Warning – I wrote this prior to coming back from Mexico so I apologize for the chronological disembodiment.
On monday night, some of the yogis from my retreat went through a Temazcal, which is a Mayan sweat ceremony. Fourteen of us entered into what looked like a giant, brick pizza oven and stayed there for over an hour. The building was built to symbolize a womb, mother earth. There was also another stone building – this one only a half dome – that was the grandfather fire. Inside the grandfather fire there was volcanic rocks known as the abuelitas or grandmothers.
Prior to entering the ceremony, our shaman – a beautiful Mayan woman named Maria – led gave us each a small piece of sage that blew into our intention of what we were here to let go. Then we each took turns throwing the sage into the grandfather fire. Then we all stood in a circle while Maria opened up the four cardinal points – quatro cardinales puentas – and then also mother earth and father sky. After that we bathed in the smoke of a sacred plant before entering the lodge one by one.
Once inside, it was very dark. We were sitting on grass matts on top of sand. We were very nervous about what it was go to be like…whether or not we’d be able to stand the heat. I was very excited and knew in my heart that I needed to go through the ceremony but I was scared. I am extremely hot natured and already sweat like a maniac. I was afraid that my anxiety would kick in and I would have to be the one person who had to run screaming from the sweat!
Maria talked a bit about what the ceremony would be like. There would be four levels that would each be hotter than the previous one and we would open the door for a few minutes at the end of each level. The levels represented the four elements – wind, fire, water and earth. The levels would continually get hotter because we would add more and more abuelitas each time. She began to lead us in a song – Bienvenides, Abuelitas – welcoming the grandmothers into the fire. Another Mayan man began bringing in burning hot volcanic rocks on a pitchfork and tossing them into the firepit. After there were just enough, Maria asked him to closed the door. He lower two blankets over the door and placed a heavy piece of wood at the base of the door so that it became pitch black. And hot.
First, Maria asked to go around the circle and each of us share what was our intention that we through into the fire. It was amazing how similar many of intentions were – regardless of age, race or sex. When it was my turn, I said that I wanted to be “relieved of the bondage of self.” I wanted to free from the shame so that I could strong enough to be the navigational star that lights the path of my family and loved ones. I struggled to keep from crying.
After we each had turn, we sang another song while Maria continued to throw water on the fire …creating and more and more steam within the lodge. Finally, Maria said that she would count to three in Spanish and then we all had to shout PUERTO so that the Mayan man would know to open the door.
Once the door was opened, the air outside rushed in and even though it was probably 90 outside, it felt cool compared to the inside. I thought to myself, one down and three to go. We rested for very few minutes and then it was time to welcome the grandmothers in again and more volcanic rocks were added to the fire.
I remember this level the most clearly. We were asked to close our eyes and begin to see little moving images of all the things that no longer served us. All the things we needed to let go. I saw myself standing in front of the bar at our home and making a drink, stressed out from dealing with the boys. Yelling at my husband, being cranky with my mom, laying in bed watching countless hours of Law & Order:SVU. Maria asked to then visualize a box and to place all those things that no longer served us in to the box and to imagine walking forward so that, first, the box was consumed by the fire.
Next – she told us to keep walking until we were entirely within the fire. To imagine the flames licking up our feet, legs, torso, arms and head – until we were entirely consumed by the fire. We had to burn away so that we could be reborn.
Please flashback now to the violent dream I had a few weeks ago where I was burned alive. This was my dream but it wasn’t violent – it was beautiful. Somehow I had known that was the message of the dream. That I need to be burned, consumed by fire so that I could begin again. And here it was in the ceremony – exactly what the universe had told me.
After we were consumed, Maria told to that we would be shown an image that would become sacred to us. Immediately, I saw a cartoon-like image of small, white, round smiley face and it looked like it was wearing some wooly and white around its head. I thought to myself, what the hell is that? That doesn’t make any sense – there must be something else coming. Next I tried to manifest a star but it never quite held and then a lotus flower but no luck there either. FINALLY, I saw a sea turtle that a brilliant tiger’s eye, eye of sauron, burning jewel on its in back that was set inside a bronze ring. THAT, I told myself, is my spirit animal!
It was so fucking hot. The heart circulated and swirled around my body. My heart raced and I had to force myself to breathe slowly and deliberately and to throw everything I had in my heart into our chants and songs. Finally, PUERTO! The door opened.
During this break Maria passed around a bowl of water for us to pour on ourselves. I heard her say don’t drink it just pour but when it came my way, I took a sip. I was thirsty! After it was empty, Maria filled it again and this time I soaked my towel in the cool water so that I could use it to cool my face. Then she passed around little clay mugs filled with drinking water. It was this point that I was like OH CRAP – I wasn’t supposed to drink the other water because it hadn’t been treated. Fortunately, I the looming fire before me helped me to get over the fear of Montezuma’s revenge almost immediately.
During this time, Maria also assured us that whatever sensation we were feeling the same was being felt by everyone else. If our heart was pounding, it was only because the work we were doing was deep and intense. We were in no physical danger and that it was only our minds that tried to tell us that we were. She said that the mind is a wonderful tool but it is only that – a tool. Our hearts and our souls are the owners and we must continually tell our minds that we are the ones in charge. Soon, Maria collected the water mugs and it was time to add more grandmothers and close the door.
This was the water level. Maria led us in a guided meditation where floated down a cool, sacred river until we reached the ocean. Mother ocean. We all must surrender to mother ocean and to become one with her waves. I was reminded of the U2 lyrics, “oh great ocean, oh great sea. run to the ocean. run to the sea.” Then we began to chant again and Maria would throw cool water on us as we sang. Again, PUERTO!
While the door was open, one of the women in my group said that she was reminded of a beautiful song about coming to the water and she began to sing in the most beautiful voice. We begged her to continue but she couldn’t remember the words. We closed the door again for the final time.
Maria began to talk about how much mother earth loved us. she loves each and everyone of us. She gave us the waves to play, the fruit and vegetables to make a party of flavors in our mouths ….We all must remember how much she loves and how we must in return care for her and for others. This time, when we opened the door, we would exist and we would be reborn. We would no longer be the person we were before the ceremony but all the changes would be for the better. This time, before we could open the door, we had to HOWL LIKE WOLVES. OK, now flashback the book I had been reading – Tell the Wolves I’m Home. Meaning, let me tear my flesh away because I have made peace and I am ready to die. I shit you not. My teacher, who was sitting next to me during the ceremony, nudged me as if to say OMG!
We howled loud, long and desperately so that door would be opened and we could be reborn. At the edge of the door, we all had to come to our hands and knees and say out loud that we did this for ourselves and for all our relationships. And then we were out! I made it!
I wasn’t sure at first but the following day, I knew that I was a different person. I went on an excursion and climbed a tall rickety old tower and climbed down in to a cave. Things that would have normally scared the crap out of me. I felt so completely at peace and happy and strong. I survived the fire ceremony but just wait because there is more to come.