In my article on Sacred Relationships and How to Build Them, I talked briefly about how we can use the medicine wheel to show us ways in which we can deepen our intimate relationships, and how the balance of each direction was important for our overall wellbeing. Let’s dig in further to see what wisdom the medicine wheel gifts us.
Shamanism is one of the most ancient spiritual practices. From archaeological evidence, it dates back to at least 40,000 years, with some anthropologists believing it is 100,000 years.
Shamanism is a way of life or a way of connecting back into all of Creation; it is the realization and embodiment that we are of oneness. At its core, shamanism is about restoring wholeness and balance for people and communities, where a genuine reciprocity formed between humanity, nature and spirit.
Some of the core beliefs of shamanism are:
- Everything is alive and has life force energy, which is sometimes called animalism.
- Everything and everyone is our teacher and our mirror.
- Compassion and deep union with nature and wildlife allows us to see and live from the eyes of our heart, and the practice of living this beauty way brings illumination to all aspects of our life.
- Our “concrete” or material world is only the beginning and this “conceptual shift” opens up our possibility to connect with the higher realms of spirit.
- Everyone has a birth right and responsibility to communicate with the spirit world and no particular faith is needed because shamans and those drawn to shamanism garner experience.
In Indigenous and many others cultures, people have an intimate connection to the natural world. They relate to rocks and trees – as they connect to humans. I believe that everything around us has consciousness – in its own way of course, maybe not as evolved as a human mind – but it is alive. I believe that spirit flows through everything. And I believe that how we treat nature and everything else around us – including our furniture – reflects our relationship to ourselves.
To build a deeper connection to nature, spirit and life – we don’t have to go out and look for the faeries or read a whole bunch of spiritual texts – all we have to do is just spend some silence in our bedroom. Truly sit still and notice – notice how everything around you is a part of greater consciousness and unites it all together; how every object is imbued with spirit. This is shamanism. This is spirituality. We can do this anywhere, even in a prison cell.
This is how we build a connection to everything and everyone – spend time with it, see it truly see it and appreciate it even when it doesn’t look like you or share the same language.
This is how we build respect towards life and everything and everyone in it.
Through this way of life, or shamanism, we enter the realms of deeper wisdom that can be experienced rather than told. Shamans says that this is a realm that cannot be found through seeking, and yet only those who seek may find it.
So what is the Medicine Wheel?
The medicine wheel is a sacred hoop with the four cardinal directions and has been used for millennia in Indigenous cultures worldwide to bring harmony and wellbeing to the communities. Throughout the history of humanity, we can see that almost all mystical traditions encouraged the walk-about, or the vision quest, for accessing deeper knowledge, wisdom and inner truth, and personal power. We enter our self and re-claim our power through the introspection that only quietness and solitude can provde us. Jesus Christ himself walked into the desert and spent many days there. Spirituality is a walk we access from inside of us, and we can’t take that walk without some solitude. The medicine wheel is at its essence a symbology of the great walk or the fool’s journey. It is a four-fold path towards freedom, wholeness, personal power and fulfillment.
The wheel represents the cycles of life, the cycles of nature, and the circular pattern of the universe. The directions symbolize the four steps that the shaman takes to become a person of power and wisdom.
We can look at the four directions as our bodies of consciousness, also:
the physical body relates to the west,
the emotional body relates to the south,
the mental body relates to the east, and
the spiritual body relates to the north.
This gives us insight into how they are all interconnected, and how the imbalance of one will imbalance the rest. One thing to remember is that – we will never as human beings have all of our directions perfectly balanced – but the point is to be more aware and more conscious, so that we do our best to stay in balance. This is why the wheel is also used by many holistic health practitioners – because it can show how we can balance one area of life through another. In Indigenous cultures particularly, the medicine wheel is used for ceremony, ritual, healing, spiritual purposes and as a container for understanding the oneness of life.
The circle is full of symbolism holding the totality of life, and holding layers and layers of complex mystical symbology and esoteric wisdom.
Everything is interconnected and interrelated.
