Tag Archives: healing

How to heal

Over the last few years I’ve noticed that there are a lot of underlying factors when it comes to healing. These apply to both mental and bodily health – which henceforth I shall just describe as ‘health’.

Most importantly, if you are going to heal, you have to not be living with the thing(s) making you ill in the first place. Otherwise all you can do is tackle symptoms. This is often really hard to achieve, because work life balance, family responsibility and where you live are most likely implicated if your health issues aren’t caused by accident, cancer, virus or bacteria.

Healing requires a good diet. Illness may be caused or exacerbated by poor nutrition. It is important to note that for people in significant poverty, this is often hard to fix because protein is expensive. You need it to heal brain chemistry as much as you do to heal skin or muscle.

Healing requires rest. Rest requires time, peaceful spaces to be in, and being free from the demands of others.

Healing has to be a priority. You need to be able to put it ahead of most if not all other considerations in order to achieve the points I’ve raised above. If you can put your healing first, it is much easier to heal. If you have to prioritise other things – work, family, someone else’s needs… your own healing may take longer, or may be set back.

If these kinds of resources are available to you, then it is easy to get on with the work of making yourself well again – or as well as you can be in the context of what’s made you unwell. At this point, deploy your positive thinking and do what needs doing, and you can get results. However, if your life does not allow you to prioritise healing, if you can’t afford to eat well enough, if you have no way of getting out of the toxic workplace or the mould-filled flat, or the demands on you won’t ease off… healing is difficult and slow if it’s possible at all. All the positive thinking in the world cannot replace what rest, space, good food and the such will achieve.

On the alternative side, we’re too quick to look at the power of positive thinking and we aren’t talking enough about the privileges involved in being able to stop and sort things out. Given the way in which disability increases a person’s risk of financial poverty, there is potential for some truly vicious circles here. Poverty makes you more vulnerable, which increases the odds of not getting over a health setback, which will make you poorer, and more vulnerable to poor health. Illness, accident and health-destroying experiences will, if you don’t have a safety net of some sort, throw you into poverty which reduces your chance of being able to recover. There’s no reason it has to be like this, the choice is purely a consequence of political decisions and priorities.

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Working with triggers

*this is about triggers, no triggering content*

A person who is triggered, experiences a devastating physical reaction to a situation. This does not mean feeling sad, or scared or a bit hurt, in the way people who like to downplay it will suggest. It’s about finding yourself reliving what happened to traumatise you, or re-feeling it in your body, or feeling the kinds of all consuming terror that go with your body thinking you are about to be back in that situation.

It’s not a thinking process, and as a consequence, it’s very hard to get in control of it, or slow it down, or pull yourself out of it.

I’ve discovered very recently that if I can recognise my response as triggering, I have just a tiny crack into which I can insert some leverage. Rather than getting caught up in the body response, and the horror of the body response, if I can notice the process, I can challenge it. The only way I’ve found to do this is to consciously and deliberately risk-assess the situation I am in, to see how real the threat is that I’m actually going into an awful and dangerous situation. There are patterns of behaviour that trigger me because in another context they would have been danger signs. However, in my current context, maybe those things aren’t as threatening as they seem.

It gives me room to bring conscious thought into play, and that puts me back in control.

One of the things underlying my panic, is the fear that the cause of historical mistreatment was me – that I acted in ways that encouraged, enabled, maybe even caused what happened. For a long time I believed it was what anyone would do, faced with someone like me. To break out of that, I’ve needed years in the company of people who do not see any aspect of who I am as a justification for mistreatment of any sort. I’ve started to trust that.

Which leads me to a very important point: I’ve got to the point of being able to unpick some of my triggers a bit, and I could not have done this alone. What it has taken to get me to this point is the love, kindness, patience, support, affection, generosity and welcoming good natures of a whole of lot of people.

