Each summer when we come up to camp in the Mt. Shasta area, we attend the Native American sweat lodge held every Saturday night on the property of Stewart Mineral Springs. Sweat lodge is the common name for what the Native Americans refer to as a purification lodge or medicine lodge. The lodge is a prayer ceremony for Native Americans who follow their tradition, and serves as their church.
Tonight is Saturday night, and we head out for Stewart in anticipation of spending the evening with our Native American and western friends in the purification lodge. When we arrive, a new lodge is being built. The lodge is a domed shaped hut, usually made of bent saplings and covered by canvas. Robert offers his help to the men building the lodge while I read a book on self-inquiry, silently wishing that I can be more committed to practicing it. When the lodge is finished, I venture out to stand near the blazing fire where the stones are being heated for the purification ceremony. These red hot stones will later be placed in a pit-like depression in the ground in the center of the lodge. Water is then poured on the stones, producing the purifying heat from the steam. Jack Thom Walking Eagle, Karuk medicine man and leader of this Turtle lodge, is drumming and singing in preparation for the evening’s lodge. The energy is beginning to build and we sing along, finding that Native American resonance within our souls. A gentleman standing near me begins to tell me about a Vision Quest for women, which is to happen the very next night.
In some Native American traditions one is required to go out alone into nature for three days or so without food or water, carrying only a blanket for protection. This Vision Quest, I am told, will be held in the sweat lodge itself. Sitting in the pitch black darkness of the lodge for two days and three nights with no food or water–I feel an inner excitement and think that I would absolutely love to do this! Hmmm. No food or water–but, under the protection of the lodge and with the company of other women–not up on top of some hill in the wilderness like the Vision Quests that I have heard about–I can handle that! I feel like luck is definitely with me tonight.
A Vision Quest is simply a ceremony during which one goes inward in search of answers to questions like, who am I, why am I here, and what am I going to do about it once I find out? It helps us to see how to use our unique talents and abilities for service to humanity.
So, I ask a few women who are also waiting for the sweat to begin, questions like–what do we bring inside and can anyone attend? I talk to my husband, and he is very supportive of the idea. Asking further questions of another member of the Native American community there, I am told that I must first speak to the medicine man Walking Eagle who will be conducting the vision quest ceremony, and also that it is expected that I give him some tobacco and money as a sign of respect. She tells me that I must do this as soon as possible, and that I should do it now as he is walking towards us at that very moment! I find myself walking towards him and ask if I may join in the vision quest. Though I have known him for many years, he asks me “Who are you?” I tell him my name and he explains some of the details of what will happen during the next three days, and what is expected of the participants. I explain that I have just returned from spending two months in India with my spiritual teacher, and that most of that time was spent going within through meditation and introspection, and that I feel prepared.
I then make the decision to go for it based on my intuition, but still feel that I need some outward confirmation and I get it. Firstly, this seems to be happening on it’s own accord. I was not planning to do a vision quest, nor did I ever really seriously consider doing one until now. I actually found myself walking towards Jack Thom and asking him if I could join, before I had made the decision to do so! Secondly, Robert is in full support of me doing it, thirdly the tarot card I pull for a message is the ‘Warrior,’ and last of all, we see a double rainbow on our drive back to the campground that night. I am now fully convinced that this opportunity is definitely meant for me.
There are still a lot of unknowns about it like what to bring inside the lodge for the duration of the quest, but after making the decision to go for it–I just let the unknowns go. It feels right, so I will let it unfold as it may.
SUNDAY evening (first evening)
We arrive at the lodge the next evening and I am told that I can bring a mat to sleep on into the lodge, a pillow, my sleeping bag and whatever else I think that I will need. I am advised to enter the lodge a few moments before the ceremony begins to lay out my bedroll, as after the door of the lodge is closed, it will be too dark to see. A Spanish woman and her three Spanish friends, two western members of the Native American community of this lodge and myself, all enter the lodge at 6 pm.
Walking Eagle enters the lodge to greet us. For the duration of the vision quest, seven hot stones will be brought into the lodge every three hours throughout the night–the first round arriving at 6 pm, the second at 9 pm, then 12 am, and the final seven stones at 3 am. Only one stone is placed in the lodge at 6 am. Seven large volcanic stones which have been heated for hours in the sacred fire outside the lodge, are now being placed in the pit by the fire tender. We seven sit in a circle on the cool earth around the pit, while Walking Eagle places his medicine of herbs on the glowing stones. We breathe the medicine in deeply, as he speaks to the Creator in his native tongue–perhaps asking for a blessing for us as we are about to embark upon our vision quest. After that, he silently walks out of the lodge, closing the door-flap behind him.
