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Sweat Lodge: A Balance in the Aftermath of Tragedy

October 19, 2009


The recent tragedy at the sweat lodge in Sedona—now three deaths—has cast an unfortunate and undeserved pall over all lodges and the sacred ceremonies held within.

The lodge plays an important and spiritual role at our BetterMen Weekends. Beautiful transformations in the men have taken place as a result of their experiences in the lodge.

Losing the ability to sweat, because of fear or ignorance, would be a tremendous loss for us, and for countless other men, women and children who honor this ancient ritual.

In an effort to enlighten and inform our friends, I’ve asked lodge leader and friend, Paul Perrotta, if I could include a recent email of his in our blog. Please pass this on. We look forward to your comments.

From Paul Perrotta:

Hi relatives.  I hope you’re all well.

I’m writing about the Arizona sweat.  I’m sure you’ve heard about it.  Very sad.  I’m sure it’s affecting everyone connected to any lodge and I expect you’ll be feeling the squeeze also, in one way or another.

When I heard about this incident I intended to aggressively pursue any information I could get to explain what happened.  I had many questions at first.

I read that some were treated for burns.  Drug and alcohol rehabilitation sweats run by traditionalists are the hottest I’ve been in and I’ve never seen anyone treated for burns.  I read that the people fasted for 36 hours before sweating.  What did they eat after? How long was it in between the fast and the food and the sweat?  What else happened during that time?  I read that the “self help guru” had been doing this for 6 years.  Once a year? Monthly? Weekly?  Did the people ask for help, and what was the response?

When I heard that the lodge was covered with plastic, and then I saw the picture showing that it was basically sealed in plastic, I was no longer surprised that people died in there.  I was in a lodge sealed in plastic one time.  Never again.  It was toxic and nasty.

I am in no way trying to minimize this incident, and, I know that drama brings adrenalin, which is addictive, and the press thrives on it, and fear is the hook.  So, I’d like to reassure you and remind you of some things that I hope will help maintain balance during the aftermath.

There are many thousands of lodges and leaders and it’s been going on for thousands of years.

Relatives, I’ve been sweating for 35 years.  I’ve been sweating regularly for 25 years and have been pouring water for nearly 20 years.  For the last 4 or 5 years, I’ve been sweating with about 150 High School seniors each year. This year alone Elissa and I have done over 40 sweats, so far.  Our last sweat was blessed with a sweet, tiny nine-year-old girl for the first two rounds.  I’ve known dozens who’ve been sweating all their lives, and with their families growing up.  I’ve known many sweat leaders and I’ve never heard of this before—though I did read this morning that seven have died in the lodge in the last 16 years, (in three countries, combined.)

It seems clear to me that the experience level of the lodge leader is the source of this tragedy. There are many novices out there who, from a naïve but very narcissistic place, hold the sweat lodge as an activity and an enterprise.  They think it’s just heating stones and pouring water.  It’s not uncommon for an accomplished practitioner of one practice to get a glimpse of how the sweat ceremony can enhance their own practice and think they understand enough to “pick up the bucket”.  This level of narcissism prevents them from humbling down into the role of student.  The awareness and willingness to surrender to an apprenticeship seems a thing of the past.

I’d like you to know that I’ve been sweating with public schools and government programs for 20 years, here and there.

Unlike most traditionalists I’ve known, I have been closely connected to many different kinds of lodges and I hope my training, experience, commitment and integrity will be a source of comfort for all involved.

In the end, I believe this tragedy will serve the overall good by thinning out those who make an activity or an enterprise out of the lodge and her ceremony.

If you feel it would be helpful, please share this with any who might be afraid of sweating based on safety.  If they’re afraid of sweating based on being afraid of their shadows…well…it’s a big club!

For those who have decided not to sweat again based on your last experience, or this incident, or whatever, Aho.  For those who have a heart for the lodge, I look forward to sweating with you again.

Much love,


One Comment leave one →
  1. Sam permalink
    October 24, 2009 11:45 am

    Thanks for sharing the article.

    I think the key element surrounding this incident and article which should be the focus, is narcissisim. It is a very common personality trait amongst all people but in higher “doses” amongst leaders.

    Narcissim however can reach levels which become dominant personality traits that can become unhealthy for the narc and dangerous for the participants/followers within groups (especially when spirituality is the focus), as we are all conditioned to seek or follow a power greater than ourselves, beginning at infancy.

    Participants in groups need to be in a very high state of awareness not only of themselves, but also of their leadership and other participants, as they are now “A” part of a “herd”. When a part of a herd, individuals can, and usually will make decisions and choices that if on their own, they would never make.

    Contrary to many teachings, this is not a weakness of the individual, but rather a weakness of the herd. Civil disobeience that turns into a riot, would be a common and simple example of such group behaviors gone bad from emotionally fueled environments. On their own most individuals in the same location would not be destructive, violent or steal, but within a herd, they OFTEN will.

    Think about it. What kind of fool (or group of fools) would actually go into a lodge covered in plastic without fresh air FOR ANY REASON? The only person who would do such a thing is either an idiot (which I doubt ALL of these tragic souls were) or one under the “spell” of a narcissistic leader, who could also be classified as a megalomaniac, suffering from some from of narcissistic personality disorder.

    I would recommend to all participants of such groups to challenge your leadership to answer questions or beliefs that you do not understand or agree with. Not disrepectfully mind you, but in a forthright manner. Should you not be satisfied, DO NOT give into the “herd”, trust yourself and your own judgment.

    If the leaders or the herd will not allow you to have your own opinions or INSIST upon you following or complying with their actions or belief systems, YOU MUST LEAVE, QUICKLY, as you are now not in a healthy environment to achieve the personal growth you seek.

    Instead, you are now part of a group that is doing nothing more than fueling the Narcissistic Personality Disorder of leadership. Your unwillingness to “submit”, is YOUR STRENGTH that will often be looked upon as defiance by the narcissist and the following herd. DO NOT give up your strength, remember, it is the thing that brought you to seek self improvement in the first place.

    Folks these ARE the underlying characteristics of cults, very dangerous indeed and not worthy of your trust. Very scary, very dangerous and very sad.

    These deaths were not the result of the” ritual of sweating”, but rather a result of the dangerous environment that existed within the group or herd.

    Pay attention, stay in a high state of awareness, and challenge leadership! Its healthy for the organization and its members.

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