I was going to say if there was a DAY, this was it. But then I remembered we all went whale watching and got drunk while they played 90’s hip-hop and the ‘Free Willy’ theme & reconsidered. I’d been getting closer to people, and this day in particular belonged to a girl named Andrea. Andrea was a fashion designer in Salt Lake with whom my first interaction was razzing her for almost stealing a baby off the street. That sentence is why context is important – and a reminder I’m not always good at telling stories in a logical way. We were having a stroll one evening and stumbled upon a toddler swaddled in a blanket. You hit that with your eyes first, but a foot ahead – there was Mom selling bracelets. Andrea instinctively reached down to “save” said baby, then realizes the situation and stops. When she looked up I said: “That would have been a souvenir. I went to Mexico and all I got was this child, and a macrame bracelet it made for me.”
Friendship was born. We bonded over the fact that I’d once been in a polyamorous relationship with two girls named Andrea at the same time, and I had to refer to them as “Andrea 1” and “Andrea 2” for the sake of clarity in storytelling. She was excited to hear neither were still in my life, and requested that she now be Andrea #1. Permission was granted.
One day we decided to sign up for a “couples” massage. They were booked through the day so we made an appointment for the next. I don’t know what I was more impressed with – the quality of the massage, or the fluidity & expertise in which my therapist removed my swim top. It was one swift motion and I suppose I’d only considered the latter in regards to removing a woman’s top for pleasure, and not business. Following our romantic bodywork, we caved to the mantra of “Treat Yoself!” and got some overpriced but satisfying Henna. Andrea opted for a beautiful mandala style design on her foot, while I chose a small dog in front of a mountain. At 4PM, it was time for Strength Flow with Brooke – my roommate. She had mentioned several times it was not an easy class and it would kick your ass but a.) I was Mexico Tanya and I did Power Yoga now, and b.) I wanted to support her because I liked her.
I really tried to remember ‘point b’ as her voice somehow resonated through a room with absolutely no walls: “THE ONLY PERSON HOLDING YOU BACK IS YOU!” “Is it?” I wondered. “It’s not my weak little chicken arms? I feel hot, could be the sun, or maybe I have a fever – I shouldn’t be doing this if I have a fever. Pregnant people shouldn’t exercise hard, could I be with child? Nope, I have my period. And oh shit, I’m a lesbian.” I cycled through this erratic internal monologue for the entire hour only steadied by the 73-year-old woman in front of me who nonchalantly moved through her practice with ease.
However, that was nothing in comparison of what was to come: My Temazcal Sweat Lodge Experience. I’m going to briefly explain what it entails before I jump into the story. Think: Spiritual Pizza Oven, or maybe the feeling of being aggressively shoved back into the womb of your Mother. There was the same buzz surrounding this activity, as there had been about swimming in the ocean. People were talking about whether or not they would be participating, querying if there’d been any sweat lodge related deaths in the last year, and flip-flopping on their commitment for three days straight. It was never a question for me – not only was I following through with my “balls to the wall” mentality, but it didn’t scare me. I’d sit, I’d sweat, probably be a little uncomfortable, and somehow miraculously leave Mexico with less toxins than I’d arrived with. Translated, temazcal means “house of heat.” A Shaman would lead us through four 15-minute periods that involved chanting, prayer, and song. After one cycle is complete the group yells “Puerta!” and the fire-keeper will open the door for several minutes of relief before they shovel more coals into the center – making the heat inside gradually intensify. The whole thing should last about an hour.
