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Stereotype of the Month Entry
(10/2/07)


Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

02 Cold Turkey

Haim's smoking habits lure Feldman back to the dark side and when Susie catches her husband smoking again, she declares it's time to break the habit. The boys attempt a variety of methods to squash their cigarette craving, such as nicotine gum and hypnotherapy, but all fail miserably. As a last resort, Susie sends them to an Indian sweat lodge, where they let go of issues from their past as well as their addiction.

'The Two Coreys':  Feldman helps Haim get a license to drive

Susie has another idea for how to get the boys to stop smoking: a sweat lodge. Apparently this is a place you go, meet a Native American, and sweat out the desire to smoke. The Coreys actually agree to do this too and are off. Susie sets up dinner with some girlfriends as long as her husband is out.

On the way to the lodge, Feldman laments being without his wife and Haim makes fun of him (I know I could just pull the second half of that sense from last week's recap, but you should know that I actually wrote it out again). When they finally arrive at the lodge, they meet Terry, their Native American host, and quickly notice there is no hotel. Instead, what they get can kindly be described as a "tent," but more accurately looks like a blue tarp being held up in a half-dome shape by goodness knows what. Terry explains to the Coreys that once inside they will have to say their wishes to stop smoking out loud because while the Creator hears silent prayers, His helpers need words because they cannot read. I think Terry means spoken words, not just words, but it sort of makes sense anyway.

Haim and Feldman play along. They go into the "lodge" and smoke from a pipe and talk about what they do not like about one another and what they do like. It all actually seems like a good bonding experience.

Susie, meanwhile, is out bonding with her friends. She has more than a little too much to drink (she is out of practice because Feldman does not drink and she does not around him) and comes home relatively drunk. The boys have already arrived home by this time, and Haim suggests that Feldman take advantage of the drunk girl, so Feldman takes his wife upstairs while Haim goes outside for a smoke.

Rob's comment
The following posting shows what's wrong with treating a sweat lodge like some sort of treatment booth. Note all the spiritual steps that (probably) weren't present in the Two Coreys episode.

One Native Life

Posted: October 10, 2007
by: Richard Wagamese

Firekeeper

Somewhere in our genes lives the memory of a fire in the night. Somewhere in the jumble of our consciousness is the recollection, dimmed by time and circumstance, of a band of us huddled around a flame for security, warmth and community. We all share that. No matter who we are today, each of our nations began as tribal people. That's the truth that fire engenders.

I learned that in the mid-1990s. I was attending the annual Spiritual Gathering in Algonquin territory in Maniwaki, Quebec. Our host was elder William Commanda, a globally recognized teacher, and we'd come from all corners, from all peoples, to share four days of ceremony, ritual and unity.

There were elders and spiritual teachers from a handful of First Nation cultures. Each day featured an opportunity to sit with them and learn about their particular spiritual way. From sunup to sundown, the days were filled with guidance. We were shown ancient spiritual ways, still alive and vital, and allowed to participate in rituals that began in deep prehistory. It was an elevating and enriching experience.

The teachers were available, as much as possible given the huge numbers of people, for individual sessions. Everywhere you could see acolytes sitting in humble silence at the knee of the carriers of knowledge. But the centerpiece of the gathering was the sweat lodge grounds.

Each of the teachers built their own lodge and held ceremonies throughout the day. Each of them, with their apprentices, made that ancient ritual available for as many people as possible. There were at least a dozen domed lodges and the smell of smoke, of sacred medicines and the sound of prayer and petitions to the spirit world, was everywhere. It felt like holy ground.

A sweat lodge, in its simplest sense, is a sacred edifice. It's shaped like a womb and when you strip yourself down and crawl into it on your hands and knees, you return yourself to the innocence you were born in. You return yourself to genuine humility and the darkness you sit in is a symbol of your unknowing, and the rocks glowing in the pit, the symbol of ancient, eternal, elemental truth.

It's not a ceremony to be taken lightly. It's not a sauna. It's not a charming throwback. Instead, it's a gateway to the truths within you and a path to the spiritual truths that govern the universe. It's a place of prayer, of sacrifice, enduring, healing and, if you're fortunate, insight.

An elder I had worked with arrived late. He asked if I would be his helper and I agreed. When the sun came up we began to build his lodge. He was patient and generous and he took his time and taught me the traditional protocols of building a sweat lodge. I was deeply honored. While we worked he told me stories and talked about how the ceremony had evolved for the northern Ojibway.

When we were finished, he asked me to be his firekeeper.

In the traditional way, a firekeeper is an honored role. You build the fire that heats the rocks used in the ceremony. Your prayers around that fire are the first prayers in the process. You prepare the ritual. You take care of everything so that the teacher can focus, and when the time comes, you watch over the participants. You stand guard outside that lodge while the ceremony runs, attentive, ready to serve and you pray along with the petitioners in the lodge.

Ernie liked a hot ceremony. His lodges asked the utmost of participants and the heat was tremendous. Quite often people could not endure it and surrendered long before the usual four rounds of prayer, song and talk. They would crawl out of the lodge when I opened the door, weak and spent and vulnerable. My job was to tend to them.

They were Germans, Finns, English, French, Ojibway, Cree, Metis and Algonquin. But stretched out on the ground, struggling for breath, crying, ashamed perhaps, they were just people, human beings in need of care. I tended to them. I cradled heads and gave water. I applied cool cloths. I spoke softly and encouragingly. I helped them stand and walked them to shade.

I did that for four days, and at the end when there was just Ernie and me, praying and singing in the lodge, I offered thanks for that incredible privilege.

See, up until then I was adamant that Native things stay Native things. I had fought so hard to reclaim the displaced parts of myself that I had chosen to believe that what's ours is ours, that no one else had a right to the things that define and sustain us. Our spirituality was our spirituality. Being a firekeeper taught me differently.

We are all tribal people. We are all travelers searching for the comfort of a fire in the night. We are all, all of us, in need of a place of prayer, of solace, of unity. Our fire burns bright enough for everyone. Ahow.


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Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.

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