It’s not long before we begin to feel the heat from the stones. In the absolute darkness–the experience is very womb-like. All that can be seen in that pitch blackness, is the glow of the red hot stones. Some of the women are moved to offer songs and prayers in Spanish. Though the language is foreign to me, I can understand the hearts of those who sing their love songs to Jesus. As I lay on my mat in the darkness, listening, I notice that my feet are positioned one on top of the other–much like the feet of Jesus as he is portrayed on the cross. I find myself praying for a deeper release from the clutches of my ego. My vision quest is to see my true self–the truth of my being. Jack Thom must have known my intent when he asked me, “Who are you?” for that is my question exactly.
Still listening to the prayers and songs, I begin to practice inquiry. “Who am I, I ask? Who am I?” And I notice to my upper right in the dark-ness, appears a beautiful white snow owl. She tells me that I don’t know ‘anything’. Because the owl is a symbol of wisdom, I realize that she must be speaking the truth, but I am not sure what she means. The night is long, and the lodge is very hot making sleeping almost impossible. Floor space is cramped with bags of what women have brought as essentials, and with seven bodies lying head to feet, around the central pit. I keep excusing myself as I inadvertently touch the head of someone with my feet, and learn quickly to remember exactly where I have placed my handkerchief when I set it down, so I can find it again in the dark when I need it. Tossing and turning throughout most of the night, and sitting up to receive the hot stones every three hours when they arrive–I am happy when the door flap opens for the 6 am stone to be brought in. I welcome the rays of sunlight that enter the lodge when the door is open.
MONDAY morning (first day)
I sit up and assume a meditative posture to welcome that single hot stone as it is placed in the central pit. It is a good feeling that I have made it through the challenges of the first night, and I enjoy the opportunity to meditate this morning to my heart’s content. Suddenly, four women pick up their belongings and make ready to leave the lodge. I overhear that one woman is having heart problems and that one of the Spanish women has developed a bladder infection. Because she gave a ride to three others, all are destined to leave together. She makes numerous apologies for having to leave us, and we assure her that she is making the right choice and must protect her health. Five women vacate the lodge in a matter of a few minutes, leaving just two of us out of the seven to complete the vision quest.
Now there is space. There is quiet. And and as the sweat lodge door closes, there is the all encompassing darkness once again. Today is the summer solstice–the longest day of the year, and though I love the thought of hanging out with the sun on such a wondrous day, I welcome the dark as I close my eyes and prepare for meditation. I find it hard to connect with my inner self, and suddenly remember the owl who came to me last night. Inviting her to come into my space, she settles in around me and I instantly sit up erect–like an owl perched on a branch high above the world looking down. Her appearance is timely. To me, her calls mimic the who? who? who am I? of inquiry. Then, I realize that she is the perfect totem spirit to teach me inquiry–questioning every thought–who is speaking? Who is listening? Her alert eyes darting back and forth, questioning everything, and watching from a distance. She is a fitting example of detachment. She has shown me the proper perspective from which to inquire, and is an answer to the silent wish that I made two nights ago to be more committed to inquiry, while sitting in our car and reading about inquiry. I feel my commitment to practice deepening by her presence.
I now have a more complete understanding of what she is here to teach me, but I am still somewhat puzzled by her comment that I do not know anything, so I ponder this for a while.
Soon, I begin to see that it is my controlling and competitive nature that thinks it knows something–like what should be happening, what people should be doing, and how they should live! When I project my thoughts on how I think reality should be, this gets in the way of me seeing the truth of ‘what is,’ and that, ‘what is happening’ is God, and as a result–if it is God, then that is how it should be! God is everyone and everything. Not a leaf can fall without the will of God, and it is my competitive self that competes with God–with ‘what is,’ and thinks it knows something. The owl is correct in saying that I do not know anything about what people should be doing or how things should be. She is truly a wise owl giving good advice to me. If I can remember that I know nothing, then I can stop trying to control what is happening. I can allow the world to be as it is–perfect. I can allow God to run the world! I can take a break. I am thinking that this would be a very wise way to live my life. It would also help me to feel less responsible for the world by just observing it, instead of always trying to change it and make it a ‘better’ place.
MONDAY evening (second night)
The day passes, and even by 6 pm I am still not able to make the heart connection I need to sink deeply into meditation. The flap of the sweat lodge opens, and the first round of hot stones for the evening is placed in the central pit. No water or food seems not to be a big problem for me, however, kind hearted Walking Eagle brings each of us a small cup of water. I never question whether to take the water or not, but see it as a divine gift from a very compassionate God! My friend declines the drink, and I respect her decision. The healing medicine is placed on the stones and I breathe it in deeply. Walking Eagle says a prayer and leaves, closing the flap of the door behind him, and we are in total darkness once again.
