In A Hot Sweat Lodge
I made my life, career in education, degrees and all that, thinking I knew lots about the mind. When Grandpa made me a grandson, in my fifties no less, he took me into circle after circle, each one physically and directly on the Earth, in Navajo Way. With all that mainstream education behind me, it was actually in a circle, in a sweat lodge ,where I started really learning about the mind.
We sat in many circles, on the dirt in a hogan, a tepee or a sweat lodge, singing, speaking or remaining completely silent. My “classroom” became the Earth directly without human architects chopping up wood and glass to prove man’s superiority. We sit, rather, in the architecture of our True Mother, where’s it’s about her aerodynamics and structure, her schooling, her teaching methods, her life and breath – in the manner our true Mother actually lives.
I remember one time, the subject of “mind” came up in a sweat house, as the Navajo say, and “education” was applied.
There was snow on the ground and this time I decided not to bitch about undressing in the cold or the inevitable frozen boots at the end. A brother in the struggle was with me, and he already knew better about complaining at a ceremony.
We put trunks on and crawled into the lodge, thinking we’d be the first in, aside from the lodge leader, who feels to us like he was born in there and will always be there.
The leader and two guys, unknown-to-us, were in there already and the conversation was rolling. Since it came in a mix of Navajo and English, I can’t really speak to the actual content of their conversation, but it had all the bells and whistles of bitching, whining and complaining.
The lodge leader was silent most of the way, maybe hoping these guys would feel better when the ceremony begins.
The conversation was a semi-whispered barrage of “No more, can’t do it, impossible, no más,” evolving into litanies of ”can’t make them understand, can’t do anything right and can’t pass the test,” with references basically to boss, wife and family, complete with self-esteem bashing at various levels.
The level of talk slowed way down as other participants filled the lodge. When it actually went silent, a crappy cloud hung over the ambience in that sweat house. And it would continue through the first, second and third round.
Grandpa was the last to sit in on that first round, and of course, sat in the Honor seat, first spot left of the door flap. The mood cloud hung over the circle; even greetings were a bit muffled. Grandpa didn’t say a word the whole round. Since most of us were there to hear his words, everyone noticed his silence.
When he sang in the second round, he sang the four songs short and sweet, uncharacteristic for him, as well. He usually sang long and hard, with gusto, making us all drop our noses to the dirt, to endure the heat.
Both of the unknowns performed two no-one-suffers-more-than-me tirades in the third round. This time Grandpa interrupted, first in Navajo, then in Spanish (for my brother and I) and finally in English, and with a little anger, “Fill your mind here, take in the heat, smell the cedar deep, clear your mind.”
The lodge leader says, “Aho, everything we do takes mind. We have to put something good in it.”
My brother, myself and most participants added their own “Aho,” to the comments, but the two unknowns didn’t say word one.
Silence hit fast and nobody said anything more about it. We took a break outside the lodge, in the cold, to prepare for the heavier heat that always comes in the fourth and last round.
Grandpa would be the first singer in the fourth round. I offered, since I’d be next, to handle the water drum for him to sing without having to play. He passed the drum and stick to me, and just said, “Don’t stop before I do.”
Grandpa sang his four songs so long we all had our head to the ground to withstand unbearable heat. The higher your head in a sweat lodge, the greater the heat hits you. All of us got to the point where groans replaced prayers until Grandpa finally finished. I’m not sure how I handled the drum through that, considering my nose was in the dirt most of the way.
The lodge leader opened the door flap for a short two minutes, letting some cold air in, allowing us recoup and sit up again to finish the fourth round.
“Can’t” didn’t come up again until the last singer, the lodge leader, took the drum. He sang the first two songs sitting, then he asked the man next to him to play the drum for him over the next two songs.
Then the lodge leader stood straight up. That’s at least 10 degrees hotter than the heat we’re dealing with sitting down. With rattle in hand the leader and a drummer, seated below him, start the singing. He doesn’t rush or slow the last two songs, but toward the end he splashes a full scoop of water on the hot rocks, thereby shooting another blast of heat, another 10-20 degrees maybe, all at once.
The idea of running out crossed my mind, but my mind also pushed back on that and like the others in the lodge, we all found a way to endure the heat, except for one of the unknowns. He suddenly crawls for dear life over everyone on the way out the flap.
When the leader sits down, he put his hand on the remaining unknown, “Tell your mind what you want, right now, this moment. And don’t say ‘can’t.’”
Then the leader thanked us all and opened the flap. Grandpa was the last one out. I thought he’d be at least a little miffed, but instead he was telling another joke, actually giggling.
Later, I had to ask, “Grandpa, you think they got the message?”
“Don’t know, Grandson, only Shimá, our Mother, really knows what happens to those two.”