Tag Archives: Spirituality

SWEAT LODGES – A PROFOUND SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE

I’ve had the honor to participate in three Carrier First Nations sweat lodge ceremonies. They were profound spiritual and cultural experiences and I’d like to share them with you.

A2Sweat lodge ceremonies have been a First Nations tradition since time immemorial and they serve all people, not just the indigenous. Sweats ceremonial clean and heal the body, both physically and mentally. They purge the mind, bring clarity, and test participant’s endurance, strength, and courage. They’re holy places where people renew deep and natural connection to the universe and the realm of spirits.

A1Though usually associated with healing, each sweat holds different purposes and each leader conducts their affairs a bit differently. One session might work out family or community problems. Another might handle addiction or other health issues. Some pass-on oral traditions through story telling.  But all ceremonies aim to purify your mind, body, spirit, heart, and mend your dis-ease – be it physical, emotional, directional, or spiritual. It’s much like a dialysis of the soul.

“Sweat lodge” essentially translates into returning to the womb and the innocence of childhood. Entering the dome-like structure and crawling its shallow, earthen pit is representative of passing the womb of Mother Earth. The lodge is dark, moist, hot, and safe. The darkness relates to human ignorance before the spiritual world and even more blindness to the physical world.

A3Extensive symbolism is practiced in sweat lodge ceremonies. It’s a place of transformation and purification through sensory deprivation, extreme heat, steam, prayers, pipes, rattles, drums, and song. Enlightenment is attained through breathing, meditating, journeying, and sharing words and song. It’s a unique and profoundly personal experience where your body is cleansed of toxins, stress is removed, and your mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual wellness are aligned.

In the purification of your spirit inside a sweat lodge, all sense of race, gender, and religion is set aside. As in the Mother’s womb and the Father’s eyes, we are all the same. We are One. Each of us has the equal ability to sit with the Creator himself.

A5The entrance to a sweat lodge faces the East and the sacred fire pit where rocks are heated in a wood fire. This has very significant spiritual value. Each new day begins in the East with the rising of Father Sun, the source of life, power, and the dawn of wisdom, while the fire heating the rocks is the undying light of the world – eternity – it’s a new spiritual beginning; a new day that’s sought in the ceremony.

Central to the sweat is the ideal of spiritual cleanliness. Many sweats start with fasting for an entire day, especially avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and other unhealthy substances. Prior to entering the lodge, participants smudge with sage, sweet-grass, or cedar smoke as a means toward ritual cleanliness.

A6Inside, participants sit in a circle around the central pit into which white-hot rocks are shoveled-in by the fire-tender. Modesty is expected, but any material objects such as jewelry, watches, or iPods are discouraged. This is a sacred place to pray, meditate, learn and heal, and that must be the focus. With the door shut and the lodge lit only by the glow of the rocks, the leader begins by pouring water from a wooden bucket onto the rocks.

A11When the steam and temperature rise so do the senses. Messages and vision from the Creator, or Infinite Intelligence if you’d like to call it that, are received through the group consciousness. One at a time, as a talking stick is passed, all inside get an opportunity to speak, to pray, and to ask for guidance and forgiveness from the Creator and the people they have hurt or who have hurt them. As they go around the circle, they tell who they are and where they are from, so the Creator, the Spirit People, and all there can acknowledge them.

A sweat is typically four sessions, called rounds or endurances, each lasting about 30 to 45 minutes. The round ends when the leader announces the opening of the door.

A8The first round is for recognition of the spirit world which resides in the black West where the sun goes down and the Creator may be asked for a “spirit guide” by some of the participants.

The second round is for recognition of courage, endurance, strength, cleanliness, and honesty, calling upon the power of the white North.

The recognition of knowledge and individual prayer symbolize the third round, praying to the direction of the daybreak star and the rising sun that we may gain wisdom and that we may follow the Red Road of the East in all our endeavors.

A13Fitting, the last round centers on the Yellow South and stands for spiritual growth and healing.

From spirit guides of  the west, from the courage, honesty, and endurance of the north, from the knowledge and wisdom obtained in the east, we continue the circle to the south from which comes all of our growth.

