Blood Drops and Butterflies: My Experience as a Supporter at the Lakota Sun Dance Ceremony

Some days I can't believe the places and experiences my spiritual path has led me to. I believe that when you set an intention, like really set it from an open heart; willing and ready to receive, the universe will bring on the magic. My recent request had been this: a deeper understanding of my relationship with the spiritual practice of others. Ask and you shall receive. My partner and I had the fortunate opportunity to have been invited in supporting a leader in our community as he danced in the Native American tradition, the Lakota Sun Dance Ceremony. Did I learn more about myself? Yes. Was it comfortable? Not at all.

Can you spot the dragonfly?

Can you spot the dragonfly?

What is Sun dance?

When most people hear "sun dance," it's common to think of the Sundance Film Festival. That's what had come up for me as well. However, the Sun Dance I'm referring to in this blog post is a grueling spiritual ceremony of personal and community sacrifice that has been taking place within the Native Lakota people well before America was "founded," slash stolen (I'll leave that there). Up until the late 1970s, US laws were put in place with the intention of supressing indigenous people from openly participating in Sun Dance or any sort of cultural practices.

Preparation

Dancers spend the year preparing mind, body, and spirit for the ceremony through sweat lodges, solo vision quests, and a very specific diet for a set period of time. When it comes time to dance, the participants gather around a single tree in a circular cleared arena. They are then pierced through the skin of the chest on the left and right side, in order to be tethered to the tree by rope. In this sacred space they dance for 4 days with no food or water, focusing on a single eagle feather at the top of the tree and their prayer. In this time period, friends and family support in an outer circle behind the participants by dancing and singing. The energy and support of the community are both incredibly important in in helping the dancers push forward in this period of sacrifice and spiritual challenge-- as they have very little energy themselves. 

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What is the Purpose?

I know this sounds like a brutal tradition, and it kind of is! I experienced a bit of culture shock during my time supporting. There is a purpose though... The tree they are attached to is not just about their personal prayer, but also of those of the community. Black, white, red, yellow, and blue strips of fabrics are set with single prayers from supporters and community and tied to the branches of the tree. Prayers for peace on this planet, healing from sickness, prayers for the suffering, and so on. The dancers become a vessel to hold and strengthen these prayers through their personal sacrifice and focus. As a result of the preparation, and essentially sacrificing their flesh, they connect to spirit, experience visions, and receive messages from guides-- all while being physically tethered to the tree and shuffling in place under the hot sun. During this time, women are also participating in ceremony, but in a very different way...  

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A woman's Ceremony: The Moon Cycle

When entering the grounds supporters like myself had the option of giving a small flesh offering. A small prick of skin to be attached to a prayer flag and tied to the center tree. I didn't feel the call to give an offering, and I was told that women give an offering every month through our cycles. The Chief's wife spoke of the power of the ceremony women go through monthly, the imbalance of power between the masculine and feminine in western society, and the desperate need for women to fully step into their power and be supported. The well being of the planet is dependent on this support. It was also explained that during the moon cycle grandmother earth is speaking, and it is to be honored by both men and women as ceremony. Without women, there would be no life! This simple, single fact, is what makes women so incredibly powerful. This is also one of the reasons women on their moon cycle stay isolated from the ceremony at a separate lodge. I was told a story of a woman who had been in menopause for 7 years began menstruating and stories of other women beginning their cycles at odd times during the ceremony due to energy of the ritual being so potent.

Foraged finds.

Foraged finds.

Breaking the Skin

Although the ceremony has a strong emphasis on supporting the participants, it is also a place where radical change can take place in supporters and helpers. The experience was strong enough to move tears through some, to bring up emotions that need to be looked at, and to provide much needed insights about life. It's also not uncommon to have more vivid dreams and to be more sensitive to the surrounding energies. All of which I experienced myself in just a few days of attending.

On the final day of fasting and dancing, the dancers free themselves from the by breaking the skin attached to the rope and tree-- releasing the prayers. The prayers stay with the tree for a full year until the next dance takes place. Afterwards the dancers go into one last sweat lodge together, then join their communities to smoke red cedar bark out of a scared pipe called a chanupa, and finally feast afterwards.

