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A Lesson in Presence

Updated: Mar 16, 2023

On Monday, November 1st I found myself in a traditional Mexican indigenous sweat lodge.

I was scared, in fact I was terrified and almost didn’t go, but if there was one thing that trips to Mexico has taught me, it is to do the things that scare you, or you may regret it. Three years ago I came on this same trip and didn’t do a couple of things and only by the grace of goodness was I able to come back and try those things again. Those two things, jumping in the cenote and swimming the Pet Cemetery Centoe were easier to do (still scary) but my fear of missing out a second time made the fear a little less overwhelming. However, the sweat lodge…when Trista first said that she wanted to do it I jumped on the chance but as the days to the trip crept closer I got more and more anxious. In fact, at one point I wasn’t going to go at all.

What was I so scared about? Well the unknown mostly. However the thought of being in a confined, dark space in extreme heat is like one of my worst nightmares. Also, the unknown of how my blood sugar was going to react was also messing with my mind.

After talking with my dear Trista she promised me that I could leave at any time and that it would be perfectly acceptable. And then she asked me what I would regret more, not going or going and trying it and perhaps needing to leave. Well after regretting my cenote trips three year prior, I realized that I needed to at least try.

Later that night I saw an internet post that said something along the lines of, on the day that you have 40% and you give 40% than you still gave your 100%. It made me realize that all I had to do was try and that was giving it my 100%.

So, we loaded up into vans and after a while came to a gated area in the jungle. We were met by Eduardo, the Shaman that was going to be leading us on our journey.

We began the ceremony with a blessing, and us giving thanks to the four directions of north, east, south and west. On our way into the lodge we kneeled and pressed our foreheads to the earth, asking for the experience to strengthen our relationship, I also threw in a quick ask for health. We then crawled into the low dwelling on our hands and knees, one by one finding our way around periphery of the lodge.

They then began adding the grandmother stones to the lodge, which had been heated to 500 degrees. They placed in fourteen stones for each person in the lodge and as they did we paid our respects to each stone with gratitude, thanking them for their wisdom and presence. When the last stone was placed they closed the door.

The heat was immediate and overwhelming, the panic started immediately and all I wanted to do was leave. And this is where the lesson began for me…

Eduardo started the ceremony by talking about us being in the belly of mother nature and how this was a ceremony of rebirth, that we were coming in one way and would be leaving another. He then started talking about healing the relationship wounds in our past, beginning with our parents. And its not that I couldn’t use some healing from my past but my experience started to take on a whole new meaning. It became all about presence.

Honestly I didn’t hear much of what Eduardo said, I went to a place deep within, where the most important thing in the moment was to listen to my body and not my thoughts.

My thoughts would constantly arise…your too hot…you cant breath…you’re going to faint…your blood sugar is too low…you need water…you cant do this…you cant stay in here…your body cannot maintain sweating this much. So each time one of these thoughts would arise I needed to stop the thought and ask myself what was true in the moment. I would place my hands on the stone floor of the lodge and feel the ‘cool’ stones underneath me, grounding myself to the earth and present moment; I would tell myself that I could in fact actually breath and that in the moment I was safe. As soon as I thought about bolting I would ask myself to just try for the next moment, not the next five minutes, but just moment to moment.

I know that Eduardo worked through forgiving various people of our past as well as forgiving ourselves but honestly that was not the lesson that the universe wanted me to learn in that moment.

Some how I survived my time in the sweat lodge, which I think was close to an hour and a half. But I cannot explain to you the feeling when they opened the door. I was expecting it to be relief, I was expecting to clamor my way out, but rather I felt peaceful and calm, knowing that I could handle being in the lodge for a few more minutes until it was time to exit. Pure peace. Eduardo asked us to think of a spirit animal that we wanted to have with us for the rest of our lives, before I could even think the idea of a beautiful female deer came into my mind. Strong, yet peaceful and gentle, resilient, yet protective.

As we left, we again placed our foreheads to the earth in gratitude for our experience. And as we exited, we were given the gift of the most glorious water dumped gently on our bodies, along with another blessing. It really did feel like a rebirth. As they poured the water on us, we proclaimed who we are and what spirit animal was now with us.

The experience left me honestly so humbled. While in the lodge I learned that I do have control of my thoughts, and my anxiety. That I can think one thing and change the narrative to a truth that is more aligned in peace than panic. I have that choice. My thoughts are not in charge and are not always the truth. I learned that I am much more powerful than I was giving myself credit for. Fuck you anxiety.

I also learned that with the support of people who love me, I can do hard things. I was so grateful to have Trista beside me the whole time, knowing that I could reach for her hand if I needed. Also knowing that Paul was supporting me while on his own adventure and doing his own hard thing.

If there was ever a lesson in empowerment, this was it.

So, I was wondering where and when this was going to show up again in my life and it wasn’t that long until I found out. Yesterday was the travel day from hell, and whereas I could get into all of the nitty gritty details I will spare you and instead tell you that I was able to keep it together. The couple of times that I would feel my old nemesis of anxiety arise I was able to remember the feeling of my palms on the cool earth and feel grounded, feel calm and be able to control the thoughts. In fact, I made it all the way home without Ativan, which is a huge win for me, especially with all of the travel complications we had.

From now on, in times of anxiety I will remember the feeling of my palms on the earth, the coolness in the heat. Thank you, Mexico, for the most amazing lesson.

PS. A quick google search of the Deer as a spirit animal says this: the deer combines both soft, gentle, qualities with strength and determination. An ability to move through life and obstacles with grace, being sensitive and intuitive, vigilance, the magical ability to regenerate, being in touch with life’s mysteries.

Do I see a new tattoo in my future? I think so.

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