I have said it before and I will say it again – individual mental health is not an individual issue, we do so much better when we take care of each other. Healing wounds to head and heart requires safe spaces and support, there’s just no other way. What’s going on here is a broken sense of trust, a broken relationship with other humans, caused by trauma. To heal, is to feel safe in the company of other humans, and to do that you need other humans who will help you feel safe. Profound thanks from me to everyone (and there are a lot of you) who have played a part in this journey. Some of you have walked through fire with me to get me to this point. I could not have done it without you.


Working with an uncooperative body

I’ve been in pain for years, and had come to think of it as normal. I know that lack of sleep, insufficient  oil, stress, using regular air beds, and being cold all make it a lot worse, and I’ve managed it as best I can based on this. At the same time, I’ve had dire burnouts every six to eight weeks for something like a decade. Deep pits of depression, related to exhaustion. Every time I’ve dealt with it by getting back up and at it.

This July wasn’t especially dramatic as a crash – pain, emotional dysfunction, loss of energy and willpower, despair – all the usual. What changed was that I just couldn’t face the process of getting up and doing it all again and trying to hold out for as long as I could before the next crash. My best efforts of recent years have only widened the gap between crashes, not solved them.

I made a radical decision to start putting my body first. To start paying close attention to what hurts, and when I’m tired, and acting on that rather than pushing through it. This has meant things like going to bed when I’m tired, no matter what time it is, asking my family to cover for me, saying ‘no’ to things. I’ve put down some voluntary work that had become stressful. Alongside acting to reduce pain, I’m looking at ways to build strength, flexibility and resilience, ways to get more emotional outlets that help me stay resilient, and reducing stress. I need more things in my life that enable me to feel good, and fewer things that leave me feeling shitty and I’m reorganising accordingly.

I have no idea what the consequences of doing this will be. Fewer reasons for anxiety will certainly help, and more rest, reducing exhaustion should help counter the depression. At a deeper level, the decision to put care for my body much higher on my list is about changing my relationship with myself, and not practicing self-harm or self-hatred as part of normal life. There have been plenty of times when I’ve pushed my exhausted body to keep doing things by inwardly hurling abuse and criticism at myself. On the really bad days, it’s self hatred that has kept me moving, reminders of how useless and worthless I am and how I need to get my sorry arse in gear and justify my existence. This too, I am putting down.

The decision to be kinder to myself is a decision to treat myself as an acceptable human being with the same needs and rights as any other human being. I’m not expecting this to magically solve all my problems, but it might give me the means to better deal with the days when I really hurt, or really have no spoons, and I have come to the conclusion that I’d give anyone else the chance to heal if they can and manage things better, and I ought to extend that to me. This year I have started saying ‘I matter’ – which feels radical, and dangerous, but I’m saying it anyway. My body is something I’ve called uncooperative, but I think it is my mind that needs to change, accommodating my limitations and not adding to what’s already difficult.


Stories for healing

For a while now, I’ve been writing stories as a way of tackling things in my head I can’t take on more directly. Some things work best in metaphor. It’s a way of processing what otherwise has been impossible to deal with. The story below also had an interesting process aspect to it. In using these metaphors, I became able to see some things I had not seen before. Ways forward emerge. So, I offer the story, and also the approach. If there are unsayable things, then turning them into characters in a faux-fairytale can make it possible to talk about them, and get to grips with them.

And they all lived…

The prison is small, cramped. Not perfectly dark. Enough gloom to obscure, enough light to suggest. Light, and hope are often what get us into most trouble. It is too small a cell to accommodate a person and a demon. It doesn’t help that the demon is furious. Its mouth is full of hunger and broken glass. When it bites, it poisons. Words flow from it as bile and toxin, bite and breathe. Words gnawed into bones.

“Worthless,” it says. “Ridiculous ugly waste of space.”

It has claws for rending. It uses them.

“Misuse of carbon.”

The demon has large feet, for trampling.

