NATIVE EARTH WISDOM
The Native American Sweat Bath is usually preliminary to any Vision Quest or Journey to the Spirit World. Purification of body, emotions and mind is necessary so that one is empty enough to receive spiritual healing and the higher energies of Spirit. The prayer and intention of this is essentially that of being emotionally and spiritually healed, and bringing in the greater spiritual energies available to us. Different tribes or groups will have their own unique prayers and particular ways of doing the Sweat, but the essences of the Ritual are what is most important.
Throughout the ritual are three essential aspects:
prayers and sincere asking for help
detachment, surrender, and letting stuff go
receptivity and being open to spiritual renewal
In the Native Tradition of the Sweat Bath, a fire is built to the side of the Sweat Lodge, towards the setting or rising sun, either to the east or west, depending on the timing of the ritual. In this fire the stones for the Lodge are heated until they are red hot. Then they are taken into the Lodge to be put in the central pit, and the leader occasionally throws water on the stones to make hot steam. This hot steam produces an intense environment for self-purification. One sits with a community of trusted friends and becomes purified by the heat and sweat. Prayers for purification, for healing, and for guidance are a necessary part of the sacred Ritual.
The Sweat Lodge is the place of transformation, and this transformation involves our body, mind and spirit of emotion. Then, when we come out of the Sweat, or out from the transformation, we carry with us a fresh vision of spiritual truth and renewed energies for spiritual expression. We carry our healing into the world.
Each person will have their own unique experience of purification and healing and their own personal experience of vision and spiritual direction. We should always remember this, so that we do not judge ourselves by other’s experience, or seek to obtain someone else’s experience which we heard or read about. The most profound experience you can have is the particular experience which is completely your own. So there's no point in worrying about what other people are experiencing or what you 'ought' to experience in the Sweat. Whatever is right for you will come to you.
The Sweat Ritual has four physical components: the Fire, the Lodge, the Stones, and the Pathway between the Fire and the Lodge.
The Fire Pit is the medium for the fire of Great Spirit, which is the source of purification and transformation. Though this can also be understood as the fire of spiritual intention or the fire of sincere feeling behind our prayers. This fire fuels the path to healing and it helps purify our being. The fire comes from within the soul and has its ultimate source in the healing Fire of Great Spirit.
Between the Fire Pit and the Lodge is the Pathway of Spirit. Along the Path or just beside it, there may be a Sacred Mound, where upon is placed any offerings, sacred objects and the Sacred Pipe. In the Ritual, no one should cross over this Pathway and break the flow of energy. This Pathway is our own personal experience of Great Spirit and spiritual energies. Remember that each of us will have our own unique experience, in regards to purification, spiritual healing and spiritual vision.
The Pathway is the opening to the healing Fire of Great Spirit. It is the Path of allowing Great Spirit into us, and allowing this to purify and heal us. This opening and allowing involves trust and gratefulness. In this way we make clear the opening or the Pathway of Spiritual Fire.
Along the Pathway are carried the heated Stones of transformation. This means that between Great Spirit and ourselves are the many spiritual helpers, the guiding principles, and the healing energies, which can lead us to a greater spiritual awakening and wholeness of being. The Stone People are believed to embody the ancient teachings and lessons of Spirit, and by being heated in the Fire, this ancient wisdom can be brought out and released in the Lodge by the steam created when water is splashed over them. These lessons, or this wisdom, will come into the breath and body of the participants, and each person will feel and understand these energies in their own unique way, which is their unique pathway to spiritual wholeness.
Prayer ties, or tobacco ties, are sometimes strung inside the Lodge onto the branch structure. These ties can be made by placing small amounts of tobacco or other sacred herbs onto small squares of purified cloth, and then wrapping each of these up and tying them with a connecting string or thread, so that you have a number of small, tied up pouches, all connected by one continuous thread, and then the ends of this connecting thread are tied to the inner roof of the Lodge, so that the prayer pouches hang freely. Each prayer tie is a specific request to Great Spirit, usually for a relation’s health or prosperity, or as part of a group request, and so as each tie is made, that particular request should clearly be in the mind and heart of its maker.