Respect, sincerity, humility, the ability to listen, and the need to slow down and think about what’s important in life, are the keys in growing through the sweat lodge ceremony.

ALTERED STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS

Bude Sheep StandingThirty years ago I had an out-of-body experience—an OBE. And, no, I’m not nuts. At the time, I was a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer involved in an Emergency Response Team operation. We attempted to capture an armed and deranged bushman wanted for murder in the northern Canadian wilderness. It’s now known as The Teslin Lake Incident.

Mike Buday, my partner, and I were static—in a defensive position—camouflaged in deep snow, while a second squad drove the suspect towards us across a frozen lake. Three hundred yards away, we lost sight as Michael Oros entered the thick-timber shoreline. In less than ten minutes, Oros circled around us.

Mike & TrooperI had the eeriest sense. Then—imminent—extreme danger. I glanced over my left shoulder. Through a thick, gray wash of leafless brush I saw Oros’ face materialize forty-four yards away. I yelled “Mike! He’s right behind you!” Oros’ rifle exploded. He shot Mike Buday—my best friend and my partner—in the back of the neck, killing Mike instantly.

In the same nanosecond—my state of consciousness altered. Non-locally—I viewed the scene from outside my body as if sitting on a branch of a huge tree, watching it unfold from above. I had a complete sense of calm—like time stopped—and the world was a slow-motion picture. Frame by frame, I watched Oros work his bolt, turn, point his rifle at me, and pull his trigger.

I kept watching as the M-16 rifle in my hands rose. It rotated to my left. Beaded Oros’ face. And squeezed one round. Oros’ head vanished. I snapped back to local consciousness. That turned into terror.

photo 4 (1)The investigation determined my M-16’s returning shot hit Oros in the forehead. It terminated his existence immediately. When the bolt on Oros’ rifle was opened, the investigators found the live cartridge in Oros’ chamber had the firing pin punctured. It failed to go off. No scientific reason for the misfire has ever been determined.

Likewise, the scientific reason for my out-of-body experience has yet to be determined and I’ve spent the past three decades investigating it. And I do believe there’s a scientific explanation for it, because I’m not nuts and I know that it happened. And I refuse to write it off as “Paranormal”. 

I’m not the only one who’s experienced an OBE. Researchers claim that around ten percent of people have experienced some form of yet-to-be explained, altered state of consciousness. I think that the scientific knowledge of consciousness is an untapped frontier. Possibly it’s the next phase of human evolution. 

So what really is an OBE?

OBE5Turning to good ol’ Wikipedia, it’s a mental experience that typically involves a sensation of floating outside one’s body and, in some cases, perceiving one’s physical body from a place outside one’s body (autoscopy).

The term out-of-body experience was introduced in 1943 by George Tyrrell in his book Apparitions and was adopted by researchers as an alternative to belief-centric labels such as astral projection, soul travel, or spirit walking.

OBEs can be unintentionally induced by brain traumas, sensory deprivation, near-death experiences, extreme and immediate danger, disassociative and psychedelic drugs, dehydration, sleep, and electrical stimulation of the brain, among others. It can also be deliberately induced by some, such as Shamans.

Scientifically, how does it work?

OBE6I’ve pondered this ever since I recovered from my shock and grief of the Teslin Lake Incident. It was part healing process and part of my natural curiosity into the science of how and why things happen. I’m not sure if I have the right answer, but I pretty comfortable that OBEs are just part of our human design, just like the flight or fight response to danger. It’s also probably what’s behind the reports of ‘my life flashed before my eyes‘ from car accident victims.

All existence seems to come from a source of infinite intelligence which provides the rules for how the forces of the universe operate such as space, time, energy, matter, and intelligence (STEMI is the term – check this blog post for more).

Integral to human existence is our various levels of consciousness such as awake, asleep, and the always-operating subconscious level that keeps our heart and lungs working. But there’s clearly other states of consciousness like meditative, prayer, hyper-awareness, and the dangerous one which we’ve all experienced when driving—then realizing we don’t remember the last ten miles.

