Outside of Expression Mondays was a smaller group. A non-profit called New Earth. The leader of New Earth thought it would be a wonderful bonding and personal experience if we all attended a sweat lodge together. Now I knew what a sweat lodge was, its sacred, and I had always been interested in the experience. I had also seen it in some science fiction movies and it kept with the theme of my life.
So it was that I found myself standing for the first time, mostly naked outside of a tent along with my group and several others at an Indian reservation. I didn’t know what to expect other than it was going to be very hot. There was a men’s tent and a women’s tent, and between them was an enormous bonfire. I seated myself in an uncomfortable position in the tent and waited.
There was a shaman and a chief. The chief explained to us that the shaman is there to keep us grounded because we will be going somewhere of extreme intense power and to be careful.
“The thoughts you have in the place you are going are pure and your prayers will be answered.” He said.
They believe that a sweat lodge is equivalent to entering earth mother’s womb and being reborn when you come out.
“There are three sessions. They are about fifteen minutes each and get hotter each time. You may have hallucinations or visions depending on your beliefs. Just stay in, and ride it out.”
Lava rocks, which were being heated in the bonfire, are added to a pit dug into the center of the circle. Then the tent flap closes twenty of us into pure darkness and water is added to the lava rocks to create steam. Splash and sizzle, splash and sizzle and the heat suddenly swallows me. The shaman and the chief start playing drums and singing exactly as you might think Indians would sing. It takes about three minutes to start to become uncomfortable. Then five minutes later, something happens.
The drumming heat and singing are all encompassing and the heat hurts. Steam makes the temperature even hotter you know.
I open my eyes and I am no longer in the tent, I am in a cave. There is a bright fire in front of me and I am alone. Standing around the fire are several men, and I get the feeling that I am being watched over by these men, in fact I am apart of these men. They are all old and they have all passed on. My ancestors. I know this intuitively.
Session two. More rocks are added and when the water splashes the heat rises even higher. It sounds like the drums are louder, I want to leave and escape and suddenly for the second time, I do…
I find myself standing on the edge of a plateau, looking out across a plain. I am mostly naked. Everything around me is green and when I breathe I can identify the odors. The air is clean. It fills my lungs in a way I have never felt. I am extremely strong and I have an almost physical connection to the ground and everything around me. There are two dead things tied up and hanging from my left hand and a spear of some sort in my right. I am looking off into the distance because I smell rain. I can smell rain and depending on the rain it could be dangerous to the picture I have in my head. The picture is a small dugout cave with a fire, a female and two young. My young. All of this strikes me in images without language.
This situation fills me with such clarity that when I speak about it, it is as if I am telling you of something that I remember, rather than something I experienced. Then suddenly I am back in the heat of the tent.
Session three was uncomfortable. In a sweat lodge they say you are given a vision at some point. According to the chief you will return once you have had your vision. Well I’m back now and I’m dying. At this point I have had two and apparently I’m not getting anymore. Now I’m just getting cooked.
I am aware of a pain in my legs, which are half asleep and I am being boiled alive. My eyes began searching for something to lock on to, but it’s still pitch black and still the sizzle of water on the stones comes as waves. I am bombarded by the heat and for some strange reason I start to smell rum.
I drop my head to the blankets on the ground which is marginally cooler, but nothing helps. I have been swallowed by the earth and now I’m being digested.
Then the oddest thing happens. My big toe on my right foot suddenly feels cold. I have stretched out so far that one of my feet found the edge of the blanket slip into the mud, and somehow it makes the entire experience bearable. Everything that I am, all my thoughts and emotions goes into the cool of my big toe until the flap opens and one by one, we filed out into the day.
Outside the tent was a rebirth. There were tears and sweaty hugs and comrade ship that was out of the norm, but at that moment, there was nothing but that moment, and we had gone and come through the experience together.
Returning to the world I found I was reinvigorated into the experience of the experience, which brings us back to Venice Beach.
For years I was aware of sensory deprivation chambers, from, of course another science fiction film, and of course it was something I wanted to experience.
A sensory deprivation chamber or tank is essentially a large refrigerator with about eight inches of water heated to about 98.6 degrees, body temperature. There are various sanitization chemicals as well as six to eight hundred pounds of diluted salt. The salt causes the body to become very buoyant in the water and it allows you to float easily. When the door closes the chamber is pitch black and you float in this body temperature fluid with no light, and no sound.
It took me about a year after discovering them in Venice, to work up enough courage to get down here. It was so different and weird that I didn‘t tell anyone that I knew about it.
So as I was saying. I’m alone, its midnight. The guy seated in front of me is wearing enormous dark sunglasses and is as high as a kite.
“Okay here’s how we do this. Go in the room and take a shower. Use the soap in the shower. They are all natural because of all the chemicals in the tank. Then when you get in the tank, put your feet towards the door. I have a towel hung on the handle so you can find it in the dark, and just in case you need to wipe your face. Use these ear plugs because you don’t want all that salt and in your ears. Now when you come out, you want to shower again because you want to get all that salt off. Okay?”
I walked into the room alone. I figure you could make the tanks nice and inviting if you wanted to, but this thing was like an enormous steel chamber and it felt like… Yes! I was actually in a movie.
I did as I was told, then climbed into the tank. It took a few minutes to adjust before I got used to it. Then finally I relaxed and began to float.
It was pitch black. I was naked, floating on my back in this warm water. It was interesting and weird and unnerving, and then, my over active imagination attacked. I started having thoughts about serial killers and what Mr. Cool was planning to do with my body. Maybe the chemical was some sort of tenderizing soup or something and after all, no one knew I was here. After thirty minutes I got up and slid around for the towel and opened the door. The room was deserted and quiet. I was alone. It was just me in this experience.
I closed the door and relaxed for the second time. I floated and relaxed and this time, I let it all happen.
I am a big guy. When I truly relax into things I tend to sink. I continued to relax until I didn’t feel anything anymore. No air, no water, I was weightless, and that’s when the lights started flashing.
I felt something inside my thoughts slowly give way. My conscious mind seemed to fall back while my unconscious mind came to the forefront. Suddenly, I was back on the plain again. This time I was running in the rain and I knew, without a doubt, it was me, and I was there. Then the stars opened up and I was in the center of the universe. There was a cockroach and some monster that was up above my head out of sight.
I was floating in circles upside down and backwards. The rotation of the earth was moving me from one side to another and then I saw myself. Or rather I saw the universe and my relation to it. I was everything and nothing at the same moment. In two places at once. Then the drums began. I felt my body turn inside out and I took a good look… at me.
I can safely say that I understand how things come full circle. Very often we tend to dismiss it, like coincidence. We make our choices like throwing coins into a fountain never expecting those wishes to come to fruition. But sometimes doors open up to things in ways that you would never expect.