The idea would never had occurred to me.

But Alisa and I were at dinner with Danny Maseng and Terry Feinstein, when I mentioned that I am seeking to better know myself, to experience the emotional fullness of life, to deepen my senses.

Danny suggested some readings.

Terry simply said, "Sweat lodge."

Duncan_lodge_2_2Bring On The Sweat
Within six weeks, I was building the lodge in the country with a fellow sweater. (I am not revealing the names of the participants for they are entitled to privacy.)

We were encamped at, of all unlikely places, Rocky Fork Hunt & Country Club,
better enjoyed for chasing foxes on horseback and high society amid fine dining. The
groundskeepers had heard my request of the board of trustees and
embraced it wholeheartedly, cutting a round clearing (and providing
boughs and twigs, and rocks from the Rocky Fork Creek) in a secluded,
wild pasture.

The lodge was a simple dome constructed with six intersecting 16' poles (maple saplings, trimmed and lashed). The accompanying photos show the lodge before it was covered with tarps and blankets.
My kids tell me that this is a wigwam, not a teepee — which reminds me of a joke:

A man rushes into the psychiatrist's office mumbling maniacally, "I'm a wigwam, I'm a teepee. I'm a wigwam, I'm a teepee. I'm a wigwam, I'm a teepee."

"Calm down, calm down," says the psychiatrist. "You're two tents."

(For a live performance or an explanation, please contact me.)

Out Of The Fire
And Into The Heat

So, anyway, 14 of us met on a recent Saturday evening at 9 p.m.

I'd been roasting the river rocks for five hours, so they were ready to bring into the lodge. After some calming, prefatory comments from Danny — including permission to leave the lodge for anyone who feels faint — we carefully brought in the red, glowing rocks and crawled inside.

Unfortunately, the lodge was too spacious: too wide, too tall. As a result, it was never hot enough. As we neared an intermission, Danny said, "It is entirely too pleasant in here." We all laughed, but I was a little sad that none of our worst fears (the physical and emotional challenge) were going to be realized.

Nonetheless, it was a success. In the words of one of the participants:

"It was one of the most significant experiences I have had in years. I felt things I hadn't in a long time. I came away struck with the humanity of all the people in there and in awe of Danny. Even now when I need some psychological space to retreat to, I think of the sweat lodge."

It was great fun and wonderful community.
We shared and sang and laughed.

Alisa says, "It's a great first experience. We can always turn up the heat next time."

What I learned:

1. Many would never consider such a seeker's experience. One person refused the invitation by saying, "I'm going to be out of town." I asked: "Where are you going?" His answer: "I don't know. But I'm definitely going to be out of town." I learned that I'm willing to send an invitation that might appear absurd.

2. Others, like me, welcome unusual experiences that connect them to their senses and emotions. Those that accepted the invitation did so with little or no hesitation. They found the invitation reasonable, interesting, appealing and acceptable.

3. Something about listening. When the conversation began with my being thanked for the persistence, organization, and building, I found myself suddenly very quiet. I learned something about listening.

4. How to construct a primitive structure. I learned how to tie a transom knot and how to lash poles. I learned that old lesson: making things is enjoyable.
It was, overall, a very positive experience for me. I will rebuild the sweat lodge for greater heat. (People put additions on their homes…. I will put a subtraction on the sweat lodge.) And we will sweat again in the autumn!

For a more technical description of how to build and operate your own sweat lodge, click to this site.