Here to Stay

Enduring the Heat of Stressful Times

Cheryl Leutjen
The Orange Journal
Published in
5 min readJul 10, 2023


Rivers pour off me, as if I’m in the shower, but my own pores fuel this particular deluge. My lungs strain to wring oxygen from acrid air thick with sweat and smoke. My eyes squint to discern the faintest outline of my many companions. My folded limbs ache, constrained in this cramped enclosure, the roof so low not even a toddler could stand. The stench excreted by the mass of half-naked bodies, jam-packed into this Hades encased in black plastic, adds a repugnant je ne sais quoi. Every survival instinct in my psyche urges me to flee this suffocating space tended by a madman muttering over red-hot rocks.

How could I have ever believed such misery would lead to my spiritual awakening? Only one person crouches between me and the escape hatch. She’s small, and I think I can take her.

The events that brought me to this madness flash before my burning eyes, like the “Life Review” of any near-death experience.

“Come to retreat,” my teacher had said.

“Go to the desert in the summer?” I had scoffed. “I can’t take the heat.”

“You can,” she had said.

“But I shouldn’t spend the money,” I had protested.

“Go,” my husband had encouraged.

“But I don’t want to go alone.” I had pouted.

My friend said she’d run away with me.

And so we did.

All the way here, I’d been sure I’d made a terrible mistake. Until, that is, we’d left the airport and the interstate behind, and the expanse of red rocks on the horizon lured me like a soak in a sudsy bath. We cranked up the Ganesha mantra music, chanted along 108 times to clear obstacles, and soared into Sedona. A bevy of beauties cheered our arrival, and I surrendered my remaining resistance.

Armed with all the water I could carry, I survived the day hike in the desert heat. Summoned by pounding rhythms, I writhed and whirled to the drumming of Sara Eaglewoman. Sure that I had no sweat left to give, I willed myself to the sweat lodge this morning — where all my newfound resolve evaporated.

“I’m terrified. I can’t do this,” I whispered, my face blanched white and my stomach in my throat. The world turned black, and my legs buckled beneath me.

“You’re here on Purpose,” my teacher soothed.

“I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. . . ” I moaned, rocking.

“You can.”

“Well, I MUST sit by the door,” I insisted.

I hung back as the brave souls before me crawled into the womb-like space, disappearing like ants soldiering into the nest. I crept in last, or so I thought, and claimed the seat nearest the exit. When one more, the only soul more shaken than I, squirmed in, I scooched over just enough to accommodate her.

It’s a consideration I now regret. My heart pounds as it did when my first labor pains began, fearing the great unknown yet to come, and certain I’d be unequipped to handle whatever my ill-fated future held.

Just as I’m wondering if I’ll ever see my family again, my neighbor, the small one, bolts out the door. My heart leaps, as my smoldering mind struggles to process the miracle. Before I can work free my cramped-up limbs, a hand emerges from the tangle of bodies before me and presses my knee.

“Stay,” commands my teacher. I hesitate, and the fire tenderer outside the lodge seals the flap before I can make my move. Groaning, I sidle closer to the exit. Just in case. I shudder as a wisp of cool(er) air wafts over me, and something shifts. With that simple draft of air, I realize: I’m fine. I’m going to live.

That experience in a sweat lodge — and that one-word command — keep coming back to me lately. Reading the Daily Deluge of Bad News for Life on Earth inspires the same sort of panic of that sweat lodge provoked. July 4th of 2023 was the hottest day on Earth in 125,000 years — a record that seems unlikely to stand. And still we drive our cards, fire up our factories, and life goes on. Forty-six million Americans lack access to safe drinking water. Congress refuses to tackle meaningful reforms to gun laws — while some states approve permitless carry.

Such heartless irresponsibility in the face of mass extinctions, global CO2 topping 400ppm, polluted drinking water, and mass shootings, I cannot comprehend. It all feels like too much to bear, and I want to flee, sink into the bottom of a vat of wine. Or plug my ears, curl up and rock.

Then I feel my teacher’s hand on my knee, and I hear her voice.


I unclench my jaw, chant a few “this too shall pass” mantras, and get back to work. Do what I can, what I know how to do, whenever I can. And entrust the rest to everyone else who is working to effect positive change. I remind myself just how many of us have been inspired by the most dire situations to get off the couch, turn off the TV and honor our personal calls to action. Perhaps that is the greatest gift of the heat and pressure of these disturbing times — the imetus to act.

Resolved as I am to endure the intensity, I still keep my seat by the door where I am poised to catch every whiff of cool air. Read something uplifting every day. Steep in meditation whenever I crumple to the ground in despair. Get myself off my phone and out for a mindful walk in Nature when I shake with fury. Journal out the venom, the anger, and frustration. Pray for guidance when boulders block my path. Watch a video of otters holding hands when all seems lost. And hug my loved ones every chance I get. Savor every breath of cool air.

Turns out, my teacher was right. I may not like it, and I may insist upon doing it on my own terms, but I can take the heat. I’m here to STAY.

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Cheryl Leutjen
The Orange Journal

Teetering on a tightrope between more conscientious living and eco-madness, I write about responding to the challenges of our time with heart, hope, and humor.