Around the Medicine Wheel with Jim Frank

—Don’t we all want a map with a big arrow that says, “You are here!”
  • Untitled Document From any spot on the Native American Medicine Wheel we look out at the world around it. In a sense the Wheel is a map and all of life's transitions follow the wheel. A person is baby in the East, a child in the South, adult in the West and elder in the North. The sun rises in the East, travels through the South in daytime, sets in the evening in the West and sneaks back to the sun rise place through the North during the night. Each story or metaphor of the wheel relates to every other and by studying them we allow them to teach us about all of life's transitions. Look to the Medicine Wheel to find where you are in a transition and then look to the other metaphors to find out what's next.
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  • The Medicine Wheel – an Overview

    Posted By on April 11, 2016

    The Medicine Wheel teaches me about the natural world in its transitions. The Medicine Wheel is the basis of all ritual, doing ritual aligns one to the life’s natural transitions.
    Life itself sets up a process:
    1) We think we have an experience (exteroception and interoception combine to gives us a perceptual reality)
    2) We believe this precept and look to our emotions to prove it. This is the end of the story without consciousness.
    3) But if we are to become fully human, move further around the Wheel, be conscious, we will need to find truth and not settle for belief. This requires dropping our beliefs and testing for truth, which being unknown, needs a template. Ritual provides the template for stepping into the unknown.
    The four directions of the Medicine Wheel describe natural transformational processes. The sun rises in the East, travels through the South, sets in the West and travels back through the North to be ready for the next day. Another wheel is Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. East is the place of all new beginnings, the baby. South is the place of getting ready, adolescence. West is the place of manifesting, the adult. And North is the place of completion and blessing, the elder. Another wheel is the mental, the emotional, the physical, and the spiritual.
    All these are natural developmental and transformational processes. They have a story. The narrative arc is a ritual arc. I was taught that every transformational ritual follows a story and if we know the story we know the ritual. And the Medicine Wheel is the basis of every Native American ritual. And if any other ritual or transformational process has a story that follows the Wheel, it is natural. This is what led my teacher, Beautiful Painted Arrow to say, “All the mystics know each other,” because all the transformational stories follow the same natural developmental arc.
    And then there is the idea that sometimes there are wheels within the wheel. Within each season there are 90 days, each with its own morning, daytime, evening, and nighttime. When I saw the 12 Steps of AA on the Medicine Wheel, three steps in each direction were an east, south and west. The north of each direction was the blessing that comes from going around the other three steps of that direction. I have found that viewing the 12 Steps on the Medicine Wheel has deepened greatly my understanding of both.
    Another important wheel is how we pray in the sweat lodge. We Pray for ourselves in the East, for our families in the South, our enemies in the West, and our dead in the North. Of course we understand that families include all people who help us to be who we are, and enemies are those who do not support us being who we are.
    In the East, babies have the developmental job of getting others to care for them, that’s why they’re so darn cute. In the South of life, adolescents have the job of sorting out the polarities in their lives, public vs. private, family vs. friends, etc. In the West, the adult is a doer, getting things done and taking care of others. An old age is a blessing, it is not guaranteed. So the elder in the North is both blessed and blessing.
    Just as important is to understand the Wheel of spiritual practice, prayer in the East, meditation in the South, self-examination in the West, and the North is blessing, both given and received.
    All of this was given to me before I was introduced to the Work of Byron Katie in 2002. Katie has written her “four stages of creation – I think, I feel, I act, I have.” This is the same as what Beautiful Painted Arrow taught me – a wheel of the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. I saw a wheel of the Work’s four steps, judge your neighbor, write it down, ask four questions and turn it around. The four inquiry questions were like a wheel within a wheel. The turnarounds were a blessing that had a wheel too. Even the first four questions on Katie’s “Judge Your Neighbor” worksheet were a wheel. The truth of The Work was immediately clear to me, it is a natural process.
    In my wheel of spiritual practice, I place Katie’s Work as the self-examination of the west of that wheel. And my wheel of spiritual practice is in the west of the south wheel of my wheel of the 12 Steps – namely Step 6. All of this would take much more to go into. But it does go to show that a person will have very different things to do depending on where they might be in the transformation that wheel describes.
    Other spiritual systems may have a wheel of their own but many find a place within a specific wheel. Astrology seems to be aimed at the adolescent, the south. Most kinds of petitionary prayer are in the East; I can imagine a baby asking for its ‘daily bread.’ I see shamanism as a form of prayer; what else would you call speaking to the spirits. I do shamanic ritual with people who need the sense of safety and security, like the baby needs to know that it is cared for. Beautiful Painted Arrow said we don’t pray because God needs to hear it, we need to hear it. Understanding that God already knows anything we might pray allows complete honesty. In prayer it is safe to honestly describe one’s perceptual reality. Honestly appraising one’s reality is the 1st Step of AA and creating safety is the first step in any therapeutic process. The mechanics of how to do that are more than I can write about now. But looking at how I see addictions on the wheel might be helpful.
    Here is how addictions come about as viewed on the wheel. When a human need goes unmet, as in trauma, (an east), and it is temporarily solved by some substance or behavior (a south), and because that substance or behavior works it is repeated (a west), until it takes on a life of its own (a north). Recovery follows a wheel where first, the perceptual reality must be changed by interrupting the chain of addictive behaviors (an east). Next, relationships must be formed that support not returning to the addictive behaviors (a south). Making right the original unmet human need or repairing the original trauma (a west), will allow the building of a life worth living (a north).
    If you have followed me so far, you will see that what I do with someone depends on where they are in the narrative arc of the transformational wheels we call life. I don’t do Katie’s Work with someone who is in the baby stages of addiction recovery; I get them to a place where they and their abstinence are safe. Someone who is very childish needs to be cared for and pointed to activities that will grow them up. Those with adolescent attitudes and beliefs will need to learn to balance their empathy. Depending on where they are with that, there may be wide swings between being selfish and giving themselves up in people-pleasing. When those things are settled, it will be the time for self-examination, the Work.
    The Work is the final step, or west direction, of my daily spiritual practice. But I do the others first, there is never just one thing. If someone is so caught up in their addiction that they can’t stay sober or clean, I don’t use the Work. That would be like asking a hungry baby to do the Work. No, you feed the baby and you help the addict to dry out. Then you grow the baby up so it can learn to feed itself, and you grow the addict up so it can maintain relationships that support abstinence. Then, as thoughts produce suffering I will teach the Work. The Work can lead them back to heal the original trauma that led them into their addiction.
    I hope that helps.

