Tag Archives: philosophy

The Medicine Wheel

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.

hopimedwheel

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.

vitruvianWhat 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.

medicinewheelexerciseExercise: 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.

 

Flow

We often say “random” to refer to something unexpected happening. In English, “random” arose from the word “run”, which is related to the Rhein river in Germany, and refers to “flow.” When we have space for the unexpected, miracles flow. When we live in obligations and expectations and keeping up appearances, we feel dead inside. How well life works when let go of our traumas and projections and are able to trust and accept the natural flow of events. Judgment comes from existential black-and-white/right-and-wrong thinking; we dissociate part of life that we do not accept and carry that energy as guilt, shame, or hatred. Then we project these dissociations onto people, events, experience, etc. and judge our own projections. It’s a very destructive game. (Rhein delta image from: http://www.delta-alliance.org/deltas/rhine-meuse-delta)RhineMeuseDelta.jpg

There is a difference between seeing events and experiences as neutral and allowing meaning to emerge, and making meaning out of events and experiences by projecting our wounds (traumas, emotions, beliefs, etc.). There is a difference between carrying a dream, praying/wishing for it to come into being, and taking action to bring it into reality, and of forcing a dream to take form based on our own vision and desire. It’s the difference between being a dictator, and a co-creator or co-dreamer. As a co-creator or co-dreamer, we acknowledge that we are not in charge of the “how.” We may not even know “why” we have a particular dream, “where” it came from, or “who” will support its birth into being. We may only have a vague sense of “what” the dream is, because we know it needs to evolve in a context much bigger than our own mind can know.

For example, we may dream of being a parent, and we may carry a vision of what that looks like, such as: a stable romantic partnership, financial security, a safe home environment, and a caring community. But the events and experiences of our lives may be very different to our vision. We may struggle to become pregnant, lose our job and be unable to afford some things we wanted, or get pregnant in an uncommitted relationship. Why do these things happen? The best answer I have is, I don’t know! And that answer is so freeing. I help my mind be okay with not knowing, because I practice flowing and accepting. I also choose to trust that life is always helping me to awaken, evolve, and become a more authentic and present version of myself. So when I experience unexpected hardship, I feel alive, and I know I will learn something.

Trauma gets a bad rep. Sure it triggers pain and can be overwhelming. I have experienced a lot of that. But trauma is a powerful birth/death crisis-type of energy that has potential to teach us about ourselves and our world, to help us remember on a Avocado_Seedlingdeeper level who we are, and to offer us new life experiences. You can’t plant a seed in the ground without digging a hole and traumatising a small patch of earth. And a seed can’t begin its journey of growing into a tree without traumatising the seed encasing its energy and expanding into the soil. Trauma is part of the cycle of life, of birth-life-death-and rebirth. We can look at a tree and label it “dead” and forcibly chop it down. Or we can look at it and realise it’s decaying, and that there are numerous insects, animals, fungi and bacteria living in that environment who are helping transform the tree back into earth. It is a witnessing of energy changing form. We may also notice that even tree stumps may be “alive” through the interconnection of their roots with other trees in a forest, to keep a network of support and communication flowing between trees living above ground. Sometimes stumps even sprout new trunks and regrow themselves entirely.  (Image from: http://blog.daleysfruit.com.au/2014/03/grown-by-grafting-cutting-seedling.html)

Sometimes our minds are so full of stories, our lives so full and structured with meeting expectations and fulfilling desires that we lose touch with flowing energy. Rivers rarely flow in straight lines, and so flow energy tends to meander and take us into the unexpected and the unknown. We get surprised by “randomly” running into an old friend, rather than seeing that as a natural experience we could be choosing to make more space in our lives for. When we let go of controlling the “how” of our dreams and visions, and even let go of some of our dreams and visions altogether, we make space for flow to emerge. We experience interconnectedness in an organic way, and through the feelings of pain and pleasure of fulfilled and unfulfilled desires, something more precious starts to emerge: an understanding of a purposefulness to our journey, and a peaceful acceptance of the messy reality of being human.

