The following article was submitted for publication – but it did not get published (until now).
Connecting with Reiki during a Sweat Lodge Experience
By Gina M. Gafford
No matter how much we experience the mysteries of life and consciousness, we will always find there is more, a next step, another doorway, a deeper level. – William Lee Rand
When I travel alone, I call on Reiki to guide me and protect me. In August 2021, I connected to Reiki during a sweat lodge experience at the Traveling Shamans Camp in Hotchkiss, Colorado. The Traveling Shamans Camp is an annual festival for healers, visionaries, artists, and storytellers. While I was at the Traveling Shamans Camp, I attended many workshops and events.
I was a little nervous about doing a sweat at the festival because I was a solo traveler. I decided to go, but I permitted myself to back out at any time. Please note that I was not allowed to take any photos during the sweat lodge experience. Also, I was aware of the risk of getting the Coronavirus. Even though I was in a small group, I took as many precautions as possible.
The sweat was on a Saturday evening. To prepare for the sweat lodge, I only ate a small breakfast and drank a lot of water. I followed the map to the sweat lodge site. When I got there, the man at the house said the map was wrong. He drew a new map for me to follow. However, if I didn’t find the sweat lodge, I would go back to my hotel. But I did find the sweat lodge site at a farm out in the country.
When I got to the farm, people were waiting around for the rocks to heat up. For most of the attendees, this was their first sweat lodge experience (a total of 14 people). For me, it was my fourth sweat. My last sweat lodge experience was 25 years ago.
While I was waiting, I befriended a young woman in her early twenties, whom I will call Sunny. She was feeling scared about the sweat. She said she didn’t like the heat – she was fair-skinned with strawberry blond hair. I told her everything that I knew about the sweat lodge, and I said I would be there for her during the sweat. I found new confidence as a mentor. I couldn’t give up now!
Sunny and I joined a small group of women standing near the sweat lodge. A Native American woman, whom I’ll call Wolf Woman, was a shaman in New Mexico. She asked us if we were on our period. Wolf Woman said that women on their menstrual flow shouldn’t join the sweat lodge. She said that women are already in a purification process – they don’t need to do a sweat. Also, during a woman’s period, she is suffering for the people. If she joins the sweat lodge, people may feel sick or get pain in their abdomen. Sunny and I reassured her that we were not on our moon cycle.
As the sun began to set, we lined up to go into the dark dome. I asked Reiki to guide and protect all of us. In my mind, I activated the Reiki symbols by thinking of their names, and I envisioned a blue light of protection around the sweat lodge. I told myself, “Here we go,” as I followed the line around the sweat lodge, and then at the door, I put my head to the Earth and said, “All my relations.”
As I settled on the blanket, I could feel the heat of the glowing rocks. The rocks are “grandfather rocks” because they are so old – older than human beings. During the sweat, the assistant who stayed outside helped bring in the rocks. The Cherokee shaman who was leading the sweat lodge asked the attendant to close the door.
It was dark. I closed my eyes to settle my nerves, and I took three deep breaths. Several fears flashed before me. I was afraid that I might faint, have to go to the hospital, or even die. I had to work through those fears. To come back to the present moment and refocus, I told Sunny, who sat next to me, to only breathe through her nose. Also, if she got too hot, she could curl into a fetal position or put her face close to the ground.
The Cherokee shaman poured water on the rocks and the rocks steamed. Wolf Woman sprinkled sage on the rocks. I could feel myself start to sweat as the smell of sage filled the lodge. The sweat lodge is like a womb – it’s dark, warm, and wet. Once inside, everyone prays, sings, and chants. The shaman uses a drum or a rattle to kick the brain into an altered state.
To start this sweat, the shaman shook his rattle and sang in Cherokee. Everyone sang with him – even if we didn’t know the words. Then the shaman passed the rattle around so everyone could have a chance to pray. When it was my turn to pray and sing, I sang the Gayatri Mantra three times. I expressed the need for people to have hope, even amid chaos – just like I saw in India. I said we need hope in our hearts, even when things get tough. Other people sang, prayed for their loved ones, and prayed for the world – especially for world peace. We passed the rattle to seven people, and then the door opened.
The door is lifted four times during the two to three-hour sweat (along with adding more hot rocks). The number four is important because it represents the four directions (North, South, West, and East). The sweat lodge is for purification. It is to let go of things we don’t need and to have a fresh start.
After the door was closed, the shaman poured more water on the rocks. It started to get very hot. The rattle was passed to seven more people to pray. I stayed in the present moment and listened to each person sing or pray. I could handle the heat if I just stayed focused.
The shaman poured more water on the hot rocks, and it was hard to breathe. I went inward to meditate. Many of the participants put their faces closer to the ground. At one point, a young man shouted out to open the door. The shaman listened to the man and opened the door. The assistant gave each of us a bottle of water.
I drank my water and chatted with Sunny, who was doing well. I thought the sweat was over. I felt so relieved! Well, the shaman ordered more hot rocks, and the assistant closed the door. Oh, man! It was already too hot! I went back into my meditation and added a mantra. I was at my edge – where things were getting tough. I told myself I could do it.
Finally, the shaman did the closing ritual, and we each crawled out of the lodge. We were wet and warm like a newborn. The air felt refreshing, and I could feel the weight of my soaked dress. I felt calm, light, and clear-headed.
Before we all departed, everyone stood in a semi-half circle as each person took their turn to shake hands (like a wedding reception line). When it was my turn to shake hands, I gave each person a message. When I saw Sunny, I told her that she was glowing like an angel. I was so proud of her for finishing her first sweat! She told me that I was a blessing, and she thanked me for helping her.
I learned from my past sweat lodge experiences to give the shaman a gift. So, I gave the shaman tobacco and money for his travels. I thanked him for leading the sweat.
When I connect with Reiki, I get a key (Ki) to open the door to self-realization – just like the door to the sweat lodge. Then I need to ask myself, “Am I brave enough to step into the dark and the unknown?” I know Reiki keeps me safe and helps me connect to the unified field of energy. William Lee Rands says, “Over time, you will learn from experience that the guidance of Reiki is worthy of your trust. Once you have surrendered completely, you will have entered The Way of Reiki.”
I am grateful to Reiki and for the sweat lodge experience. Participating in sweats encourages me to stay on my spiritual path. I also realize how brave I am! Even though the unknown is scary sometimes, it also holds an opportunity for spiritual growth. Now I can’t wait to open another door!