I stare at the glowing stones. As the medicine touches the hot stones, the burning embers resemble stars in the dark of night. My body begins to feel warm all over, and soon I can feel the love of an open heart–the feeling I need to go deeply inside. My partner sits across from me in the darkness on the other side of the central pit. I ask her about the stones, and why it is that as soon as they arrive that I feel love? She tells me that these are the ‘stone people’ whose job it is to give love. The Native Americans call them the ‘grandfathers.’ Last night, I began to resist each stone as it was placed on the pile, as I knew I was literally going to roast from their heat. Now, I feel that these loving ‘grandfathers’ are my friends. I think about the molten core of mother earth, and how much love must be coming from from the rocks in the center of the earth. My perception of the stones has changed. I now see them as friends who help me to open my heart and touch my inner self deeply.
Even with my new perception of the stone people as being my friends, the night is hot! Suffocation pictures and thoughts arise for me. I hold my sleeping bag about a foot above my body as I lay there on my mat, holding it up with my hands and toes, and using the down bag to absorb the heat. This works quite well, but my arms are getting tired from holding the bag up. Eventually the fire cools a bit, and I remove the sleeping bag. Turning my face away from the fire, I move closer to the wall of the lodge. I can feel the refreshing coolness of the earth as I close my eyes, and slowly drift off into a deep, dreamless sleep.
TUESDAY morning (second day)
I wake just before 6 am to receive the delivery of one hot stone. After being so long in the dark, the light that enters when the flap is opened feels almost foreign to me now. I am beginning to feel very much at home in the lodge, in the dark, in the womb of the mother–sitting all day on my cushion. Robert, being one of the fire keepers, was often in close proximity to the lodge. He brought me a cushion today which I received gratefully! When I occasionally leave the lodge to visit the bathroom, I cover my head with a towel and look down at the earth as I walk. We are told not to look anyone directly in the eye.
As I sit upon my cushion, I begin to contemplate upon all of the love that is being given to me by so many people. There is Walking Eagle the medicine man who regularly visits us every evening to give us his medicine. He often visits the lodge several times during the day, drumming and singing while circling its perimeter, helping us to raise our energy and holding the space for us with his continual prayers. There are the two fire tenders who stay up all night to keep the fire alive for the duration of the vision quest, and who unfailingly deliver seven hot stones to us every three hours during the night. They perform the hard physical labor of gathering and preparing the wood for the fire, building the fire around the stones, tending the blazing hot fire for hours on end as the stones are heated, and then carrying them from the fire into the lodge on a pitchfork, where they are placed in the firepit. This act of loving service is being performed by one of the tenders after having worked at his regular job all day, and by my husband who is fasting in his own way, by eating only fruit during the quest. There are many others from the Native American community, who hold the space for us during the day with singing and drumming, and escorting us to the bathroom at all hours of the night. Such is the loving service that these people are doing for me so that I can have a vision! To be on the receiving end of such unconditional love, is a deeply moving and powerful experience for me. I feel very blessed and lovable. I feel worthy of love. I feel a new level of self love–deeper than I have ever felt before, and this love is helping me to release all feelings of low self-worth and any feelings which prevent me from feeling that I deserve love.
My intention during this quest is to loosen the ego’s grip on me–the ‘i’ thought that keeps me bound to identification with the body. My prayers are being answered as I see that ‘i’, (Karen), am not doing this vision quest. Could I do it without the medicine man or the fire tenders, or the stone people or the sweat lodge itself, or all those who come to drum and sing and lend their support? ‘We’ are doing a vision quest. One spirit yet many different bodies and forms. Each of us has his part to play. All are one and better yet–all are me! Me=we. I am the medicine man and the fire tenders and the stone people. Now I can not only see, but feel this awareness as well. We are the vision quest team–all of us who participate–even the inanimate objects. And by the same token, all will receive a share of the awareness and insights gained by the quest. Through this vision, I am led to see the illusion that we can ever create anything by ourselves. The ego is NOT liking this awareness shift. It loves to be the star–the lone ‘creator’. So my vision quest prayer to see my true self–to see who I AM is being answered. I am everyone and everything. No one or no thing can be separated out from the whole. I Am one–I Am one with God!
In Sathya Sai Baba’s (present day Divine incarnation of God) Dasera discourse on October 9th, 2005, He says that we can not really get the vision of God until our heart is pure. Only when I felt unconditionally loved by the vision quest team, and as a result–totally worthy of love, was I then able to see everyone as one–as God. My heart became purified in that moment by enough feelings of self-love, to have the vision of God. I am indeed blessed!
