by Fyllis Hockman
I am sweating profusely. My pores are so overrun with liquid that I fear I will float away in a river of my own perspiration. Since I am molting inside a sweat lodge, I figure I can’t go very far. Temporarily reassured.
The ritual itself started off innocently enough, despite warnings not to eat or drink to excess beforehand, with Shaman Jesus Eduardo introducing us to Temazcal, a Mayan tradition dating back thousands of years and devoted to purifying the mind, body and spirit. This Temazcal comes compliments of the Presidente Intercontinental Hotel in Cozumel, the only resort on the island to offer exposure to the Mayan ceremony.
Jesus’s initial introduction involves a lot of things related to the number four. The four directions of the compass, for example. Then the elements -- Earth, Wind, Water and Fire; the four stages of life (childhood 5-11, youth 12-32, adulthood 33-70, and old age -- which being 70 myself, I took personal offense to, but the Mayan gods didn’t seem to notice….); and four life goals (courage, love, wisdom and silence). The objective is to find a balance between these different aspects and call upon their mythological representatives daily to help guide us through life. Although I may not totally grasp the multiple layers of "four," their guiding principles of gratefulness, seizing the day and moving forward I am able to understand.
The Temazcal ritual is touted to do many things -- the aforementioned purification of mind, body and spirit which includes detoxification of the skin, improvement of the nervous system, elimination of stress, relief of muscle tension, improved circulation, activation of immune system and overall rejuvenation of the mind and body. Okay -- so it’s supposed to be a miracle cure. For me, though, its main value is a very personal reconnection with self -- a fairly heady experience in and of itself.
We are seated in a pitch black sweat lodge around hot volcanic rocks that are periodically splashed with water, which represent the warmth of either Mother Earth or all grandmothers past -- or both. Hard to say. Grandma is invoked with every added rock. Aromatic herbs and tree resins occasionally are added to help flush toxins from body and skin. The fire pit resounds like the ocean whenever water is thrown upon it but the sparks of hot water sizzling on my bare skin remind me otherwise.
Jesus’s initial focus is on the first stage of life. “What do you most remember from your childhood,” he asks, and he doesn’t settle for easy answers. He pushes us to connect with the child within us, how did we feel growing up, what emotions most represented our childhoods. My father’s death as always looms large -- the most significant negative event of my childhood -- but I also internalized my mother’s love and even more than that the respect I always experienced from her as my most meaningful positive take-away. Sort of the Yin and Yang of my whole personality. No one’s ever asked me before to connect so meaningfully to the often scared little girl inside of me. Powerful stuff.
And then our youth, ages 12-32 -- a period of exploration, perhaps. He gives us a cord and instructs us to tie it in multiple knots and with each knot to speak to our past relationships, while repeating, “I forgive you, please forgive me, I love you, and good-bye.” He urges us to let go of all the hurt, the pain, the regrets of the past -- and to move on. To release the past so it doesn’t negatively infuse the present.
We all deal with sorrow, regret and hurt in our lives. For me, they take the form of divorce and death -- not only my father's but that of my brother’s far more recent passing. I am perfectly happy to be able to put aside all the pain, the abandonment, the anger associated with those parts of my life.
And although I recognize the exercise as a process of letting go of those who had caused me pain or loss, of negative past experiences, I instead find myself embracing them. It feels like a way of saying thank you to those relationships of the past -- thank you for what you gave me then -- even though I have moved on. Maybe it’s the same thing -- but it feels different. I feel not so much free of the hurt and regret but rather reconnected to the richness of what those relationships had been to me. I know that isn't the plan, but it is what I come away with. I feel grateful for what I had received from them, which in no way takes away from how very thankful I am for what my husband and I have in the here and now.
I can almost physically feel my skeptical husband beside me pass through the hokey stage to possibly being remotely affected himself by the process of connecting. Then again, maybe not…he’s pretty skeptical.
And still the fire pit sizzles; sounds, smells and smoke surround. Repetitive chanting, though in Spanish, is a calming sensation, providing almost a spiritual bond. Jesus instructs us to lie down as he goes through a cleansing exercise over each of us, expunging toxins and rejuvenating mind, body and spirit through implied touch.
Onto adulthood, a time of maturity, although our shaman admits that he himself has never reached it. Nothing like a little comic relief… He asks us to think about our lives, what we’re grateful for and how we express it to the ones we love. He speaks of being appreciative, and encourages us to be gentle with words; to not take from others. “Don’t assume negativity and keep the best of yourself for those you love. Appreciate every new day,” he advises. Again, he admonishes: “Let everything from yesterday die so that your todays may be happier.” And cautions: “There are no mistakes in life, only lessons. Learn from them and move on.” I’m somewhat overwhelmed by all the instructions. I know I already didn’t do so well with the letting go part.
He then invites us to crawl out of the lodge backward, symbolizing a re-entry to the world, a rebirth. But that re-entry into modernity does not diminish our contact with Mayan culture. Throughout the hotel itself are reminders that the Mayans are still alive and well and relaxing at the Presidente Intercontinental. Employees, hand on heart, greet you with “M’alob K’iin,” meaning good day, good sun. Mayan signs announce the lobby bar as Bin K’iin which represents sunset and the adult pool is called Sayab, translated as Oasis of Tranquility. At night, in lieu of chocolates, we receive different Mayan legends on our pillow. A large wooden box in the room containing hotel info is decorated with Mayan art and traditional Mayan dishes are served in the restaurant. The sense of immersion with Mayan ancestry and connectedness with my own past stay with me as the highlights of my stay in Cozumel.
Fyllis Hockman is an award-winning travel journalist who has been traveling and writing for more than 25 years and is still as eager for the next trip as she was for the first. Her articles appear in newspapers across the country and websites across the Internet. A sampling of those stories can be found by visiting seniorsoftheworld.com and clicking on The Travel Adventures of Fyllis and Vic or by looking further on Yourlifeisatrip.com.
Photography by Victor Block