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Coyote Healing Excerpt from Chapter 4, The Medicine Wheel

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The medicine wheel concept guides our healing journey.

Our healing journey starts in the east, where we find spiritual connectedness and the power of spirit to sustain our life. The East is where we learn about the connectedness of all things. There we find the inner vision that comes from our awareness of underlying unity. The East represents beginnings and infants and children. It is both the beginning of life and the beginning of journeys. The development of the self as an individual occurs in the East, where we also learn about sharing. We encounter our cultural environment and identity. In the East we bask in the healing power of Spirit, and realizing that we are never alone. Spirit is always with us. Guidance and direction is always available. The East is springtime, the symbol of new birth, of newborn foals in the fields nuzzling their mothers, of baby skunks and bears, of the rising sun, and the majesty of the soaring eagle.

After connecting with Spirit and realizing that we are not alone on the path, we make our way toward the South. There we learn about emotions. We learn to experience our feelings, and to recognize the emotional storms that pass through us. We learn to ground ourselves in contact with the earth and with the present moment, and discover that we are like the Great Oak, whom the storm can never blow down. We learn trust and innocence in the South, as well the excitement in discovery and joy that new knowledge brings. Youth developing toward adulthood thrives in the south, like a plant turning its leaves toward the summer sun. The South holds a strong sense of family, and is also the direction for learning about honesty and trust. We encounter the social environment and relationships in the South. On the healing journey, after we connect with spirit in the East, we discover our feelings in the South. Through our feelings we develop and renew our relationships with family and with other people (including the healer). Summer lives in the South, along with the animals of kindness and compassion the deer, the mouse, and the horse.

Once we have discovered that we have a spirit to guide us, that we are never alone, have asked for guidance, have traveled to the land of our emotions, and have re-established relationships and family, we are ready to go to the West, the land of the physical body. There we learn to nurture the body and the environment in relation to the cycles of life and death. The West is the place of the adult who provides sustenance for his or her family, as do the plants at the harvest. In the West, we learn about respect, kindness, and activities to nurture self, others, and body. We also encounter the economic environment and its foundations and supports. The West contains the things that we put into our body, the ways that we use our body, movement and touch, all of the physical aspects of being alive. Crucial to the wisdom of the medicine wheel is the understanding that without spirit (East), emotional awareness and quality relationships (South), we are not able to adequately nurture and sustain our bodies (West). The Bear lives in the West and represents this intense physicality. Its retreat into physical hibernation (the inner journey as it corresponds to the physical body) is an important aspect of taking care of the body of going into retreat, of resting, or delving into the underworld or the unconscious.

Having encountered the physical body and world, having examined our sources of economic support and resources, we are ready for the North, where we discover insight and community. In the North, we develop our intellect and learn to seek knowledge and wisdom. From our intellect we learn to recognize our beliefs and values. We learn about the perceptual filters modifying how we see the world. The North demands that knowledge be put into action. The healing journey requires a "give-back." It requires our expressing our person healing as action in the world. It is the place where Elders teach and share their experience and wisdom. There we appreciate the importance of the nation and grasp the larger picture or context in which we find ourselves. In the North we learn how to put caring into action. The North is the direction in which we consider the political environment and how to express our voice within that environment. The buffalo lives in the North and represents wisdom and community.

The medicine wheel, circle, or spiral represents never-ending cycles of life even as it represents the healing journey. It is based upon an understanding of the cyclic nature of life and the importance of the universal principles of behavior: sharing, caring, kindness, honesty, respect, trust, and humility. Its circlic nature ensures that the whole is addressed. It informs us that all of its elements are related to each other. It is multidimensional, representing both individual and social levels. We see that no one element can be understood in isolation of the others. We see that action or work on one element leads to potential change in any other element.

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Lewis Mehl-Madrona graduated from Stanford University School of Medicine and completed residencies in family medicine and in psychiatry at the University of Vermont. He is the author of Coyote Medicine, Coyote Healing, Coyote Wisdom, and (more...)
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