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. Jesus 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. In reality – we will never as human beings in physical body 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 and pagans 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 – which may throw off some people, because why would earth be connected to the spiritual realm – but the reason is that we need that grounding element when we work with the higher realms.
Ancient spirituality connects to modern day mysticism, and just like everything else in life – it is a circle yet the core is the same. In this way, the medicine wheel provides many insights on various areas of life and we can use the foundations of ancient tools in modern society, in numerous ways, regardless of what path of life we choose to walk. My intention is to blend these mystical and ancient spiritual tools into practical every day life applications.
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. The essence is the same. There is no right or wrong but 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 and life experience. What I will share here is my interpretation based on my knowledge, belief and life experience. This is also another one of my intentions – I want you to understand the essence and then to apply it in the way that resonates true for you. I want you to question knowledge and text, and find what’s true for you. Once we start understanding what our beliefs are and why, we start to come into our own inner wisdom, truth and empowerment; we learn to be our own true expressions and wisdom guides.
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; 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. Like I always say: Our greatest adversary to reclaiming our power is forgetfulness; forgetting our heart, inner truth and ability to love. We have to remember who we are in our core; and this is the answer to everything else in this life.
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.
The north relates to winter. In winter. it is cold enough to bring us to absolute honesty. And our tendency is to go inward, stay inside and nurture the warmth inside of us.
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 as we’ll have a clearer sight into the rest.
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.
The north is represented by the earth element. 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.
When I think of this direction I think of the jaguar who holds the physical anchor with strength and ancestral wisdom. The jaguar is the totem representing our inner truth and reclaiming our power. Jaguar people walk a life of truth. The jaguar is also a very sensual animal and it is this connection to earth and the senses that keeps it grounded, and yet it is the animal with great psychic power, which allows it to journey far and beyond the 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 truth. Another animal I think of is actually the turtle – representing ancestral wisdom, slow pace, “as above so below”, bringing heaven (our divinity) into our physical home and body, in its shell.
When the spiritual body is in balance: calm, fearless, creative, humble, centered, authentic, confident, trusting, limitless, believing, having faith, acknowledging higher power and higher consciousness, trust in the Divine, self-realization, and when it is in balance – all other parts of life feel calmer and more in balance.
When it is not in balance: disconnected, feeling separation, loneliness, hopelessness, feeling that we are victims of fate, powerlessness, feeling unseen and unheard, heavy emphasis on appearance, shallow communication and relationships, fear of intimacy (to be truly seen), unappreciative and ungrateful, over-reliance on doing and controlling, no real grasp on the depth and importance of what truly matters, feeling of emptiness, not turning ideas into reality, head in the clouds, god-complex, ego-driven, self-deceit, lack of unity between action and behaviour, no morals and values, not knowing who we are, identity crisis, lack on true connection in interpersonal relationships, overly independent, emotional numbness, disrespectful towards others, rude and mean towards others, feelings of entitlement and being overly deserving.
How to bring the spiritual body into balance: grounding, emotional intelligence, meditation, gratitude, humbleness, generosity, interdependence, selfless giving, charity, acceptance, surrender, self-growth and spiritual development, understanding of oneness, understanding the divinity in others and self, and understanding that heaven is within.
The East – Mental Body – Air
The east direction relates to the time of time 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 reconnect to 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 it is time to manifest our realities in every moment. 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. This is how we bring forth the wisdom of the north and interpreting it through our own ideas, beliefs, perceptions and perspectives.
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.
The east relates to the element of air. Air is great for clarity, perspective and joy. Joy is particularly a great way to work with this energy.
We go to the east to focus on self-esteem, joy, self-motivation, confidence and to see the world from a higher perspective. Think of eagles, hawks and owls for this direction – as they remind us of the visionary aspect of life; that we need to zoom out and see things from a higher perspective to understand what we are birthing, growing and how to move forward.
The east relates to our sacred work: how are we of service to others, what is our contribution through our actions? This is something that makes us feel purposeful. Just like in the north direction we needed to see our true selves, and this is what contributed to feeling that we live a purposeful life, in the same way in the east direction we need to feel that we are of contribution to others to feel that we are living a purposeful life. Our sacred work can be shown through our actions; in the way we give joy to another person, and helping another where we can.