The directions of the wheel also relate to the four elements, our age, time of day, and the four seasons of the year. Many shamans take time each season to focus on the area of life, and the element that the direction represents. For example, in summer, or the south direction, we can focus more on relationships, creativity, passion and intimacy. And in winter, or the north direction, we go inward focusing on cleansing, purging, meditation, and developing spiritually as this is related to the inner world and the hidden realms. The north direction also relates to the element of earth because we need that grounding element when we work with the higher realms.
My knowledge of the medicine wheel comes from the Shaman teacher Dakota Walker, and so this is what I will share forward. I know that there are many people who connect the directions to other seasons and areas of life – but the essence is the same. There is no right or wrong – it is just a different perspective, or pathway, based on which direction the Shaman has started their life or work. What matters most is the understanding of the essence rather than the “textbook definition”. You should apply the wheel and its directions in the way it feels true for you. You may come across someone who says “the west is about the emotional body” but for me it is in the south. What matters is that it makes sense for you and feels true for you based on your knowledge, intuition and life experience. This is how we become our own wisdom guides also.
Having said all that, let’s begin with a basic foundational understanding of the wheel.
In many ceremonies people start the wheel with the east direction because it represents the sunrise, but I prefer to start with the north, and soon you’ll learn why.
Also, the north-south line is known as the feminine line, while the east-west line is known as the masculine line. This is connected to the elements that they represent as earth and water are feminine, while air and fire are masculine.
The North – Spiritual Body – Earth
The north is the space we enter when we want to go to the core of who we are. We seek the answers to the questions: What do I believe? What are my values? Who am I? Why am I here? What is my soul purpose? We shut out the outer world and we go inward – to uncover the essence of who we truly are within. Once we know this deeper truth about ourselves – we will no longer allow the external world to define our identity.
The north relates to night time or 12am -6pm. This is the quiet time when we become more esoteric, our body regenerates itself, we shut out the consciousness and go into the other astral realms, for purposes of introspective, and reflection, and to make the unconscious conscious for wiser life choices. The night time, while “light” in body and mind, is actually related to “great courage” in ancient mystical teachings. This is because we can’t approach anything in the spiritual or subconscious or unconscious, without significant reserves of courage, strength and radical honesty.
The north relates to winter. In winter it is cold enough for absolute honesty, and the branches are bared, so that wide trees no longer hide us from our eyes. And in winter, we stay inside and nurture the warmth inside of us, when we water the spiritual wild lands.
The north relates to the spiritual body. When we are in alignment to our spiritual body, we are living in the truth of who we are. And when we are living in the truth of who we are spiritually – then all else in life will just flow more easily and more naturally.
When we want to tend to our spiritual well-being, there is only one way to look: inward. The introspection offered by quietness and solitude will allow us to do that. We need to shut out the outer world and go in our inside of, to uncover the essence of who we truly are within. Once we know this deeper truth about ourselves – we will no longer allow the external world to define our identity and we’ll re-connect to ourselves.
The spiritual body is our church within. It is our bridge to faith and to love. It is the place where we can always be held in a power that nothing and no one can take away from us. It is our connection to God, or however you call the divine power you believe in. It is what anchors you, gives you peace and where you can surrender in trust and in knowing. It is the bridge to yourself – and you need to keep this bridge sacred and clear, because otherwise you’ll lose your way.
The spiritual body is the way of the devotee, the priestess, the mystic – it is the inner quest when you close your eyes and feel the weight of your body against the body of night, when you relax like water into the silver of spoon, and you enter yourself. It is the drums, the deep humming, the slow rhythm, the ancient voice calling you into the depths of the mist and towards the moist dark northern forest – a voice older and more ancient than us, from a time before time beyond time. It is your soul.
The north is about self-realization; we see ourselves as who we truly are. When we let go of the external validation and ego-based identities, we can finally see ourselves truly and accept ourselves. We will also recognize the divinity in us. And through this – we will also be able to see the divinity in another person.
The north relates to the third eye chakra – because we need to see clearly.
The archetype of the north is the soul shaman.
We go to the north for reflection, introspection, self-development, developing our consciousness, spiritual work, esotericism and mysticism.