“You’ll never achieve anything, anyway. Never justify your pathetic existence. Expensive nuisance. You should kill yourself. It’s the only good thing you’ll ever be able to do. Your only possible contribution. You’re a burden. Unwanted. Stop it. Stop your breath. Stop your heart.”

Perhaps death would silence the demon. Sometimes, it seems the only way. A soul this contaminated can never be redeemed, surely?

I am the prison cell. I am the demon. I am the weeping child prisoner. I am the blood under the fingernails, and I am the bruises. I am the crying and the resentment of crying. I am the skin tearing at itself in disgust. There is no door to this prison, unless death is a door. There is no destroying the prison, or the demon without killing the child, for we are one. Indivisible.

If the prison had been a well defended castle, keeping out, not locking in.

If the demon had been allowed to roar at enemies beyond the gate.

If the child had felt safe to cry.

Other stories were certainly possible, once. Working from within, trapped in the cramped, demonic lost child darkness, how do we tell a new story? A grown up fairy tale with a wiser outcome. Can we tell a new life? We wait. Child, demon, prison… person.


Grief and healing

“Trauma is often the result of an overwhelming amount of stress that exceeds one’s ability to cope or integrate the emotions involved with that experience.” (Wikipedia, summing up a definition I’ve seen in lots of other places.)

Grief is a process that we know about. Around matters of bereavement, people who grieve at the time of loss, cope. They may carry a lot of pain with them, they may never ‘get over it’ but they will be functional, they will find a way. Grief is an adjustment process, and while it may hurt like hell, it is the way forward. People who do not grieve at the time of bereavement will get a delayed grief experience. When it will happen, and how, and with what force is unpredictable, but it’s reliably much, much worse for delayed grief people than for people who can grieve in a timely way.

Grief is not just about death. It can be about all manner of losses and wounds, shocks and setbacks. However, what often happens when we hit a crisis, is that we get a lot of support to cope. Stiff upper lip. Soldier on. Push through. The smaller the crisis, the more pressure there is not to make a fuss about it. How many of us have working lives that are basically running low level crises? Or family lives of that shape? Or financial problems that are just small, constant nightmares. And how many of us hit bigger things and find there’s no room to do anything but keep going?

I spent years with this one, when there was always something else more important than how I was feeling. Running from one crisis to another – most of them not of my making, fire fighting, coping, keeping going, doing all the important things. The one important thing I did not do during those years, was grieve for my losses, my wounds. I spent a lot of time trying to be brave for everyone else, to keep a good face on it. I was put under pressure to be jolly and co-operative, for the good of others, at times when that was unbearable. So I smiled, and bore it as best I could.

When grief is suppressed and undealt with, there is no room to integrate the experience. There’s no time to absorb and process, to make sense of what’s happened. There’s no room to let go and put it properly behind you.

The result is that it comes out sideways, unexpectedly. There aren’t always obvious triggers, except that its more likely to happen when you feel calmer, safer, more able to accommodate it. Why there is the sudden drowning in grief may be impossible to explain, and certainly if it hits you years after the event, its much harder to get the emotional support that’s more readily available to people who have recently been hit by a thing.

When we think about trauma, we tend to think about big, dramatic events. However, the accumulation of lots of smaller, unprocessed losses also takes a toll, but leaves a person with nothing they can obviously point at.

It’s important not to rush people through grief. If you can make any space at all to deal with things as they come up, you will do better. I know it seems like helping to tell someone to keep going, chin up, smile, don’t let the bastards grind you down, but keeping going in the short term can mean really not keeping going in the long term, and its worth looking at the bigger picture.


Lessons from the PTSD cat

I’ve been living with this cat for about six months now, and she’s taught me a lot about fear, and about healing. She’s a long haired kitty, and when she first came to us, the sight of a pair of scissors made her panic. She gets tufts and knots, and she sheds a lot of fur so sometimes a little cutting out is in order. At first she fought us, clearly really distressed by any attempt at tidying her up. Even in the first few weeks we saw a lot of changes, as she became less fearful. We weren’t hurting her, and that knowledge started to replace the evident fear that she would be hurt. We used cat treats and fuss to reinforce the idea that she’s safe, and all is well, and she’s responded to this.

