There's been a lot of press lately about the sweat lodge deaths in Arizona.
These headlines can possibly scare interested people away from an experience that has been used without any drama for thousands of years.
These are the times when a bridging of the Native American and white/black/latino cultures is happening, and so one unintended aspect of these deaths is that they can bring about cultural communication and understanding, even though it is under tragic circumstances.
In the press, there has been only minimal exploration of the historical uses of sweat lodges. Some of it, rightfully so, is clouded in mystery. That's because the ways, the uses, and especially the effects of the sweat lodge are not immediately apparent to the outside observer, especially the western outside observer. It's somewhat akin, I would imagine, to the outside observer who looks at masonic culture and traditions as portrayed by Dan Brown -(I happen to be reading the Lost Symbol right now!).
I have had the privilege to partake in traditional ceremonies facilitated by Native Americans, American Indian, whatever you want to call it (because some Indians certainly would never call themselves Native Americans) - for 6 years now. That's not a lot of time, as any true Indian would tell you, however, one thing is for sure: there is no reason to be scared of the sweat lodge. I have many clients who are interested in these ways and are pursuing them in their local areas from those who are trained.
A trained sweat lodge leader is one who has been chosen by Spirit, and one who has endured years upon years of rigorous testing and training. A lodge or "altar" would never be passed down by an elder unless the individual has passed many, many tests of endurance, heart and strength. The sweat lodge leader must be strong enough to withstand the sickness of ALL those who are in the lodge. By sickness I mean karma, bad decisions, generational DNA influences, trauma, accidents, illness - all sorts of nasty stuff, whatever comes up. It can be a very, very difficult path to follow. It is NOT to be taken lightly, nor is one's decision to enter a sweat lodge.
The sweat lodge leader is most likely is not profiting from their use of sweat lodges, although it is custom in today's society to give the leader of the sweat lodge a monetary donation after the lodge. The fact that the leader of the Arizona lodge, James Arthur Ray, is charging $10,000 per retreat has been used as criticism from some. However, his retreat included a lot more than just the sweat lodge itself. The only person who truly knows what happened at that lodge is Great Mystery and Creator - and that's probably the way it should stay.
One enters a sweat lodge for a higher purpose. I have seen many people enter a lodge to test it out once, twice, or a handful of times. That's fine and it's intended for that. Every single sweat lodge that I have ever been to has been an EXCEPTIONALLY welcoming and SAFE place for ALL people.
There's been criticism from Indians, who say they would never cram 60 people into a lodge. In my experience, the most I have ever seen in a lodge is around 20-25 people. Any more than that I don't think the sweat lodge leader could be fully attentive to every person's healing experience.
Thankfully, I have had teachers and mentors whose goal in life was to extend these Indian traditions and understandings to ALL people. Understand that many Indians don't want their traditions passed on to white people. Many still have deep-seated, generational distrust of white people.
While understandable, this is what I am using MY LIFE to pray for. I am using MY LIFE, with the use of my gifts and every ounce of strength, to pray that this old DRAMA be healed. ONCE AND FOR ALL.