Upon arrival, we saw that the temazcaleros had not finished raising the fire. The rocks, about the size of our heads, were piled under tinder and bramble, absorbing biting heat that would eventually heat us beyond breathing inside the temazcal. Smoke rose slowly from the fire pit, newly scarring the lush green grass amid the tall mango trees.
One tribal bedecked man fanned the flames, another beaded, bearded man erected the tent nearby. The temazcal ceremony would start an hour later than planned.
I love my hippy friends and am quick to sink deep with them into the benefits that connecting and cleansing rituals such as a temazcal ceremony brings.
But why are my hippy friends never on time?
Slightly irritated by having lost an hour of productivity and needing to wait for the fire, my busy friends and I remembered that the ocean was just a few minutes’ drive away. We decided to be grateful for the extra hour of unplanned time and headed to the sea instead.
As we entertained ourselves on the sand, the sky grew dark behind us, and rolling, dark clouds began to creep over our heads. Over the next hour, the foreboding change in weather incited doubt.
What if we had rushed through our workday to arrive on time for the ceremony, only for the temazcal to run late and then be canceled because of the rain? We were each new to experiencing a temazcal, but surely an encroaching storm would douse the hot fire that had been burning to heat our stones, rendering the temazcal an impossibility.
Have you heard of or joined a temazcal ceremony?
Temazcal is an indigenous Mexican sweat lodge ceremony meant to serve as a way to cleanse your soul and your spirit (and your pores). Huts are usually built from mud or bricks, but in our case, branches and a heavy tarp would be raised to form a thick, airtight tent.
On this day, I had arrived bearing weeks of an overworked, over-worried mind. Having heard of the healing nature and renewal experience a temazcal offered, I had chosen to go to release my worried mind and connected more strongly to my heart. I had showed up feeling hurried, disappointed, irritated, and impatient.
Our ceremony took place on a lush, jungly farm. To the west, roared the ocean, to the north, east, and south sprawled dirt roads, rustic homes, and more jungle hillsides. Encircling fertile land just beyond our tent were rose bushes, bountiful vegetable gardens, grapevines, papaya trees – a Nicaraguan Garden of Eden. There were probably even snakes coiled around the tree branches.
Inside the tent would be placed the steaming hot rocks, not unlike a sauna at your favorite gym. However, unlike the sauna at your gym, these rocks are roughened and recently dug up from the earth. They are heated by the nearby bonfire and shoveled into the tent with a pitchfork.
The pre-ceremony began with us ladies dressed to sweat in bikinis and sarongs as we listened to the Mexican shaman (Shamanista?) prepare us for the ceremony. But before she could finish her explanation of the purpose of a temazcal, the ever-growing sky darkened fully and with a crack we all knew was coming, the rains bore down.
There was barely a drizzle, but fat heavy drops that shot arrows at us from the sky. Our opening ceremony interrupted, we hurried one by one, lowering our heads into the small opening of the hut, escaping the rain and entering the dark.
We placed ourselves in a circle, while the temazcaleros shoveled steaming rocks into the center of the hut as quickly as possible before the falling rains could cool the rocks down.
When I find myself in these hippy-dippy experiences, such as a sound journey, cacao ceremony, ayahuasca, or even yoga, I tend to dip into the moment rapidly. I go from Zero to “in it”. The spiritual, sacred, and connective nature of these holistic and ancient experiences quiet my mind, open my heart and nurture my soul.
The music of beating drums, the aromatic scents of nature, songs, prayers, chanting, meditation, the closeness of other kindred spirits near me – these all work in unison to center me closer to myself, to what I’m feeling, what I’m fearing, and release me from my overworking mind if only for those moments.
This time, I would like to say that once in the hut I was moved by the Shamanista’s words. That I was inspired by the other women’s personal intentions as we circled close to the rocks. I would like to say that I felt connected to the story behind the ritual.
But the storm allowed this not at all.
As the hut closed shut and we began, the rains fell HARD. There was no pitter-patter on the roof of our tarp tent, but a pelting that drowned out the Shamanista’s songs, and the quieter words of the women sitting near me.
