Diary of The Bridge
May 2011 in Baldwin Kansas
May 29, 2011
By Jay Cradeur
Just one week ago, I was sitting in a sacred circle of men on the final day of The Bridge Men’s Initiation Ritual in Baldwin Kansas. Unlike past Bridge Sundays in which I was tired and a bit groggy, this Sunday, I was well rested as I looked out the window of the barn and saw streaming sunshine. In most Bridge events, we spend all of Saturday night awake, all contributing to the powerful initiation ritual which does not complete until the sun comes up. However, as I will explain, this was not a typical Bridge event (as if there is such a thing). Mother Nature had big plans for us, none the least of which was called Hear Me Roar!
Let’s start at the beginning. The assistants team arrived on Wednesday afternoon. Upon driving into the venue, a large refurbished barn in the middle of the very small town of Baldwin Kansas, it was raining fairly heavily. When we visited the sweat lodge site, we had serious concern about getting a fire started, and using wet blankets and carpeting to set up the lodge. We also knew it would be difficult to conduct the all night initiation ritual in a heavy downpour. This day was yet another lesson in letting go. We had no control over the weather. So instead we focused on what we could do to make the event room and sweat lodge as prepared as possible.
I have a unquenchable thirst for nature. I first felt this once again when I was sitting outside the back of the barn, and caught sight of a very large owl flying over a pond and landing on a branch. I slowly walked over to the tree to see if I could get a better look at this big horn owl. There he was, sitting on a branch, and perfectly content to have me look at him while he looked at me, just some 20 feet away. It was glorious. His eyes were bright yellow. His head was rotating as if on a swivel. After 2-3 minutes my new friend the owl heard some sounds and decided it was time to hit the road. I saw him again on Saturday, and then again on Sunday. In the picture below, you can see how close he allowed me to get. Remarkable.
At 3:30 pm on Thursday, the rain stopped. The sun began to shine. We immediately set up the fire to heat up the stones for the evening sweat lodge. Men began to arrive an hour later as the final touches were being put on the sweat lodge. It was as if God had said, “Here is the break you were asking for!” We began the lodge at 8pm. It was a gentle Inipi ceremony, almost sweet, allowing all the men to gently immerse themselves in the event and in the initial process of physical, spiritual and emotional purification. I also learned a valuable lesson about being and remaining grounded during such powerful rituals. While handling the pitchfork holding a red hot rock destined for the pit in the center of the lodge, the pitch fork tilted and the rock hit my thumb before hitting the ground. I put the rock in the pit, but my thumb lost a nice chunk of skin, singed it right off. Respect.
Friday, Day 1
Friday is always a powerful day. It is a day of brutal truth telling. It is a day of surrender and release. It is a day of discovery. And at the end of the day, many men feel a tremendous blast of spiritual bliss during our final exercise. The Bridge is a mystery school, allowing the men to begin a study of themselves (of their self) in earnest. What is your mission in life? What are you afraid of? What must you do before you die? I also relearned the lesson that I am not alone nor am I special. In fact, I am not even that unique. We all have a past, some parts of which are hard to look act, let alone admit to and be witnessed. Yet by looking and speaking and being witnessed, these harmful and shameful bits lose their potency and simply become a bit more of my history, something which has served me to become who I am today. Shame be gone.
On Friday, I also learned once again that male rage is powerful, can be created at will, and need not be simply a reaction. Properly channeled, as we do on Day 1, the full expression of rage is beautiful, inspiring, and ultimately blissful. I shudder to think how many men, women and children are hurt and abused simply because, in our society, we don’t have conversations about rage nor channels for the proper expression of rage.
Saturday, Day 2
On Saturday, we spend most of the day preparing for the all night initiation ritual with various processes and exercises. However, as it once again rained, our sweat lodge completely collapsed under the weight of the water. Being dudes who like to build shit, we made it our project to create a new and better sweat lodge for the evening ritual. The guys attacked the project with gusto, and within 3 hours, we had a fabulous new sweat lodge all set and ready to go. We also spent a couple of hours in the meadow preparing for the evening work. The sun was shining, and meadow grass was drying, and everything seemed to be progressing perfectly for a wonderful all night ritual.
