By Mary G.L. Shackelford
CAVEAT: The wisdom of the Medicine Wheel is incorporated into the life of many native tribes in this country. I honor and bow to the First People with appreciation for the guidance of their ways. I am not of indigenous blood, though my family has been in this land for more than 13 generations. I am one who since I was a young girl has been blessed with deep, embodied connection to the earth and all my relations. I am one who seeks to nurture and live from the indigenous soul. Following my own cultural heritage, I have visited the stone circles of Scotland and made inquiry into an array of cross-cultural traditions centered on the wheel of life, the four sacred elements and the guidance of four directions teachings. This wisdom tradition speaks to me in the most comprehensive and true way; my daily spiritual practice, my walk in life; truly who I really am in my ignited soul work is grounded and funded by my walk in the Medicine Wheel of Life. I offer the following with great respect and deep gratitude for the gifts and teachings that come to me from the ancestors and all the different wisdom traditions.
The physical manifestation of the Medicine Wheel is a stone circle with four gates: East/Air, South/Fire, West/Water, North/Earth. As we enter this ancient symbol of wholeness gifted to us by our ancestors,we turn towards the wisdom of indigenous peoples all around the world who call on the wheel of life to see the patterns in their lives and guide their inner transformation. When we meet in circle, side-by-side, facing the center, we are turned powerfully towards each other. The simple act of beginning in circle invites us to see, sense, honor and appreciate each other’s different perspectives.
Becoming aware of and exploring each direction in the circle can add rich meaning to the cycles of our day, month, season, year or lifetime. With each complete turn, we journey through a beginning, a passionate growth, a harvest of lessons, and each cycle ends in stillness, peace and transformation. This simple act of beginning in circle invites us to see, sense, honor and appreciate each other’s different perspectives.
The four sacred elements connect us with all life across time. The air of our breath, the fire in the heat of our blood, the water that comprises so much of our bodies, the minerals of our bones is the same air, fire, water and earth that is shared, used and given back by all living things since the beginning of time. We are stardust. The light of stars, moon, sun and that which is at the center of the earth reflects within us. Our breath is the breath of the spirit of life breathing through us.
Four directions practice is a way to renew and deepen our body/mind/spirit connection with the natural cycles of Gaia and the features of the landscape of our home. The actual symbols vary widely throughout indigenous cultures, tho’ worldwide, the basic practice is consistent: using the circle and the four directions orients us in our soul’s journey through time and connects us to the ground of our being. It’s a way of remembering who we really are and finding our way, as human being, to walk in harmony with all our relations. And it can also be a doorway to travel into mystical realms and find your way home again.
Some of us stand in the EAST – in beginner’s mind. Some of us stand in the SOUTH – passionately, playfully willing to take RISKS and grow, holding the fullness of woman’s body wisdom. Some stand in the WEST – going within ourselves to dream, harvest our intuitions and integrate what we are learning. And, some stand in the NORTH where our ancestors await us with blessings – silently tuning into our inner wisdom, reaching deep to do the bone work of transformation, letting go, opening to change, entering into new possibilities.
The Medicine Wheel holds the full journey of being alive – so in the CENTER of this circle, we call in the BEGINNER, the GROWER, the DREAMER, and the WISE ONE within each of us. For GREAT MYSTERY, flowing through the center of all, invites us to become aware that we are all teachers and learners – all at the same time – until we leave this form. Journeying with awareness, we can see the whole and arrive at the center of our being. Welcome home to our true selves.
This is compiled from work I did with Kristina Turner and Kelly Ziniewicz when we shared Medicine Wheel teachings as part of a Leadership Hoop produced by Woman’s Way Red Lodge (http://www.wwrl.org) in 2013. Kristina and I created the chart that follows as a way of bringing together cross-cultural symbols associated with the Medicine Wheel of Life. Please note that the colors and symbols for each direction are different among different tribes and fluid also for individuals using the Wheel. Concluding our Woman Soul sharing about Medicine Wheel teachings is a poem I wrote to open a dance performance created in 2007-08 by Stacey Hinden in completion of her personal transformation journey.