Healing the Soul- My experience in a Temazcal

by David Alfredo Paulino

Mentors have an uncanny ability to sense our state of being. Perhaps we project it more openly than we care to admit. In my case my mentor, Armando, left a post on my Facebook wall checking up on me and telling me that I would always be welcome in his home. Once I saw that, I remembered our countless conversations about how beautiful Mexico was. Those memories spurred me to reach out and ask him when I could visit. Plus, I felt I needed to get out of New York City for a while. Physically I needed a breather but much more importantly my soul needed to rest. With Armando’s track record, I knew that I would need to get out of my comfort zone; boy was I right.

I was nervous boarding the plane, mainly because Armando had sent a list of expectations that he had for himself, one of those expectations was that he wanted to create a space where I would have intense dreams for the duration of my stay. The night before my flight I had a dream with my cousin whom had passed away three years ago. It made me think twice about going through with the trip, but I could not let that hold me back as I try to be a man of my word.

As soon as I arrived in Mexico City, I bought a ticket to his town called Tepoztlan, it is known as the birthplace of the serpent god Quetzalcoatl. He picked me up at the bus stop. He was as happy as I remembered, with a warm smile and an even warmer heart. Armando’s spirit never ceases to amaze me. I got into his car and he began to show me Tepoztlan and it was marvelous to say the least. The town is situated at the heart of the Tepoztlan valley with the shrine of Tepozteco, dedicated to the god of pulque Tepoztecatl. I was in awe as soon as I saw the town and the mountains served as a backdrop to an already magical place. We arrived to his two story home and as soon as he opened his door he went directly to the wine rack and started pouring a cup for me and for himself. After three hours of drinking and catching up we decided to call it a night, he showed me to my room and told me, “we have a long day tomorrow, we have a ritual to go to…do you wish to partake?” I immediately said “of course!”.

It was around 9:00 am that I woke up to a knock on my door, “David, there’s coffee downstairs, get ready so we can head out”. I got up, brushed my teeth, took a shower, drank coffee and then we got in his car and headed for a village called San Andreas where the ritual would take place. I was told minimal things about the ritual, that I would sweat profusely and that it would be hard on my body and my ability to endure an extreme environment. We arrived to the home of our spiritual guide, we spoke and ate one of the most delicious pastry I have ever eaten, a tamale made of pineapple. I fell in love with it!. After we ate, the guide told us to take bits and pieces of the outer shell of the tamale which is like hay, and make knots. The knots would represent any negative things that people that we love have ever said and did to us. Although they might not have done it out of malice; it still had an impact on us. After that, we followed her to a nearby fire that was heating a pile of volcanic rock. We had reached the Temazcal. A Temazcal is a type of sweat lodge used by many pre-Hispanic indigenous tribes of Mesoamerica. It was used as a place to heal the sick and for women to give birth as well. Now it is mainly used as a place to cleanse the mind, body, and spirit. In order to enter the Temazcal we needed to throw our straws into the fire and walk around the fire. Following that, she blew incense all over our bodies before entering the Temazcal. Little did I know that a Temazcal would be just what my body needed.

As we entered we were directed to a tarp on the floor so that we may sit. We were creating a circle around a little hole in the ground where the volcanic rock would be placed on. Once we were all seated the guide began by introducing herself and instructed us to introduce ourselves and say why we were there. It was a good thing that I was not first, as I needed time to prepare my Spanish. Once it was my turn I stated who I was and that I was here in order to heal my traumas and to discover them at the same time. The ritual had 4 phases each dedicated to one of the directions of the Earth, north, south, east, and west. I began to reflect with the north phase, I could already feel the space beginning to pick up steam. We were all concentrated on our breaths, our chants, and singing. With each new phase, we continued to focus on our breaths, our chants, and our singing with the heat becoming more intense and thus pushing our bodies more and more. When we got to the last phase I was a mess, at this point laying down because of how uncomfortable I was, and I started to lose feeling in my hands. After our last session I asked the guide about it and she told me, “You have no goal to fully grasp on, you are aimlessly scrambling never fully dedicating yourself to one thing. Once you have a goal and direction then you will be where you want to be.” I listened silently trying to absorb everything she said. When we ended the ritual, we headed outside to douse ourselves with cold water.

The cold water felt really good, my body was still affected by the experience, I felt light and lethargic. There was food prepared so we began to eat and getting to know the others that participated in the ritual. After we left and returned home we decided to rest because of the effect of the Temazcal. I slept profoundly and my body felt great. Armando and I spoke about our experiences and what the guide told me. I told him I left with a clearer mind of what I have to do. He asked me what it was and I told him I’d rather not say it just yet.

My trip to Mexico was a magical one that I will always remember. Mexico’s beauty and rich history was simply enchanting and it left me desiring to see much more. I will return to Mexico and would love to experience more of it, it taught me many things, above all I learned about patience and endurance. The anxiety I felt was lifted due to what I learned during my trip. I encourage others to visit a new place by yourself, you never know what you might learn about yourself.

My name is David Alfredo Paulino. I graduated from SUNY Cortland with a international studies major with a concentration in Global Political Systems and my minors are Anthropology, Latin American Studies, and Asia and the Middle East. I was born in Manhattan, NYC, but I currently live in the Bronx with my Mother, little sister, and Stepfather. Although I was born here, most of my fondest memories come from my frequent visits to the Dominican Republic, and always being there. I even stayed there for a year. Due to my constant going back and forth, I grew to love the atmosphere there and sometimes I yearn for it more than the actual city.