Monday, July 10, 2017


I've now had some real time to process our Tulum trip. Usually I map out my trips with detailed (but flexible) plans for everything from transport to hotels to meals, but this time, we opted to stay at an all inclusive resort--and I went with this in mind. So I was really surprised to find that one of those inclusive at Dreams Tulum was a spiritual experience--an unusual kind of offering for this kind of resort.

At high noon, two Nahuatl Shaman appeared on the beach, and set up a small altar on the sand with a cloth, a censer, an abalone shell brimming with colored stones, a drum, and a conch shell. He proceeded to draw a circle in the sand, a circle that became a compass, a sun wheel. She beat the drum while he worked. The volleyball game a few yards away stopped, and people started to gather round the circle. I didn't understand the language--a mixture of Spanish and, I think, Nahuatl, but I was able to follow as we faced each direction and saluted its spirit to the beat of the drum and drone of the conch horn, and then turned our faces towards the sun itself for a blessing. She smudged each of us with smoldering copal, and then he did the same with a blast of the conch horn (I felt the sound vibrations up and down my legs and arms!). Afterwards, we were invited to participate in the Temazcal ritual to be held later that evening.
white copal incense
The incense burned at the sun salutation and Temazcal was white copal resin and something called "sweet stick" which I'm pretty sure is palo santo... 
I'd never participated in a sweat lodge ceremony, so I didn't really know what to expect, and was a bit unnerved when I was told that I should only wear my swimsuit and that it would be really--no, REALLY hot. Tulum and its surrounding areas are famous for cenotes--connecting sinkholes of freshwater that are an underground and underwater fairyland, home to all sorts of fish and insects and bats... Some are super deep while others are shallow, but all seem to have the same crystal clear water, bright blue like an aqua aura. The Temazcal building on the property was nestled against a small cenote--and it's water would play an important part in the ritual.
Dos Ojos cenote, Quintana Roo, Mexico
The Dos Ojos cenote where we went snorkeling. A cenote is a must-visit in this region (photo from the Dos Ojos website).
I came to the lodge, a small, stone dome, in the late afternoon, determined to overcome my prejudices about heat (let's just say I'm a fall/winter person and leave it at that), but got a little nervous when I heard the brief description about what was going to go down: We would go into the little stone building, one by one, and once we were all inside, hot rocks would be brought in. If it got too hot, you could move off the seat and onto the sand--being careful because once all the rocks were in the doorway would be covered and it would be really dark, as well as hot. To enter the Temazcal was to re-enter the womb, and emerging, each of us would be reborn. Not without going through an extreme experience.
Temazcal, Dreams Tulum Resort and Spa
The traditional Temazcal, or "house of heat" is usually a domed, stone structure like this one where I experienced the ritual for the first time.
I opted to sit nearest to the one and only entrance/exit, and was glad of the little breezes coming in off the ocean--clearly in view from the little opening--when the hot rocks started coming in. We greeted each one with the words, "O mateo," (spelling???) which, if I'm remembering rightly, acknowledges the dual nature of the universe. The stones are our mothers, our grandmothers, our fathers, our grandfathers. The Healer rubbed toe stone with a huge chunk of white copal resin and the little space was filled with a delicious scent, that, she said would heal the stones, as well as us. Then she sprinkled them with a bits of wood chips that she called, "sweet stick." I'm almost positive that it was palo santo (I've been googling "sweet stick" for days and the closest I've come is either sweet grass or palo santo. I'm going to vote for palo santo based on the scent.).  By now it was pretty hot, and time to close the door. A blanket was thrown over the opening and it got real dark, real fast.

The Healer said a few words, then water from the cenote was poured over the stones. They hissed--sang, she said--and if it was hot before, it got hotter. Breathe in through your nose, slow deep breaths, we were told, and out through the mouth. Feel the heat. Let it touch the places in you and on you where you feel pain. I breathed in the steam, and let it go straight to my heart--it had been broken for a while. The Healer started singing, and soon, we were all singing along with her. I didn't know what I was singing, but somehow I seemed to know the words. More water was poured over the rocks and they sang along too. Water, steam and sweat, ran down my face, my neck my hands and arms. I was hot, yes, but not hot enough to go down onto the cool sandy floor. 

"How do you feel?" she asked. In Nahuatl, she said, when you feel good, you say, cualli.

"Cualli!" we all shouted. I did feel good. I was afraid the heat and the dark would make me dizzy, but my senses were heightened in the dark of the Temazcal.

"When you feel really good," she went on, you say cenca cualli." It was time to open the first door.

The light, at first, was blinding. I wasn't sure how long we had been in the Temazcal. My legs and arms were drenched, but I felt completely relaxed, and reveled in the cool breezes that slipped through the now open doorway. We weren't finished. More rocks were brought in, seven more. Hotter and hotter-er. We greeted each stone as it came in, and like the others, they were blessed with copal and sweet stick. The blanket was thrown over the door, and again we were enveloped in darkness. 

Water was poured over the stones and this time, the steam seemed thicker and heavier than before. The Shaman sang, this time telling us to release any hurt and anger, to shout it out. I screamed to the drum beats, felt the steam and the sweat coursing down my back. I could see pain and troubles like poison, pouring out of me and being absorbed by the sandy floor. I'd never been so hot in my life. I remember my lips feeling hot, and my hair. And everything was deliciously drenched.

"How do you feel?" she asked us.

"Cenca Cualli! Cenca Cualli!"

As I left the Temazcal, forehead pressed against the cool sand, water was poured over me, and I stepped out into the late afternoon. A full ritual takes you through four portals, and lasts about two hours. We did two doors and one hour. Even shortened, it was challenging (in a good way) cleansing, electrifying, a perfect blending of the physical and spiritual worlds. It is a ceremony that is not of my culture or background, and I feel incredibly privileged to have been able to take part in it. Many thanks to the Universe, the Old Ones who are all of our ancestors, and to the Healers for this experience. 

I'm already plotting my return to Mexico and to the womb of the Temazcal; in this life, we are reborn many times.

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