Sunday, September 6, 2009

sweating at the end of the road

today is the final installment of the road warrior in the chronicle-herald. this was one of the few columns i knew i wanted to do way back when i first pitched the idea to the herald. it took a couple of months to get it organized, with a few plans falling through and many dead ends, but it was well worth it.

the lodge is out on a lake by shearwater, a perfectly ordinary space. the lodge itself is a humble creation, birch logs wrapped into a circle, covered with blankets, canvas and cloth. inside, with the utter darkness, the enveloping heat and quiet offset by the distant noises of the outside world, it creates a womblike experience.

through journalism i have been able to experience a range of spiritual lifestyles; this is the first that felt like it required no previous experience, not understanding of theology, no beliefs whatsover: it merely is; not a ritual of remembrance, but a prime experience. i learned how to meditate back when i wrote for the halifax daily news, and a big emphasis was to focus on breathing. in the sweat lodge, there was no other choice - every time my mind wandered, i lost my breath and started to panic.

my guide is a wise, observant man. all of my journalistic urges were to name him, to photograph him, to celebrate him, but he asked me not to. he felt it would be counter to the spirit of humility that is at the core of the sweat lodge.

i debated whether to include the bit where i discovered my snot-and-sweat drenched towel made breathing possible. i brought this up with my guide a week after the experience when i stopped by the mi'kmaq friendship centre in halifax. he laughed for ten minutes, so i thought i'd keep it in. again, humility not as an abstract virtue, but as a real, critical part of survival.

i'd also recommend a day trip to the glooscap heritage centre on the 102. it's where the giant glooscap statue is, and is a great collection of mi'kmaw heritage. i went as part of the sweat lodge column, but was unable to fit it into the article, though i received a warm welcome there and learned a lot.

this trip was a great journey for me and transformed my idea of nova scotia. it's a million places to a million people, a land deep in history and stories. i've put the series up on my website, in case anyone wants to wander back over the trip from a 300-million-year-old rainforest to a buddhist militia, a reborn nuclear bunker, ghost towns, tasty-looking piping plovers and a tall ship journey along the coast.
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