“I Don’t Want To Be Here!"... Lessons Learned From Participating In A Sweat Lodge
About a month ago I was invited by a good friend of mine Aaron Gordon to be a special guest of his in Havasupai Falls Arizona. This is possibly the most beautiful place on earth, and I couldn’t have been more excited to attend. Aaron is a native of the Walapai Tribe and for the past several years he has brought different professional athletes to the falls in order to experience the beauty of the land he grew up in.
Part of the reason Aaron does this is because the local kids love seeing the NFL players. Aaron sets up for them to go and speak to the local school to motivate the children. To show their appreciation this year one of the local tribesman invited us to a special spiritual ceremony known as a “sweat lodge.”
It’s well over 150 degrees inside the sweat lodge and it isn’t something to be taken lightly. Fake gurus have disrespected the ceremony and tried doing them at retreats on their own and injuries and multiple deaths have occurred. I was excited to experience it but I was not prepared for just how uncomfortable I was about to get. Essentially you have a mud hut dug into the ground and then several large rocks are heated up and placed in the lodge. Every part of this has a purpose and the rules are very strict. One of the first things we learned is that we were to enter butt first as to resemble re-entering into mother earth and when we come out celebrating a new birth cleansed from the past.
The ceremony has 4 parts and each one lasts about 20 minutes, getting progressively hotter each round. It is pitch black, the hottest you have ever been, and you are all balled up and surrounded by other people squeezing 12 people into a room that looks like it is made for 3 or 4. Needless to say, it was quite the experience!
One of the key things that the chief told us before entering the sweat lodge was the importance of being present so that you don’t panic. He encouraged us when we felt like it was too much, and we needed to leave to really stop and just focus on being there and being ok. This was an amazing exercise. I felt it in round 1 but even more so in round 2. I was towards the back of the hut and my mind started racing to all that could go wrong.
“What if the mud caves in and I get buried alive?!”
“What if I pass out and nobody knows, and I die right here?!”
“What if somebody comes and traps us in here and we can’t get out?!”
They seem like such ridiculous statements when you are sitting at your desk typing them. But when you are in well over 150 degrees and you can’t see and you are in the back of a mud hut that is halfway underground, your mind doesn’t like it. We all have an ego or as I like to call it, a “drunk monkey” that sits inside our head and he is conditioned to do one thing, keep us alive. This drunk monkey that was putting all these thoughts into my head is the same voice that tells you not to go talk to the girl you have a crush on because something could go wrong. She could say no and then you’ll be shunned by the other members of the tribe and then nobody will want to be with you and then you’ll have no food and we’ll die!!!!
Actually, we don’t live in small tribes anymore and the risk isn’t really that big, most likely your worst-case scenario is she says no and that’s the end of it. But the drunk monkey isn’t conditioned to think rationally like this. And in this moment, in the sweat lodge, I decided to take on and kill this drunk monkey.
One of my mentors used to always say, “If you live in the past you can be depressed, if you live in the future you can feel anxious, that is why you must always try to focus on living in the present. The only time we can truly effect is right now. What are you doing in this moment? What do you need to be doing right now to better your life and that of those around you?
Focus on that!
So, in that moment, in the back of the sweat lodge mud hut, curled next to and touching 3 other men, sweating pouring from every part of our bodies, I decided to just focus on what was truly happening. The reality was, I was fine. I had enough air; I was with people I felt safe with. I had just drank water and wasn’t going to get dehydrated. I could breath.
All of a sudden, I had a calmness come over me and all my worries were gone. Instead I began to focus on the message of the Indian chief. To focus on my body, purging itself of toxins. I focused my mind to a state of gratitude for this life experience and all of the life experiences that I have been lucky and blessed enough to have over the years. The time flew by. Round 3 was going to be our last round because of time but all of us had gone through this together and we loved being in that moment of presence. We decided to stay and complete all 4 stages.
Whenever we experience change it is going to be uncomfortable. It is going to make the drunk monkey freak out a little bit and try to convince us to go back to safety. But what the drunk monkey doesn’t know is that EVERY REWARD IN LIFE IS FOUND ON THE OTHER SIDE OF FEAR.
Go talk to that guy or that girl. Go on that vacation to a foreign land and see that site you’ve always wanted to. Go have that conversation with a stranger that might forever change your word and how you see it. Read that book you have been afraid to and go try that thing that you’ve been putting off. Life isn’t safe regardless so you might as well go for it and live a life worth living.
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all” – Helen Keller