If yesterday’s theme was shankhaprakshalana, then the highlight today was a sweat lodge. As much as these two activities are completely different from one another, one crucial element links them together: the way they both assist the heightened cleansing which takes place while water fasting.
Now I’ll be totally honest. I was slightly panicking at the thought of leading a sweat lodge as part of a fasting retreat. I knew I wanted to do it, because of the hugely beneficial physiological effects, but I was all too aware of a famous case ten years ago in which three people died in a sweat lodge after – you guessed it – three days of fasting. The surrounding context was completely different, but nevertheless a sweat lodge is a sweat lodge. It’s inherently dangerous, not to mention the fact that, by the end of three days of fasting, many people’s state of consciousness has already diverged significantly away from what they experience in everyday life.
Can I trust the participants to know their own limits?
To a degree, yes.
To a degree, no.
And so I put in place a series of safety measures to ensure that we could experience the benefits of profound sweating without danger of death!
After morning sharing we set to. Gathering saplings to build the lodge. Gathering large quantities of firewood to heat the stones. Building the lodge. Building the fire – which was set to burn for a good many hours before we could begin the sweat. It was all a team effort, and everyone contributed in their own way, depending on how strong they felt. By the end of the construction operation, though, everyone was ready for a good rest.
Even if by traditional standards this really was a ‘kinder, gentler’ sweat lodge, it still went deep, and so afterwards I declared mouna* for the rest of the day. (*Mouna is the practice of holding conscious silence.)
The sweat lodge definitely brought about a change in the group energy. People were starting increasingly to turn inwards. This is exactly what I was hoping for at this point in the fast :-).
It’s no coincidence that our sweat lodge ceremoniously marked the end of three days of fasting. With the end of the third day, the body is already well into ketosis. Certainly a cause for celebration! In fact, the massive metabolic changes which take place throughout the first three days of fasting are all done and finished. To put it another way, from this point on, nothing new takes place physically: the body just continues its cleansing and healing through ketosis. Instead, the fast is now free to evolve on a deeper, emotional level.
The question is, what will actually happen in the days ahead? Will people feel safe and nurtured enough to risk opening up to themselves? Will they continue to surrender to the fast and, with it, deeper levels of being? Only time will tell…