Tag Archives: ritual

on being empty

Not being much of a planner, I began to think this morning about what practice, if anything, I’d like to give up or adopt for Lent* this year.

In the past I’ve given up a variety of things, and have even decided to instead adopt something positive (though technically, Lent is not about adding, but about subtracting). But to be honest, I’m not sure it has been all that significant or meaningful, other than being a hassle to go out to eat when everyone else is eating meat or drinking beer or having chocolate cake for dessert.

But this morning as I began to think about today being Ash Wednesday, and whether or not I might do anything to acknowledge the season of Lent, the thought popped into my head—why not give up being full? I know what you’re thinking—fantastic cop-out and way to still get to eat whatever you want! Which, perhaps, it is.

But it strikes me that in our society of excessiveness, of having everything we could ever want or need almost immediately accessible, giving up being full is something that can have personal implications, but also potentially ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’ type implications.

What also strikes me is that ‘empty’ in our culture, is pretty much a negative word. Empty is what your fuel tank is when you are looking frantically for gas station. Empty is what a party is when it isn’t all that fun. Empty is what the milk is when you go to make your morning oatmeal (okay, maybe that one’s not all that mainstream). Empty is what you call the glass half full of—and that makes you into a pessimist.

Empty is a disappointment. Empty is lack. Empty is failure. Right? The practice of giving up something for Lent is overly focused on self-denial, puritanical (which is religiously ironic, Lent being a more Catholic emphasized practice), or simply pointless—why bother giving up anything, when you can have it so easily? Why go without?

But, it seems to me, full can become a burden. Full can become crowded. Full can become addictive. Full can become consumed (pun intended) with its own gratification.

So I began to wonder, this Lent, what giving up full might look like.

Might empty be room to breathe? Might empty be a beach that you have all to yourself—with miles of sand and crashing waves?  Might empty be a space in which to relax, contemplate, or meditate?

As I sit here, still full from last night’s carne asada tacos on the way home from Carnival in Ensenada (not to mention the fish tacos on the way to Carnival), it is not hard to imagine empty as a good thing. That was hours ago and I am still full. Don’t get me wrong—they were delicious. And I also realize that there are those for whom this struggle, about empty and full, can become so intense as to lead to a disorder, whether that be one of eating or hoarding or…

But what my full from Carnival stomach is helping me realize, on a more metaphorical level, is that though there is a time to feast, there is also a time to refrain from feasting.

So, that’s that then. A lenten practice. Giving up being full—a fairly ambiguous and undefined one (which, of course, is my preference) but a practice nonetheless. Let the cuaresma begin.




*Lent, cuaresma in Spanish, the season that begins today, Ash Wednesday, and carries on until Easter Sunday—this year April 8.

Temezcal (3 days in the wilderness)

I am not sure why I went, but I’m glad I did.

The hills outside of Tecate, on land of the Kumiai people

On Friday I got an email–“We’re going out to Tecate for the Temazcal, why don’t you join us?” Hmmm. I had been planning on a Friday afternoon siesta, not a Friday afternoon ‘throw what you can in the car and drive out to Tecate.’ But, I was also intrigued.

So I did one of those “If they haven’t left yet, and if I have enough time to get my stuff together, then I’ll go” while secreting hoping that the group had already left. They hadn’t. So, rather haphazardly, I got myself ready. Since I don’t have a tent or a sleeping bag with me here in Mexico I figured that I (along with Tigger) would sleep in the car, and use some blankets for padding/warmth. Note to self: next time when you know it is going to drop into the 30’s at night, bring more than three blankets. I packed a beach chair, some dog food, warm clothes, and a few snacks for myself. “I’ll only stay until tomorrow afternoon,” I reasoned, “so I don’t need much of anything.”

When we got to Tecate, and after driving along a dirt/rock road that would make the VW dealer where I bought my Tiguan (which is not really an SUV or 4WD) cringe, we arrived at the camping spot in the hills. The area around Tecate has a rugged, rocky (as in boulders) beauty.

A Temazcal, which is a Nahuatl word, is what would, in English, call a ‘sweat lodge.’ I have actually been a part of a sweat lodge ceremony once before, during a Vision Quest week on the Island of Mull, off the coast of Scotland, at a wilderness retreat center called Camas.

the temeszcal

The temazcal is basically a small (low to the ground) tent-like shelter (with no windows and one flap for a door) into which are placed fiery hot rocks (literally heated from a blazing fire) which are then drenched with water to produce the steam. With the flaps closed, and with many (we must have had 40) people squeezed together inside, it gets hot. Really hot. And steamy. So steamy that when you finally leave, your clothes are drenched. Literally. Like wring them out as if you had just jumped in a pool.

What differentiates the temazcal from any other sauna is, in the words of the leader of the ritual, the intention of the participants. It is a spiritual ceremony, that is enhanced and represented by the physical purification, but not limited to the physical only. There is chanting, singing, prayer, and silence in the ritual. Burning sage and rosemary fill the sweat lodge with an incense that infuses the sweat. Taste, smell, sound, touch and even sight (or lack of, in the pitch black) are all engaged, with the assumption that one leaves the temazcal a different person that one entered.

one of the many dances during the weekend

This  temazcal happened on this particular weekend because of the full moon and the spring equinox and was actually part of a ‘danza de la primavera‘ weekend, hosted by the Kumiai people. There were dances to welcome the sun, dances to greet the full moon as it rose, and, in the morning a ‘campfire chat’ (I tried to ask what the word was in Spanish for this but the people I was with did not know what to call it. The closest we could get was an enseñanza or teaching. If we were in a church it would be called the sermon) which included remembering the people of Japan and a reflection on our connectedness to one another.

Tata Cachora (Grandfather Cachora)

It was a fascinating weekend. One thing that struck me was the respect paid to the ‘abuelos and abuelas,’ the grandfathers and grandmothers (or elders as we might refer to them), such a contrast to much of our American culture that seems to idolize youth rather than respect age. The dances were lead by the elders, but were always inclusive as well of the young.

One of Saturday’s dances was in honor of Tata Cachora or Grandfather Cachora, thought to be around 98 years old, and known as “the most knowledgeable healer” in the world. He had just arrived back from Germany where he had been teaching. Not bad for 98!

The weekend was most definitely a fantastic photo op. (More photos can be found at my flickr set, Temazcal in Tecate.)  It was also definitely outside of the realm of my normal day-to-day life. (At one point during the ritual dancing I did find myself wondering “I’m a Presbyterian minister–how in the world did I wind up here?”)

It was also interesting to participate in it during the season of Lent, which, among other things, remembers the 40 days that Jesus spent ‘in the wilderness.’  We only know, according to the book of Mark, that he was ‘with the wild beasts and the angels ministered to him.’ What did he do for those 40 days? Did he dance? Did he sing while sitting around a fire? Did he see visions?

I wonder, was there a ‘temezcal’ there?