Indigenous cultures around the world are based on a philosophy of innate wholeness of all beings. The medicine wheel is the “essential metaphor for all that is” (Rael, 1998, p. 35). Walking the circle of the medicine wheel is a life path, and the medicine wheel in any physical form is a tool for learning, growth, and remaining in balance. A visual representation of the medicine wheel tends to be a circle divided into fourths (though some cultures such as in China and India divide the circle into five). There are many metaphors for the four parts of the circle, including: the four directions (north, east, south and west); the four seasons (winter, spring, summer and fall); the four times of day (morning, afternoon, evening and night); the four stages of life (infant, child, adult and elder); the four elements (earth, air, water and fire); and four aspects of being human (physical, spiritual, emotional and mental) (See e.g. Bell, 2014; Charbonneau-Dahlen, 2015; Dapice, 2006; Rael, 2015). The medicine wheel below in 2D is from the Hopi tribe of southwestern North America as an example of one culture’s symbolism for the wheel.
To see the medicine wheel in 3D, imagine a central point below the ground, a point in the centre of the circle representing the heart that unites us all, and a central point above the ground. The portion of the medicine wheel above the ground represents Father Sky (aka Pachapapa), the visible parts of life, and the lower half of the medicine wheel represents Mother Earth (Pachamama), the invisible parts of life below the ground. Mother Earth is experienced through feeling and intuition; she is mysterious, a dark womb of life. One of Joseph Rael‘s teachings is that darkness is the purest form of life, because all colours come out of it. Mother Earth nourishes all of us who walk on her surface.
What is outside the medicine wheel is without form, what we refer to as the unknown or the shadow, whereas inside the medicine are known aspects of a culture or individual’s world (Rael, 1998). Energy is constantly cycling in and out of the medicine wheel. In the Hopi medicine wheel some energy may enter in the North, the mental realm, and give us an idea: I forgot to brush my teeth. Then the energy moves into the East, the spiritual, where we give meaning to the idea: I might get a cavity. Then it moves to the South, the emotional, generating feelings based upon our meaning: Fear of cavity! Our feelings then move us into taking action in the West: going to the bathroom and putting toothpaste on our brush. By expressing the energy, we move to the centre of the circle, the Heart, where we reconcile the energy and experience it in 3D as human lightning rods (or channels or hollow bones) connecting the Earth and Sky. To imagine the medicine wheel in 3D, consider da Vinci’s drawing of the Vitruvian man, which is based on an indigenous Greek drawing.
All directions need to be in balance for us to live in well and be centred in our hearts. So the medicine wheel shows that each of us humans is a symbolic embodiment of our spherical planet Earth. A talking circle, in which a group sits in a circle with open space between them (and may pass a talking piece around) is based on this sort of Earth Ethos cosmology. The talking circle represents a communal medicine wheel where every being is interconnected within an inclusive web.
Exercise: Consider where you may be in and/or out of balance by filling out this empty medicine wheel chart. Write down what is going on in your mind, what you are experiencing in your spiritual world (aka what is giving your life meaning and purpose), what emotions you are experiencing, what’s going on physically in your body and environment, and what keeps you centred/keeps your heart open. Notice if something is out of balance, and consider what area(s) of the medicine wheel might need some attention. This is a tool I developed that can be used periodically to check-in with yourself, or be given to friends or clients to do so to help notice progress and change.