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BLOG | Dear sustainability directors, here’s why you should add sweat lodges to your professional routine.


“Ometakoyasin”. When the words hit me in the ear, they immediately find their way to my stomach. I do not know if it is just the bass note in the tone of his voice or the weight he transmits in voicing this particular word that makes it travel this far. Anyhow, a feeling of warmth rushes through my body. Suddenly, the snow coming down ons us, creates a welcome cool contrast.


Bare feeted in the outdoors, I ask the tree height man who is guiding the sweat lodge* ceremony in the North American Navajo tradition as to the meaning of this peculiar word. With great authority he translates: “For all my relatives”, he goes on: “The work we do here today, we do not just do it for ourselves, this is also in service of all others that we are connected to. Human and other”. As soon as my mind grasps the meaning I can logically explain my feelings: These words invite the experience of interbeing.


We are about to take place in a hut that we built together from branches. We covered it in a multitude of woolen blankets as to seal it off completely. By the hut we stacked a large pile of wood that is now heating the special stones that we have laid on the pile with intention and prayer. Although we help, the dedicated Fire Keeper holds great care in his ceremonial work to watch over the fire and stones.


Within a few hours, when the stones are red hot, they will be placed in the pit in the middle of the hut with a pitchfork. By then we will all be seated around the pit. Once the stones are in, the hut is completely shut. The heat of the stones and the pouring of the water that will follow heats up the hut so as to we will be pouring with sweat.


Guided by prayer, songs, storytelling and drums we will follow in the tradition of the Native American men coming home from the battle field centuries ago. The men were not allowed back into the community before cleansing themselves through this sacred ceremony. Purposefully healing from their trauma. During this ceremony we also combat, all be it in our personal battle. Allowing yourself to surrender to the heat makes it so that carefully built up masks of personality come off. Leaving us only with the truth about ourselves.


My notion of self as a being connected to all other beings is humbling enough to clearly feel my place within a larger ecosystem, and not on top of an ecosystem. As we sit there cramped in the hut in the middle of nature I place my hands besides me on the cold ground and greet the greater home that holds my life. Bringing myself intentionally into relationship with mother earth. On a cellulair level this awakes me to the knowing that this is the only possible point of departure for the leadership that is needed to move forward in our times.


The phenomena we see in the world right now such as climate change, the loss of biodiversity, inequality, war, social injustice, and so forth are – in our attempt to overcome the inheritance of the growth paradigm and the social and ecological fall out thereof- mainly intellectually theorized and debated, but hardly ever personally felt.


Feeling what I felt that day is a far cry from what I oftentimes see in my daily business practice. We seem to suffer collectively from a dissociation so severe that we need extraordinary practices such as rituals, mourning, forgiveness and deep personal development to bring ourselves back into relation to what we are witnessing outside of ourselves.


Theories about phenomena are a way to frame a narrative. Debate is a way to affirm that same narrative. An intellectual approach keeps us on top of an ecosystem as opposed to participating in one. Only from the notion of interbeing comes a proper sense of involvement and sustainable direction for us.


* This particular ceremony was conducted by Jeroen Heindijk and organized by my dear friends and peers Wim Bierman en Chantal van den Brink. Although there are searing hot stones, water and extreme heat involved, this is nothing like your ordinary sauna experience. A sweat lodge is a sacred ritual for deep cleansing. This ritual is a.o. part of my professional routine since several years.

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