What I learned

I honestly struggled a little bit with the discomfort I was feeling watching the exhausted and moaning dancers attached to a tree by the skin of their chest. There were moments when it made my body tense up and my eyes and mouth jolt wide open. There was blood, but then there were also butterflies and dragonflies dancing between them. It was painful and beautiful at the same time, just as life is. It made complete sense to me, as much as I wanted to reject and throw out the experience all together. I questioned if this experience was actually "spiritual." My methods of connecting to self and spirit have been through silent meditation, through psychedelics, through heartbreak, and sometimes through uncomfortable yoga positions, but never through blood-- which I always associated with darkness. I'm the type of woman who like to hang out in the light with the butterflies and babies, not the darkness. But who am I to dictate the right and wrong way to connect to source, the universe, to self?  I was reminded that spiritual growth isn't always comfortable or done this or that way. It's painful and beautiful at the same time, and there is no linear path to enlightenment. All paths lead to the same place, even if they appear different.

*How do you connect to spirit? Do you have rituals, ceremonies, or practices that help you grow spiritually? 

Due to the effort in keeping the space sacred, no images were allowed of the actual ceremony.

How to Self-Care like a Modern Hippie

People are starting to recognize that the burning the candle at both ends way of living is no longer working and is no longer sustainable or healthy.  I've noticed that as we become more mindful and seek balance in our lives, we are seeking ways to nourish the mind, body, and soul, because they're all connected. For me, I prioritize self-care like it's my job, and with 0 guilt attached. Without it, I crash and burn and start to become super off balanced (I'm basically low energy and irritated). Which then trickles into different areas of my life. It becomes a domino effect when the balance is off.

Self-care is recognizing what your needs are and providing care for you, by you. Because who else is going to make you feel better? Not your spouse, and not your best friend. You, and only you are responsible for taking care of your whole being. Self-care is preventative care that will keep you fueled in a sustainable way. In a culture that likes to promote working more than 40 hours a week, it's really easy to let guilt creep in and make you feel lazy or like you don't yet deserve a break. And what I say to that is that you should never feel guilty for giving yourself what you need. YOU are your biggest investment. That being said, here are a few personal tips for self caring like a modern hippie. 

Mind

  1. Meditation. It doesn't have to be a long sit, 10 minutes with yourself is all you need to reap the benefits of meditation. I use the Headspace App as they have guided and unguided meditations.

  2. Read a book. Self-help books are my favorite just because I feel like I'm getting new perspective on the mind (currently reading: "The Gift of Imperfection"), but any book you can get lost in is great.

  3. Write. Write to dump what's on your mind, or just write for the sake of writing.

  4. De-clutter/Clean: A default self-care act I participate in often. If my space is cluttered and not clean, my mind feels that way too. Pick a few small things to do and get them done!

  5. Cannabis. Be it body or mind, research has shown that cannabis is effective in treating mood disorders like depression, anxiety, and stress. Yes, please!

  6. Digital Detox. Allow yourself some quiet time and some in person connection, away from your devices. Plus, it's a good thing to give your body a break from EMFs.

  7. Say No. It's simple, really. So "NO" to something and say it unapologetically.

  8. Netflix and Chill. Watching TV or a movie is OK if you feel like that's what you need! Don't forget the munchies.

  9. Affirmation. Choose a weekly affirmation and say it to yourself every morning and night. Affirmations help you stay in a constant state of gratitude.

  10. Healthy Habit: Start a healthy new habit. It can be something small like an affirmation, or something bigger like going to the gym x days a week.

Body

  1. Connect with Nature. Go for a hike, have a picnic in your backyard, or go camping. Anything outside will give you the space to connect with mother earth!

  2. Take a Bath. Bubbles, salts, whatever you want.. throw them in there and soak. This is my favorite! For ultimate self-care I smoke a a little cannabis and listen to Tibetan bowls.

  3. Face mask. I'm a big fan of spa like self-care. I haven't found a mask I truly loved until recently! Borbon's No. 1 natural and minty mask leaves my face feeling refreshed and glowing.

  4. Body Movement. Moving the body is amazing for moving energy and letting go of tension. Dance and shake your body with no judgment, listen to it, and let your body flow.

  5. Sleep. Wether it's a nap or going to bed early, getting some good Z's is one of the best gifts you can give to your body to help is feel rested and catch up on sleep.

  6. Kundalini Yoga. Stretching the body paired with aura clearing movements and breath will help create balance in your body.

  7. Hug Someone. It is scientifically proven that a hug can elevate the mood and improve happiness! So, go on, hug a family member, friend, or pet.

  8. Hydrate. Be it nourishing juice, or fruit infused water, being hydrated is one of the best ways to stay healthy and keep the brain thinkingly clearly.

  9. Eat Healthy. Similar to hydrating, eating healthy, and if possible organic, will nourish the body and mind! Try smoothies in the morning for easy veggie intake and a new healthy habit.

  10. Try a New Activity. Break routine and try something you've always wanted to do but never made the time for.

Soul

  1. Visit with a High Vibe Friend. Sometimes it takes being around someone who vibrates so much positive energy to nourish your soul. High vibes are contagious.