Our evening sweat lodge was hot. Really hot. Like no kidding, this is Hot! During the second of four rounds, half the guys left the lodge. It was a mass exodus of epic proportions. The third round sent out another bunch of guys. For me, the sweat lodge experience is a deep discipline in the fine art of surrender and breathing through fear. It is my experience that this is a lost art. On this night, in Kansas, we were just getting started.
I learned another powerful lesson once I left the sweat lodge. I crawled out, stumbled to an open space on some grass, and lied down, simply looking up at the darkening sky. I could not have been more content. During that one hour in the sweat lodge, I did battle with my self, and with the heat, and with my faltering ego. I lost on all counts. I battled hard, I lost, and I felt such a state of bliss lying there on the ground. No thoughts. No need to do anything. No need to be any certain way. It was one of those divine moments where men simply get to be together and be. Ahh, Masculine Bliss.
We returned to the barn and prepared for our walk over to the meadow. The half mile hike took us through mud, through a garden, through tall grass, and across a small rushing river. Since we did get some rain, we could no longer hop from rock to rock to get across the river, so we waded through the flowing water to get to the other side. It was great fun for us guys. In addition to enjoying building shit, we also like to get wet and muddy! We were excited. We were anxious. And we were walking toward our death, just about to leap off the edge into the unknown.
I had heard that there was some weather working its way around us. I had seen someone’s phone with images of heavy storms to the north and south of us, but there didn’t seem to be anything heading towards us. The sky above us was clear, though we could see some dark clouds way off into the distance. One eerie cloud was in the exact shape of an arrow head stone. In our elevated state, everything felt OK, and we proceeded with our many rituals to prepare the men, and ultimately get them all in their sacred ritual sites.
While we were finalizing the beginning of the ritual for each man, the skies started to roar, and lightning began to spark. For me, this was a moment unlike any other. The timing was uncanny. As we moved from man to man, Mother Nature kept speaking to us with increasing intensity. We saw lightning so bright I could not keep my eyes open. Thunder pelted our ears. Yet for the longest time, we did not feel a single drop of rain. It was not until we got to the last man that the rain began to fall. At same time, the caretaker of the property had hiked to the meadow to notify us that a tornado was heading right towards the meadow.
We finished with the last man, and then proceeded in haste to notify each man of the oncoming tornado, get him out of his ritual site, and meet back at the fire pit (which had now been quickly doused out) and prepare to hike back to the barn. The rain was now coming down in sheets. It was impossible to stay dry. The lightning was brighter, more frequent, and shocking. Thunder was belching at us right above our heads. We began the hike back. Within minutes, large hail balls the size of nickels began to fall on our heads. The energy of our group of men was unbelievably intense. I was feeling such exhilaration as the weather gods demonstrated their titanic power. When we got to the river, I almost jumped in head first just to feel everything I possible could in that moment. Carpe Diem! I wanted to be decimated, consumed, and divinely ravaged by the storm, by nature, and by the All Powerful.
We made it back. We walked with our items in one hand while our other hand protected our heads from the falling chunks of ice. Upon arriving, we decided to proceed with our celebration ritual (which involves eating bacon..Yahoo!), then nourish our bodies after a day of fasting, and then get a good night’s sleep. If a tornado was coming, we were going to to be ready. In the end, what can be said about this night? It was glorious. It was a seminal moment in time which no one will ever forget. The whole experience spoke to the commitment of the men to create breakthrough. What a life!
Sunday, Day 3
We started with our morning circle, sharing our experiences and lesson from the previous night. We ate some delectable hamburgers for lunch, and rested. We were all full up from the previous day’s activities. In the afternoon, we all shared our wisdom with each other. We celebrated each other, and the dedication we shared to achieve completion. The men prepared to leave, helped with clean up, and then left for their homes and their loved ones.
As I sat in my room on Sunday night, I was left wondering what impact this weekend would have on the men. I seem to be constantly living in these questions, “What make a real and substantial difference in another’s life?” “What lasting effect would the men feel?” “How would the women of these men be impacted, or the children?” It is our intention that The Bridge not be just another “ aha” moment, or a feel good adventure. We put an emphasis on men thinking about their lives in very definite terms, feeling what is true, and learning something substantial and concrete that will be valuable and useful one month or one year down the road. The men all have their journals. I believe they will all use them to continue to Know Thyself.
Great gratitude from this arrogant bastard, for the opportunity to spend such quality time with a group of remarkable men.