And while our spirit is often aligned to the element of fire, the north is represented by the element of earth. This is because we need grounding when we are working with the hidden realms – otherwise we’ll just fly up somewhere and have a hard time coming back. We need an anchor, holding us to the earth, so that we can go journeying in the other realms and then know how to come back. This is why one of the first things we work on for intuive and psychic development is the physical body, including both cleansing, strengthening and grounding techniques, because it is the vessel through which all flows, and when it is balanced, clear and strong, we’ll be able to channel and hold higher frequency.
When I think of the north direction I think of the jaguar. The jaguar is the birth totem or spirit guide for many shamans, mystics and healers because it is incredibly powerful and represents inner truth and wisdom. Jaguar people walk a life of truth and authenticity. The jaguar is also a very sensual animal and it is this connection to earth and the senses that keep it grounded, and yet it is the animal with great psychic power, which allows it to journey far and beyond the human eye, no matter what the terrains look like. It is also about patience and knowing the cycles of the land. The jaguar teaches us the way of the luminous warrior who stands impeccably in her inner truth. Another animal I think of is actually the turtle – representing ancestral wisdom, slow pace, “as above so below”, bringing heaven and our divinity into our physical home and body, in its shell.
When the spiritual body is in balance: calm, fearless, creative, humble, receptive, open, in tune with your intuition, authentic, living in authenticity and walking a life of truth, confident, trusting, inspired, believing, having faith, acknowledging higher power and the divine, trust in God, self-realization, knowing thyself, trusting thyself, all parts of our life seem to flow more easily and naturally
When it is not in balance: disconnected, lost, confused, lonely, depressed, hopeless, feeing a sense of separation within and with others, feeling that we are victims of fate, powerless, feeling unseen, controlling, heavy emphasis on appearance and external validation, no sense of self, egoistic, shallow communication and relationships, inability to experience deeper intimacy, fear of being truly seen, over-reliance on doing and controlling, over-identifying with career and other people for self-worth, no real grasp on what truly matters, feelings of emptiness, not turning ideas into reality, head in the clouds, god-complex, ego-driven, self-deceit, lack of unity between inner feelings and behaviour, lack of integrity and values, not knowing who we are, identity crisis, lack of true connection in interpersonal relationships, overly independent, emotional numbness, disrespectful towards others, rude and mean towards others, feelings of entitlement
How to bring the spiritual body into balance: self-development, introspection, meditation, grounding techniques, strengthening the inner core, meaningful solitude, prayer, building a connection to faith and higher power, trusting in God, learning surrender, generosity and charity, learning to let go, developing higher consciousness, purification techniques, spiritual cleansing, karmic release, soul ties release, learning interdependence and humility, cultivating inner peace and calm, developing your intuitive abilities and connection to spirit, trusting your intuition, soul growth, spiritual development, understanding the divinity in the self and in others, understanding that heaven in within, connection to Christ consciousness or love consciousness, building and nurturing the church within
The East – Mental Body – Air
The east direction relates to the time of day between 6am – 12pm. It is the sunrise. What seeds we’d sewn related to ideas, beliefs and thought patterns, begin to manifest as we rise. This direction is all about our visionary selves as we step into our destinies. We also learn the tools of personal alchemy and how to harness these energies so that we can co-create consciously.
The east relates to spring. After a long winter, seeds begin to sprout and we see the aliveness, vitality and fresh new colours outside. There’s a newness in the air and excitement of energy. This direction also reminds us and teaches us how to dream our world into being on the individual level, but also for the collective good.
The east relates to the mental body. We bring forth the wisdom of the north and interpret it through our own ideas, beliefs, perceptions and perspectives. And just like sunrise, we need freshness, purity of air, joy and warmth to enter our minds because otherwise we’ll feel stagnant and polluted in our minds and perceptions.
Both the east and the mental body are connected to the element of air. Air is great for clarity, perspective and joy. Joy is particularly a great way to work with this energy because it awakens our playfulness and freedom.
The archetype of the east is the visionary.
The east relates to our throat chakra. This direction focuses on communication, visions and we can use prayer, singing, chanting and sound for healing or ceremonial modalities.
