Before heading up to South Dakota I voiced my opinion in class that we must be vigilant in remembering that the ceremonies were a learning experience. Arriving at Pine Ridge though the line between education and experience blurred immediately. The goal for me was not only to understand why they practice these traditions but also to understand what the practices entail. To gain the most understanding, complete personal immersion in each ceremony was necessary. A wholehearted experience creeps dangerously close to participating in their ceremonies for a personal spiritual experience – which may be appropriate in some settings but not under the educational paradigm I was using.
Knowing I was there to learn about the traditions, it seemed odd not to follow some of the traditions more strictly. I thought we would maybe talk more about what things were inappropriate to do during the ceremony. I also thought there would be more consistency in the practices of the sweat lodge from night to night. I would have liked to learn how ceremonies were run in the traditional sense at some point as well as the stories behind the first sweat lodge. While it is interesting to see the how the newer generation has a more liberal interpretation of the traditions, it would also be interesting to know what the traditions were.
Part of not knowing the stories behind the sweat lodge or the nuances of ceremonial practice is that the experience becomes more my own and less in the Lakota tradition. The sweat lodges were an extremely communal experience for me but I can not be sure that was the intention the Lakotas traditionally strive for in sweat. With these prefaces, I feel I learned a lot about myself as well as gaining an understanding for some of the difficulties faced by the Lakotas surrounding tradition and religion. On the other hand I worry that my spiritual experiences were not educational but personal. I did come out with an understanding of why people would practice this religion in the context of my experience and assuming that is the same spirituality the religion emphasizes.