I heard her singing, heard the drums banging and the rattles rattling, and heard voices joining the songs, but the rain was so loud, and the thunder so uproarious that I couldn’t understand any of the words being sung or chanted.
All I could do was sit on the earth, listen as the rains bore down, and watch as each of us disappeared into the thickening steam.
The first words I latched on to came not from the Shamanista, but from my own panicked mind. The Shamanista poured water on the glowing red rocks, hissing steam and heat into our faces and onto our bodies. As the steam billowed up, we began to sweat profusely in the closed-in burning air.
I wondered if I could do it – sit in the dark and sweat and breathe slowly for hours while the hut got hotter. The inside of the enclosure barely held the14 of us women, sitting cross-legged knee-to-sweaty-knee on tarps placed on the damp ground.
My jewelry burned on my fingers. My hair felt as if it might combust. The steam was blinding and I couldn’t see but a faint outline of the woman next to me. As the heat burned our lips and stung our eyes and filled our lungs, the rainwaters from outside began to puddle in.
We were so many and the space so small, dark, and low, that there was no space to scoot to and avoid the deepening puddles we were now sitting in. My next thought was annoyance because I didn’t want to sit in rainwater for the next 2 hours.
My mind turned it up – judging, criticizing, and complaining.
But after a few deep breaths, I realized the flap of the hut was just 4 feet away. If I needed to, I told myself, I could scramble hands and knees towards it and escape to fresh air at any time. This thought brought calm.
As the waters inside the hut rose higher, I also realized that even though rain in stormy Nicaragua is not cold, it still gifted us a welcomed cooling amongst the heavy breathless heat we were stifled within.
The earth turned to mud underneath us and the waters outside crept in and rose higher as the rain beat down from above. The entire time, the Shamanista kept banging her drums and singing her songs. Through the steam, I could see none of her and through the storm, I could hear very little.
But I began to feel it.
My mind ran amok with panicked chatter, but as the steam filled every space of breath, and the ground turned to sea beneath us, and my ears filled with thunder and deafening rain, my heart expanded past my fearful mind.
I remembered my intention for joining this ceremony. It had been to move myself from my mind and live more in my heart. My mind is sharp, but it also harbors fear. Often choices I make stem from a mind stuck in the spin cycle of over-worry and overthinking.
My heart is where I truly seek to live. When I write well, it’s from my heart. When I teach or coach others in ways that create a positive shift for them, it’s always from my heart. My heart is where I find flow, peace, connection, trust, and joy.
But I struggle some days (and nights, often) to shift my sense of self from a mind in overdrive into the calm, assured center of my heart.
In the hut, my mind wanted to seek an escape route, it wanted to judge and complain. But as I quieted my mind in the blinding steam, I began to feel that it was my heart that was on fire and wanted to stay.
Sweat rolled down my face and neck, and every small movement burned. But when I stilled my mind, then I could feel what I came there to feel.
I was choosing to stay with the ceremony as my heart wanted, not flee or criticize like my mind sought to do. It wasn’t words or stories that connected me to the ceremony, but the rain, the fire, the earth, and the air.
My heart was connected to that stormy, sweaty, steamy moment.
So much so, that when the rainwaters finally won the war with the fiery stones and cooled our temazcal to a natural end, I wished there was a place where both fire and water could co-exist.
I would have stayed in the hut even longer. As long as it took to burn up my derailing fears, my shortsighted judgments, my pointless frustrations, my empty worries. I would feel more fully alive, more genuinely connected living from my strong, beating heart.
Afterward, one by one we exited the flooded tent, our footsteps splashing into the muddied, flooded grass. The rain kept falling, but it felt different now. We felt peace.
Maybe we don’t all need traditional Mexican sweat lodge ceremonies to reconnect us to our heart center.
But rituals that invite self-awareness and healing can be the most transformative thing to help us realign if we find ourselves living too much from a fear-based mind, and seek to live from the truth in our hearts.
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