She’s evidently anxious about being left. Early on we had frantic responses to absence – and we’re talking a few hours here. She’s usually waiting by the door when we come in, although she’s calmer about it than she used to be. We never leave her unattended for long enough to cause her physical problems, but even without knowing her history, I could easily infer that she has abandonment issues.

At the moment, we’re working on going outside. She’s been indoors for six months, and I know before I got her she’d lived outside for months. She’s clearly afraid of going out – she seems anxious either that she won’t be able to get back in, or that she’s being kicked out. I take her to the front door, and open it. The first few times she just ran away. She’s now venturing to stand there and look outside. Treats and cuddles for positive reinforcement always follow, and I think by the summer she might be ready to sit out in the sun.

I can’t reason with her or tell her she should feel differently – she’s a cat. The only way to overcome her fear and help her live a fuller cat life, is to help her feel safe and secure and in control. She doesn’t have to go out, she can come back at any time, she won’t be hurt with scissors, she won’t be left for extended periods. The only way to have her feel this is to keep presenting her with a safe, supportive environment and wait for her to learn to trust this.

I think about my own patterns of damage and healing and the parallels are obvious. No one has ever helped me by telling me my reactions are wrong, or that I am silly. I’ve not coped when new situations seem to mirror old ones. It has taken time, patience and learning to trust a new environment to get me not to panic as much. With me it isn’t scissors and the front door, but the patterns are the same.

When fear becomes your state of being, it isn’t a consciously held thing, and it can’t readily be reasoned with. Learned fear is a body thing, an issue of the animal self, and if we want to heal ourselves or other people who are damaged by fear, then we have to heal them as creatures first and foremost. A safe space and the time to relearn how to feel safe is essential. Damaged people need the same patience that rescue dogs do. The only way to break the conditioned responses to the past (cowering before the dangerous scissors) is to replace it with a different reality (after the pain-free scissors, the treats). Recovery is so much easier when someone is holding that safe space for you, and healing is so much more viable when it isn’t a solo project.


Compassionate Listening

Last week I read The Heart of Life, by Jez Hughes. It’s a rare thing – a book I think everyone ought to read. Jez is a shamanic practitioner, and in this blog I’m going to pick up on one of the healing techniques that he talks about: Compassionate Listening.

I know from conversations here and on wider social media, that I’m not alone in finding interventions from other people tiring around matters of health, and that I’m just as likely as anyone else to want to respond to suffering with useful intervention. So what can we usefully do for each other? So many books about healing offer a sense of shame and guilt – the idea that my negative thoughts or past lives are responsible for my feeling as I do, and if only I could be more positive, it would all be fine! Oddly, this idea has never caused me to feel more positive, and when I’m depressed, it usually helps to push me further under. I’m glad to say there’s none of this in The Heart of Life – it’s a very human sort of book.

Compassionate listening is just that – hearing what the other person needs to say about their experiences. Paying close attention, making it clear that you recognise and comprehend. If something is fixable, you have to be able to start by properly identifying it. If it’s not fixable, sometimes saying ‘that really is shit’ is the best we can do for each other.

Listening helps to overcome isolation. All illness is demoralising, and reduces people. If we can be heard, then we know that it doesn’t matter that we’re less useful right now, or need caring for, we still have a place. It’s easier to ask for help when you don’t feel that people are primarily relating to your utility. It is often helpful to know it’s not just you, especially around emotional distress in face of the world. There are many problems we’re better faced to overcome as communities. Listening is the first move towards being able to come together to act.

