Dancing Feather lived among the rolling hills, protected and revered by the Lakota Nation. Although once part of the Sioux tribe his ancestors broke away to establish their own settlements. Their lands stretched from what is known today as Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakotas (North and South).
The great people of the plains roamed freely, raised their families, and lived in harmony with nature.
Having completed the 24-hour fast Dancing Feather was now ready to start the sweat lodge session, with an opening prayer to the Great Spirit. This was the first time that he was given the privilege to lead the ceremony. Having conducted the tribe’s Sun Dances four years in a row to qualify for this opportunity, he now held the respect of the tribe elders.
The lodge itself was a small domed hut built from cedar and covered with skins. It could hold about 8 members. In the center was a small pit, with wooden embers burning brightly.
There was going to be four prayer rounds today. The first was now starting with the entry of the Grandfathers (i.e., the hot rocks). The single solitary entrance to the lodge was then closed.
The sweat lodge symbolizes the womb of Grandmother Earth and the hot stones represent her body. She supports and provides sustenance for all beings. The fire that heats the rocks represents the enduring light of the world, and is the source of power. The water slowly releases the heat in the stones, which rises as steam and permeates the air to create a humid atmosphere conducive to prayer, healing and purification.
Dancing Feather led the opening prayer. The elders started to sing, rattles were shaken, chants filled the air, and the drums were beating. A prayer to the four directions (Waziyata/North, Itokagata/South, Wiyohiya Pata/East, and Wiyohpe Yata/West) and to the elements of nature was next performed.
This sacred ceremony for the healing of body, mind, and personal spirit was now well underway.
Water was poured over the hot rocks. The steam generated is reverently regarded as “the breath of the grandfathers.”
The Inipi Ceremony (Sweat Lodge Ceremony in Lakota) is considered to be “a tool for life.” It consists of prayer, physical cleansing, group therapy, Shamanic journeys into altered states, and the purification of consciousness. It fosters equanimity of mind and thought, and sensitivity to the flow and grandeur of nature.
Around the sacred fire tobacco is smoked; three different types to take our prayers directly to the Great Spirit. We use …
sage to cleanse body, mind, heart, and spirit
cedar for protection against unfavorable spirits
and sweet grass for the pleasure of the Great Spirit.
After a little while (about 45-minutes) the door is opened and five more rocks are put onto the fire. The first round has ended. For the remainder of the day, time was spent alternating between prayer, pouring water over the hot stones to create steam for sweat and cleansing, the smoking of tobacco, and silent meditation.
Words from Black Elk of the Lakota tribe:
The sweat lodge utilizes all powers of the universe: earth, and things that grow from the earth; water; fire; and air.
The Native American Code of Ethics:
Rise with the sun to pray. Pray alone. Pray often.
The Great Spirit will listen, if you only speak.
Be tolerant of those who are lost on their path.
Ignorance, conceit, anger, jealousy and greed stem
from a lost soul. Pray that they will find guidance.
Search for yourself, by yourself. Do not allow others
to make your path for you. It is your road, and
yours alone. Others may walk it with you,
but no one can walk it for you.
Treat the guests in your home with much consideration.
Serve them the best food, give them the best
bed and treat them with respect and honor.
Do not take what is not yours whether from
a person, a community, the wilderness or from a
culture. It was not earned nor given. It is not yours.
Respect all things that are placed upon
this earth – whether it be people or plant.
Honor other people’s thoughts, wishes and words.
Never interrupt another or mock or rudely mimic them.
Allow each person the right to personal expression.
Never speak of others in a bad way. The negative
energy that you put out into the universe
will multiply when it returns to you.
All persons make mistakes.
And all mistakes can be forgiven.
Bad thoughts cause illness of the mind,
body and spirit. Practice optimism.
Nature is not FOR us, it is a PART of us.
They are part of your worldly family.
Children are the seeds of our future. Plant
love in their hearts and water them with
wisdom and life’s lessons. When they
are grown, give them space to grow.
Avoid hurting the hearts of others.
The poison of your pain will return to you.
Be truthful at all times. Honesty is the
test of one’s will within this universe.
Keep yourself balanced. Your Mental self, Spiritual
self, Emotional self, and Physical self – all need
to be strong, pure and healthy. Work out
the body to strengthen the mind. Grow
rich in spirit to cure emotional ails.
Make conscious decisions as to who
you will be and how you will react. Be
responsible for your own actions.
Respect the privacy and personal space of
others. Do not touch the personal property of
others – especially sacred and religious
objects. This is forbidden.
Be true to yourself first. You cannot
nurture and help others if you cannot
nurture and help yourself first.
Respect others religious beliefs.
Do not force your belief on others.
Share your good fortune with others.
Participate in charity.
Sweat lodge practices (minus the steam) are similar to Buddhist mindfulness meditation, and many other physical/spiritual enhancing techniques of similar traditions.
Different peoples throughout history have found ways to enliven human growth. Native American cultures lived in harmony with nature, in ways that we as city dwellers cannot appreciate.
But our practice of meditation brings us back to our roots. We are all expressions of the one indelible spirit.
We were asleep as an insentient being, and awoke to our life as plant
We were asleep as a plant, and awoke to our life as animal
We were asleep as animal, and awoke to our life as human
We are asleep as human, and awake to our life as divine
Cherish life in all its forms. Experience the seed of absolute existence found at the source of thought. Dive within each day, and come out brighter and happier.