It took several hours for the effects of the Sweat Lodge ceremony to kick in, but when it did I realized the control I always thought I needed was not in my hands, but in what the Greeks called the Fates; the Christians, God; and the Buddhists, Karma.
A Divine source, refered by some as the “Force,” the Divine Feminine,” the Creator, has dealt a hand to play with our own free will. We get to choose which cards to keep and the ones to discard. By standing pat or by seeking new ones to “change our luck” or to improve our hand, we cast our lot to the future. None of us expect to lose or to face tragedy or a financial crisis. We hope for improvement, to enrich ourselves through our card-playing skill and years of studying the game of life.
In the end, the winner is not necessarily the one who drew the highest hand – a royal straight flush versus a pair of kings and deuces. It is the player that can place the bet, and deal with the lose or win with equanimity, that emerges the victor. There is no win, there is no loss. There is just an awareness of the game and how to view it from a state of grace, the right frame of mind, the right attitude. All disappointments arise and end. All roller-coaster thrills must end. In understanding that everything that comes into my existence must someday leave, I can live with its impermanent nature more easily. Treat it the same whether it is good or bad, foul or fresh, holy or unholy. The moment of pleasure and the moment of dissatisfaction will pass. Each will arise and reach its crescendo of joy or sadness, and then each will fall, dissipating and returning from whence it came, leaving naught but a memory we can choose to relive or to drop if similar conditions arise to trigger its recall later.
None of this was clear when the sweat poured out of me as 10 men and woman crawled on hands and knees into the Sweat Lodge outside of Pottstown, PA. We took part in a ceremony honoring the “Great Spirit,” while offering prayers to the four corners of the earth and beyond. We sweated as the lodge leader spread bits of sage, tobacco and other herbs onto the red-hot coals causing an eruption of tiny flames that shot upwards and out of the stones but remained safely in a pit dug earlier to contain a total of some 15 hot, glowing rocks. Each one had baked in a much bigger pit built a slight distance outside of the lodge, where a stone-bearer had been heating them over a slow-burning fire for several hours. Two to four rocks were requested for each “sweat,” or prayerful focus in a given direction. We offered three prayers each for the West, the South and for the North. Then just as the sweat seemed to be unbearable for the likes of me, the number of prayers for the East increased to five, six, seven, eight and beyond . . . I lowered my head to the floor of the lodge, taking in the cooler air and praying a silent prayer that all the prayers would stop so that I could get the hell out of their!
The prayers did stop, we offered a blanket thanksgiving for all. I believe, however, that my silent prayer even helped to cleanse and purify me, removing and burning away the hellish traces lower, base nature.
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Hours later, I revolted against a group of Born-Again Christians. All of them were what I called “lily whites.” The men wore handsomely tailored suits and the women gorgeous dresses with just the right amount of jewelry. All appeared with the greatest tans that money and lots of free time at the beach could offer.
“I don’t belong here,” I cried to my partner in crime, Melanie, a young Hispanic woman whose mother was raised in Colombia and passed on the natural shade of tan us ethnic types have acquired — her from South America, and me from the southern European countries like my father’s Greek homeland. She had left the sweat lodge and agreed to go with me in this next leg of my spiritual journey.
“They’re too white for me,” I said, pointing at their pale faces, their blonde heads and the white hairs of their elderly wise ones. “I haven’t seen one Black,” I added. “We’re their token brown-skinned people.” Eventually, she helped me to overcame my resistance, and we entered the church even though Melanie was still a little wet from swimming in the pool after the sweat and unable to change out of the bra and other under things that had gotten soaked!
There we were. Two “Recovering” Catholics, walking into the Valley Forge Baptist Church to take in the solo performance of the daughter of dear retired friends I had made while breakfasting at an IKEA restaurant in Conshohocken. They waved to us, and Melanie and I parted the sea of white folks and sat in a pew behind the proud parents. Their daughter played divinely, and despite an apparent ban against applauding in such a refined church of god, the audience cheered her and I whistled as loudly as the most boisterous fan at a Phillies/Mets game. A wonderful choir next offered every one the sound of angels. That was followed by a group of teens who had recently attended a church-sponsored camp in North Carolina who explained to the thousand of congregational members how Christ had entered into their lives and changed them forever. Each boy reminded me of a miniature “preacher-in-training” with the fervor of zealot for God, while the girls talked of the more gentle side of a divine forgiveness, unconditional love, and spiritual camaraderie.Then Satan raised his ugly head. No, Lucifer made no appearance, although one of the adult preachers brought up his name while chastising the youth for listening to the foulest of foul music provided in the world today. He asked for money to develop Christian music as an alternative to evil sounds my generation had been warned against when Ed Sullivan chose not to show Elvis Presley’s lower parts on national television and “race songs” — those performed by Black artists and Doo Wop groups years ago got banned in Boston.
I couldn’t wait to escape, bid farewell to the lovely white-haired couple who invited us, and get a distance between them and my sinful self. It was while I was drinking water in my car reflecting on the day’s events that divine insight struck me like the proverbial bolt of lightning.
God and the Divine Spirit of the Cosmos is the same one we all talk about, but use different languages to praise and worship. He or she is the clear light, the Buddha Nature existing in all that we can tap into when we want to live a life that Jesus lived, or that a Mohammed said was possible if we but give up our will and let a more powerful Will control the major part of our lives. Yes, we still have free choice, free will. But, we know where our internal moral compass is directing us to go. It tells us what is good or bad in the moment and that all we need do is seek the stillness and silence where a “Shekinah” — what the Hebrew language calls the “feminine side of God” — dwells. She is always available to guide us. Seek her out, this great spirit, this energy, this Great Vibration and give up all resistance.
You’ll find out you can do it with no sweat, and with no loss of anything God hadn’t planned for our personal purpose in life.