We go to the east to focus on self-esteem, joy, self-motivation, confidence and to see the world from a higher perspective. The animals that I associate with the mental body are the hawks and eagles – they fly high but have laser-eye vision with clear intentions. They can see the higher perspective of things and of life, yet know how to stay focused and true to what they want to accomplish – and how to bring ideas into reality.
The east relates to our sacred work. Our sacred work refers to what gives us fulfillment within, what makes us feel purposeful and what is of service or contribution to others. When the have the clarity of mind, the clarity of intention and the strength and courage of will, perseverance and self-motivation – we can do our sacred work more easily. On the other hand, if we are doubting, criticising, judging and unclear in integrity and perceptions, we’ll just not be able to move forward in the way we may want or envision.
When the mental body is in balance: clear vision, decisive, discerning, problem solving, decision making, innovative, organized, great time management, responsible, sense of integrity, holding oneself to higher ethics and values, confident, initiative, ability to bring ideas into reality, ability to solve emotional, mental and physical issues in a kind and supportive way
When it is not in balance: procrastination, drama, messiness, confusion, brain fog, ideas lost quickly, lethargy, lack of purpose, neuroses, doubt, no self-confidence, lack of integrity and ethics, gossiping, lack of self-esteem, insecure, low self-worth, ego-centric, selfish, narcissistic, sociopathic, little to no empathy, too much subjectivity, reactive, judging, conflicting, critical, no accountability how our actions affect others, little to no compassion, no self-awareness, no self-accountability, irresponsible, indecisive, stagnant, over-whelmed mentally, anxious, depressed, restless, fear of failure, disregard for others, over-driven, over-ambitious, stingy
How to bring the mental body into balance: expand the mind through reading, writing, travelling and education, spend time learning new things that you are passionate about, develop discernment, self-discipline and self-organization, write in a journal, expand imagination, psychotherapy to uncover limiting self-beliefs and thought patterns, calm the mind, meditation, engage your curiosity, be playful, self-motivation, set goals and make small steps each day, develop your confidence and self-esteem, develop your skills and talents, stay creative, begin a creative venture and stay dedicated to it, manage stress levels, exercise, spend plenty of time out in nature, wind cleansing i.e. let your hair and body be in the wind for a little each day, visualize what you desire -keep dreaming and believing, making steps towards it
The South – Emotional Body – Water
Emotions are the vehicle to our spiritual body. Whatever you do – do it wholeheartedly. This is devotion. This is life itself.
The south direction is how we travel through our emotions. It is water. It is our emotional body. It is emotional intelligence. It is feeling our feelings freely.
The south direction relates to summertime and the time of day between 12pm-6pm. It is warm, hot, sensual, romantic and we are nurturing the seeds envisioned from our east direction.
The south relates to the sacral chakra and heart chakra.
We go to the south for relationships, intimacy, sensuality, intuition, connection to feelings, emotions, love, desire, passion, creativity, playfulness, movement, self-love and anything heart-centered.
The two most important puzzle pieces of the wheel are: the north’s self-realization (knowing our true selves) and the south’s self-love (accepting ourselves). Without these two, nothing else will ever fall into balance.
In the south, we learn to communicate intuitively which is fueled by the north direction, and we also learn intimate communication such as listening and holding space for another person and their own truth. We also communicate through our creativity and through our emotions. Learning to feel our feelings and understanding the unique language of our emotions are the keys to a healthy fulfilled life, both emotionally and spiritually. If the emotional body is unhealed and our emotions are unresolved or suppressed, our physical body will also be impacted. We need to be nurtured and nurturing, loved and loving. You can read my article on The Brilliancy of Feelings and also, many of my articles on Art of Love revolve around emotions, intimacy, and relationships.
The south’s archetype is the sacred heart warrior.
The purpose of the south is sacred relationships.
Sacred relationships are soul-deep and deeply intimate – they are rooted in the truth of our soul. As such, it is impossible to have a sacred relationship without being in our truth and authenticity – which means that we need to be in balance with our true self, our spiritual body and the north direction, as this is where we understand the core of who we are. When we see ourselves on a soul level, and recognize the divinity within us – only then we would be able to see the truth in another, and connect deeply on a soul level. Otherwise, it is impossible. We can only meet another as deeply as we’ve met ourselves.
