By Shann Vander Leek

For years my friend Jennifer “Jen Moonbear” has been sharing snippets of magical stories about her Shaman teachings and the sweat lodge ceremonies she is passionate about. This summer I was invited to join her and experience my first sweat lodge healing and the alchemy of a lodge pouring ceremony. A new dance chief would be pouring her first lodge and Jennifer was assembling an intimate group to honor her first official ceremony.

Before participating I did a little bit of homework including, fasting for the day, drinking lots of water and preparing my mind and body for a new adventure. Beyond that, I agreed to show up with out any expectations. The encounter rocked my world.

Part of the Shamanic teaching suggests participants keep the experience to themselves for at least 7 days before sharing with others from the outside world. I feel compelled to share the rich metaphor of this transformational experience while the dewy innocence of the experience puddles in my soul.

The magic began at an other worldly space in the county in the late afternoon. The land was beautiful. A spacious meadow surrounded by Jack Pines. The songs of Wood Thrushes, drumming and Coyotes comprised the background music of the gathering.

Our temporary community was made up of 7 people. From my perspective, I met and became friends with 5 strangers, reconnected with 1 acquaintance and cemented the bond of friendship with 1 close friend. In the first couple of hours we set up camp, explored the land, got to know each other and made time for quiet contemplation.

The ritual of setting the fire was beautiful and included our entire group. The fire tenders, dance chief and lodge participants all added stones, kindling, paper and logs to the structure. Each stone representing a wish or intention for the ceremony. After setting the fire we sat in the forest and talked about what we could expect and had all of our questions answered. We learned how our bodies might react to the heat and what to do if we had trouble breathing or needed to get out the lodge.

After a couple of hours the fire was ready and we were prepared to enter the sweat lodge. I entered last with the intention of being close to the door. Never one to be in love with small spaces and extraordinary heat, I needed to know I could escape quickly if I freaked out and needed to escape.

The ceremony began with several hot stones brought forth by fire tenders for placement in the lodge. Red hot stones heated up the small space very quickly. Then it was lights out. The door was closed up tight and the space became pitch black, and extremely hot. For a a few minutes I thought everything was going to be fine. No problems here – then the terror set in.

Pure unbridled terror of being in the dark, in the heat, in a confined space. Surely I would die.

What was I doing here? Thankfully something Jennifer shared during preparation helped me calm down and allow the experience to unfold, without bolting out the door. I welcomed the heat into my bones, I welcomed the healing. I repeated this mantra over and over throughout the experience to stay safe and centered.

Allowing the heat to penetrate my bones in combination with deep pranayama breathing made for a beautiful and cleansing experience. I had survived round one. Thankfully the hot stones need to be replaced in rounds to keep generating heat and steam inside the lodge. This means the lodge door is opened three times before the ceremony concludes. When the door opens the lodge is flooded with fresh air and some light, making the next round a little easier for this neophyte to experience.

When the 4th round was finished I lingered with no plan to leave the lodge in a hurry. I was content hanging out and letting the experience settle in before any sort of community reentry.

Upon coming out of the lodge I was invited to lay down on a big blanket in the meadow and settle in. The coolness of the meadow air was delightful. The sky was well after sunset brilliant and the stars were so bright and close It felt as if I could reach up and touch the big dipper. This was bliss.

The healing power of a sweat is powerful. Although I didn’t attend with an outcome or expectation in mind, I came away from the experience with more love, light and trust than I could have imagined. My fear of the unknown was met head-on with curiosity, wonder and trust.

What I learned from this rich encounter:

* Face your fears and they will become your allies.

* Remain curious and overcome any obstacle.

* Trust your loved ones and remain open to new experience.

* Enter gently without expectation and enjoy the unfolding.

I am grateful for this healing experience and walk a little lighter after shedding the rust that had settled into my bones. It was a blessing to be in the moment of a sublime other worldly experience.

About the Author: Shann Vander Leek, PCC, CYT is a Transition Coach, Yogi & Best Selling Author ~ Find out more about her and follow her on Twitter at