lisa fierer

The Thing About Thirst

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The Thing About Thirst

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images-2I’ve never been so alive as when I was dying of thirst. I have always been compelled by thirst, after all, it is one of the non-negotiable things about being human, our bodies are about 60% water and still we’re always thirsty for something. I’ve thirsted for a lot of things in my life: love, safety, acceptance. I know that sometimes the human brain has trouble distinguishing between thirst & hunger, but physical and spiritual hunger seems to come from a slightly different place; thirst is a seeking and it is both universal and unique to each one of us.

This lifelong spiritual thirst of mine, the desire for connection, for intimacy, is one of the things that brought me to the Native American ceremony of Sundance. Part of the 4-day ceremony involves the withholding of water from those who commit to dance. The dancers choose this sacrifice, they choose to go without food and water for those four sacred days, with the conviction that all we have to offer the creator is our own flesh. Dancers believe that the sincerity of their prayers is honored by that sacrifice.

At the end of the second day of the dance I felt like I was literally dying of thirst. The dancers began and ended each day with an hour-long sweat together in a sweat lodge, these experiences helped us open and close each day together. I remember looking through the dark at the sacred heated rocks in the center of the sweat loge over which water was poured to create steam. Fire is the heart of the ceremony, and as my Sundance sister Joan poured the water and the clouds of steam rose up I found myself wanting to put my head on top of the pile, to pretend that my head was a rock, just so I could feel the water and steal a drink.

Living and dancing without water for those four long days made me realize how basic, how precious and sacred water actually is. We are all born in water and it is vital to every day and stage of life. The sacrifice of water and my overwhelming, desperate, almost demonic thirst helped me recognize that I don’t have to live without these basic elements to appreciate how sacred they are. It taught me about the sacredness in all things.

What is most sacred to you? What are you most thirsty for?