There are four stages or rounds in the Sweat, which may correspond to the four Directions of Spirit or to the Four Seasons of Nature. To begin each round, a number of the hot stones are brought in and placed in a hole at the center of the Lodge, representing the Great Spirit or Spiritual Fire in the center of all things. Then, during each round, which may last for as long as a half hour or more, water is splashed on the stones to create steam, which carries the heat of spiritual healing into the body. Sometimes sage or sweetgrass is sprinkled on the stones as an offering and help to purify the Lodge. The Lodge remains completely dark and one feels as being deep within the womb of Mother Earth. The sweat participant will release old patterns of mind and emotion, while also opening to the Great Spirit and to Mother's Love to renew one's heart and mind with Guiding Vision and Love.
Prayers are an important essence of the Ritual (or purification meditation). This involves giving our thanks to the givingness of all our relations on Earth and to the many gifts of Great Spirit. Prayers in the Sweat involve thankfulness for all that is given by Mother Earth and all relations living here with us. We thank the many aspects of Great Spirit, the many ways in which Spirit manifests for the good of all. This recognition and gratefulness, for Spirit’s goodness and all that we have already been graciously given, is part of the essential attitude of faith, love, and being open to more of the goodness of Spirit. So in the Sweat Ritual, there is the feeling of gratefulness and the expression of thankfulness for all that is given by Great Spirit and Mother Earth.
Great Spirit is alive and conscious throughout Mother Earth and in all natural things, so when we give thanks to Great Spirit or to our Earth Mother, or to any of the spirits of nature, our gratefulness is heard when it comes from the heart and from love. This is partly how we can give back to the Mother or to Spirit, because the greatest gift one can give to one’s parents is sincere gratefulness and appreciation for all they have given. A recognition and appreciation for love given, is love returned.
One’s prayers to Spirit can also be for oneself, but this is essentially a prayer that one may be purified and guided by Spirit in order to be in greater harmony with the wholeness of Life. So the prayer can be oriented to oneself, that one may be personally healed and guided, but this is not just selfish prayer since it involves becoming more at one with Spirit and more harmonious with Spirit working through others. Therefore, pray for yourself ! – that you may be purified by Great Spirit and become more conscious of the Living Spirit in all of Life, and thus become more in harmony and balance with natural life.
Four stages of prayers in the Sweat Ritual:
prayers of thankfulness
prayers for our own purification
prayers for the healing of others and the world
prayers for vision, guidance & spiritual direction
Often, there are traditional songs and prayers for each round of the Sweat, but it is fine that people chant prayers and sing sacred songs in their own language from their sincerity and natural spontaneity. Different tribal customs may have their own particular prayers and ways of doing the Sweat, but the essence is always purification and an opening to transformation, healing and renewed vision.
The first round of the Sweat is an opening to the spiritual powers and coming into closeness with Mother Earth, as well as feeling a special closeness with those sharing in the experience. Begin with song and chants, giving thanks to the spiritual powers and to Great Spirit and to all our Relations.
The second stage can be a time of silently or verbally expressing one’s prayers for purification and healing. This is a time for deeper introspection and the humility of acknowledging what one needs to let go of and what one sincerely hopes for from the spiritual powers. Here, one may also make prayers for others, or for the deceased, or for Mother Earth. Many teachers say that prayers should primarily be for others, but praying for self-healing in order to be of service and in harmony with All Relations is certainly not selfish, and prayers for oneself require humility.
The third stage can be the hottest and a time of truly letting go and allowing the self-purification to occur. This is when we let everything go and completely surrender to the transforming heat of the Sweat. By the end of this stage the clearing of emotional and mental stuff should be done with.
Then the fourth stage can be a time for more relaxing into the feelings of purification and closeness with Mother Earth and all our relations. This is also a time for allowing new spiritual energies and vision to come in.
So this is one way of doing the Sweat in four stages. Unless you are making the Sweat in a traditional way and guided by a traditional medicine teacher, it is good to have some general plan in mind beforehand, while also leaving plenty of time for spontaneity, meditative silence, and unexpected experience.
Cleansing and purification are the first steps to true spiritual healing and awakening. But this is not just about healing the body of impurities. In the Native understanding, healing purification is also being cleared of psychic and emotional hindrances. It also includes purification of the ego and our conditioned false beliefs. Purification is also a clearing of the pathway to spiritual vision. Once one becomes more cleared of lower emotions, such as fear, resentment and selfishness, then there is room for spiritual Love and Wisdom to emerge from our natural being, and there is space for spiritual vision and creativity to unfold.
