The Temazcal is a sweat lodge.
What we were going to do that day was like a Temazcal, Paloma said, but with a big difference: everything would be done from the heart, with nothing but love, for the purpose of holistic healing – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. The Temazcal is practically the recreation of a womb, Mother Earth’s womb, and the ceremony done in there is a symbol of rebirth. The construction has the shape of a round tent and it can be done out of clay or bushes covered with ox skins, then blankets on the upper part. There is a hole in the middle, and big hot rocks are placed there one at a time to create the desired temperature.
Preparation – the fire
This Temazcal was going to be a rather special one because it was for women only. We started the preparation by lighting the fire that was to heat up the rocks. We arranged 2 layers of wood and then we each grabbed a big stone from a pile Paloma had prepared, then held it close to our heart for a while and told her all our intentions, asking her to help with fulfilling them. Paloma called the stones “Grandmothers”, because with their hundreds of years of life on planet Earth they have so much wisdom, memories and information. So we could ask them to remember, to heal, to bless whatever we desired. Part of the stones we were using were brought from Saqsaywoman, a very special places for the Incas, so they carried powerful energy and wisdom.
Once we each did that, we placed the rocks on the wood we had arranged previously and then used the rest of the wood to build a pyramid around them. Paloma lit it up and for the next hour we watched beautiful Grandfater Fire doing his job, while 20 beautiful voices were singing to him with Love:
“ Abuelito Fuego, calienta, alimenta, nutre mi alma”
(“Grandfather fire, warm up, feed and nurture my soul”)
Entering the Temazcal and instructions on how to “survive” in there
When almost all the wood had burnt we got ready to enter the Temazcal – some wearing our bathing suits, others a light dress, and yet others nothing but Eve’s costume. We formed a line to enter the place one by one, and before going in Paloma used sandal wood and eagle feathers to cleanse us. Then, the moment we entered we were instructed to put our forehead on the ground and say as powerfully as we could: “For all my relationships!”. We then entered on the left and moved on all fours to the right side (in the Temazcal everything moves clockwise, you cannot enter and exit as you wish). The space is usually for maximum 15 people, but that day we were 20 women, so it turned out to be pretty crowded and yes, uncomfortable. But this was another “test”, Paloma said, and on opportunity for even greater healing.
Once we were all in, we were told a few words about the purpose and process. There would be four gates, meaning the door (which consisted of a blanket covering the entrance) would be opened 3 times for more rocks to be put in. Each gate was focused on working with one of the four elements, and also with a specific period in a woman’s life. At the same time for each gate we would be using a different herb, medicine, that we would sprinkle on the stone and the scent and essence of it would be helping us cleanse and heal in different ways.
Paloma also made us aware that every drop of sweat, every tear and any other liquid that leaves our body carries out with it an emotion, one that we are ready to let go of, and we should make the best of the time in there. That Mother Earth will be receiving all the worries, fears, frustrations and negative emotions that we are willing and ready to release to her, and she would be using those as fertilizer, transforming them into something beautiful (just as she does with the natural fertilizer 🙂 ).
She said it would get very hot and hard to breathe at times, and going out was possible but not recommended, as it was akin to a premature birth. She highlighted that the way we behave in the Temazcal is a reflection of the way we deal with real life, outside. Are we able to fight and handle difficult situation to the end, or are we going to run out scared at the first sign of difficulty? If one of us was not feeling well and wanted to go out she would have to make that known in a very calm manner, and she could only go out when the door opened. She had to be aware of the energy of the group and of disturbing it by becoming agitated and panicky. In case of emergency the gate could be opened ahead of time, but this was again something not recommended. The person could come back in, but only when the gate opened again. So she urged us to think very carefully before taking the decision to go out, because it symbolized much more than going out of a sauna when it got too hot to bare. She gave us a few tips about how we could deal with the heat, by putting our head between our knees and breathing through our mouth, to lying down to the ground (which was always going to be cool, as the hot air always goes up) or assuming a fetal position.
The first gate and the process of welcoming the “grandmothers”
Once all this information was shared and all concerns addressed, we were ready to start with the first gate, the gate for the element Earth. We would be singing and praying for the little girl who was just born, for all the pain she might have gone through and that might have affected the way she lives her life today. For all the negative emotions such as fear, sadness, anger that she learned then but do not serve her now, so she could entrust them to Mother Earth. For all the things the little girl went through before she became a woman.
The first seven rocks were brought in one by one, and we greeted each with a song and a request, always a different one. The greeting sounded something like this:
“Aho, Abuelita!!! Bienvenida abuelita de la eternidad, abuelita mensajera, mensajera de la… (our request: love, peace, confidence, resilience, courage etc etc).”
