When my wife and I were in Costa Rica a few years back, we went to a sweat lodge. I thought it would be an interesting experience. We entered the sweat lodge, a small, dark, cramped space. The “shaman” guided us through the process, which included pouring water over very hot rocks to increase the temperature. The heat was oppressive and the darkness made me uneasy.
It brought back some very dark childhood memories. I was extremely sick as a child and had many high fevers. I had pneumonia five times before the age of five, severe anemia (they thought I had leukemia) and mononucleosis. I nearly died several times. My parents used to sweat the fevers out using tons of blankets and quilts piled up on my bed, which restricted my movement and felt unbearably hot. In addition, when I was a child, my brother locked me in a small foot locker for a time. I panicked. He finally let me out, and we got into quite a fight. I was hopped up on adrenalin. Talk about fight or flight! Since then, I have had claustrophobia. As a child, I was afraid of the dark. This was not a good start for someone wanting to be fearless and have the heart of a warrior.
Back to the sweat lodge. That sense of the extreme heat and being in a small, dark, cramped space brought back childhood fears: darkness, burning up with hot fevers, being in a small space, and yes, even death itself. I literally felt like my life was in danger.
That extreme fear was so overwhelming, I wanted out. The “shaman” told me to breathe and relax. I tried that and it helped for a short period of time. Finally, I could take it no longer. I left the sweat lodge. My wife, who has the heart of a warrior, stayed the entire time. When they both came out, I explained to the “shaman” what happened with me and my childhood experiences. I thought he as going to be very understanding, but he shrugged his shoulders and called me a wimp. He said I should have stayed no matter what. He told me that my wife was stronger than I was. I felt pretty awful about the whole thing.
Ginger, my beloved dog, faced her illness and death with great courage. She had the heart of a warrior. And yet, she was afraid of thunder. When a thunderstorm came rumbling through, she panicked and wanted to be under the covers. She tore up our closet trying to find a safe place.
So what’s the point? We all have things that scare us. And we all have things that we are very brave about. My wife has fears. Being in a sweat lodge is not one of them. Don’t dwell on those things that scare you and don’t put yourself down for being afraid. Honor those feelings and know that even warriors have fears. I started my own business during a down time in the economy (right after 9-11) and survived through the greatest economic disaster since the great depression. I can get in front of a large group without any preparation and wow the audience. There are many instances where I am utterly fearless. I’m sure you can think of those areas of your life. So be fearless, cultivate the heart of a warrior, and celebrate diving into the abyss. And what about those things that still scare you? Unless they are negatively affecting your life, forget them. I am not required by anyone to enter sweat lodges, so I am going to let that one go.
But one day, maybe I’ll try it again . . .