Purification also includes being clear of blockages in the energy field, so that our natural healing energies can be free to flow and unfold from within. We are freeing the hindrances to the natural flow of creative and harmonizing energies. We are becoming more pure in our true nature, and allowing this nature to make us whole.
Purification is a willing act of letting go and emptying oneself, so that there may be room for Spirit and vision to enter. You have to let go of all your emotional stress, all your pent-up fears, resentments, and frustrations, as well as the very core of your egotism. Sometimes you just have to sweat it out.
Before true holistic healing and spiritual wholeness is possible, one must be willing to sacrifice and surrender one's egotism of self-importance, greed and possessiveness. If you are actually willing to let go of pride, greed and possessiveness, sweating out these enemies of Spirit in the act of purification, then the door opens to spiritual healing and a greater realization of oneself as being in the wholeness of Great Spirit.
So the Sweat ritual is not just a purification of the body by intense heat and sweating, but even more so it's an emotional cleansing, or cleansing of the soul. The participants release their fears, resentments and ego selfishness, and all their emotions being held in or repressed. They release all of the psychic and emotional energies that holds one back from spiritual faith and trust.
In the Sweat, our negative emotions of fear, resentment and self-importance may be intensified in the heat of the Lodge. The spiritual heat brings out that which is in need of transformation, or that which needs to be sweated out. This is what makes the Sweat a challenge.
Often these stuck psychic energies and emotions are locked inside the body, so they have to be sweated out of the body. This is why it is important to remain aware and sensitive of the body, because these emotions and energies are released out from the body. We can help this proceed more easily when we remain conscious of our body and our breath. These energies can even be released through our conscious out-breath.
In the Seat, allow all of your fears, resentments and egotism to come out from the subconscious into consciousness. Then, willingly let this stuff go. Let it be released in the fire of sacrifice. So, whatever difficult emotion or energy arises or comes out from the heat, accept it, let it be, and don't try to push it back down. But also, don't try to hold on to it. Let it go. Let it pass on into the fire of transformation. Know that with any kind of emotion or energy or repeating thought, you can release it from being stuck in you and sacrifice it into the fire. Thus, in this heat of the ritual, negative stuff arises yet can be sweated out or transformed by fire.
Surrender all the stuff that arises in the mind and emotions. Surrender it all to the heat of the fire. Allow the Fire of Great Spirit to purify your whole being, from mind to body. Then Great Spirit will permeate through your heart, mind, and body with renewed vitality, renewed healing, renewed vision, and renewed guidance.
It may not be possible to participate in a traditional native sweat bath, but one can practice a sweat lodge meditation, in order to experience the cleansing and purification benefits of the sweat ritual. This meditation uses visualization, rather than being in an actual physical sweat, but through imagination one can still feel and experience the purification benefits of cleansing one's emotional and mental energies. Also, this spiritual sweat meditation can help us open to spiritual energies and become more harmonious in our life. This all happens inwardly through meditative visualization and a feeling of being in the heat of transformation.
The attitude most necessary in all this is humility and sincerely wanting to be healed and spiritually transformed. This is the essential attitude to be carried throughout the Ritual. This attitude of humility and prayer is what keeps the sacred Fire burning. We must begin with self admitting that we are not completely pure in Spirit and not completely whole in Spirit. We must admit the need for self-healing and then allow our self to be healed by letting go of our little self and our petty emotions.
Our emotions should not be viewed as less-than spiritual; yet many emotions are petty or childish, and some are upsetting or disturbing. One is not trying to release all kinds of emotions, but only release those emotions or feelings that hold you back from being clear and loving. Also, tune-into and allow-in the greater Spirit and the greater spiritual energies of Wholeness. Pureness means being purely and clearly your real self. As we release our addictive emotions and conditioned emotions, and clear our over-talking, over-thinking mind; we then might discover our true self-essence underneath all of this.