When the mental body is in balance: clear vision, problem solving, innovative, organized, responsible, 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, messy, 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, selfish, little to no empathy, no accountability how our actions affect others, little to no compassion, disregard for others, over-driven, over-ambitious, stingy.
How to bring the mental body into balance: charity, humbleness, building empathy and kindness, self-motivation, confident, self-esteem, talk therapy with emotionally intelligence people, being of service to others, selfless giving, self-organization, managing stress levels, and being more connected to the emotional and spiritual body, learning to manage emotions in a healthy way, emotional intelligence, moderate cardio, throat chakra work.
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 the time between 12pm-6pm and summertime. The time is warm, hot, sensual, romantic and we are nurturing the seeds envisioned from our east direction.
The south relates to the sacral chakra.
We go to the south for relationships, intimacy, sensuality, intuition, 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 freely and understanding what our emotions are telling us, are the key 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; 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 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. Our ability to be more conscious and reflective will also help us build long-lasting bonds.
In sacred relationships there is no hiding, no judgement, no angst, we are truly ourselves and the love is selfless. Such sacred bonds happen in an open, trusting space where we can truly show up as we are and there is soul appreciation; there is honouring and acceptance for the other person no matter where they are in their life. The love is unconditional and emotionally expressed. This is why self-love, emotional intelligence and spirituality are crucial for deep love. In sacred relationships, all dissolves into merging. We are fully seen.
This is what intimacy means also: into-me-see. We can’t experience emotional depth and true intimacy without allowing to be truly seen by another.
Intimacy is based on trust, conscious sensuality, intentional communication, deep listening, vulnerability, receptive eye gazing, deep love, devotion, appreciation and acceptance. It means holding safe space for another to allow them to be who they truly are. Intimacy demands that we reveal our true selves in the most vulnerable way, accepting that we may get hurt yet still having the courage to unveil.
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 are truly fulfilled because we can be truly 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: empathetic, open, honest, trusting, sensual, loving, receptive, playful, emotionally expressive, feeling feelings freely, inclusive, less judgements, non-critical, generous, selfless giving, no water retention and no over dryness of skin, healthy relationships.
When it is not in balance: lack of emotional intelligence, untrustworthy, gossiping, critical, judgmental, lashing out, extreme mood swings, little intuition, lack of trust, stingy, inability to understand people, fearful, neurotic, lack 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: releasing emotions, tensions and stress, building intimacy, self-love, spiritual work, dancing, creativity, heart chakra work, water cleansing, and most importantly – learning emotional intelligence and how to feel our 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 to 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. This is also because of the element of fire connected to the physical body. We need to tend to our health from within. Like I talked about in my article Understanding The Link Between Emotions and The Physical Body if we want to heal the physical body, we must heal the emotional body.
When we work with the fire element – we can use its transformational energy for our wellness. 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; 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.
When the physical body is balanced: we feel open, healthy and flexible.
When it is not in balance: 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, yin time, spiritual time, and nature for the sake of immediate gratification.
How to bring the physical into balance: emotional nourishment, body care, beauty routines, house decorating, cooking and gardening, forgiveness, gratitude exercises, establishing boundaries, tenderness, water therapies, water cleansing, joy, spiritual work, solar chakra work, movements, energy cleansing, massage, walking, stretching, yoga, meditation, walking barefoot, bare hand earth playing (rubbing hands in dirt or soil), balanced repetitive sequences, balanced healthy diet.
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, make the time to build trust and connection to self through our spiritual practices, and also, to work with the physical realm to make sure 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. Like I always say: Healthy dependency creates true independency. As another example, let’s say we are emotionally numb in relationships. This would imply a deficiency in our emotional direction of the wheel, while having an over-indulgence in things related to our mental body or career focus or the material world. One way to balance this is to focus on feeling our feelings, connecting to our emotions and being creative with what we are passionate about. When we don’t know how to understand our emotions and feelings – we start to project, which ultimately deteriorates all of our relationships.
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.
Emotions are the vehicle of our spiritual bodies. We are not here to become spiritual – we already are; we are here to remember our spiritual selves, our true selves, and apply this wisdom and truth towards our personal relationships. There is something precious I learned in the past few years and it is that no matter what – show up and do it with passion. No matter if it’s only for one person or no one at all – give it your all and pour your heart into your life. This is generosity. This is emotion. This is devotion. This is life itself.
You are a blessing, be blessings in turn.
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Cover Art by Susan Seddon Boulet.