‘Na­tive Amer­i­can tribe saved me’

Spirit and Destiny - - Editor’s Letter -

Reach­ing rock bot­tom brought Shaura Hall into the world of sweat lodge cer­e­monies to trans­form her life

Shaura Hall was at rock bot­tom but a sweat lodge cer­e­mony changed her life

‘I emerged feel­ing like I’d left my neg­a­tiv­ity in the fire’

The ven­er­a­ble In­dian el­der sounded deadly se­ri­ous. ‘Tell me why you’re here, Shaura,’ he said. ‘Why are we pray­ing for you?’

A flush of shame rushed through me as I shrugged in the dark­ness.

‘If you don’t tell us, we can’t pray for you,’ he pressed.

I opened my mouth to speak but noth­ing came out. How could I tell this group of strangers that I didn’t want to live any more, that I was ter­ri­fied of los­ing my son – but that I also feared he’d be bet­ter off with­out me.

I was fright­ened, numb and com­pletely out of my com­fort zone. I’d long since lost the abil­ity to trust. But then I re­mem­bered my spon­sor’s words be­fore I’d en­tered this low-ceilinged wil­low sweat lodge.

‘You’ll feel like you’re go­ing to die in there,’ she’d said. ‘But you will be OK.’

I made a de­ci­sion. I took a deep breath and be­gan to speak…

A trou­bled path

Grow­ing up I strug­gled to nav­i­gate the world. It felt like ev­ery­one else knew the rules of life while I didn’t un­der­stand them.

I’d left home at 16 and got into a dif­fi­cult re­la­tion­ship. When I fell preg­nant at 18 I was ter­ri­fied, but ex­cited. Cameron ar­rived a healthy 9lb. But when he was a day old tests showed a valve in his heart wasn’t work­ing. Doc­tors felt it would be too trau­matic to op­er­ate on him. Three days later, he passed away in my arms.

After­wards, the dreams were the worst. Ev­ery night I’d dream I was hold­ing Cameron and that if I let him fall asleep he’d die. I spent my nights des­per­ately try­ing to save my son only to wake and re­mem­ber he was al­ready gone.

Be­fore Cameron was born I’d got in with a bad crowd, some of whom used heroin. I’d never un­der­stood why you’d do that to your­self, but after los­ing Cameron the idea of a drug that would take my grief and pain away, even for a few hours, seemed ir­re­sistible…

I soon got locked into a cy­cle of ad­dic­tion.

I’d come off drugs for months at a time, sign up for a train­ing course, try to build a life away from drugs. Then some­thing would hap­pen and I’d be back where I started.

In time I met some­one new, John. We mar­ried and, aged 22, I had a daugh­ter, fol­lowed a year later by twins. We were so young, with three tiny chil­dren to look after, and both strug­gling with ad­dic­tion.

The last time

I got in­volved with petty crime, shop-lift­ing and cheque fraud. I told my­self banks and big chain shops weren’t real vic­tims. But life was tur­bu­lent and, per­haps in­evitably, the au­thor­i­ties got in­volved.

The prospect of our chil­dren be­ing taken into care was the jolt me and John needed to clean up. We com­mit­ted to com­ing off drugs for good but, the month be­fore we were due to go to fam­ily court, John said he was head­ing out for the evening.

I caught some­thing in his ex­pres­sion and knew he was go­ing to buy drugs.

‘It’s the last time,’ he said. ‘I prom­ise.’

‘OK,’ I nod­ded. ‘I love you.’

‘I love you too,’ he said.

The po­lice found me at mum’s the next day to tell me John had over­dosed. He was 34.

Just a month later I faced the judge and des­per­ately tried to con­vince him I was able to look after my chil­dren.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I can’t risk it.’

Still griev­ing over John, I’d now lost three more chil­dren.

I had noth­ing left.

The next few months passed in a blur of grief and con­fu­sion. I man­aged to find work do­ing the night shift at a print fac­tory and fell into an­other re­la­tion­ship.

Just a year after John died, I fell preg­nant again. I felt like I’d be­trayed John by mov­ing on so quickly and I was ter­ri­fied my baby would get taken away again.

When my son, Ja­cob, was born I loved him so much, but I swung be­tween fears of him be­ing taken from me and the thought that he’d be bet­ter off with­out me.

Ja­cob was eight months old when my birth fa­ther, who’d lived in Amer­ica since I was eight, in­vited me to visit.

Grow­ing up I’d only seen my fa­ther once a year at my grandma’s house, though we’d emailed and he of­ten used to send me books by Tony Hiller­man – a se­ries of Navajo tribal po­lice mys­tery nov­els.

Into the un­known

When I ar­rived in Ore­gon with Ja­cob, Dad told me how he had a na­tive Amer­i­can friend he thought could help me.

‘They’ve agreed to do a sweat lodge for you,’ he ex­plained.

Be­cause of Dad’s de­tec­tive nov­els I’d had the tini­est win­dow into Navajo cul­ture and knew that a sweat lodge was a hut used by North Amer­i­can In­di­ans for rit­ual steam baths, in­tended to pu­rify you. But the idea of me go­ing through one seemed sur­real.

Still numb, I let Dad drive me to the ranch where peo­ple who fol­lowed the tra­di­tions of the Lakota tribe had agreed to see me. You can’t just walk into a cer­e­mony, es­pe­cially as a Euro­pean. Some­one has to in­vite you, stay with you and spon­sor you. So, Dad’s friend Theresa had sorted ev­ery­thing out for me and ex­plained what would hap­pen.