  2. Get Creative: When was the last time you did something creative and did it just for fun? Paint, draw, do something that creatively feeds your soul. I recommend this Mandala coloring book.

  3. Buy Yourself Flowers. Be your own bae! This is one that I do every week! No need to wait on someone to do it for you, plus you get to pick the colors you want. You deserve it.

  4. Drum Circle. Get a few people together with a few drums and small instruments and enjoy the music you create together.

  5. Care for an Animal. When you care for another animal, it actually creates a calming effect and eases anxiety.

  6. Reiki. See a Reikei master to help dissolve any energy blocks that may be with you.

  7. Plan a Trip. Plan a trip for yourself- big, small, near or far. You'll have a fun adventure to look forward to in the near future.

  8. Say, I love you. Show gratitude to someone you love and appreciate. Spreading love feels good for everyone involved!

  9. Community Service. When you give back to your community, you improve the lives of others and in return create high vibrations! I use Volunteer Match to find something that fits my service interests.

  10. Therapy. There is nothing wrong with dumping all your thoughts onto your therapist. Sometimes we all need a little perspective and an outsider's view on what's going on in our lives. Feel no shame.

Personal Growth through Solo Female Travel

As I descended my first solo 8 mile hike down Bandera Mountain, I felt so much gratitude towards myself for having chosen to backpack Europe alone. It was the biggest and scariest investment I've ever made, but was the catapult I needed to go into some deep personal and spiritual growth. The thought of going on a big hike alone would have not been very appealing to the old version of me, but the post Europe me now loves the idea of adventure, alone time, and constantly seeks opportunity for growth. After having so many people ask me about my trip, I decided to share some major things that stuck with me from my solo female travel, and how these learnings enriched my life. I highly recommend solo travel to anyone who is even considering it! Life is too short and goes by way too fast to not do what sets your soul on fire!

A quick and dirty background: Last year I quit my career in the fashion industry to go have my "Eat, Pray, Love" moment as I was in the beginning stage of my Saturn Return. I found myself itching to step outside of fear, and to see what would happen if I just trusted the universe (something I was never good at). Plus, at that point I no longer had hobbies because my job took all my time, I was creatively uninspired, and I was honestly lost in the confusion of what my life's purpose was.  So, I left my corporate job in March of 2016, packed and repacked until I realized I really couldn't take much with me, and bought a one way ticket to Iceland with the expectation I would be gone for 2 months.

Embrace Minimalism

Backpacking is called "backpacking" for a reason. You are literally living out of a backpack while you're traveling. Your backpack is your home--it is your life while on the road. Don't be too attached to these things, but protect them. If you're traveling somewhere warm, well then you're lucky! You get to pack more into your backpack because warm weather clothing is smaller. If you're going to a cooler climate, you are limited because of the bulkiness of cool weather clothing.  Every inch of your bag is precious real estate and every little bit put into it you will have to carry on your back while running around between different platforms trying to catch a train. I ended up sending half of my items home when I was in Berlin. The bag was just too heavy and hard to lug around the rest of my journey, which didn't leave me with too many belongings. That being said, I quickly got comfortable with rotating between the same 3 long sleeves, 2 pairs of jeans, and few pairs of underwear I washed in the sink (it didn't financially make sense to pay for laundry service at this point and I was ballin on a budget). You get so immersed in the experience you're having that what you look like is the last thing on your mind. After living this, I've felt less attached to things in my present life and have gotten rid of excess. I also appreciate the mental space I get from not cluttering my life with things that I can't keep track of or know I won't get multi-use out of. Things are just things, experience is something you are put on this planet to do. 

Find Your Confidence 

Situations and incidences may come up that probably aren't going to be a part of your plan and will likely be really fucking frustating. You have you, and only you to figure out how to get from one city to the next and get creative when it comes to accommodation/staying within your budget. And sometimes that means you'll need to ask for help along the way. But if you can get good at problem solving solo abroad, doing this at home will be so much easier, and actually starts to be a lot of fun (at least for me). The biggest  part of my trip I was looking forward to was a work exchange for stay through Workaway with a German Architect and Mexican Shaman at a holistic wellness center in Rathenow, Germany for 3 weeks. In short: I got into an argument with the man after he gave me some unwelcome relationship advice, was there for 4 days, and took a train back to Berlin to figure out what my next move was. After overcoming this situation amongst a few others, I now feel like I can do anything, go anywhere, and problem solve like a girl boss. I found parts of me that really needed to wake up and be present in my life. This confidence was one of the biggest gifts from my journey!