In sacred relationships there is no hiding, no judgement, no angst, we are truly ourselves and the love is selfless, deep and sensual. Such sacred bonds happen in soul truth and open hearts. This is why self-love, emotional intelligence and spirituality are crucial for deep love.
True lovers meet when one has the courage to unveil their soul and the other has the humility to surrender, unveiling theirs also.
One of the most beautiful parts of being human is our ability to experience relationships. And when they are soul-deep, then we feel truly fulfilled because we can be ourselves with that person and we are loved and loving unconditionally. This makes us feel a sense of purpose also.
When the emotional body is balanced: empathic, compassionate, open, honest, trusting, sensual, loving, receptive, playful, emotionally connected, emotionally expressive, inclusive, feeling our feelings freely, less judgmental, non-critical, generous, no dryness of skin, deeply intimate relationships
When it is not in balance: untrustworthy, too sarcastic, gossiping, critical, judgmental, lashing out, reacting harshly, extreme mood swings, little intuition, lack of trust, inability to understand or listen to people, fearful, neurotic, fear of intimacy, lack of deep relationships and friendships, co-dependent, jealous, controlling, inflexibility, dehydration, lack of sleep, stress, self-doubt, projection, irritated, depressed, obsessive, anxious, hopelessness, feelings of drowning in relationships, weight fluctuations
How to bring the emotional into balance: joy and playfulness, surround yourself with supportive and nurturing people, read or watch something loving, release emotions, tensions and stress, build intimacy, self-love, spiritual work, dancing, creativity, heart chakra work, sacral chakra work, water cleansing, water spas, body movement and massage, discerning and cutting ties with unhealthy people, setting boundaries, self-acceptance, learn to harness and channel sexual energy healthily, develop emotional intelligence, learn to feel your feelings
The West – Physical Body – Fire
The time of day associated with the west is between 6pm-12pm and the season is autumn. After the hotness and energy of the summer, we need some time to settle down and reflect. There’s a coolness and we can see through the eyes of gratitude.
Transformation and rebirth can be common to the west direction as ceremonial. For example, we gather the harvest of fruits and make them into jam for the coming winter.
When we work with the fire element – we can use its transformational energy for our physical wellness also. This can be done both symbolically and literally. Get rid of what no longer serves you, with gratitude, always. Because whatever was there in your life, had its right place for its time being, whether it was in the form of belief system, thought pattern, clothes, shoes, scars and wounds, feelings and emotions, an omen or a vase for flowers – all were there for protection and nurturing for their time being. Trust in the knowing that what you need you will have in your path. And when it’s time, clean out the house and the mind, shed the stories that no longer serve you, so that you can make space for new energy to arrive. Walk the beauty way.
The west relates to sacred space, which is both within and without – it is our physical body and the physical space. We cleanse the house, cleanse the energy, de-clutter, decorate, and open the windows allowing for some new air to circulate. Through these, new insights will emerge that may inform us. We also care for our body: do we sleep enough, what do we eat, do we nourish our skins? Since all of the directions are interconnected, any imbalance from the others will impact the physical body. And while medicine may helps relieve symptoms temporarily, we need to remember that our health is a holistic system and understanding how all the aspects of our life, and all our four bodies of consciousness impact us, will be the key to long-lasting health.
The west relates to the solar chakra, the fire element and the archetype is the alchemist. The west is about a time of harvest and the key elements to work with include learning how to establish boundaries, how to forgive and how to live with gratitude.
Our sacred space, including both body and home, is the place we come back to each day and night. As such, it needs to be a space of support, calm and peace. We need to be able to rely on ourselves for our decision making and care, and we also need our environment and the people we surround ourselves with to be supportive. And we need to feel like we belong. This is why it is important to be mindful of who you let you. And like a good built house, we need the stability of our walls, floors and ceilings – the stability and strength of our body – because this is the inner vessel through which our spirit flows. And when it is good built, we can move more comfortably in to the winter, and into developing our spiritual selves, settling beautifully into our soulskin.
