I’m trapped in utter dark, seated on a dusty, hard earth floor. As beads of hot sweat are sliding down my body, I’m tightly hugging my knees and resting my head while I pray that we’ll all survive in this scorching oven until the end. Me, and the other twenty strangers, women I’ve not met before and with whom I’m now sharing this tiny house of steam for a traditional Temazcal ceremony.
The Meso-American indigenous used the Temazcal as a purification ceremony for body, mind and soul. It usually takes place in a round tent or a stone hut, with everyone gathered around a dirt pit where hot stones, called ‘abuelitas’ (grandmothers), are carefully placed and sprinkled with water. While abundant waves of hot steam transform normal breathing into a super challenge, the shaman says it’s a symbolic return to the womb of our mothers where we can safely disconnect from the outside world and directly connect to our true selves.
We’ve already cast our personal intentions outside, in front of the big fire. This is my last night in Mexico. Six months of solo traveling through Central America are awaiting me. But bigger than my backpack is my coffer of self-doubt and fears. I’m thirsty for peace of mind and I often fantasize about a future when I’ll be able to accept that my soul is not broken, it’s just my very twisted mind that so often plays witty tricks on me.
Once inside, it’s almost impossible to distinguish faces but my ears are all of a sudden hearing everyone’s breath. As I start to sweat and crave for a sip of water, I’m telling myself that healing is a process which always starts from within. And here I am, ready to see what emotions will be brought up this time while so many fears are still cooking inside my head. And I’m wondering if at the end of this experience, which seems for now to be a burning hell simulation, I will get to meet a new version of myself.
‘Find your voice and chant your name’. Oh no, I’m already in alert. Like nooo way, I‘m not gonna introduce myself by singing my name in front of a group of women. Not even in a blind darkness. I notice my first fear is here, screaming that ‘I don’t have a voice. I don’t sing. And I definitely don’t sing in front of people.’ But then I understand it's gonna be a chorus of voices and we're all gonna chant at the same time. Ok, maybe I’ll try. And then, the next second, I can’t really explain how, but my mind just shuts down and to my own surprise, I hear my voice coming out of my throw as a prayer and I am singing my whole name… not only two syllables but ten ... and it's in that instant, chanting in a hot haze that I realize my full birth name has ten syllables and most important, I do have a voice to sing them all.
The space is little, with no ventilation and the temperature keeps going up by the second. The hot stones glow in the dark like tiny flickering stars and I feel for a second I’m wrapped in a summer sky. Then again, complete darkness. My numb legs start itching from all the dust now glued on. I make an attempt to rub them but my hot skin hurts. I try at least to change my sitting position but I bump into the body next to me and I understand there’s no room for any leg stretching. Out of the blue, my mom’s image is in front of my eyes, so vivid and bright and it interrupts all my comfort seeking when I hear the shaman woman’s voice saying ‘now think about your mom surrounded by light’... Suddenly, an ocean of gratitude for all her love overwhelms me I keep drifting away in my own movie. I don’t know why, but I’m imagining her like never before, giving birth to me on a freezing winter afternoon. Few moments after, the loud voice cuts in the dark and interferes in my visuals saying ‘now imagine your mom giving birth to you’... wow, I just can’t believe my ears, thoughts are just floating around in this dark womb and it happened that I caught a few of them just before they were spoken. For an instant, I miss my mom so deeply that I need to bend down my body, closer to the earth, hoping for some slightly more breathable air.
I don’t know if minutes or hours have passed. By now, I have my eyes closed. The dark is so deep that keeping them open would make no difference. I feel that my closed eyes are somehow helping the sound to find its way out as I’m again surprised by my own voice, chanting loud and clear, hymns I didn't even know I knew. Scenes from my life unfold in front of my eyes and an invisible magnet drags me down the memory lane. I can distinguish the faces of many of my friends and fast forward, it all makes sense how every little step had paved my way until I got here tonight, in this tent, in this Mayan Jungle.
We have welcomed inside four rounds of abuelitas. At certain time intervals, the shaman was giving thanks and invoked the blessing of a different element: fire, water, air and earth (here is one of the most popular medicine songs played in many healing ceremonies).
I’m picturing myself saying good bye to a friend when a soft voice whispers ‘hey sweetie, it's your turn to go out of the tent…’ I look to my left and the space is empty. There are only five ladies to my right. I crawl like a baby and I feel the ground under my knees and my palms. I stop at the door, still on my knees, and I bend backwards. The shaman is pouring a pot of water on my head. An abundant river floods my eyes and drops continue to fall down my face. I bend forward and another splash of water springs from the top of my head and drips down my spine. I get out of the tent and I find a place by the big fire among the others. I look straight into the sparks, my eyes trying to get used to the light but I’m too weak to stand so I lay on my back, staring at the sky. There are no stars, just a deep, dark, peaceful sky. I keep my right hand on my heart and my left on my belly and I breathe deeply. I am so here, so now, tired but light, feeling the night’s wind caressing my hot body. My mind’s chatter has completely stopped and all I want is to enjoy this bliss forever…
‘We are so blessed to do the Temazcal by the sea... now we are going to get the water blessing…’ announces a voice and I feel people starting to stand up around me. Holding hands, we walk the few hundred meters towards the beach. At an invisible, unspoken sign we each let go of the alien fingers we clung to just seconds before and we’re again on our own. Every person starts walking straight into this foamy, shiny sea at her own pace. With the water barely above my knees and jumpy waves touching my chest, I take another step, and then another one. I rinse my face with salty water and I let the waves carry me further, washing away all the dust and the sand. For the first time, I completely surrendered. The water is now passing over my head and is getting into my nose and my ears but I feel no fear. I get rid of my swimming suit so there’s nothing that stands between me and this bliss. I feel suspended in this very moment and it feels like I’m myself a wave on this ocean. I emerge, I breath the wind and then I start to swim. With a light body and a refreshed mind, I understand that my soul’s journey has already started. I know I have a long way ahead but I feel ready for the meeting with my true self.
In Tulum, the magic village as they call it, I attended my first Temazcal ceremony. I didn’t sweat out all my fears that night and many other ceremonies have followed, but this one in particular, will stay with me for a long while, as one of the most powerful healing rituals I have experienced so far.