Go with the Flow of Life

As mentioned above, some things may not go according to plan. This will teach you to go with the flow of life and the flow of your experience. Maybe you'll meet some amazing souls that will become close friends because you decided to drink at an Icelandic "American Bar" till 4AM? If I hadn't of made that choice, I wouldn't have met my two favorite Icelandic friends, Selma and Helgi. (I met Selma hungover on a couch at the hostel I was staying at, and she asked if I was OK, hah!) Both beautiful souls that aspire to own a farm in Spain! They hosted me and a close friend (that stopped by to meet me on a small portion of my trip) to a dinner that Helgi made from scratch. We ate with our hands, drank wine, shared interesting things about our cultures, smoked a little weed, and saw a peep of the Northern Lights in front of Hallgrímskirkja (say it 5x fast!). Meeting them was one of the highlights of my trip and truly enriched my soul because I learned to release the need to have a plan, and in return started to live in the moment. So much magic happens when you release the grip and let the universe provide you with tiny moments that you carry with you forever. 

New You, New Start

If you choose to go big by leaving your job, your family, and all that is familar behind you for a long period of time, the chances of you coming back different are good. And that doesn't have to be a bad thing! As humans, we are allowed to change and grow and that's what's so beautiful about life, it's not constant and it's always flowing forward. Not one person is constant and you have every right to change. Honestly, that doesn't mean it will be easy, because change is NEVER a piece of cake. But what you are changing into is going to be more YOU. If you're looking for a fresh start in who you are and what you want to do or be, solo female travel will empower you and change you. Reason being, you get to spend concentrated time with yourself, getting to know yourself without the influence of what is comfortable and familiar. You get to work with yourself in an open space to explore, play, and do what inspires you. I rediscovered my creatively because I had so much spare time, and I filled it with taking photos, writing, and sometimes just sitting on a waterfront watching people. I came back home and started a new career that was more creative and fulfilling. It was work, but it was worth all the joy I feel now. 

Finding Connection

To some, being alone is one of the scariest thoughts in the world. As I was recently telling a young college student about my solo journey, he said to me, "Oh, no! I'd hate that, I could never go alone." I asked why, and he responded, "I'd get lonely." The truth is, you can be lonely if your mindset or intention is to be lonely. You don't have to interact with anyone around you if you really don't want to. Or you could make some friends along the way! It's a choice. Being an introvert, extrovert, I had more of a challenging time trying to find privacy since I was staying in hostels. But that lack of privacy is how I met the most amazing people. It's a double edged sword.  I connected with beautiful souls that inspired me, gave me perspective on my own life, and some that mirrored me and pissed me off. On a deeper level, I connected with myself. If sadness or loneliness came up, I got the opportunity to ask myself where the feelings were stemming from and also got to know those scared parts. I'm a big believer that everything we have is already in us and with us. I am home, I am my best friend, and I am my companion. It's a practice, but it is something that I've become awake to since my travels and I'm so thankful to carry that awareness in my everyday life.

Please let me know if you have any questions about solo travel or about my experience! 

5 Healing Plant Medicines

How incredible is it that there are plants that grow from the soil of this little planet full of bebop-in' humans, that can induce a "soulful journey of self"? Um, I think pretty incredible, and I'd like to think an essential part of the human experience. In American culture, plant medicines can annoyingly be categorized under "psychedelics" or "drugs." However, in places like Peru and Mexico it's a completely normal way of life and has been for thousands of years. With healing properties (spiritual and psychical), and their support in expanding consciousness, plant medicines are a beautiful gift from nature to us.

With the stigma attached, I'm still pretty open about my respect and my embracing plant medicines. I can't help but be so fascinated because to me it feels like this should be a totally normal and natural way of healing and supporting humankind. Having had my own personal experiences with plant medicines, I am more authentically me, more loving towards myself and the world around me, I feel more connected to source (God, Universe, Earth etc), have more of an ability to "go with the flow" and take my learnings and lessons with more grace and ease, and the list goes on. Seriously, it's insane how it has positively impacted my journey. And for others, these plants may naturally heal PTSD, trauma, depression, physical pain, and even save their lives. Of course, there are methods such a yoga, meditation, and therapy, that are all also healing and not mind altering, but may be less effective depending on your intention. Below are some of my favorite plant medicines based off of their healing properties:

Cannabis: One of the most popular plants to be eaten or inhaled legally (thank you, Seattle!). Indica, Sativa, Hybrids, or CBD (all different strains) can produce different effects on the mind and body. This plant can help with productivity (or reduce), fight insomnia, body pains, inspire creativity, lift mood, and increase cravings for kettles chips dipped in organic cream cheese. 

