Lessons In Spirituality: Rubbing Elbows With God, Sweating Nudists, and A Christmas Miracle

Into the sweat lodge!

It wasn’t your first sweat lodge.  You’ve blogged about these before.

Living at Sli na Bande is an education in spirituality. You confessed to the sweat lodge group the evening of the 21st that every spiritual growth spurt you’ve ever had has occurred at Sli na Bande.  What better place to be for the end of the world?

You certainly didn’t take your first sweat lodge very seriously.  You had a lot of maturing to do.  It was weird, different.  Was it that there were too many new age hippies?

Well, four years later, you may be one of them.

You told the group that you have a desire to develop your spirituality.  That you over-intellectualize everything.  That you wished to live more in the moment, and spend less time agonizing over things that don’t matter very much.  Go with the flow.  Roll with the punches.  Just accept things for what they are.

The sweat lodge has Native American traditions, but has certainly been affected by Marlene and Ireland.  The ceremony involves a dome, hot rocks heated on a bonfire, a few “gate openings” and prayers, intentions, and then Four Quarters of focused prayer.

Blankets that must cover the dome.

Blankets that must cover the dome.

The finished dome, and a nearly ready to burn fire pit.

The finished dome, and a nearly ready to burn fire pit.

The meditation circle.

The meditation circle.

So dark, no one can see much.

So dark, no one can see much.

Your intention was to have peace of mind, as you wrote previously, and to embrace the opportunity to sweat yet again.  When the group was ready, everyone stripped off their clothing and lined up outside the sweat lodge, near the fire, which had been lit priorly.  You bent down before the doorway, uttered, “For all my relations,” and crawled inside.  You would remain in the sweat for more than an hour, crammed between a man and a woman, squirming uncomfortably from a tight, aching back, time to time.

You called your father, and the people you love.

You asked for the things you wanted.  For peace of mind.  The easy going mental fortitude and confidence in your health that you once had.

Then you asked for things on behalf of others.  You asked… that people learn to see loss as life making space for new opportunities (don’t you know that lesson well!).  That people learn to roll with the punches.  That people struggling in their relationships learn to resolve their differences and love each other again.  The people learn self-love. That people experience exquisite joy and love–soon!

You prayed more for others than ever before, and listened to the prayers of the other members of the group, and wondered about the mystery of altruism.  Why people care so much about people they don’t know.  It was so easy.  So natural to care.  To wish the good things.  It felt good to say them.

The door opened quarterly for more hot rocks, and the light from the fire outside gently illuminated the figures in the sweat lodge.  Bare shoulders, hugged knees, sweating-smiling faces, dripping hair–crammed together like sardines–naked.  It felt very tribal, very primitive, and organic.

It felt right.  You could feel your sincerity, and hear theirs.  Occasionally a prayer would be so compelling, that the group members would second, third, fourth, fifth it!  You all wanted the same things.

It was an articulation of the human condition.

You emerged from the sweat very thankful to have had the opportunity yet again to grow, and you were determined to make good on your prayers.

The following morning, wishing you’d had more time to recover, you and Katie hitched down the county to meet up with an old travel pal of yours, Levi: “He’s a big kid, not exactly tall, but stocky. You can see…that the rest of his body is constructed as solidly as his legs—with large, round muscles through the arms, broad shoulders, and a neck like a bull’s. You cannot imagine what kind of activities sculpted his physique. All you can think is power.”

Levi is a character, about whom you had spoken to Katie many times.  “He’s very high energy.  And he’ll tell you stories that will totally inspire you to travel, and he’ll probably make you feel like a wuss.”

Levi was his same old self, only two years older, and with shorter hair.  For a 22-year-old, two years is a long time, especially if you cram as much into your life as Levi does.

Levi, breaking open a bottle of wine, so you all could get drunk on the pier.

Levi, breaking open a bottle of wine, so you all could get drunk on the pier.

Half way through the bottle, things went smoothly, and he caught you up on a few details of his life, without too much detail.  In other words, Levi talks big, and likes to keep things big.  Details are too small.  They bog a person down.

