I guess I’ve always had a questioning and open mind particularly when it comes to religion and spirituality and I have walked down many paths in order to find either a religion or a spiritual path that has meaning for me.
Some time ago I fortuitously met some people who travelled regularly to the Oglala Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota every year (These are the people featured in the Dances with Wolves movie). So they were and still are following the ways of the Lakota. So, I was invited to participate in a sweat lodge ceremony called Inipi in Lakota, which means the breath of life. This first experience was quite frightening, I was overcome with claustrophobia and when it was my turn to pray all I could do was cry. Over time, however, I got used to the extreme heat and the feelings that I was going to die and the claustrophobia dissipated, and I began to learn the prayer songs, which are sang in the Lakota language.
After several years, it was time for me to travel to the USA and visit the Pine Ridge Reservation itself. On arrival at a part of the reservation called Lost Dog Creek, we were invited into a sweat lodge, this was my first sweat lodge with real Indians. Once inside the lodge I look around and feel completely comfortable and right at home, in fact I felt as if I had arrived home. So over the years I completed four separate vision quests, met my totem animal, learnt humility, humour, generosity, compassion, lightening up, laughing a lot, taking my healing work seriously but not myself, and much more. I owe a big dept to the Lakota and the learning didn’t cost me a cent. The thing about the Lakota is that you are not actually taught anything, you are taught by example, by observing the manner in which the people live. Aside from the aforementioned I also learnt to sit in silence. The Lakota say nothing if they have nothing to say and do not fill the airwaves with senseless chatter. Sitting in silence with a group of people is never practiced in our society; we are compelled to say something, anything to ease the burden of silence. One particular Elder taught me the art of silence, we would sit for hours drinking back coffee and saying nothing and after a while you find a communication in silence, in the sounds around you, the wind, the birds, and the energy between us.
Whilst on the reservation I’ve been to many healing ceremonies and have learnt that the context in which illness occurs is a very important component in an illness and the healing if it is to occur. It is the narrative of a person’s life...the story. In more recent years I’ve come to know Dr Lewis Mehl-Madrona, a Native American who is the leader in what has become known as Narrative Medicine, his books are highly recommended. He travels to Australia regularly and uses our Sweat Lodge when in Sydney. What impresses me about Lewis is that he is a medical doctor, has a PhD in Psychiatry and has returned to traditional ways of healing, healing the narrative to heal the illness. And he is one of the humblest persons I’ve ever met. So, with these influences the story of your life and how it may have impacted your illness is of interest to me.
Fast forward to present day and I am now part of a wide Lakota family. By doing the four vision quests I have earned the right to lead sweat lodges. These Lakota ways are now my ways and I am incredibly thankful to the people who shone the light on this path for me and we still sweat together to this day.
Currently, I run the men’s sweat lodges here in Sydney and a friend runs the mixed gender lodges. I’ll end this with what the Lakota would say:
"Mitakuye oyas’in". We are all related.