began climbing over each other to get out.

He did another speech but I wasn’t interested. We started singing a song in English that was fun and happy and repetitive; so that you could disappear into yourself and still jump right back into the song. The singing kept growing louder and louder until we started screaming the words. My voice felt solid and it felt good to clap hands.

Then suddenly the shaman opened the flap and instructed me to exist. The first girl in before me had scooted out unnoticed sometime during the ordeal so I was instructed to start the chain of girls. The outside air was too cold even though it was the middle of the day. I led the 70 women straight to the beautiful river that ran through the whole gathering, to the main swimming area where the rope swing and little cascading waterfalls were. The river is located directly in the middle of the Rainbow Gathering and acts as an almost main street or highway for everyone. Sweat still pouring out of me, the shaman gestured to me to jump into the water. I didn’t need to know Spanish to follow that direction –and he sure didn’t have to tell me twice. Diving into the water was exhilarating! I swam deep down and then surfaced to find all the other girls jumping into the river too. Immediately we all began laughing in relief and triumph and splashing each other, singing songs, diving, jumping, and hugging in the river. It was a moment of pure ecstasy that is unforgettable –a translucent moment in time shared by 70 women that just underwent a strenuous spiritual task; it was the closest moment to being in heaven I have ever experienced!

Now, like I stated previously, being naked at the Rainbow Gathering is nothing special -but 70 naked women all playing together like kids in a very picturesque paradise river in the afternoon in Mexico? You can imagine the attention the scene created. Every passerby stopped and watched in what I can only imagine being complete amazement and bewilderment. Some people jumped right in with us, eager to share the moment, but most people (men) just watched. I’m sure the guys were all thanking their different Gods that they happen to be walking by at this moment and I’m sure their wonder for the world was restored: yup, dreams really do come true, guys!

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2 thoughts on “The Sweat Lodge

  1. awunderl

    In the part where you mention how you crossed over the rope and paid no heed to the no paso sign, made me laugh. Sierra, you’re going over to the dark side…those signs apply to errbody! Enjoy reading about your adventures. Cold cold cold here. Your tan looks great!

  2. Leah Sienkowski

    You’re a great writer. Write more! It inspires adventure in me. Hope all is well.

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