This can frustrate you, because you are an over-thinker.  When he tells you he makes money from his new business, you want to know how.  He doesn’t elaborate much.  At times, you think he’s a bullshitter–that’s a common concern for anyone with tall tales (you’ve been accused of BS yourself).  When Levi says that earlier in the year, he was attacked by 11 dogs and nearly killed, you demand the proof.

He has no problem taking off his pants, and shows you numerous scars and teeth marks riddling his corded, tree-trunk legs.  Says he managed to kill two of them, climb a tree, and wait for the shepherd to call them off.  He says he hitch hiked his way to a hospital, and fainted at the door.  Says it took him 27 days in the hospital to recover.

“How much does that cost?” you ask.

He shrugs it off as a non-issue.  He’s a home-owner.  Has some insurance through that.  Claims it was about a thousand euros. (You hate America’s medical care system.  An illness or an injury can mean slavery to debt, or bankruptcy.)

Levi has infectious energy, and is utterly bulletproof.  It’s winter in Ireland, and he walks around in a t-shirt.  He travels with a backpack 1/3 of the size of yours, with no tent, and no backup plan.  If Levi doesn’t get to his destination before dark, he goes to a pub and sweet talks his way into someone’s house, or someone’s bed.

He’s a 22 year old male with energy and recovery times only enjoyed by youth.  You furrow at him.  You scowl at him.  You feel that for you, those days are over.  And yet you grasp at their memory with the faint feeling that they’re still there.  “Mind over matter!  I can do this!  Focus on the cause, not the effect!”

So you buy the group rounds and rounds of beers–

–only to later be reminded that when you drink alcohol, you cannot sleep deeply.  Indeed, the days of passing out cold are over.  You don’t roll out of bed, into dirty jeans, and in to a lecture hall as you did in college.  You don’t sit down and pull a 10k on the erg to burn it off.

If only you could ignore the aches and pains!  Be blissfully ignorant of them.  When someone’s palm hurts, he ignores the mystery.  When your palm hurts, you are acutely aware that a bone spur is bumping against a nerve, and you wonder how many years you have left before you must physically intervene.

It’s frustrating to think you’ve peaked.

Levi embodies that can-do, fearless, unstoppable energy you want to feed upon.  You admitted to having grown soft in your last pampered year in America.  In Gabe’s penthouse.  With your pay checks.  Your heat.  Your wonderful weather and local, organic food.

Levi knows that if you spend all your time thinking about being sick, you will become sick.  Sure, you’re on board with that!  But then he has the audacity to tell you that he’s neither vomited, nor had diarrhea, in his entire life.

“You were a baby once!” Katie retorts.

When it comes to illness, Levi has no idea what he’s talking about, but he is bold and convincing.  The mean part of you wants him to know illness, so that he stops taking his youth and energy for granted.  Then again, he isn’t taking it for granted!  He does with his youth and his health what everyone dreams of doing.

He will be humbled and betrayed by his own body.  It’s a hard lesson.  Birth, growth, maturity, decline, and death.

Ahhh well, the three of you have a grand old time in Wicklow Town, and you pay for his drinks, as a form of thanks for his having hosted you two years ago.  And as the light in the sky began to fade, you all decided to continue south to Gorey, rather than return home.

Oh, and you were drunk.  That much alcohol on an empty stomach was a bad idea.  Makes you do shit like this:

Sadly, you don't remember being such a jackass.

Sadly, you don’t remember being such a jackass.

You trekked to the highway in a hurry, jumped into a car with a couple girls, and thanked them for stopping in the near-darkness.

They dropped you outside of Arklow, still about 20km from Gorey, and wished you well.


“I left my jacket in their car,” you said to Levi and Katie.

Katie’s heart opened for you.  How terrible!

“My passport was inside it,” you added.

Worst mistake ever.

The three of you rapidly argued about the best course of action.  Levi wanted to walk to Arklow, some 3km away, and check all the cars.   You thought that was the worst idea ever.  Impossible.  Like looking for a needle in a haystack.

The car, you see, did not belong to the girls.  It belonged to a boyfriend.  The seats in the back had been all laid down, and you’d dropped your coat on the floor in order to adjust them back.  You coat was dark grey, and the passport not obvious from a quick squeeze.  What was the likelihood of the girls checking the back seat of a car that wasn’t theirs, in order to see if something had been left?