Let’s get one thing straight – this is not a fucking sauna. Unless the sauna you visit involves crawling into a tiny pitch-black hut in the jungle with twelve strangers and temperatures comparable to hell. We began by going around and saying our names, with the option to share any intentions we had. At this point everything is pretty normal – insert hippie blanket statements about wanting to fully embrace light & love, open various chakras, et al. I tried to think of something wise & sage to say but all I had was this: “I don’t want to have to go away to remember who I am.” We’d been joking about how cool & badass “Mexico Tanya” was and I had started to realize that it wasn’t some manifestation of the person I wanted to be – it’s who I innately already was. When it got to James, he reaffirmed with the Shaman that it was appropriate for him to contribute a song in conjunction to his intent. James is in a band with his brothers, and often sings in his classes during savasana so this was par for the course – it’s how he expresses himself and it comes from the heart. He regaled our group with an a capella version of ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ and even the Shaman shook his rattle and banged on his drum to join in.
The experience itself was as I imagined – intensely beautiful, profound, and deeply spiritual. I produced enough sweat to fill a bathtub, and had moments of uneasiness. I found that adjusting my position, and taking full advantage of the short breaks in which the door was open helped considerably. Every time I felt a hint of pain or panic, I just remembered all I literally had to do was sit and breathe. Finally we reached the end, and the Shaman told us he was about to start the last song and we should join in loud, jesting it was “our ticket out.” You could feel the collective energy relax & release, as he invited us to share anything we wanted to conclude the ceremony. Most people kept it pretty succinct; and James serenaded us with a lovely rendition of Bill Withers ‘Lean On Me,’ which had more verses than I recalled.
This opened the door, not the literal one unfortunately, to our Temazcal Ceremony turning into ‘American Idol.’ We got to listen to full versions of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow,’ and ‘This Little Light of Mine’ (which I was ready to put out – if by ‘little light’ we’re referring to the volcanic fire rocks that were burning two feet in front of me.) There was also a rousing performance of ‘American The Beautiful,’ an ironic but iconic song choice in which I imagined Trump was outside the hut fist-pumping and building a tiny wall around us. When it got to me I was already rocking back and forth giving myself a pep talk: “Don’t be you Tanya, if there was ever a time to NOT be you, this is it.” Then I opened my mouth and it happened anyways: “I’ve prepared a piece tonight from Led Zeppelin,” I started, “I’ll be singing ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ It’s about 13-minutes long so I suggest you settle in.” This sent Andrea into stitches on my right, and I heard one other person laughing. I shared some more serious sentiment and hoped my joke didn’t make it seem like I wasn’t treating the experience earnestly.
We crawled outside and our Shaman doused us in water under an almost full moon. There was tea, water, and a giant bowl of oranges awaiting us. Andrea and I probably consumed all the fruit ourselves, inhaling citrus slices like kids half-time at their soccer game. I then met the mystery person who had laughed at my wisecrack. Joel, who was Crime’s boss, gave me a bear hug and said: “I like you,” he paused, “You’re my kind of person. I feel like we could burn down a town together.” While that may seem like a weird statement to make to someone you just met, I knew exactly what he meant and that he was right.
In all seriousness, I realized a lot in that sweat lodge besides the fact a five-minute song equates to an actual eternity in a Temazcal Ceremony. The last several years have been especially challenging for me. Life always ebbs & flows and has its ups and down but it really feels like my 30’s held a lot of pain. I take accountability for some of it – you don’t get served a shit sandwich without going up to the counter and ordering one. But even in darkness I’ve held onto the idea that discomfort and suffering was meant to be embraced and not ignored – that it gave me an understanding of joy, and a greater appreciation for it.
How important it is to reflect and know that even when you don’t feel like you’re growing, that’s probably when you’re growing the most. That when you’re machete whacking your own hypothetical jungles of grief and despair, there will be relief. It’s not to say you won’t find your way back into the weeds time and time again, but you’ll rest a little easier knowing you will eventually get out.
For the bad, I am grateful. For mediocrity, I am grateful. For the good – I am ecstatic. You don’t have to go away to remember who you are – it’s always there for you to access. Whether it’s muted, paused, or on a temporary hold – you have the key. And no matter how bad we want it – we can only be where we are and not where we want to be. The whole world is your metaphorical Sweat Lodge people, and at least it’s got a killer soundtrack. Just sit back, try and relax & breathe. Namaste for now, bitches.