I had mentioned my Breitenbush retreat in an earlier post, and I’d like to tell you more about it. I experienced the mother of all epiphanies–at least where my life is concerned, at Breitenbush.
I went to Breitenbush for the purpose of attending the Inipi, or sweatlodge, which is a purification ceremony in the Lakota tradition. Over the months preceding my retreat, I was experiencing a profound letharghy–spiritually, emotionally, and physically. I had become so disconnected that I was convinced that my soul had left. I was nothing but a shell with a nervous system. I reacted to my environment, but didn’t participate in life. I had stopped dreaming months ago, and had stopped writing as well. Not knowing what else to do, I reserved a cabin at Breitenbush and a spot in the Inipi. I needed a hard, spiritual ass-kicking, and the sweatlodge seemed like the logical place to get it.
I understood when I booked the time at Breitenbush that if my period started, I wouldn’t be able to attend the sweat. My cycle, at the time I made the reservation, would have not interfered. But just days after I booked, my cycle changed, and this put me in a precarious situation with the timing of the sweat.
The drive to the retreat was tense. I had never suffered from anxiety on the way to vacation. It felt like I was driving to work; I knew this wasn’t right. So, along with the depression, anxiety, disconnection, I stressed about my period starting. I really needed to be at this sweatlodge; I couldn’t stand the thought of driving all that way, needing the ceremony as badly as I did, and then not being able to participate. I considered attending no matter what; but what if something went wrong during the ceremony? The sweat leader would start looking for the menstruating woman responsible. Worried I’d be found out if I participated while bleeding, and angry that I’d be excluded, I was caught in a frustrating ethical dilema.
So my first day there, I alternated between intending that my cycle wouldn’t start until after the sweat, and trying to figure out whether I wanted to chance it–if it started mid-ceremony or something. I went down to the river, killing time before check-in. The labyrinth is next to the river, so I set upon its path. As I walked, the path took me closer to the center after one turn, then led me further away from the center at another. I had stopped two or three times
thinking something was wrong with the path, that I should have been closer to the center by now.
Then it hit me: I was trying to navigate a path that didn’t need navigating. The labyrinth was perfect in its design, and all I had to do was to follow it. All Ihad to do was to keep going forward, and I would not, could not, fail to reach the center.
I realized at that moment that I waste a lot of time navigating, second-guessing, plotting my way through life. All I have to do is keep going forward.
I got through the ceremony unsinged but not unchanged, and my period didn’t start until the next day. I worried and wrung my hands for nothing, because in the end, it turned out fine. I understood after the whole thing was over, that the hardest thing we’re asked to do in this life is to trust that we don’t have to know what to do. It’s a simple truth when you hear it rattling around in your head, it’s a profound realization when you feel it in your bones for the first time.
That’s the difference between believing and knowing.