I was prepared for spiritual enlightenment at Pine Ridge. I had heard stories from friends who took the class in previous years about magical, mystical transformations and looked forward to my own. I entered the sweat lodge in this mindheartspirit mode.
Nobody told me how physically grueling the sweats would be. The ladies went in first, while the hot rocks were being pitchforked in one by one. We were there for too long, already roasted like vegetables before the guys came in (we’re trapped like rats! – no, rats can’t be trapped this easily. You’re trapped like…carrots ~ Simpsons Movie).
A young woman came in and sat by me. I recognized her immediately. She is in the new Pine Ridge documentary by Swedish autodidact filmmaker Anna Eborn. In typical Scandinavian style, Eborn’s film simply follows characters with cameras, long shots and no narration, letting the viewer observe and make decisions rather than manipulating footage to express a specific angle. I knew this woman, I had watched a half hour of her feeding her kids mac and cheese and taking out the trash. And suddenly I was suffering next to her, sticking my head out of the back of the tent when I thought I was going to pass out, my forehead against her white tank top.
I didn’t expect to fight panic the entire sweat, I didn’t expect to almost pass out, I didn’t think about not breathing or my skin burning. They were right about praying – pleading don’t die, don’t let me die, let it be over, don’t panic, help me not panic definitely happened and definitely kept me focused. I crawled out of the womb and sat in the moonlight and couldn’t stand up for a while, reduced to baby simplicity of needing air and water and nothing else.
I value this experience. But doubt seeps in. I can’t ignore Jamie’s un-interest, or Mike’s inability to answer even the most pointed questions, or Justin joking in my ear during the supposedly most sacred ceremonies, or watching the men collect sacred (?) materials for the ceremonies at a kind of touristy shop, handing them to Bruce to pay for. Being an observer last week and reflecting now is tough. Should we have been there? Was it authentic? Was it sincere?
To quote the great Nicole Pey, it’s #complicated.