Today is Day 7 of the Australian journey 2012. We are on Boole Poole in the Lake District of Gippsland. Our sweat lodge ceremony had been rained out the day before, so we prepared to do the ceremony as soon as the rain stopped which happened around 8am. I've written about sweat lodge before, as have others, most notably Bucko, author of The Lakota Sweat Lodge. It was a wonderful experience and then we hear crocodile tales.
The rain continued all night. Before bed, we made offerings to the sky spirits to ask to hold the rain if possible in the morning so that we could light the sweat lodge fire. As I awoke, that seemed unlikely. The rain continued. Breakfast came and just as we were putting our plates away from a marvelous Aussie brekky of bacon, sausage, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms, and eggs, the rain stopped. Quickly we ran out to the fire pit with all the dry kindling we could muster and got the fire started. I have been taught that the sweat lodge fire cannot be started if it is raining because one doesn't intentionally combine two different types of purification. If the rain starts after the fire is lit, that's ok because the thunder spirits have made a decision to augment the purification. Then it's not hubris on our part. We did manage to get the fire started with fairly damp wood thanks to some excellent dry kindling.
I'm not going to say much about the actual sweat lodge ceremony because I have written about this elsewhere and the details of sweat lodges are well known in the North America. Bucko has written extensively about the various styles of inipi (meaning breath of life) ceremonies in a book called The Lakota Sweat Lodge, which is excellent reading.
The only surprise was to meet pelicans in my preparations and prayers and to hear that this lodge was under the auspices of the pelicans. Later I learned that the pelican is the totem of this land where we stand. I was guided to dedicate the lodge to two people who were struggling whom we had met on our last trip and to their families.
The lodge experience was powerful for all. Marion, the aboriginal elder about whom Miriam spoke in Day 6, attended, which was an honor for everyone. The CEO of the Coop attended along with some of his key assistants. He talked about having visited Edmonton, Canada, where he learned about the summer ceremonies such as the sundance in which all the urban Indians are bussed up the road to Jasper for a week together. I wasn't sure if he meant sundance, but it certainly could have been. Jason told us how much he wanted to create a weeklong opportunity to bring his community together for ceremony and healing. We invited him to join us in June for our annual sundance.
We began trying to light the fire at 8am and had finished the lodge by 4pm. That included some schmoozing afterwards and a bit of snacking for dinner was yet to come. Also the cameraman had to interview us for the documentary being made about Culture Camp 2012.
During the evening a man from Millingimby (also known as Crocodile Islands) in the Northern Territory spoke to us about his walking from there to Darwin, which is over 800 kilometers. The walk required 3 months. He took nothing with him and lived on what food he found or caught along the way. That seemed normal to him. He caught a boat back. He did not speak English and was translated by an anthropologist who accompanied. That man was working on aboriginal land claims with frequent court testimony and was fluent in the language of Millingimby. The story of the walk was impressive and quite inspiriting.
Then Shadow, also from that community, and known to us from the last three years, regaled us with crocodile tales. I suppose one cannot come to Australia without the requisite crocodile stories, many of which are exaggerated, but I doubted none of Shadow's stories. He told stories of his kids catching a small croc and keeping it in their bathtub until it got to big and they had to let it go. He said it recognized their voices and responded, knowing they were probably bringing it frogs, fish, or other goodies. He told a story he told last year about a crocodile chomping a man on his head and the man managing to get free by sticking both of his fingers in the crocodile's eyes. He told about a crocodile coming up under his dinghy and trying to push him and his mate out into the stream as they were just about to dock on the shore. The took a running leap, jumped off the boat onto the crocodiles back, and leaped onto shore just an instant before the croc figured out what they were trying to do. That was as close as he had ever come to being eaten, Shadow told us. He told stories of several people being pulled under water and playing dead while the croc stuffed them into mangrove roots and then escaping as the croc went away in search of other pray. Apparently the do eat fresh meat from time to time, but more often than not, they like to marinate their food under water for a week or two before eating it. He told about cutting one croc open and finding a man inside who had been swallowed whole without a mark on him. He told funny stories about throwing his kids in the water instead of the rock to see if there were any crocs. The kids were there and laughed at that. They certainly had an amazing life in nature living where they did. Shadow told of a constant string of encounters with birds, spiders, snakes, crocs, and other wildlife as they went around trying things that he told them not to do. Shadow told about him and a croc stalking each other. They would play a game where he would come down to the shore and the croc would disappear into the water at which point he would run to high ground just as the croc surfaced and lunged at where he was standing an instant before. I was convinced not to enter his part of the Northern Territories without his protection and guidance. Crocs sound dangerous. Shadow said they were the most perfectly designed predator in the world. They were silent and fast. A man didn't even have time to shout when attacked by a croc. He was already underwater.
We spent more time talking to Miriam the physician about her work in the community with people on benzodiazepines and narcotics and sleeping aids. She mentioned that many of the elders were taking benzo's and sleeping pills to help them cope with the stress of their role in the community. We reflected together on our health care system's promotion of magic potions and pills for every woe. In her community as in mine, people are trained to believe in instant relief instead of learning the slower techniques that are more long-lasting. We see that in television commercials with instead abs (abdominal muscles), instant fitness, instant relief from sadness, and the like. Her patients were in the same boat as mine. I talked about my pain group which seemed to interest her. I make as a requirement for receiving pain medications from me that people attend pain group at least once monthly. They must also do something physical at least once weekly. That could include taking a yoga class, going for physical therapy, taking a t'ai chi or chi gong class, or something like this. Most of my pain patients are reporting back pain. They are under the mistaken impression that their X-rays correlate with their pain (which they do not). We talked about whether or not Miriam could implement such ideas into her practice at the Coop. Talk continued late into the night, but now it's time to go to sleep. More tomorrow".
Submitters Bio:Lewis Mehl-Madrona
graduated from Stanford University School of Medicine and completed residencies in family medicine and in psychiatry at the University of Vermont. He is the author of Coyote Medicine, Coyote Healing, Coyote Wisdom, and Narrative Medicine.