Sweat Lodge

Often times we think of tradition as drumming, sweat lodges, or other indigenous ceremonies danced around a blazing fire.  We fail to notice the measuring spoons in our lives that are equally as rich in sprinkling our "beingness" with sweetness.  I just landed on an island in the Pacific Northwest to write, and things are still pretty quiet as I unpack from the long journey.  In addition, it is a holiday week, so clients are otherwise busy, giving me uninterrupted time to unwind, clean, and unpack, after a four-day drive through California, Oregon, and into the base of Washington State where I caught the ferry that delivered me to my two-month writing retreat.

Sashi on on the Journey NorthAccompanying me on my journey was my furry and fat feline friend, Sashi, who took up residence on my lap for the 1,300 plus miles we covered in a packed Blue Forester.  Several times we veered off the highway and ignored Siri's annoying recalculations and turn-by-turn directions to honor our own unique route instead. One overnight stop into the Redwoods involved work with my medicine teacher.  Despite all our work together, she always finds yet another layer that needs excavating.  Like a finely skilled butcher, her delicate but precise cuts remove sinew  and scar tissues hidden from view, leaving me tender—raw, but open.  

After our organic salad and tea, we traveled onward toward nightfall to a seedy ground level motel where Mount Shastasleep was spotty, but no one asked about pets. The car was repacked before dawn as we headed north on Interstate 5 towards Mount Shasta. In the early morning we witnessed the thick clouds part to make way for an awe-inspiring view of the sun flaunting the snow-capped mountains in July. No spaceships, but it certainly left me breathless.

Later that same day, alternating between soaks in my own private mineral tub, sweating in a wood-burning sauna and then dipping naked into a 50-degree stream while being watched and guarded by  tall pines and ancient trees, Sashi hid under the driver's seat to nap. Perhaps we would have stayed longer, but despite all the backwoods charm and great green juice, they insisted, "no pets allowed."

Seattle SkylineFully cleansed from the day before and our early morning ritual we continued our drive. The windshield wipers nearly rocked me to sleep and by the time we reached Portland, and after several hotels with a "no pets allowed" policy, my mood waned and the morning grandeur was lost as poor Sashi had not eaten or visited her litter box in 12 hours. Luckily, a friend brought dinner to our room and our exhaustion was eased by the motel's cleanliness and hospitality.  However, before sunlight, Sashi crawled under the sheets, nudging me to hit the road early. From there it was a five-hour drive to the ferry, and by 11 a.m. we had landed, and have been busy ritualistically washing sheets, towels, and pillows to make the new place our home. 

Langley Whidbey IslandToday there was sun for the first time since I left California, a lucky appearance as it is the Fourth of July—fireworks are best when viewed in a clear night sky over the bay. I was told by townies to go to the local parade, which is the one event this residential town offers each year. 

What I realized today is the Fourth of July is perhaps one of the greatest traditional holidays that remain classic American. Imagine, after 238 years, it is not hailed a Hallmark Holiday, and people do not celebrate with gifts or cards.

Independence Day is a down home celebration that people Community Parade on Whidbey Islandcelebrate with fun, firecrackers, and picnics. It is as close to an indigenous ceremony as we get. To get to the parade, I had to park over a mile away from the festivities. When I arrived I was greeted by hordes of people cheering on the handmade floats . . . and not floats; every participant in the lineup was met with glowing enthusiasm, including the man pushing a sound box in a wheelbarrow blaring reggae, a bevy of dachshunds, and Chevy trucks older than me.

Afterwards, the festivities continued. However, there were no mechanical rides or vending trucks, just the citizens of the island cooking hot dogs, while others cheered the children’s sack races and egg toss.  For a moment I had stepped back into the traditions of my youth that were buried beneath the sinew and scar tissue, which had been so aptly dissected earlier in the week.

Langley_Whidbey IslandPerhaps this is why, according to my landlord that most of the people who rent this house never want to leave. Yes, I believe people are seeking the lost rituals and ceremonies that are measured by teaspoons of sun-filled days and children’s laughter.  I doubt one person who left today’s parade and festivities felt anything but pride with the National Anthem still reverberating in their ears.  

What are your traditions and rituals? After this and exploring the island some, I stopped to buy fresh corn and other ingredients for potato salad. Time to turn on the grill and watch the fireworks in the clear blue night sky from the deck.


Renee Baribeau, known internationally as The Practical Shaman, specializes in making the mundane magical. In the oven is her book Tools for Awakening, a practical guide for navigating your emotions, eyes wide open. She is a modern day life coach who combines ancient energy practices with processes to create combustion for lasting happiness. In 2010, Renee’s healing memoir, The Shaman Chef; How cooking saved my life, placed her among the top 25 finalists in The Next Top Spiritual Author competition, emerging from a field of over 2,500 candidates world-wide.  Her essay, “Creativity a Recipe for Awakening” is included in an anthology entitled Pearls of WisdomThirty Life Changing Ideas featuring Jack Canfield. This summer she will be conducting private retreats on Whidbey Island. You can find Renee on Facebook and at her Practical Shaman blog.  She will also be teaching After Yoga, The Dishes at the Bhakti Fest in Joshua Tree, September 6-9.

Read Renee’s blog article at the Elephant Journal entitled, A Plea for the Amazon Queen; 10 Deal Breakers for the Modern Day Lesbian.

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