In your opinion, low.  But Katie’s hopes were higher.  You remained calm, refused to cry, and thought about the 200 bucks you would have to spend to replace it–thought about your inevitably delayed departure from Ireland, in order to accommodate your drunken fuck-up.

17,000km hitch hiked, and never once had you forgotten something in a car.  Not even your lunch.

Go big or go home.  Fuck up big, or don’t fuck up at all.  Zorba The Greek.

You didn’t look back, and the three of you made it to Gorey, just in time.  Your driver dropped you near the police station, and you chuckled as you told the lady cop what you’d done.  Levi had remarkably remembered the make of the car, and the plate numbers.  Katie had remembered the girls’ names.  You remembered Jane’s phone number, and thankfully had your address memorized.  If the passport ended up in the Arklow police station, then you might get it back.

Levi took you back to his place–or rather, his best friend’s place: Reverend Stephen–a sort of father-figure to Levi, though they have little in common, in your opinion.  You told Stephen about your predicament, and asked him to see if God could do you a favor.

Within 30 minutes, the phone was ringing.  Jane was on the line, “Lost something, Maria?”

The passport had returned!

You joked about rubbing elbows with god.  About getting a little Christmas Miracle!  Thank you, Stephen!

You and Katie crashed that night, and joined Stephen and Levi at church in the morning.

You’d never really been to church before.  Once.  A long time ago.  But for all intents and purposes, it felt like a first.  You sat politely and marvelled over how polite everyone was.  “Hello.  How are you.  Welcome.  Glad to see you at church!”  That kind of thing.

You sang the songs (poorly), pretended to know the words of prayers, and watched little children enact the birth of Baby Jesus.  You listened to Reverend Stephen tell you about His love, and light, and all of that.

This was a different lesson in spirituality, compared to the night before.  You mustered all the respect you had, and kept your mind open, but the words, the prayers, affected you like little dull, plastic darts, bouncing off a cheap board.  There was nothing.

“God, to me, is the agency of gravity and light,” you once said to Katie.  “Yes.  If I must acknowledge God, that is what God is to me.”

For you, God does not deliberately knock up some young, ordinary woman and send angels to her and her unsuspecting boyfriend in their dreams to tell them, “Yo, it’s all good.  Don’t freak!”  God surely works in mysterious ways–but why’s he gotta be a dream-stalking, impregnating creeper?

God is the cosmos–that’s sounds much better.

You felt much more at home, sweating, crammed up against strangers, loving the idea of people being happy and finding peace, and articulating your desires for it.  The pomp and circumstance of church, the measured stand-up, now-sit, now-flip rhythm of it all… the awkward, off-tune singing and songs that numbered by the hundreds, but differed little–the very churchiness of it all… it just didn’t gel.

You wanted it to.  You wanted your more conservative side to connect with the words.  But the circumstances stood in the way.

You didn’t like being told how you should feel.

You preferred realizing your own altruistic desires, and admitting them under a pitch-black dome to a bunch of sweating nudists.

Whatever form of spirituality takes hold of you, you welcome it.  You envy people who have that spiritual X factor.  People like Levi, who’s foundations are in theology, who has great love for and faith in people.  He moves others with his energy.  He pays it forward, and back, and forward again.  He articulates his intentions, and cuts his path clearly and precisely–but allows his energy, his karma, to go full circle .  It’s enviable energy from a spring you hope to tap.  It’s a natural, rhythmic energy that cannot be measured in dollars and cents.

Levi The Unconquerable.

Levi The Unconquerable.  Only 22 years old, but with plenty of hair on his chest.  He shares the following quote:

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the
most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving
advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and
touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be
silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with
us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing,
not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our
powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey

Categories: Awesome Luck, Hitchhiking, Ireland, Parties, Self-Improvement | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Lessons In Spirituality: Rubbing Elbows With God, Sweating Nudists, and A Christmas Miracle

  1. Ron Arnold


  2. Levi :)

    Next entry will be about your trip at my place in Warsaw 🙂

  3. Pingback: After 30,000 Kilometers Hitchhiked: The Top Three Lifts | Life Of Travel - A Memoir

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