As I sit here writing, with the sweet scent of cedar smoldering at my home in Surrey, England, my memory travels back in time to the incredible experience of a Navajo sweat lodge in the Arizona desert at Restival last fall.
A beautiful Navajo elder named Mary Lou scattered cedar over the hot stones in the center of the lodge as we sat in a circle, in the dark and the heat, listening to her songs and prayers. Never before have I had such an intense detox. Leaving the lodge three hours later, I felt completely reborn and refreshed.
Restival Arizona was a transformational experience for so many people. Everyone seemed to open their hearts and dive into the varied program of activities, sharing their life stories while the Navajo used their sacred ways to guide the ebb and flow of the energy throughout the six-day gathering.
To help facilitate this deep connection with the Navajo, I worked closely with Kate and Mark Sorensen, founders of the locally based Star School, which strives to preserve Navajo traditions and the language. As an elder explained, “If the language is lost, then the tribe disappears.” I see it as part of Restival’s mission to help the school through support from our experiences held around the world.
Najavo customs also inspired our camp accommodations: five luxurious custom-made tipis, all doors facing east, ahead of the other tents, like elders leading a tribe across the Arizona plain towards the Painted Desert with the San Francisco Peaks as our guardians and in the shadow of the Roden Crater.
It’s exhilarating to open your tent in the morning and absorb the varied hues of the desert sunrise. As for sunset, on our last night, an enormous and majestic harvest moon rose slowly, illuminating the gong bath and meditation practice and inspiring cheers, whoops, and hugs from all our guests. It truly was a moment of unity and felt emblematic of the connections developed over those five days in the desert.
We’d been fed the most nutritious meals; savored a glass of wine; enjoyed incredible spa treatments; painted masks and made jewelry; learned about the stars from a NASA Navajo astronomer; talked about disconnecting from the modern world; and even danced around the campfire with the Benallys, a Navajo family renowned for their ceremonies around the fire honoring animals and mother Earth.
We watched Jones Benally perform an incredible Navajo hoop dance (no one knows his age precisely; 90 is the best guess). The hoop represents the circle of life, as the Navajos believe that life is never ending. While Restival itself was ending, I believe we all headed home with an enduring sense of rejuvenation and hope.
If you’re intrigued and interested in experiencing Restival for yourself, it will return to the Navajo-run Gateway Ranch, 40 miles north of Flagstaff on the border of the reservation, in September 2017. Learn more and register at restival.global.