I notice that my surroundings appear to keep changing. Though it is pitch black in the lodge, with my eyes open I can see my surroundings change every so often. Sometimes the lodge appears as a mud temple, and often times as a large tipi with snow-pack on the floor. Sometimes it looks as if I am sitting on the ground looking up at an old wooden snow covered bridge. When my Vision Quest partner and I sing a few songs to Lord Shiva, the lodge appears to me as a huge cave–a Shiva cave. I attribute the appearance of these shifting surroundings to be in part caused by the fact that I have been in the pitch black darkness for so long. Even though my eyes are open, my vision has shifted from my physical eyes which receive light, to my inner eye, which sees energy. Even during the trips to the bathroom, my head is covered with a towel, limiting the light that can enter my eyes. While in the dark for these long periods of time, I am in my 6th chakra looking at energy. This happens very naturally and one only has to notice it. This demonstrates to me that where the mind goes, so do I go on an energy level. Usually, this is not apparent because the mind is so focused through the physical eyes on the present reality we call the world. In the dark, seeing from the 6th chakra with the internal vision, the shifting scenery becomes visible. Though visible, it is very transparent, and one only has to be very observant to see it.
I am aware of seeing energy in my aura, and find myself trying to brush aside a dark patch of energy in front of my right eye, only to realize that it is energy and can not be brushed away! Now I see that if we are able to observe life from the 6th chakra, we would be aware of the shape shifting of the scenery that constantly goes on around us as our mind travels here and there–shifting which goes unobserved by most of us. Each time I return to the darkness of the lodge after a trip outdoors to the bathroom, it takes a while before being able to see the shifting scenery again. This is very similar to how we can not make out much detail when we first enter a dark movie theater on a sunny day, and then regain our sight little by little as our eyes adjust to the darkness.
My friend breaks the long silence to speak a few words about her life. I notice that her voice sounds as if she is speaking from above, while in fact she is sitting on the ground across the stones from me. We were advised to remain in silence and prayer during the vision quest, but I feel that there is a need for this conversation, so I just let it be.
She tells me about how as a westerner, she is walking the Native American path because it is her truth. And how she is trying to raise her children spiritually on that path as well, as their father is a Native American. She talks of all of the torment that she is undergoing because the ‘white man’ (her natural family) is trying to take her children away from her, because they can not validate the path that she is on. At that very moment–about 2 minutes into her story–a woman comes to support us with singing and drumming just outside the door of the sweat lodge. I feel that there must be some synchronicity here, and that she must have a message for us, so I ask my partner what the words of the song mean–as they were in the native tongue. She said that it was a song about how the white man came and took away all that was dear to the Native Americans. This message seemed to resonate with her story exactly–with the only difference being that the ‘white man’ was her family in present time.
Moments later, after the song finishes, Walking Eagle arrives and begins to circle the perimeter of the lodge, singing and drumming in each of the four directions with great intensity. As he stands outside the lodge to the south and just behind me, the powerful beat of his huge drum resonates to the core of my being. His connection to the Great Spirit can be felt in his singing and drumming, and I find myself being transported to higher and higher dimensions. I ‘see’ that my friend had a past life many years ago, right here on this land where Stewart Mineral Springs now stands. She and her present time husband, were two of the many Native Americans that were massacred when the white man came and killed all of the Natives who were living in this sacred valley where this sweat lodge is being held today. I also ‘see’ that because she has not forgiven the white man from that life, that she is suffering the same fate again in the present. I suggest that forgiving the past and the white man may be an important key to her healing, but she is in too much pain to hear such a thing at this time.
Then, again from that transportive space, I saw that Robert and I were here as well–two of the many massacred. At that moment, I realized that I needed to forgive the white man (myself!)–so I did. Could this be the reason for our strong attraction to this land, prompting our return to this sacred place for so many years, soaking in the silica springs, dipping in the creek, camping near the stream and the medicine wheel, and attending the sweat lodges? Perhaps we too have been looking for this resolution which only forgiveness can bring. Nisargadatta Maharaj (a realized soul), says that there can only be healing through love. Forgiveness can bring us back to love, and as a result, heal the past or even a present life experience. This may also explain why with my internal vision I keep seeing myself sitting in a tipi, when in fact I am in a canvas covered sweat lodge. I realize that my partner is the perfect Vision Quest partner for me. She is helping me to let go of the past ,in order to move ahead with my true purpose in life.
