The Sweat Lodge and the Ten Principles

by Anthony Lanni

 

This weekend Mark Donovan and I were fortunate enough to be invited by Charles White to join him for a Sweat Lodge ceremony led by Charles’ uncle, Robertjohn. For those of you who weren’t aware, the Admiral has a strong Native American heritage, and as I ruminated on the experience yesterday I realized just why Charles has such an affinity for Burning Man culture, and why he has become the Admiral for all of us in the Desert Wizards.

I’m not going to talk very much about the ceremony itself; suffice it to say that I have been looking forward to participating in a sweat lodge ceremony since I was a late teenager. What I do want to talk about is the amazing crossover of ideals that I experienced, particularly with regard for the 10 Principles of Burning Man.

First off, I would like to mention that I had plans for Saturday night already laid out when Charles posted a message asking if anyone was interested in joining him. First principle I experienced: Immediacy. I knew this was not a common opportunity, and so I messaged Charles immediately. When he responded to the affirmative, I had to scramble to get my other plans shifted to Sunday night. Absolutely worth it.

Mark and I were both nervous about our Participation, since we had never done a sweat before, and didn’t know what we might do wrong or to offend. When we arrived we eagerly offered to help out wherever we could, and ended up carrying firewood. During that work we had a good conversation with a tribe member named Eddie, who told us not to worry; there would always be someone to guide us through.

When it came time to participate in the rituals of the sweat, neither of us knew what to do. As Eddie said, that was not an issue; Uncle Robertjohn and the rest of the circle, though they may not know it by name, firmly practice the principle of Radical Inclusion. They welcome outsiders, first timers, members of other tribes; anyone who has a genuine interest in participating is welcome.

Everyone formed a circle before the sweat, and Uncle Robertjohn encouraged each of us to speak out in turn, introducing ourselves and saying why were were there. He did the same thing during the sweat, asking people to express themselves, and encouraging them to dig deeper when they were hesitant. It was one of the truest forms of Radical Self-expression I’ve seen, and it was both inspirational and amazing.

Many of the other principles came out when Robertjohn spoke. He has an incredible ability to speak deep truths, and do so in a manner that is often funny and always easy to understand. In his words I heard him talk about Civic Responsibility, not just to the people in your communities but to the environment and, indeed, to the entire universe. The principle of Communal Effort was evident not only in Robertjohn’s words, but also in the actions of the people who participated, as everyone helped clean up, make sure the lodge was cared for, and contributed to the meal we had afterwards. I could point out that everyone’s contributions to the meal firmly fell into the principle of Gifting, but in reality that was only a part of it; the entire ceremony was a gift from every person to every other person, as each gave in his or her own way. They also cautioned us to Leave No Trace, to make sure that we took everything we brought with us back out again.

There is an 11th principle that Athena Demos put on the cards she handed out at Bequinox: the “Los Angeles Bonus Principle”, Gratitude. Robertjohn talked about thanks quite a bit, how we should give thanks to everything that is for being part of us, being part of our creation and our lives. I would like to express my gratitude to Charles for having me and Mark along with him. It’s no surprise that Charles loves Burning Man and us Burners so much, that he so easily lives the 10 Principles; it is the heritage of his culture, a culture that dates back thousands of years.

And I, for one, feel privileged to be a part of it. Though the Desert Wizards, through Burning Man, through the Ten Principles and our friendships and our wild ideas and practical reasoning and spirited discussions and massive, massive love, we are continuing a tradition so ancient as to be unfathomable, but so modern as to be indisputable.

As Charles said this weekend: You may not understand this, but I love you.