OBE7I’m not religious by definition of belonging to a dogmatic organization, but I’m definitely spiritual by way of believing there’s a reason behind universal existence that can be explained if we possess the knowledge to understand it. Somehow it seems that our various levels of human consciousness are tied into one central point in our mind. That may just be what the soul is. And our soul may be our portal to infinite intelligence.

Four years ago I took a sabbatical to research the soul – call it a soul search.

A plug for my book — No Witnesses To Nothing   I market it as a Crime Thriller, but that’s just marketing bullshit to get attention. It’s actually the story of my search for the science and spirituality behind the human soul. I just disguised it as a murder mystery so people would read it and maybe discover something in themselves.

My journey took me to sweat lodges, talks with leaders in science, teachers in spirituality, and long introspective walks with my dog. My stroll ended up at the door of a true, modern-day Shaman, actually a Sha-woman, and it was here that I opened my eyes to see what was behind my OBE.

OBE9Dr. Leslie Gray is a San Francisco based clinical therapist. I found her work on altered states of consciousness fascinating. She helped me view my OBE as a normal, human response to an extremely traumatic event.

I believe Shamanism to be a legitimate, sound, and professional scientific practice – once I was able to get that knowledge to understand it. Shamanism is the all-inclusive practice of willfully altering your state of consciousness to access knowledge from other sources of intelligence. There’s nothing new about Shamanism. It’s been around as long as the human species and it’s a natural practice of obtaining information. Some people are just better at it than others.

Here’s a quote from Dr. Gray.

OBE11“Shamanism is a method where virtually everyone can learn to “journey” to a world of non-ordinary reality for the purpose of healing themselves, or others, and increasing personal knowledge. This age-old and culturally transcendent technique lets you “leave” your physical body by wilfully altering your state of consciousness to acquire first-hand knowledge from a normally hidden universe.”

The science of how consciousness works remains to be discovered, but I’m now comfortable that my OBE during The Teslin Lake Incident was nothing paranormal.

It was a totally natural, human response that automatically altered my consciousness to a state of hyper-awareness which allowed me to respond in a life or death situation.

I’m so thankful the Creator designed me that way.

THE DALI LAMA IS A SHAMAN

The Dalai Lama posted this on his Facebook site:

Dalai LamaAll the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can, and do, promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate.

This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.

My confidence in venturing into science lies in my basic belief, that as in science as in Buddhism, understanding the nature of reality is perused by critical investigation:  if scientific analysis were to conclusively demonstrate that certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims of Buddhism.

huge testclesIt takes a huge set of balls for a major religious figure like the Dalai Lama to publicly say this.

He’s not saying that his belief in Buddism is wrong. He’s just saying he’s got an open mind and is willing to look and listen to science.

As in scientific control.

A controlled way of thinking about spirituality, and ethics, and other forms of consciousness.

It’s unfortunate that so many of the world’s religions are closed to scientific discussion.

Over the years, I’ve critically investigated the science around religion.

Shaman 1That led me to a belief in Shamanism.

No, not to some witch doctor dancing around a fire with a bone and a chicken.

The science of Shamanism has been around 40,000 years, in all cultures, and on all continents. It’s appeared in identical forms to all peoples; despite language, customs, technology, and total remoteness from each other.

Shamanism 3Shamanism is about scientific mind control.

It’s about a controlled mind, scientifically entering into altered states of consciousness. It’s mandate is to achieve wisdom, just like the Dalai Lama does in meditating in his Buddhist faith. Controlled, altered, scientific states of consciousness gives us wisdom to promote inner values of love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness; which are the Dalai Lama’s values.

A Shaman goes about Shamaning; helping others – just as a minister goes about ministering. Or the Dalai goes about Lamaning.

Shamanism is a blend of science and spirituality. Shamans use outer knowledge to offer inner values.

Pretty much like the Dalai Lama has been doing.

Dalai Lama 2He connects with infinite consciousness and brings us wisdom.

So the Dalai Lama is a Shaman.