Crawl­ing into the low-roofed wil­low struc­ture, how­ever, was still bizarre. Cir­cu­lar and with blan­kets cov­er­ing the out­side and a bare earth floor, it felt a bit like be­ing in a womb. And now here I was ex­plain­ing to the el­der why they should pray for me.

There was a pit in the cen­tre which was filled with vol­canic rocks and, as we en­tered, the gath­ered tribe sang old In­dian prayer songs. I’d been told these were spirit call­ing songs which would bring in the spirit of a par­tic­u­lar an­i­mal.

A bap­tism of fire

I’d not been in the hut long when all of a sud­den some­thing came through to me. I sud­denly wanted to sit up straight, and as I stared at the glow­ing rocks and heard the hiss of the wa­ter be­ing poured on to them, I be­gan to see faces in the heat.

The el­e­ments of fire, air, earth and wa­ter were all rep­re­sented and as I crawled through the heat and steam I seemed to con­nect to some­thing greater than my­self. After what may have been an hour, I emerged feel­ing like I’d left my neg­a­tiv­ity in the fire. I felt re­born.

After there was a dis­cus­sion about whether they’d hold a na­tive Amer­i­can church meet­ing for me. But one of the elders wasn’t keen.

‘She doesn’t know our ways,’ he said. ‘Send her away to pre­pare for a year.’

The el­der’s wife spoke up then.

‘If some­one had told you to go away and pre­pare for a year when you were drink­ing,’ she asked him, ‘what would have hap­pened?’

‘I’d be dead,’ he replied.

‘That’s your an­swer,’ she said.

So it was agreed. They’d help me fur­ther.

Find­ing my­self again

When it rains in Ore­gon it rains hard and it was pour­ing the night of the te­pee meet­ing that had been ar­ranged for me. But just be­fore it started, the rain cleared and you could see the stars.

The meet­ing was very rit­u­al­is­tic. We took cac­tus pey­ote, a hal­lu­cino­genic which has heal­ing prop­er­ties for body and psy­che. I was blessed and then the el­der spoke di­rectly to me.

‘I have to tell you some­thing,’ he said. ‘We love you. Be­cause we are you. Many of us know what you have been through.’

It was just what I needed to hear.

As we prayed the rain came again.

That night I saw things that I can’t ex­plain. I re­alised there is more to the world than we can see, hear and touch.

After fast­ing overnight, one of the Amer­i­can In­di­ans came to me.

‘I’ve been dy­ing to say this,’ he grinned. And then, in a fake Bri­tish ac­cent, he asked: ‘Would you like a spot of tea?’

Overnight I’d found an amaz­ing group of friends. I stayed with the tribe for five weeks in the end and, as I left, my spon­sor had some ad­vice. ‘Back at home, find your spir­i­tual path.’

re­turn­ing to real life

I fol­lowed her ad­vice, learn­ing to do reiki en­er­getic heal­ing. I also found a day job, work­ing se­cu­rity for foot­ball and rugby matches.

I man­aged to be a mum to Ja­cob and stay clean, and when I re­turned to visit the tribe a year later I was un­recog­nis­able from the woman they’d first met. This time I stayed longer, around three months, and dis­cov­ered that my spon­sor and her fam­ily did yoga. It in­spired me to give it a try back in the UK.

At first I tried Hatha Yoga, then Kun­dalini which ap­pealed as I’m par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in en­ergy. It’s very spir­i­tual and gave me so much – a fo­cus, new iden­tity, some­where to be peace­ful and spir­i­tual.

I felt em­pow­ered for the first time in years. It felt nat­u­ral to me and I found it so easy to grasp the con­cepts that, not long after I be­gan, I took a teacher train­ing course and be­came a yoga teacher.

I’d found my pur­pose at last.

a deep grat­i­tude

Since then I’ve com­pleted a yoga ther­apy course and help train men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als in how to deal with ad­dic­tion. I’ve been with the same man since Ja­cob was five, Neil. He’s an old friend from my teenage years and has been an amaz­ing sup­port.

One of the things that pushed me to clean up was that if and when my older kids got back in touch, I didn’t want them to find me a drug ad­dict. I’m now in con­tact with all of my chil­dren. My daugh­ter is 22 and the twins are

21. Of course, our re­la­tion­ship isn’t sim­ple, but they’re do­ing well.

I’ve been back to Ore­gon so many times since that first visit. The tribe are my spir­i­tual fam­ily. In fact, I’ve just come back from a purg­ing and fast­ing cer­e­mony where we prayed for the world. The Na­tive Amer­i­can tra­di­tion is all about con­nect­ing with the earth and it’s bru­tal what we’re do­ing to the planet.

Now 14 years on from that first sweat lodge, I’m men­tally, phys­i­cally and spir­i­tu­ally healthy. I have a deep un­der­stand­ing I lacked be­fore, that life is all a process and ev­ery hu­man be­ing has po­ten­tial. It took a long jour­ney for me to get where I am to­day but I’m eter­nally grate­ful. ‘Philá­mayaye’ is the Lakota word for ‘thank you’. I re­ally can’t say it enough.

✿ More info about cour­ses run by Shaura, visit theyo­gol­o­gist.co.uk

‘Life is all a process and ev­ery hu­man be­ing has po­ten­tial’

Hav­ing found peace at last

teach­ing oth­ers to heal them­selves

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.