When the physical body is balanced: open, healthy, flexible and energetic
When it is not in balance: lethargic, stiff in muscles, messy house, messy mind, body tightness, heaviness, back issues, dryness, loss of elasticity, health issues, doubt that the body can heal itself and an over-reliance on external medicine or plastic surgery/fillers, tendency to bypass emotions, intimacy issues, lack of yin/feminine time, lack of spiritual time, and over-focus on instant gratification
How to bring the physical into balance: emotional nourishment, body care, massages, movements, exercise, dance, embodiment techniques, grounding, beauty routines, house decorating, cooking and gardening, daily walking, stretching, cleaning the house, practicing forgiveness and compassion, gratitude exercises, establishing boundaries, water cleansing, baths and water therapies, getting plenty of sleep, de-clutter and let go of what no longer serves you, balanced healthy diet, and learn the language of your body and its needs
Now that we’ve covered all the directions, one way we can use them is that when one area of life isn’t going very well, we can see how it relates to the rest and work with it to bring it into balance. We can also see through our own life’s experiences; when one area of life falls into place, all the rest suddenly balance out and move forward. Another way to work with the wheel is to spend time regularly on all of our directions and bringing them into balance through self-reflection and easy exercises.
The reason why I started with the north direction or the spiritual body, is because when we become more conscious and aware – all of our other areas of life will flow easier.
For example, let’s say we are struggling with co-dependency, which would be an over-indulgence in our emotional body. In co-dependency our self-worth depends on the external world and other people, so we want to serve others too much and our self-esteem fluctuates depending on other people’s actions. One way to look at co-dependence is a deficiency of inner trust and inner power – so ways to harmonize it is to strengthen our confidence through our mental body, and also, to build more trust and connection to self through our spiritual practices. We can also work with the physical realm to make sure that we are in supportive environments where people appreciate us and don’t abuse our kindness. Often times, co-dependency is indeed a product of staying in unhealthy environments for too long. Remember: Healthy dependency creates true independency.
As another example, let’s say we are feeling emotionally numb in relationships. This would imply a deficiency in our emotional direction of life, while having an over-indulgence in things related to our mental body such as being a bit more focused on career or material things. One way to balance this is to focus on feeling our feelings, connecting to our heart and emotions, and being creative with what we are passionate about. The reason for emotional numbness is often times related to inability to live our truth, or wearing a mask for too long, over-identifying with external things, so we have lost ourselves. Spiritual work helps with this. Another reason is emotional trauma or unprocessed emotions and wounds from childhood, which have been stored in the emotional body as a coping mechanism. These need to be healed and released, which will then eventually allow the person to open their heart again to the flow of emotions.
Everything is interrelated and interdependent. This is just how life is. And this makes it beautiful. At the core of everything though is us. It is through our awareness, consciousness and perception that we can make the changes we need to lead a more emotionally and spiritually fulfilled life, and experience life and ourselves and others on a deeper, truer level.
I want to remind us all once again – we will always have some parts of us that are not in balance; there is no such thing as complete balance as long as we are in human bodies. We go through life as students, always seeking, and always learning and growing. There is always a way to take things one step deeper and one step further. Even when we are walking a path of truth and authenticity, we’ll still experience days of doubt. We are constant explorers, students and mystics of life and love.
The point is self-acceptance which refers to the totality of life. It is the acceptance of our current moment and current state of being. It is the awareness that all changes and flows and is interdependent, and that it is okay to be who we are and where we are in life. In this space of acceptance, while it may seem passive like surrender, it is precisely in this space where all is born and has the ability to grow and expand, in its needed form. You have all that you need inside of you to build sacred relationships, live your sacred purpose, and experience life wholebodily and wholeheartedly.
*Disclaimer: The content provided on this website is not a substitute for a medical or mental diagnosis. I am not a mental/medical health provider and am not holding myself to be that in any capacity. I am not providing counselling or therapy services, nor am I attempting to diagnose, treat or cure any physical or mental ailment. I am a coach/mentor who assists you in gaining more self-awareness in reaching your own goals through personal accountability and guidance. Any choices and consequences following this article are completely your own.
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