This self-cleansing meditation requires a willingness to let go of all impurities of the body, mind and emotions, and opening yourself to be healed by the spiritual fire and heat of Great Spirit. Transformation is always possible, if we consciously allow it and give it enough time to complete itself. In an actual Sweat Bath one is forced to sit through the heat of transformation. So in the meditation, give enough time for the heat of transformation to occur.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself now as in a Sweat. Feel the darkness, the closeness to Earth, and the growing intensity of heat. First there is the letting go and the purification of body, emotions and mind, so that you are empty enough to receive the higher energies of Spirit. Visualize and feel yourself as in the fire of transformation, and allow this to transform any stressful emotions, fears or negative thoughts about yourself.
Remember to continuously be aware of the breath, the body and whatever arises in the mind or emotions. Allow the emotions and suppressed feelings to come out, but release everything into the purifying Fire of Great Spirit. Allow emotions to arise, especially fears, stresses and worries, and then sacrifice these into the spiritual fire. Feel yourself being purified.
Allow whatever emotion is locked within you to come out. All the stuff which is hiding in you must come out, and you must bear the temporary suffering of this, as you offer this to the Fire of spiritual purification. All of this needs to come out in order to be redeemed and transformed. The Key is to let it all out into the heat and into the fire of transformation. Then surrender in faith to the purification. The fire and heat of Great Spirit will transform this negativity or this suffering, as you allow it to happen. Then suddenly, in an unexpected moment, there will be a clearing, a sense of being purified and cleansed by the spiritual energy – or by what we call Great Spirit.
These meditation steps can be repeated again and again,
until you feel more purified, cleansed and clear
Prayer is not merely asking for help. It can also be a conscious act of opening and allowing the love and power of Great Spirit to enter in and transform oneself. We must consciously allow Great Spirit to purify and heal us and direct us onto the Good Road. This is allowing our self to be transformed, which requires a sincere humility of the ego and a deep faith in the Love power of Great Spirit. This humility and allowing may not be total in the beginning, but as one practices this in meditation or in the Sweat Bath, the spiritual transformation does progress.
Our recognition and gratefulness for all that is given is like the telephone number to Great Spirit and all the powers of Nature. It opens up the communication line and the pathway of spiritual energies. Recognition and gratefulness is the key to opening the door or pathway into the spiritual world. And so it is said that all prayers should begin and end with gratefulness. But this gratefulness is expressed, not as a greedy way to get more, but in the sincere appreciation for all that is given and all that will be given by the wisdom and love of Great Spirit. Gratefulness is the expression of faith. And without faith and gratefulness, there is no opening. Gratefulness is the key to opening the heart and mind to the powers of Great Spirit.
So be grateful for all which is provided by Mother Earth and All Our Relations. Give thanks to each of the kingdoms of Nature and to all the powers of Great Spirit. Recognize and reflect upon what is given by each Relation and Power of Spirit, then simply and sincerely say in your heart, “Thank you for being and all that you give.” This is the key to opening that particular door and pathway of energy. This is how the great powers will hear you and know your sincerity. And this is the way you can give your love to Great Spirit and all the Relations of Mother Earth, for we give our love through our gratefulness. And through gratefulness we open the door to greater love, wisdom, and spiritual power.
The Great Spirit within all things and all lives is ever seeking to bring balance and harmony to life. Even the Great Wise Ones are on a continuous path to greater Wholeness. All lives are on the Path to greater wholeness, harmony and balance. Even in the plant and animal kingdoms, there are slight imbalances and disharmonies, as certain species become over-assertive and over-dominant, or over-populate and deplete their resources. Some species are more evolved than others in their ecological intelligence and in their ability to adapt to the needs of other lives. Yet, in spite of the instinctual life-assertiveness of plants and animals, a greater ecological intelligence and cooperative instinct is also at work, which is the immanent power and guiding intelligence of Great Spirit within all life. It is this greater power and intelligence, which mysteriously moves life toward greater harmony and balance, toward more cooperation and symbiosis.
Everything is slowly moving toward perfection, toward a perfect harmony of Spirit Song and expression of beauty. We need to have patience. Nothing in the world is perfectly balanced and perfectly harmonious. Even the Earth Mother wobbles a bit in her cosmic spin. So we can all admit to at least some disharmony and imbalance, and so we seek the greater harmony and balance. We seek the power and intelligence of harmony, which comes from Great Spirit. This is the spiritual Way of the White Buffalo. It is continuous and ever-deepening, and of course it does not just involve our own self but all of life as well, and so we must equally pray for the whole of life and seek to serve this wholeness.