There’s more to it on an emotional level though. Listening means allowing the other person to speak. It means no one is telling them there isn’t time for this right now, or that it doesn’t matter, or something else is more important. I’ve been told to push though pain and distress countless times, and told that my suffering was less important than other things that were going on. When this happens, it locks something inside me. Practical solutions become less available, but it also causes a grief, a wounding, a sense of devaluing, if I need to cry, but no one around me thinks it matters. This is not a good place for a person to be. Endure enough of it, and you will lose your sense of person-hood.

Being listened to allows us to be people. It allows us to own and express whatever hurts, which provides rapid emotional relief all by itself. Then we just have to deal with what’s wrong, not with the struggle of hiding it and pretending to be ok. We get to matter. Someone cares enough to hear. The act of putting pain into words is releasing, and can often give back a sense of having some control over the situation. To cry, and be acceptable, is a very powerful thing.

To listen, you don’t have to be able to solve everything. You don’t have to patch things up for the other person or magically make it ok. You don’t need answers, or wisdom, or the means to change anything. Just by putting your body in a situation, and stopping, to witness, to recognise, to allow a space for hurt to be acknowledged, helps.

I think it often doesn’t help that amongst Pagans there is a suspicion that we ought to be able to use magic to fix people. People who self-identify as healers can find the long term sick really problematic. So we end up blaming people for their negativity and refusal to heal, rather than face the hard truth that maybe we don’t have anything that can help them. Listening  is good. Listening is a balm we can all bring to each other. Making time to hear does change things.

More about The Heart of Life here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/heart-life


Healing the broken

(If you are struggling, bear with me, where this post starts is not where it’s going.)

I suffer in ongoing ways with depression, I have a body that frequently hurts and less energy than I need to do the things that need doing. It’s not a great combination. I regularly run into books, blogs and people who tell me that it would all be better if I just made the time to do the magic thing. What the magic thing is varies, although yoga, and meditating for at least half an hour a day come up regularly. I do meditate when I can. It does not stop me getting depressed.

I never cease to be amazed by people who magically know what’s going to magically sort my life out, with no reference to my history, the state of my body, the options I have, or how I feel. Faced with a ‘your life would be great if you just made the effort and did this thing’ what I feel, invariably, is despair. I don’t feel inspired, or encouraged or uplifted, it feels like a swift kicking.

Depression is all about not having anything more to give. It catches us all differently, but exhaustion is a part of it, as a cause, as a symptom, as both. Facing physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, about the last thing you want to hear is that if you just made a bit of effort with this thing over here, you would get better. It’s worse if you have tried other people’s magic solutions and they’ve not produced a miracle. You ask yourself why you’re such a failure that the sure fire thing won’t work for you. You ask what you’re doing wrong, and you feel worse.

There are some very dodgy ‘facts’ floating around about the usefulness of meditation in ‘curing’ depression. Without getting bogged down in the details, the short answer is that the evidence has been spun somewhat, but meditation is cheap and your Doctor has no resources to send you for counselling and would rather not put you on costly anti-depressants if they can avoid it. For all the people who benefit from meditation, this has seemed like a thwacking great validation, so the idea that meditation can save you is doing the rounds in earnest. It might, or might not help.

There are no easy magic cures for long term mental and physical health problems. However, if having something shoved your way leaves you feeling even more defeated and demoralised, you can rest assured that it isn’t The Answer and that it wouldn’t have saved you if only you’d been able to do it properly. Also, positive thinking and positive affirmations will not save you from serious issues either. They may help, they may not.

It’s always worth trying things to see if they help, assuming you have the time and energy. If you don’t have the time and energy, the priority must always be getting to a place where you do. Rest and sleep are the most reliable restoratives there are. Sleep is the nearest we ever get to a magical cure for all ills. It’s a much better use of your time than anything that you feel pressured into doing because someone else has put pressure on you. People who are deeply involved in a practice can be evangelical, and can crave the affirmation of other people finding it very useful too. You don’t owe them anything.