christmasbush copy

Flow Exercise: A simple practice is to regularly block off some time where you do not schedule anything or have any plans. Keeping some time sacred to allow flow energy to emerge demonstrates a commitment to making space for miracles. You then spend that time relaxing as best you can and doing whatever organically arises. You may be surprised to find yourself getting in the car and seeing where you end up. You may also do things that you do most days, but in a different sequence or at an unexpected time, or in a slightly different way than you’re accustomed to. When we honour flow energy in our lives, traumas that arise may seem less intense, because our psyches become used to the unexpected. Give it a try!

 

Confronting Colonialism

Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.–Robin Wall Kimmerer

earthlove

Indigenous writers describe colonialism as “a violation of the psychological womb” and  “a great rupture with the Mother [Earth]” (Cervantes & McNeill, 2008). Colonialism has spiritual roots in our ideas about the meaning of life, our nature and place in the world. In Judeo-Christian culture the Earth is often seen less as our home, and more as a place to endure. An Earth Ethos sees the Earth as the source of life from which resources are continually re-cycled around, not a temporary playground for us to use for a period of time. The Earth’s health is reflective of our human health. In Australian aboriginal languages, “land” means “everlasting spirit” or “source of life” (Atkinson, 2002).  To say “I’m going for a walk in nature” shows our modern Western alienation with the Earth and the place where we live. Cities are highly cultivated environments, and a forest is wilderness, but both are aspects of nature–we cannot escape nature except in our own trickster minds!

You know how when you walk into a room, and you can feel that people were just arguing in there? You feel some funny energy in the space. Similarly, places carry trauma and violent energy that reflect into our bodies and psyches, though we are not as conscious of this. We may not be aware that 100 years ago there was a massacre on land where a school is today, and we may wonder why that school has such problems, when a school a few blocks away does not. This is why art and ceremony on land of traditional cultural significance are vital to healing. “The land under each tribe’s feet is the [spiritual] source of its culture,” and is we are responsible for giving back to the Earthfrom which we came (Kimmerer, 2016). An aboriginal elder recently taught me that the night sky and the Earth in that place are exact mirrors of each other, and to live intimately with a particular place on Earth, we learn from our ancestors in the sky.

nightsky

Research on trees planted for commercial gain that are of the same species and lack connection with a network of older trees has found that they do not communicate well, and that they compete with each other more and suffer more ill health than when they grow wild in forests (Wohlleben, 2016). In cities full of commercial culture we often similarly experience spiritual lack. We spend a lot of time in rooms and vehicles shaped like rectangles, struggling to feel deeply connected with and nourished by our manufactured environments. We seek distraction (literally un-grounding, a loss of traction) and use substances such as alcohol, caffeine and marijuana that numb uncomfortable feelings or stifle unwanted thoughts in our minds.

According to indigenous thinking, colonisers previously experienced a trauma of disconnection from intimate, reciprocal relationships with their land of origin, and conquering and privatising land is a re-enactment of this trauma (Smith, 2005). Some indigenous cultures describe a psycho-spiritual virus as the root of this trauma. TheAnishinaabe in Canada describe Windingo as a hungry, destructive force that is never satisfied and even eats its own kind (Kimmerer, 2016). The Ojibway refer to Wetiko, “a cannibalistic spirit who embodies greed and excess…an autoimmune disease of the psyche… [in which] the immune system of the organism perversely attacks the very life it is trying to protect” (Levy, 2014). The Zar spiritual disease in northern Africa is described similarly (Monteiro & Wall, 2011). In indigenous Asian cultures, a poison in the mind makes us forget who we are, manifesting as anger, desire and ignorance (Kakar, 1982).

