“I was dancing right at the edge, trying to get myself close enough to experience being completely let go while maintaining the ability to come back and move myself. I was driven out of sheer curiosity to see what would happen.”
Choking on the hot damp air, Andrea Sanchez, then 19, struggled to breathe. Sweat dripped off her body and onto the pine needles she was sitting on. Her eyes burned from the scorching heat.
With a loud sigh, the sweat lodge ceremonial leader splashed water onto the glowing rocks piled in a pit in the center of the dome-shaped hut. Flickering sparks broke up the darkness and ragged exhales cracked through the musty air. Steam drifted up. The sweat lodge became hotter and hotter as the smell of angelica root mixed with the stench of bodies. Through sheer willpower, Andrea forced herself to remain sitting.
“As humans, I believe that we generally push ourselves to not even 50 percent of what we can do, as that's when our mind comes in and stops us,” Andrea said. “In truth, we're able to go way beyond what we think we're capable of.”
Before beginning the traditional Native American sweat lodge held in July of 2018 at an outdoor school near Mt. Shasta, Andrea had decided to do all 6 rounds of the sweat. The first 2 rounds felt easy, but it took all the strength she had to complete the last four. Many times, she feared that she wouldn’t be able to make it to the end. Yet, she stayed.
“I wanted to prove to myself that with the right mindset, I could face anything,” she said.
Finally, with a reverberating beat of the drum, the sweat lodge leader opened the tan hide flap to the entrance. Trying not to choke, Andrea crawled outside, feeling the crisp night air on her skin. Although she had completed about 20 sweat lodges prior to this night, she said that each sweat feels different depending on one’s state of mind and body.
Dizzy and ungrounded, she dragged herself to the creek flowing beside the sweat lodge. She lowered herself into the freezing, mountainous water and leaned back so that she was almost floating. Quickly, the heat began escaping from her body.
“I started feeling myself get colder and colder and colder to the point where my core was shivering and spazzing,” she said.
At that point, Andrea would have normally gotten out of the creek to warm up at the giant fire beside the hut. But that night, she decided to stay in the water, pushing herself just like she had pushed herself inside the sweat lodge.
After a few minutes, she became numb and lost feeling inside her body. She thought something touched her foot, but when she tried to move her leg, it remained still.
“I kept pushing past that and as the seconds went by, I was able to move less
and less,” she said. “I felt paralyzed, like my whole body was made out of brick. It felt like it wasn't something I could control.”
As she drifted into a meditation zone, the silhouettes of the trees above her blurred. She stopped feeling the distinction between the water, the trees and the sky — everything fused together and to Andrea, it felt like she was floating everywhere at once. Unexpectedly, her body began to feel warm.
She felt like she was right at the line between consciousness and blackout, and if she faltered a bit, she would pass out.
“I was dancing right at the edge, trying to get myself close enough to experience being completely let go while maintaining the ability to come back and move myself,” she said. “I was driven out of sheer curiosity to see what would happen.”
For about 20 minutes, she lay in the water, gradually losing more and more control. She lost touch with her body and her everyday life; and began to feel as though her soul was in everything at once rather than in her heart or mind.
“I accidentally let go a little bit too much and the second that happened, I could
hear my heart pounding super loud in my ears and it got louder and louder and louder,” Andrea said. “I could feel my vision starting to black out to the point where I could only see a little bit of blue in the sky.”
Suddenly, Andrea knew she had to move. Using all the willpower she had, she tried to withdraw back into her core. She was able to twitch slightly, and that minimal movement was enough for her to regain a fragment of control. She began to move her torso and the dizziness hit.
“The trees that I could see in my periphery kept zooming across my head,” Andrea said. “I felt like I was like at the center of a hamster wheel and the earth was literally spinning. I had no idea where up, down, front, back were; I didn't know which direction to move myself in to sit up.”
For a few minutes, Andrea rocked back and forth, almost imperceptibly, as she tried to orient herself. Only when the spinning slowed, she was able to walk her hands along the floor of the creek bed and along the side of the dirt bank. She pulled herself out of the water. Bracing herself against a tree, she stood up.
With shaky, disoriented steps, Andrea walked to the fire where all her friends were talking and laughing. Although she couldn’t make out what they were saying, the sounds of human voices started to bring her back to reality.
The warmth of the flames touched her body and that’s when the cold hit her “like a truck.” She began to feel colder than she had ever felt in her life. Her entire body shook, both from the cold and from the shock of having been so detached from her body.
One of Andrea’s close friends noticed Andrea shaking and walked over, asking if she was ok. When Andrea wasn’t able to respond, her friend wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. Concentrating on the stillness of his body and the warmth of his skin, Andrea slowly stopped shivering.
“As he hugged me, I finally started to ground,” she said. “I focused on listening to his heartbeat and his breath and that started to bring me back. An overwhelming peace came over me because I was finally fully back in my body, feeling true warmth and tingling and freedom.”
Although Andrea had heard people achieve out-of-body experiences through meditation, she never truly imagined what it would be like to relinquish control. She never thought she could reach the threshold where she had the option to let go and have her consciousness leave her.
Hoping to achieve more spiritual awareness, Andrea began practicing meditation daily. Although she has never been able to achieve the mind-body detachment she had felt that night, she has become better at tuning into her inner energy and reaching total peace. She also began to question the extent of human existence.
“I can no longer say that my consciousness is in my head or even my heart because it was an aspect that was completely away from my body,” she said “ And if your consciousness isn't in your body, then what's your body? Is it a receptor for consciousness? And if it's the receptor for consciousness, can it tune into other entities, other energies, or other people?”
These questions inspire Andrea to live her life with wonder and a sense of openness.
“Most people barely know a fraction of their true nature and what they’re capable of,” Andrea said. “I want to dive as deep as I can in my life and truly get to know myself.”