Wake up feeling irritable. Clock tells me I have one hour to decide if I’ll hook up with the hiking group, and two hours to decide if I’ll catch the van up to the botanical garden for a temazcal*. I opt for the one which will keep me out of the house the longest and start to fill my backpack with necessities. Turkish towel, fresh sliced pineapple, my journal. Oh, and boots. Saturday night’s heavy rain means the dam will be slippery as the excess water drains out of the presa.
We’re out of milk and I can’t find the kitchen counter under all the dishes. It is still overcast. I have to remember to drink extra water and to not eat.
My mantra for this temazcal is one word: ‘Open’. I don’t know the guide (but I do know the fatherly hombre del fuego who tends the stones), I am the only gringa, and I am pretty sure I am the oldest one participating. Federico gathers us and begins to spin a long introduction in Spanish. His voice is clear, and he is eloquent. I get the gist of what he is saying. We’re in good hands, especially the 6 younger Mexicans for whom this is a first.
Federico blesses each of us with copal smoke. I have removed my earrings and wrapped a simple cloth around my torso. Mexican women taught me to step wide and allow the copal smoke to bless every part of my naked body. Kneeling at the low entrance, I place my forehead at the threshold for a short prayer then crawl clockwise around the fire pit. My seat in the temezcal hut is in the northwest, which feels like an affirmation. Our next home may well be in British Columbia.
Eyes close once the first set of 6 stones~ the abuelitas~ are brought in one by one and placed in the fire pit. The fire tender drapes heavy blankets over the small door and not a sliver of light enters the sacred space. It is quiet but for the sizzle of the stones and our collective breath as we sink into what it means to open to the dark.
My brain is blessedly, uncharacteristically quiet. Lying down, knees bent, the crown of my head presses into the adobe wall, my feet feel contour of the fire pit’s rim and my back spreads into the support of reed mats and raked sand. I open the cloth I wear so my skin can ready for the coming heat.
Because I am who I am, this supine position invites me into a meditation guided by sensory input. I am becoming the ground, the heat that rises, the breath of all those ringing the pit. The glow of the stones sharpens the dark spaces between them, and so I become the stones and the space, the light and the dark, the heat and the cool. Golden chunks of dried tree sap~ copal~ melt on the abuelitas. Scented smoke rises and dissipates, making room for the sharper, more pungent and peppery oil of crushed pirul leaves.
Each of the four sections to a temazcal has a theme, but I lose track after the silence of the first ‘door’. At one point, Federico goes around the circle asking for our given name, and our cosmic name, one by one. In unison, we shout the names back to the bearer. When it is my turn, I am handed an armful of branches, dampened by water and warmed on the stones. They are redolent with scent and I hug them to my bare chest. I am so far gone into the realm of sensation I can only mouth silently the cosmic names surfacing from different places in my body: Cave. Ocean. Salt.
The temazcal ends, I re-wrap my cloth around my chest, the small wood doors open. Soft grey light and fresh air enter, gently commingling with the smoke and steam and our sweat. The fire man is now the water man, pouring buckets of herb-steeped water over each of us as we exit. Sweat and grit and bits of crushed pirul leaves are rinsed away.
Dry clothes come out as everyone towels off and changes. I pass around my sliced pineapple and bananas, cool, juicy, and sweet. My walk out of the temazcal area and back over the presa is tented by grey skies, and framed by a growing soundscape as I make my way back into town and through my front door.
Someone bought milk, someone else showed up for dish-duty and still I am quiet on the inside.
(* A temazcal is a type of sweat lodge which originated with pre-Hispanic Indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica. The word temazcal comes from the Nahuatl word temāzcalli (“house of heat”), or possibly from the Aztec teme (to bathe) and calli (house).)