TUESDAY evening (last night)
It is 6 pm and Walking Eagle enters the lodge to administer his last round of medicine. Placing the medicine on the hot stones, he then inquires as to how we are doing, while giving us each a small yet much appreciated drink of water. He tells us that this night will be the most difficult night of the three, and advises us to stay up all night and pray the prayer that we hold in our heart for this vision quest. Just before leaving, he instructs us to keep the door tightly closed and not to open it. This we found out later, was to keep out any energies that were not supportive of our vision quest.
There is so much light in his communication to us, and we are feeling so much love. We begin to pray our heartfelt prayers out loud–that all of humanity become seekers of the light, and that everyone can release all of our programed beliefs and feelings that tell us that we are anything but light and love! She and I validate the light in each others hearts and lives, and keep expanding that light with our loving and positive words to each other. There is so much light! I am so high. ‘Yes!’ I think to myself, ‘I can do this!’
Then, I begin to experience some physical discomfort–nausea and disorientation. It has been two days and two nights without food and with only two scant cups of water. I am beginning to feel the effects of the fast on my body. Though Walking Eagle had advised us to stay awake all night and pray, I find it hard to remain awake for the second round of stones at 9 pm! The heat and the nausea make me want to sleep to forget the discomfort. I lie on my mat with my head facing the hot stones and notice that one of the stone people very much resembles the large head of a snake, and it is looking directly at me! I have always equated snakes with competition. Snakes like to bite at everything. Similarly, the competitive nature always wants something other than ‘what is’, and is always biting at something else. ‘What is’, is God. AND WHAT IS GOD IS GOOD ENOUGH! This is the part of me that I want to let go of–the part that is aways competing with God!
I am lying on my mat trying my best to remain awake, and begin watching etheric snakes ooze out of my body. My partner on the other hand is dealing with spiders, which usually are associated with body pain. She has been in immense pain–kidney pain and back pain–throughout the whole time, and tonight she keeps finding spiders crawling on her and throwing them off with disgust and repulsion. We get up several times, checking the entire lodge thoroughly with a flashlight for spiders, only to find none. My guess is that these are etheric spiders as well.
My partner is having difficulty breathing tonight, and requests that the flap to the lodge be left slightly ajar. This allows in a small bit of cool air, which enables her to breathe just a little more easily. Walking Eagle had instructed us to keep the door closed at all costs. I now see that I am releasing my controlling and competitive nature, because I find myself accepting things the way they are and allowing the door to be open. I even take several opportunities to escape the heat and lie down on the cool earth near the opening, to breathe in the coolness of the fresh night air. Normally, I would have made my best effort to keep it closed as directed!
Yes, I agree that this last night is definitely the most difficult of the three. Both bodily discomfort and the heat are intense to say the least! The medicine given to us tonight by Walking Eagle, has proven to be most powerful in its effect of ridding us of many unwanted competitive snakes and painful spiders. Only by the grace of God am I able to keep awake for the better part of the night, and find it difficult to keep my eyes open any longer after the 3 am round of stones are brought into the lodge.
I awake to hear the murmur of voices speaking softly outside the lodge, and sit up to meditate in anticipation of the door being opened at 6 o’clock. I find it hard to meditate though, as I am excited about the prospect of walking out into the early morning sunlight and celebrating the completion of this Vision Quest. It must now be 6 am because I hear the door flap being thrown open, and see the first rays of light enter the lodge. The early morning sunlight beckons me and I rise to joyfully walk out of the sweat lodge–a different person from the one who entered it days ago. My perception of the world and of myself has shifted–ever so slightly, but there is a new sense of self-confidence and personal power that is the gift I have received from being part of the Vision Quest team.
I am greeted first with a hug from Walking Eagle, and then from Robert, and I share hugs with all those who came to greet us and celebrate with us the completion of this Vision Quest. It is a moment well worth remembering–a moment of feeling so loved, supported and empowered!
I find myself feeling disoriented from fasting, and not so hungry at all. I do however, very much appreciate the water that is offered to me along with some thirst quenching watermelon. Robert brought some cherries which taste absolutely divine. I eat some other fruit, but water is what my body wants and what I enjoy and appreciated most!
I am told that when I walked out of the lodge, that my eyes were shining with light. Isn’t it ironical that one would find the light of one’s being as a result of immersing oneself in total darkness? And yet, every time we close our eyes we have the opportunity to look at the light within us, and connect with the essence of our being.
I am truly grateful to the entire Vision Quest team for all of their loving support, which enabled me to open my heart, making it possible for me to have my ‘vision’ and to experience my true self more deeply than ever before.
Information about attending a Native American Sweat Lodge can be found at