Returning to the Womb
This morning as I walked out of my room and into my “home office” complete with folded laundry under my kitchen table, fluttering scraps of paper with notes to myself, and a few too many empty coffee cups scattered about. The first thing I did was plop down on the floor and breathe. In through my nose and out through my mouth. In through my nose and out through my mouth. Sometimes when I attempt this mindfulness practice, I may look out the window, or I may simply breathe as I open my outlook calendar or inhale the morning’s coffee. Today, I closed my eyes.
Living in this box of an apartment last week was only bearable with the light outside streaming in, wide open windows, and an adventurous, determined spirit my husband and I share to make the most of the moment.
But today there was no sun. Today, it was rainy and gloomy and muggy. Today, I did not like this humid, dark box of a space. Today, I closed my eyes.
It took three breaths before my heart rhythm felt settled. With my eyes still closed, I caught the scent of the sweet grass perfume I put on my wrists last night. It took me back to a moment in the past. Sweet grass is a sacred herb to the Lakota Oglala community in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. Its scent reminded me of my experience with Inipi.
Inipi, which means “to live again”, is a purification ceremony and Lakota rite in which men and women gather into a small dome-like structure to pray, smoke a pipe, and immerse themselves in a dark space for an hour or more in a series of practices. Hot rocks at the center leak hot steam as participants sit knee to knee on sweet grass, in a circle. The ritual is a tight, communal release of impurities and renewal of humility. It is a state of rebirth.
Breathing in the darkness of the space and living in one quarantined space has been uncomfortable. Locked in, captive, and for some of us alone, the darkness engulfs us, and we panic. During this time, we are required to close in, purposely isolate, and lose our liberty to travel. We feel obsolete like a pigeon locked into its columbary, not able to fulfill its delivery service purpose. If I’m honest, sometimes this pandemic has felt suffocating.
When I participated in Inipi, the space was initially alarming to me as a foreigner to the tradition and anxiety prone eighteen-year-old. I remember fidgeting at the idea that I couldn’t leave the lodge voluntarily. I felt trapped in darkness with my lungs filled with humid air. It was hard to breathe. Sensing my urgency to take flight and hoping to slow my rapid heartbeat, Larry, our spiritual leader, shared with me that his wife refers to the sweat lodge as a womb. A dark, damp, and compact space, indeed, the lodge felt like a fetal fortress. Shut your eyes, he said to us, and imagine yourself returning to your mother’s womb.
Perhaps in this season, we are returning to the womb. Retreating inward to protect ourselves and others as our mothers hoped to protect us as we grew. From there we can breathe, retreat, be fed, and be hopeful of when we emerge into the new, unknown world following. Valerie Kaur allows us freedom in this same concept when she remarks in her manifesto on revolutionary love, “maybe the darkness we’re feeling is a womb and not a tomb”.
Today, I closed my eyes and breathed in the space I am required to be in today. I breathed in the walls and the anxiety and the scent of sweet grass. I released my impure anxieties which arose from escalated unknowns and breathed in a new day. I opened my pores to be cleansed of fear.
When I opened my eyes, I saw my day ahead, working in the womb, growing and learning and flexing with the outside changes. I smiled with the thought of a mother holding me and a warmth of Hope in my chest that one day we will emerge into the new light of the world.
Allison Pelyhes is in her first year at Elon University as Multifaith Coordinator at the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life. In her role, Allison oversees Numen Lumen, a cohort of Interfaith interns, the Interfaith House LLC. A recent graduate of Hope College in Holland, Michigan, Allison is thrilled to take her passion for interfaith communities and education to another campus. While at Hope, Allison received a dual Bachelor of Arts in Religion and Sociology with a minor in Peace and Justice Studies. In addition, she studied abroad in Muscat, Oman where she worked at the Al Amana Centre, an NGO devoted to Muslim-Christian relations within the Sultanate.