The understanding expressed across the world by such stories is that we humans naturally carry some destructive energy. It is part of nature to create and destroy. Just look at a volcano: it both births new land and destroys existing land. When we regularly purify ourselves, this natural destructive, cannibalistic energy does not grow out of control. But when this destructive energy grows too large, it penetrates our spiritual beliefs. Then we forget who we are, feel disconnected from ourselves, each other and the Earth, and engage in destructive behaviours. I have read an indigenous elder describe that when colonialists first arrived in his ancestor’s community, the amount of such a psycho-spiritual virus that those few men were carrying completely overwhelmed the entire community. We may frame this destructive energy as diseases such as smallpox and syphilis, or behaviours such as raping and pillaging, but the spiritual root of these is considered that destructive, cannibalistic energy.

Purify your Heart(1)Psycho-spiritual purification exercise: Reflect on a relationship where you are trying to make another person see your point of view, or trying to control their behaviour and tell them what to do. What is stopping you from living your own life, and letting them be who they are? What are you avoiding or denying in your life by focusing on them, or on controlling your environment? What do you need to be more nourished right now?

 

 

Earth Ethos: an embodied philosophy

An Earth Ethos considers healing to be synonymous with justice. This philosophy is based on indigenous wisdom, where “indigenous” refers to cultures grown in connection to specific places such as aboriginal tribal members, as well as more generally a holistic worldview honouring the interconnection of all beings and viewing life as cyclical (Cervantes & McNeill, 2008). An Earth Ethos is evident in beliefs and practices of cultures around the world, and is being resurrected in modern Western culture through the work of indigenous peoples who share wisdom with non-members, as well as modern people who work to integrate such teachings and ways of being into modern life. Whoever you are, you were born of and on the Earth and are indigenous to some land and lineage(s).

prettytree

Understandings of justice grow out of cultural cosmologies. In indigenous cosmologies, there is no fall from grace in Heaven, no exile from abundance in the Garden of Eden, and no criminal action of eating a forbidden apple that a God has used to punish us humans. Because humans are firmly established in a particular space and time based on cultural mythology and birth, from an indigenous perspective, there is nothing to prove and no nature to discover. It is inherent (Rael, 1997). While feminism has challenged patriarchal perspectives, we still needed to challenge anthropocentric (human-centric) and ethnocentric perspectives in Western culture. We need to experience empathy with our entire human family and with all beings, to remember how to live in reciprocity with the Earth, deeply honouring our source of human life and re-evaluate core aspects of our cultural and individual identities (Ohiyesa, 2001).

The Western concept of authority is out of balance. Former philosopher Alan Bloom said, “The West is defined by its need for self-justification and to discover nature, and both philosophy, whether religious or secular, and science reflect this human quest to know nature (1986). Sharon Venne, a Cree lawyer said of First Nations that: “Our sovereignty is related to our connection to the earth and is inherent” (1999). Former Menominee activist Ingrid Washinawatok agreed that “Europeans relegated sovereignty to only one realm of existence: authority, supremacy and dominion. In the Indigenous realm, sovereignty encompasses responsibility, reciprocity, the land, life and much more” (1999).

cleanearth

In Western culture the Earth is often portrayed as a place to endure, whereas an Earth Ethos sees the Earth as the source of life, not a resource to be used for a period of time. The Earth’s health is intimately connected with and reflective of human health, because the Earth is a living Mother supporting us all. To consider a rock or tree as non-living or non-sentient places humans at the centre of the universe and devalues everyone. This results in “war to determine whose anthropocentric view is most valid” while “the earth and all its inhabitants []suffer” (Gustafson, 1997). Our bodies are made of the soil of this planet, and we are all united in our hearts. An Earth Ethos sees minerals, insects, plants, animals and other beings not only as ancestors, but as wise life forms that can teach us humans how to live in harmony with the rest of nature, since they have successfully survived on Earth a lot longer than we have. We humans are the new species on the block, and an Earth Ethos acknowledges with humility that as a species we are out of balance and in need of healing.