Psilocybin (Mushrooms): There's a reason these are called "magic mushrooms." In the appropriate space, with the right intentions, and appropriate dosage, mushrooms can activate feelings of well being, interconnection, joy, and oneness with nature. For some, their experience with mushrooms was the most transformative and profound spiritual experience they've ever had. Magical indeed and best enjoyed laying on a blanket outside under the sun. Just saying. 

Peyote: Native Americans have been working with this little cactus in prayer ceremonies for quite some time now. There are plenty of studies out there that say Peyote helps fight addiction against substances like heroine, and alcoholism. On a more soulful level, it is said to help achieve spiritual awareness and balance in life through experiencing this plant. 

Iboga: From the bark of the root of a West Africa shrub comes the healing properties of Ibogaine. This one reduces cravings and in return fights a wide range of addictions. An essential part of this process is that the plant will take the individual on a journey through past thoughts and feelings that contributed to their unhealthy behaviors. Not the most fun experience, but that's also why they call it medicine and why it could never be rereational...

Ayahuasca: "Vine of the Soul". Damn. This DMT filled vine and leaf brew I call a teacher just as much as a medicine. Ayahuasca aids in helping the individual in better understanding their life by bringing relationships, situations, and beliefs into consciousness to be processed. It's a very profound experience of inner healing work for those who are ready for it. I plan on sharing my experience with Ayahuasca in the near future! 

How do you feel about plant medicines? How have they helped you?


(Disclaimer: I am talking from past experiences and expressing my own opinion, any medicine tried is at your own risk)

Feast On This Retreat: Yucatan Popup Dinner

I had met Laura and Tim of Sullivan & Sullivan  (the Sullivans) just a few days before their first Seattle popup of Moveable Feat Retreats, and I immediately loved their open and warm energy. I don't know that I've ever met a couple that was so "go with the flow" of life and that have such a passion for living an intentional, soulful life. The first night we met, we talked about travel. I'm always interested to hear what someone else's experience taught them or what they discovered from traveling. I'm telling you guys, traveling will change you in the best way imaginable (if you let it and you're open to it). Anyway, while on the topic of travel, they told me about their side biz- Moveable Feast Retreats, which they came up with while traveling. 

The idea for their international retreats is pretty simple. Tim, Laura, and their team travel to a different country every year and create an intimate experience to submerge you in the culture, but in a really really cool way. No large groups and buses full of people to get to attractions, no guessing what restaurant will have the most authentic foods, none of that super touristy shit. They create an experience full of soul, and let me tell you, they do it well. From food prepared by a professional chef to the aesthetic of the accommodation you stay in, all the details matter and are thought out. You can feel the love and thoughtfulness Laura and Tim put into it all. They want to make you feel things and experience things that will leave memories. It's a community experience you have with a small group of other travelers that want the same exact quality experience, but without all the super fancy business. It's genuine and authentic in all the ways you'd want it to be. 

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I was fortunate enough to be a part of their first Seattle Popup, with them having only 1 spot open. And man, I'm so happy I did not pass up the opportunity. Things like this in Seattle are hard to find, and you don't hear about them too often...I can imagine it's for a good reason. I'm kind of afraid to post this because I think tickets would sell out if everyone knew about them, and it sounds like more Seattle Popups could be in the future! 

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For this popup tickets were $95 for 5 courses, and 2 Mezcal Pairings (Um, more like 4 pairings- Tim likes to keep the drinks pouring, and I'm not one to say no, especially after an alcohol detox!) Here's what we ate:

Course 1: Yucatan style ceviche - carrot aguachile with shrimp (fresh juiced carrots. Seriously? Yas.) 

Course 2: Grilled spring vegetables with chamoy

Course 3: Salmon, tomatoes and sikil pak

Course 4: Pork spareribs with charred pineapple salsa (this literally fell off the bone...)

Course 5: Chocolate, berries, cream, cinnamon 

By: Sullivan & Sullivan

By: Sullivan & Sullivan

At the end of the night, the amazing, super talented, Chef Greg and all his dad jokes, sat down with the remaining guests (now friends) at the table for a moment of sobremesa. Sobremesa, which I had never heard of before the popup means time spent in conversation with new friends, digesting, relaxing, and enjoying. I was so down for this after eating more than I could handle and having a generous "tasting" of wild-harvested mezcals. Candles still lit, mezcal still being poured, a sense of community, and the perfect Yucatan vibes... it was all so dreamy, like something you would see in a movie. I'm already refreshing their "Upcoming" page in hopes that another Seattle Popup happens sooner rather than later!

Also, did I mention their last retreat was in France- in a friggin' castle? Yeah, so there's that. 

-Tiff & Her Mezcal Hangover