You don’t have to validate their yoga practice by appearing to be saved. You do not have to squander your precious resources of time and energy on anything that does not work for you. It doesn’t matter how much someone else thinks it ought to help. It doesn’t matter how much someone insists that this one special thing saved them and will save you. What works for you, works for you, and what doesn’t, doesn’t. No one has the right to add to your discomfort by insisting you be magically cured by something that does not work for you in the slightest.


Handbook for a Dark Journey

Jane Meredith’s Journey to a Dark Goddess landed in a really timely way for me. It’s a book about journeys to the underworld – journeys into depression, despair, crisis and breakdown. Usually we go because we have no choice, life falls apart, mental health collapses and we walk a dark road from which we might, or might not return. It is a journey that kills some people. One of the things this book offers is a map of the way down (not a map that will give everyone their exact journey, but a sense of the terrain at least) and some pointers for finding a way out.

I’d been stuck for a while. A couple of months ago I made the decision to work with my distress rather than trying to suppress it. I made a lot of headway and came to understand a lot of things, and then it all slowed and I settled in a low, dark place with no idea of how to move. I didn’t want to push myself out and back up to normal life and regular functioning, that didn’t feel right. It’s how I normally handle depression, pushing to return to functionality and utility as soon as I can, and I was trying to shift my patterns.

One of the things this book did for me was make me really see how deeply the push to be normal is implicated in the process of falling down into the dark places. It’s not about me. It’s all about being useful and convenient for everyone else. There is no space to change and heal unless I make and hold a space that is for me. I have so much invested in being useful, it’s been a key part of my sense of self. Can I hold time for not being useful, even for being inconvenient so that I can do what needs doing for me? For the first time, the answer might be ‘yes’. Can I go further and change my sense of self so that utility and convenience to others are not so dominant? Perhaps I can.

I’ve spent years peeling away the layers of my dysfunction, examining what goes on inside my head to try and make sense of why I get ill and depressed. Obviously if I didn’t get ill and depressed, I could be much more useful. I would be more convenient, and these have been far greater motivators to changing than any desire to heal. And so I unpick, and pull back layers to see what is underneath them, trace back threads of thought and feeling to see where they come from. I had figured out a lot, by the time I got stuck, and I had got stuck because I could see no way of doing differently with what I have. Now I see that I must change what I have, and there are things I can stop going along with.

All the things that are not convenient – my moods and emotions, my vulnerabilities and dreaming – are things that I need. If I spend most of my life ignoring, denying and suppressing vast swathes of myself, little wonder that I crack up fairly regularly. I can’t be a china doll automata, always smiling and doing as it is told and also be something alive and human.

I have to be allowed to feel and want, to say no, to not want, to dislike, to get cross. I have to be able to like and not like based entirely on my own preferences. I can negotiate and co-operate from a position of being honest about my own needs and feelings, I feel certain. Don’t and won’t and don’t want to and am not interested and no, are words that I need to embrace. All the things that I consider fair and reasonable when other people do them have to be available to me as well – there is a huge double standard underpinning all of this, and I do not have to keep going along with it. I have the power to change things.

Jane Meredith’s book has been a huge help in making sense of where I am, and showing me what I need to do to change things for myself.


Heat and Healing

This is a reblog from http://seeingthroughtheguru.com/ reproduced with permission and my thanks. I’ve never done and never expect I would be equal to doing a sweat lodge, so I find the insight fascinating.

 

A sweat lodge is a time-honored ceremony to cleanse yourself of nearly anything that plagues you. The purpose is to heal via the physical body. Except that I didn’t know that when I attended my first sweat lodge.

What I did know was that my new boss spoke in passionate terms about attending a Lakota sweat ceremony in the hills a few hours away from where we both lived and I immediately wanted to attend.

As the time approached for the event, my boss informed me that she wasn’t able to go due to a change in her schedule. Did I want to drive out to the location of the sweat and attend by myself? She would be happy to inform her friends that I would be coming. They’d look out for me and assist me during the ceremony.

