Poetic Thoughts - by C.W. Pruitt II
posted: Jul. 02, 2020
Sweating With The Lakota Sioux
Some years ago I was given a unique opportunity. My friend Michael Pearson invited me to participate in a Lakota Sioux sweat lodge in Bedford, Indiana. I quickly said, "Yes." I was pumped and amped with the possibility.
Michael has been an honorary Lakota for years and attends this sweat regularly. So I was peppering him with questions before the event. I am a curious person and I tend to be annoying. But Michael was patient and informative.
When we arrived in Bedford we went to the home of the Chief - Evans Whitesface. Evans was born at Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and spent most of his life there. Several of the other participants in the sweat lodge were also from Pine Ridge.
When we arrived at the sacred grounds, we were still several hours away from the sweat. We put together a tent for refreshments after the sweat. And the fire keeper began building the fire.
The construction of the fire impressed me. It was orchestrated to heat the stones for the lodge. Everything about the building of the fire seemed to have purpose.
Drumming was done on the Chief's large drum. Six chairs were situated around the drum. I watched and listened to a session which lasted for about an hour. The Lakota chants and refrains with the drumming were entrancing. When the session broke up I sat in one of the six seats. I had no intention of drumming, I just wanted to be closer to the conversation. The Shaman told me to drum with him, so I acquiesced. After a few minutes all six seats were filled with drummers. I didn't know the songs, but I could sing the refrains. I closed my eyes to imbibe the vibe. The Shaman would change tempo and I didn't need to see him to know it. I don't know if this had metaphysical significance, but it felt great.
When it was finally time to sweat, we sat on the ground around the periphery of the lodge. Seven orange stones were placed from the outside fire to a pit dug in the lodge. The chief led us in songs, then prayers were offered by those with sick loved ones. Then water was poured on the stones. Steam, heat, and intense sweating ensued.
Before the second round of stones began, Chief Evans told us to pray for ourselves. He said don't be too proud to pray for yourself. The Chief said we all have mental illnesses down here and need "The Man Upstairs" to help us. This gave me great comfort because I know that I am mentally ill.
I went outside after that second round of seven stones. My internal organs felt like they were frying. Michael and the Lakota stayed for all four rounds that night.
When I climbed out of the sweat lodge I stood in front of the fire. The cool night air was against my back. The contrasts left me oddly centered. It felt odd to feel so centered after such an exhilarating day.