I kissed the ground and entered the sweat lodge. These daily rituals had been preparing me for what was to come. We crawled in, on hands and knees, taking our places in concentric circles surrounding the sunken center that would soon hold the volcanic “grandmother stones” used to raise the temperature of the sweat lodge to just below unbearable.
The ceremony began, with cedar and gopal on "las abuelas” or grandmother stones, as each one was offered by pitch fork to the sunken ground. The medicine woman began speaking in Spanish and I understood just enough to know I was where I was supposed to be.
Drumming, singing, and praying were the tools used to pierce the veil in pure darkness, even though just outside the earthen structure, the sun was high in the sky. Perspiration poured from my skin, soaking my dress and my hair until I looked as though I had walked straight from the ocean. This ritual was the same each day, and yet, for me, we all knew it was also different, for it was planting the seed of my initiation. To this point, I could have turned back easily. I could have thanked the medicine woman for her time and dedication, said my good-byes and returned home, with a powerful experience in my back pocket, and called it enough. But now I was being asked to step inside, inside the prayer of my own being. In the dark and wet air, I sat tall and I was to state my name and to make my “compromiso”, my commitment. I did so with valor in my voice, that left me wondering from where it had come. In this moment, I realized more clearly than ever that I did not know why I was there, but that I knew it was right. I didn’t know why I had chosen the “difficult” road, but there I was, stating it out loud with the mountain family as witness. Maybe it was because I had a history of conspiring with the universe to make my life comfortable and I had come to know that I didn’t really trust who I was beneath my easy life, and I had set out on a mission to change this.
Seconds after I finished speaking, I flashed back to weeks earlier, as I witnessed the terror in the eyes of one of my yoga students as she said, “you could die out there!” I remembered my response — “Something will die out there. But it will not be me”.
I exhaled as trust replaced breath in my lungs. Sweat continued to ooze from every inch of my skin, and then it was time. I heard the medicine woman counting in Spanish, 1, 2, 3, 4… and everyone in the sweat lodge replied in joyous unison, “Puerta!” The door opened. Light filtered in through the moist air, and slowly we began to exit, crawling on hands and knees, just as we had humbly entered. I paused at the door and did as I had been instructed, leaving my name in the sweat lodge, keeping my eyes to the ground and voice silent. I quickly went to change out of my salty water drenched dress into the clothes I would wear for the next four days and four nights.
Minutes later I returned to the temple and gathered my staffs, my prayers, my wool blanket and my sheep skin. Someone, a dear sister with whom I had made a strong heart connection, but did not know would be my support, came to me and took my belongings from my arms, offering no eye contact, out of respect for my journey. I followed her as we slowly exited the temple. We stood in a single file line with the others and I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. Am I afraid, I asked? From deep within, I felt a little twinge of surprise, “No. There is no fear here.”
Slowly the line began to move, and we walked in silence from the camp, between two white flags marking the north perimeter, up the mountain to where I would be planted. It was quiet, eventless, silent, and it was time.
After witnessing the “planting” of four other busquaderos, or seekers, as we were called, my site was identified and my escorts laid out my staffs with flags of white, yellow, red, blue, green, and purple in their respective locations. A string of 365 prayers, my prayers, was strung around the staffs, as demarcation of where I was to remain until I was collected four days later. With only eye contact from the medicine woman, and my commitment to silence, she looked into my eyes with compassion and support of millions, and said, “Pray very, very hard. We love you.”
Tears rained down my face and as I lowered and raised my chin once, slowly, in resolve.
And so began my unbecoming.