BY GRAHAM RUSCO:
Day 5 presented the challenge of self reflection as we embarked on our first ever Navajo sweat lodge experience. The Navajo people utilize the sweat lodge as a method to cleanse the body of toxins. Specifically designed to mimic the environment of the womb, the sweat lodge poses total darkness once inside. Starting early in the morning, we worked together to build the fire to heat the porous rocks later used to create the hot steam in the lodge. Extreme temperatures are reached in the sweat lodge posing immense mental and physical stress for first-timers. The door to the lodge closes, and we are surrounded by the darkness. The intense heat greets our bodies with a devilish grasp as the initial shock provokes panic. From here, we are confronted with a game of mental strength; control is required through meditative thoughts, shallow breaths, and complete focus on prayers spoken and songs sang within. Once one adapts to the drastic change in environment, they can now proceed with reflection, perhaps darker than the sweat lodge itself. Our culture often fears the dark, but why is this? In Navajo culture, darkness does not produce the same sensation as in our culture. Instead, darkness symbolizes peace, cleansing, innocence, and rebirth, highly adverse from our culture’s sentiments of fear, evil, and the daunting unknown. Why such large differences in interpretation? Perhaps constriction to the binary perception of good and evil, light and dark, black and white that plagues our culture restricts a shared perspective of darkness. While challenging, this experience allowed for deep and meaningful reflection, developing greater understanding of our purpose and connection to the land in which we inhabit. A feeling of relief and airiness surround the participants following the fourth and final round. Everyone can agree that this experience to be deeply meaningful and worthwhile, with many very interested in participating again in the future. As the day came to a close, we were greeted by the light from the stars and the ever-so-luminous moon. We were able to reflect and ponder amongst the stars shining light over the breathtaking landscape. The next morning, we dreadfully packed our bags as we readied to depart Navajoland Hotel, but not before one last stop at the Navajo Flea Market. There’s no better way to part than with tasty Navajo cuisine, beautiful handmade crafts, and meaningful artwork. We would like to sincerely thank all individuals that made this trip possible: Lawrence, Vanessa, Keller, Ron, Melanie, those working with Amizade, and the gracious members of the Navajo community allowing us to experience Navajo culture in its fullest, always making us feel welcome and providing teachings to last a lifetime. This experience has been like no other.