I've never been in such a super-heated, sensuously rich feeling, thick- and heavy-aired place before; nor have I ever literally poured off sweat like this — and I've lived in Texas, Oklahoma, and Florida. At one point I have to keep wiping my face over and over every minute or so, for the amount of sweating I'm doing. My light clothing is plastered against me, literally soaked, against my flushed-feeling skin, and the interior of the lodge is black / moist and incredibly heated. It really does feel womb-like; everything is hot and wet. Our organizer is kind enough to occasionally flip open the door flap for us when someone is feeling smothered. I find myself enjoying the darkness more.

Between each round I stagger/trudge carefully out, flopping out limply onto the blissfully cool grass and staring with dreamy blankness up at the pale blue sky. Birds fly overhead; I drink liquids and don't really recognize the flavor. Almond, maybe? My cohort sisters are around me; some sit, others flop like me. If I remember correctly, one stays within the lodge for the whole time, worried about not returning if she leaves. She is not alone; another cohort sister stays within between the third and fourth round. When we're called back in I laugh softly at the occasional bit of cheerful grumbling as we all re-gather and re-enter.

The heat really is incredible; it's like a massively more internally-reflective and nicer-smelling sauna. On the third round I thought I was near having enough: I felt very close to telling the organizer I needed a break — or I'd be breathing fire! That's the closest I come to not being able to handle it, though. I speculate on the basis of the worry about coming back or not; it must be due to internal demons surfacing. I hum a small internal blessing-prayer for their success; I wonder if my not having any big fears of making it through this ordeal show that I'm shallow.

The organizer has talked us through this, beating the drum for us to meditate, encouraging us to sing together, and so on. I'm interested to see she's not worried about bringing her hoop drum in here. That's encouraging; I'll be able to take La Dama Roja with me more places than I'd originally thought! The songs we sing are interesting — many of them are about the goddess. Curiously, I find singing songs about a male deity to feel somehow 'wrong' to me in this environment. We are a cohort of sisters who've triumphed together over the ordeal of two years of a Master's program in Women's Spirituality.

The only ones missing are the two who live out of state, and I do not doubt they would be here too if they could — and that we have their blessings this afternoon. Together once more, we are going to triumph over this physical ordeal as well. Even those of us who have chosen to participate through staying outside the sweat lodge are still in sacred space, and contributing to our success here within the lodge.

In such a situation, I want to sing thanks and praise to the goddesses who encouraged and inspire us on our paths. I don't feel a need to make a huge deal out of it, though, since I know all of us have different ways of viewing Her, so I simply change the words to 'Lady' instead of 'Lord' in the songs. It feels nice inside to me — more right. Interestingly, some of the songs allow for some really lovely 'rounds,' with one tune sung over the other simultaneously. I can't hear anyone else doing that, but in the darkness I happily sing out the alternating rounds on my own, enjoying myself tremendously as I do so — a childhood spent singing harmony with my sister and choirs means I like that sort of musical expression. I spare a thought for the hope that I'm not bothering anyone by doing so — then simply continue singing. Later my cohort sisters on each side of me will admit they could barely hear anyone else in the lodge; I have not bothered anyone at all. I'm pleased to hear it.

At some point we are encouraged to speak our internal prayers — what we wish to release and what we wish to take away with us when metaphorically reborn from this ordeal of purification. We don't have to speak them aloud, but we go around the circle and everyone is given a moment to speak either aloud or to whisper within. Writing now, I remember hoping then that no one would find my desires too shallow — and also that I cannot for the life of me remember what anyone else said! I suspect I worry too much. :)

Some of my sisters speak aloud; others keep their prayers private. When it is my turn to speak, I have the strangest internal sensation of absolute calm and certainty. I speak aloud the public part of my prayers, as well as this wonderful confidence that I am indeed on the right path for me. I feel like I'm overflowing with this confidence — I want to share it somehow! I add on another desire I've had since before this sweat lodge, which I first had when I 'walked' for graduation: I want to be there at the graduation of every single one of the rest of my cohort sisters, to cheer them on from the audience! As I speak, I pour that feeling of confidence that this will happen into my words, trying to give it to my cohort sisters as well. I feel very warm and close to them all within the lodge at that moment, and I hope I've been able to successfully share my confidence with those who need it.

It is in the fourth round that I seem to hit my second wind: I find myself really enjoying the singing intensely, right down to my center of gravity, swaying with the music in the closest I'm willing to come to dancing in the lodge. It is intensely pleasant to be here, with all my senses but sight feeling super-charged; with my cohort sisters around me in a mutually supportive circle. I know not everyone will feel the same, of course — I've been that cynical, bemusedly amused hold-out in the corner for most of my life — but I suddenly realize that doesn't really matter. It does not break the circle — it is simply a part of the intertwined strands which makes up the circle's strength.

It's when I feel like this that I have enough emotion, enough internal confidence and joy, to share it as abundantly as I can with those who are nervous and doubting, to welcome those on the outside to step within if they dare… to give to those who need, and to accept the same from those stronger than me when I need it. It is a curiously humbling and exciting and joyous realization, subtle enough that I cannot even verbalize it for several days as the emotional realization works its way through me.

When we emerge for the final time from the lodge I feel almost disappointed — and then I spot the slices of watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew the organizer has waiting for us. Liquids! My body needs replenishing. I hungrily devour one slice of each, and marvel at just how beautiful they are. The watermelon in particular is a delicate latticework of scarlet sweetness that has me staring bemusedly at it as I chew, wondering how something so lovely could also be so luscious. The honeydew's sweetness is astonishing, a caress of delicious flavor on my tongue.

The only thing more amazing to me, immediately after the sweat lodge, is the joyful sensuality of the shower I take later that night. The soft rasp of the washcloth, the stroking of the water running down my body, the various pleasant scents of the soaps and shampoo… I want to hurry so I don't use up all the hot water, and so my cohort sisters have hot water too, but more than once I find myself simply standing in the water, face turned up to savor the amazing sensations cascading over me. Fresh, clean, dry cotton clothing afterwards is almost as delightfully sensuous, and I leave my wet hair hanging down my back for the sheer pleasure of the occasional cool droplet of water trickling along my skin.

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