Yes! I didn’t hesitate and the following Saturday, I was careful to follow the directions to the lodge (pre-GPS devices) scribbled on a piece of paper as I drove east into the hills towards Riverside, California.

What was I getting myself into? I was nervous as I made the two-hour drive. I knew little about the Lakota tradition of sweating inside an inipi or womb like structure heated with stones called “Grandfathers”. I was curious though.

Recently divorced from my husband of twenty years, I was a new psychotherapist fresh from a graduate program. My job as the therapist to a group of adolescents in a residential treatment program was to practice the theory of “talk therapy”. However, in my short stint as a therapist, talk therapy didn’t appear as effective as I thought it needed to be to assist these young people. I was soon to learn how powerful healing is when it involves the body.

Let me emphasize, in the telling of the experience here, that despite not knowing a lot about the Lakota tradition, in the end, cleansing took place that impacted my life immensely. Without understanding or thorough knowledge of the sacredness or spiritual nature of the experience, in the end, I was profoundly transformed.

Cleansing is like that: it comes about because the participant intends for healing to take place and inside of that intent is the will and the power to manifest the healing. Whether cleansing takes place via speech or via the body isn’t the sole criteria for healing to occur.

Often healing takes place outside of language, just as it did for me, on the level of the body.

Participants were invited to crawl into the lodge and seat themselves around a small pit. Once seated inside, the ceremony commenced. Those outside the lodge would transport stones from amidst a red-hot fire into the lodge in a series of four rounds.

Once inside the pit the stones were sprinkled with water and the resultant steam would saturate those seated in the pitch black of the lodge itself.

Asking if the lodge was hot is like asking if it hurts to get a tattoo. You bet it’s hot! You bet that needle hurts tender skin! But the greatest significance is the results. I never anticipated the power in those stones!

Picture in your mind: Participants are seated on the ground with legs crossed. Inside the inipi it is pitch black. Unbearable heat crawls over your skin as the steam from the stones are sprinkled with water. You are dripping from sweat by the end of the first round. When the round ends, the canvas “door” is opened and the cool of the evening rushes over your feverish face.

The sweat lodge leader asks that you direct your focus onto what you want to let go, what you want to cleanse from your body, what toxins need to seep from the pores of your skin as perspiration trickles endlessly down your nose.

He instructs you to pay attention to the images that arise within your mind’s eye. They will inform you as to what needs cleansing.

Suddenly, images of my mother appeared. My mother! She was not the best of maternal figures. She was capricious, cruel with her words, and lacked empathy. Suddenly, I was full of childhood connections that only a daughter can have, except that my memories were painful and filled with shame.

I squirmed. I looked in the darkness for those seated next to me. Were they agonized, as I was? Lifting the small stem of sage to my nose, I breathed through it. “The sage will cool you if the heat becomes too hot,” the sweat leader had said. Tears rolled down my eyes mixing with the sweat from my brow.

“Pay attention to what the stones are saying to you. Don’t allow distraction to cross your path. This is your journey, and no one else can take it for you.” The words of the sweat leader came back to me.

Ah! This is what he’d meant in my sudden interest in those seated next to me. I focused onto the darkness, not the darkness of the inipi, but the darkness within me. The darkness of a relationship that had been hurtful and damaging to a young girl’s body and spirit so very long ago. I sat still as a statue and cried silently.

Time disappeared. The singing from the first two rounds was over. We were in the third round, the shortest, but most intense round of the ceremony. Inside the inipi it was quiet. In the extreme heat of the lodge, I sweat from my body and soul those images that held me captive to my mother’s negativity and the squelching of my spirit. I let “her” go from a memory full of excruciating experiences. My body released “her” in an abundance of tears.

Sweating profusely, I allowed the heat, the stones, the songs, and the fire to cleanse what no amount of talking had been able to. Cleansing and healing became entwined, especially where pure intent, the mind, and body joined together inside the very practical, but sacred, Lakota Inipi ceremony.