Pete and I have been invited on various occasions to accompany the Casa’s choir to their performances. Therefore, when we were invited to the Temazcal, we thought that was the name of the place where the choir was going to sing. It turned out that this choir trip was quite different from the others.
Temazcal is an ancient Mayan tradition; a spiritual practice. It refers to both the ritual and the location in which it is performed. We were told by the people who led the Temazcal that centuries ago, Mayan people had Temazcales as part of their homes. They were places to engage in spiritual practices, meet as a community, resolve problems. This Temazcal was located about a 20-minute drive outside of Colima. The choir teacher picked up kids at their houses, as he often does before and after choir events. There were twelve kids or so, ages 9-15, and four adults--a Casa staff member, the choir teacher, Pete, and myself. We drove out of the city, through the open farmland, toward the two majestic volcanoes: Nieve y Fuego. We arrived at the Temazcal site, walked up a hill, and were suddenly in a lush, green, cool environment. We saw people working on the land and others standing around and chatting. A middle-aged woman greeted us all with a warm hug and said something about how beautiful or precious each one of us was. We were given a tour of the land by a little boy, the grandson of the woman who had greeted us. He led us through a castle-like structure that sat on the property. It was a mystical place to say the least. The people who were involved in the Temazcal were part of a group called Guerreros de la Luz, Warriors of the Light, which gathered together regularly for various activities, such as Temazcal, weekly meditation, and projects to care for the earth. They ended up inviting the Casa choir to a cookout and Christmas party the week following the Temazcal, at which they presented the kids with individual gifts and staple food donations for the Casa.
Before beginning the Temazcal ritual, one of the men, led us all in breathing and visualizing exercises. This gentleman later told Pete and me that he was of Mayan descent and was taught Mayan spiritual practices by his grandparents. He taught us to breathe deeply in a way that we would need to do inside the hot, steam-filled Temazcal.
After those exercises, the majority of children changed into bathing suits or clothing that could get wet, we drank an herbal tea, and prepared to enter the space. I did not wear a bathing suit. I wore a white shirt and white skirt. One thing I was told before the trip was that wearing white was recommended to absorb maximum energy from the experience.
Before we entered the Temazcal, we greeted the four cardinal directions as well as the earth and the sky, gave thanks to them, and sounded a chorus of instruments: conch shells, whistles, maracas, and other percussive instruments. After that, we each greeted the abuelitas piedras, the grandmother rocks that were being heated in the large, oblong, stone oven. We offered a prayer of thanksgiving and threw a handful of seeds into the burning fire that heated the rocks.
Following that, it was time to enter the Temazcal. We entered one by one, walking around the circle clockwise until we reached the closest empty space on the stone bench that lined the wall of the Temazcal. With 16 or so people in our group plus the other people there who were part of Guerreros de la Luz, the space was tight and some people were sitting on the floor. A bottle of honey was passed around the circle and we were welcomed to rub it on our bodies. Supposedly, it was good for the skin, especially when one sweats. One by one, one of the group’s leaders shoveled the large rocks, still shimmering red with heat, straight from the fire into the pit area in the center of the Temazcal. Each time he tossed one in, we applauded loudly and welcomed the abuelita piedra into the space. Once all of the abuelita piedras were inside the Temazcal, we began the ceremony, led by the woman who had initially greeted us upon our arrival. She was married to the gentleman who manned the fire and tossed the rocks into the Temazcal. She sat on a stool with a bucket of water in front of her and dipped a bouquet of herbal plant branches into the bucket. That act made the steam begin to rise from the rocks and fill the dome-shaped space. The entryway was covered, so the Temazcal began to fill with heat, steam, and the smell of herbs. Our leader would occasionally dip the herb branches in the bucket of water and sling water around the inner walls of the Temazcal and on us.
The Temzacal ritual had four parts, between which we exited and re-entered the space. During each part, we would go around the circle and share something related to the topic. The first round was the Presentation round; the second, the Love round; then, the Forgiveness round; and finally, the Gratitude round. After each participant shared his or her statement about the given topic, the group would clap and usually shout, “¡Que así sea!” Roughly translated: “That it be so!” When you’re in a steamy, hot, dark, space sharing and hearing personal information about others, shouting and clapping together, it does become an energy-charged experience.
Three hours or so later, once the entire ritual was complete, we changed into dry clothes and shared a hearty meal together; a vegetarian meal--I enjoyed soy burgers for the first time since being in Mexico. We also savored some delicious homemade agua, which had the consistency of juice rather than water; a freshly squeezed potpourri of orange, guava, and a variety of other delicious tropical fruits.
After the kids played for a while on the tire swing and we shared parting hugs and kisses with our hosts, we were on our way back to Colima. The ride back was unusually quiet. The kids were exhausted. The adults were too. Upon arriving at home, Pete fell into bed. While the experience was rejuvenating and I felt very energized and positive the next day, I was very tired that night following such an emotionally and physically intense experience.
I was impressed by how the children responded to the whole experience. It was deeply personal and many of the kids felt comfortable sharing about themselves--their desires for forgiveness or hopes for love in their lives and the world. They were respectful toward one another, a phenomenon that I have noticed at the Casa in general between the kids when it comes to supporting each other through personal challenges and struggles. They were also respectful towards the ritual of the Temazcal. They took it seriously and participated. The choir teacher was very glad to be able to share this aspect of his life, which is very important to him and his personal growth, with ‘his children’. He considers the choir members to be his children and loves them. I was honored to be invited to share in such an experience, to learn about and participate in an ancient Mayan practice. Being a deeply spiritual person myself, having the opportunity to engage in this spiritual ritual had special significance for me.