(Aho, Grandmother! Welcome grandmother of eternity, grandmother messenger, messenger of…)
As soon as the seven rocks were in and 2 big buckets of water present, the door was closed and we were left in complete darkness. I had my hand 1 cm in front of my eyes and could not see a thing. “You are inside the mother’s womb”, Paloma had said, “dark and humid”. And so it was!
She poured the first jug of water on the stones and the hot steam came out instantly, hitting us in the face with all its force. Also, the first medicine we had used was making the air so spicy that we couldn’t keep our eyes open and struggled to breathe. Carmen and Paloma started to play the tambour and sing, and urged us to do the same: “Sing as hard as you can, especially if you’re not feeling well and struggling to breathe, this is what will help you feel better”. And so we did, we sang our hearts out in Spanish, Quechua and whatever other languages the songs were in. Anyone could share a song if she wanted to, and I did, so we had some English words heard in there as well. Some of the ladies cried, some kept silent, a couple had to go out when the door opened. But everyone was having the experience she was meant to.
The next three gates
When the time came for the door to be opened we all shouted at the count of three “Puertaaaaaaaa!!!” (“Door!”). Some of us had never shouted louder in our entire lives! We needed a breath of fresh air and a little breeze of cold wind, and we were so grateful to get them! The next seven stones came in and we repeated the process of singing to each one, requesting for something different each time. The second gate was for the element Water – the one we were putting on the stones, the one that was coming out of us, and also the one inside of us. We would sing this time for the little girl who had her first menstruation, so the little girl becoming a woman. For the teenage years filled with struggles, fears, suffering, and also the deep passionate love burning ones heart. We also sang and said a prayer for all the waters of the world, for their purification and for their help in all our healing.
We repeated the process for the last two gates, working with Air and the woman after her fist sexual act in the third, and then with Fire and the women after menopause in the fourth. By the time the ceremony ended we had been in there for about 3 hours, sweating and singing and merging our energies and healing ourselves and each other.
The Temazcal and fear (Boca’s experience)
We were looking forward to being in a Temazcal for months now, but when I heard others saying how difficult it would be, that is very hard to breathe and it’s so hot, I immediately started to be afraid. When all of us were in the tent, Paloma started with: “Imagine that you are in your mother’s womb. This is the safest place for you, there is nothing to be afraid of in here”. Her voice and what she said were so reassuring that I knew she was right. There was nothing to be afraid of, this was the time to let go of fear, because many times our fears keep us prisoners in our own life. “Now is the time to let go of fear once and for all!” These words came just at the right time for me, as this was something I had set as a goal for the next 13 days: to let go of fear. So here we were, my FEAR and I, together in a 2m2 tent, ready to fight our last fight.
We started by singing and sending love to each rock as it arrived, and somehow this happy atmosphere helped release some of my fear. We were singing in the dark too, just singing and sweating. About our childhood and about letting go of anything that hurt us back then. The collective strength, the motivating environment and the singing from our hearts made being inside much more bearable. In the end I realized my fear had been much bigger than it should have been, and also that this had happened to me before: starting to be afraid of something just because others were telling me how difficult and unbearable that thing was for them. But often we forget that we are not equal, we’re just not the same. Something that is hard for one might not be hard for the other. And even if something is challenging or difficult, it doesn’t mean we can’t do it. These things depend on our physical level, but mostly on our inner strength – where we are in our life currently, if we are happy or we’re just complaining all the time, and also on how much healing and clearing we’ve done and development we’ve gone through already in our life.
Often we compare ourselves to others, and forget that there is only one person we should compare ourselves to: ourselves, the person we were yesterday, last month or 2 years ago. The Temazcal taught me that often our fears are bigger than they should be, that often we don’t do something because we are afraid we’ll get hurt, that we won’t be able to handle it… but at the same time we look with a broken heart at those who dare to do what we don’t. I also learnt that even if we are afraid, we should go ahead anyway, especially if there are people around us who will support us on our every step. We are not alone in this world, we just have to look around and see the hundreds and hundreds of people walking on the street, people who can become part of our life, even if just for a ceremony. We have only to learn to trust in others and ourselves!
We went out of the sweat lodge clockwise, the same way we had come in. We repeated the process of putting our head in the ground and saying “For all my relationships”, and we were made aware once more that coming out of the Temazcal symbolized a rebirth. We were coming out lighter, renewed, reenergized. As each of us went out we formed a line that welcomed and hugged each one of the other ladies coming out. It was after 9pm and very cold outside, but our bodies were so heated up we could barely feel anything. After having a cold shower we hung out a bit more in the tipi, having fruits and drinks, and then each headed to our homes ready for a really good night sleep.
The next day came, and we felt different – lighter, happier, and the ones around were noticing too. The feeling continued for the whole month, and we knew change had taken place that day. 🙂