    The 2011 Long Dance

    Posted By on June 11, 2011

    The 2011 Long Dance at Bird Song Peace Chamber was last weekend, June 4/5, and I have struggled to write about it. I am reminded of the saying, ‘talking about silence is talking’ and writing about dancing is writing. I know I can’t do justice to the dance itself but here are some thought on this recent dance. Perhaps you can join us next year and have your own experience.

    Although we know every dance is different and we try not to make comparisons, one of things I have enjoyed about other Long Dances has been how the interplay of the light from the Moon and the fire combine with the movement of the dancers. This, and the wind’s way of bringing the banners to life, create a whirlwind of visual motion in the arbor. It feels crowded with dancers. I have always enjoyed this visual sense of dancing with the ancestors that come back to dance with us. But this year, by the time that the twenty- four beautiful dancers entered the arbor, the slim crescent of the New Moon had set. For hours we danced in the starless darkness under a heavy blanket of clouds. The darkness was almost complete.

    So, it was the sounds in the arbor that rose to prominence. Each dancer’s drum or rattle produced its own music. And in the more complete darkness the drumming wandered back and forth between beautiful harmony and a cacophony of individual beats. The effect reminded me more then ever of the importance of taking responsibility for what sounds I produce. In the discordant times I held my drum a little closer to my ears so I could dance to my own beat and not be distracted by the others. In the times of harmony, I beat a little softer so my drum might better merge with the others. That is a great dance.

    And then there were times too, when the drumming quieted and the sounds heard were only those of the grass yielding to the feet of the dancers. At one of theses “low energy” times, I sat by my banner and listened to the steps of the passing dancers and the sounds of their feet against the grass. Then I remembered Beautiful Painted Arrow telling me about how the swishing sound of feet through grass is a calling of the ancestors. Then I understood. In this dark dance, we were to use our ears to hear the ancestors instead of seeing them with our eyes in dancing shadows.

    My thanks go out to all of you who have ever danced the Long Dance, and especially to this year’s dancers.

    Is there a good book about the Medicine Wheel?

    Posted By on August 7, 2010

    I am often asked to suggest a book about the Medicine Wheel. I have not yet found a book that gives a good treatment to the Medicine Wheel as I understand it. I have been doing some writing myself and this blog offers a little taste of what I hope will grow into a book. While Joseph Rael, a.k.a. Beautiful Painted Arrow, has been my teacher and inspiration, much of what I know now has come to me from the Mother Earth as I have sat in the almost one thousand sweat lodges that I have poured or attended, as well as the many dances I have participated in. Joseph taught me about the Wheel as he understands it from growing up on Picuris Pueblo much as his people have lived for thousands of years. But he also taught me to see my world from the perspective of the Medicine Wheel. Much of what I teach is a from my personal vision which has been effected by seeing things from the Wheel, as well as an interpretation of what Joseph taught me. And this is what Joseph taught me to do, he taught that we should make his teachings our own and in turn teach it to others. I was fascinated to recently learn that in the business of translation, as in making a book authored in Spanish available in English, the final translation is always made by a person whose native language is the target language. This affirmed my teaching of Joseph’s Medicine Wheel using the language that I learned living my life here in the modern American culture. Until I get a book finished, the best way to learn what I have to teach is to attend ceremony with me and to augment that by attending my Medicine Wheel Teachings workshop.

    Joseph has written a quite few books and while I recommend any of them two stand out:
    Being and Vibration
    Sound: Native Teachings and Visionary Art of Josepha Rael

    I reread what I just wrote and it feels a little bit like a sale pitch but that is not my intention. I am not a very good salesman, I just don’t believe in the consumer paradigm that is leading to the destruction of the Earth. My intention is to merely answer the question about a good book to read about the Medicine Wheel.

    Hiking in the arroyo, sometimes I feel like a motherless child

    Posted By on December 31, 2009

    Even before I met Joseph Rael, the magic began; a hummingbird visited my campsite that morning. It was not content to merely buzz around me while I was cooking my breakfast on the open tailgate. While I shaved it came through the open door, into the cab of my pickup, where I was leaning forward in the driver’s seat running the electric razor over my face. For a long second or two the hummingbird hovered between my bugging eyes and the rear view mirror which I had twisted to allow a better view of my face. Only inches from my nose, it was so close that I was cross-eyed and he was there long enough for me to worry that he could peck my eye if he wanted. “How magical is that?”— I thought when he had flown away. The legend on the New Mexican license plates came to mind—“Land of Enchantment.” It seemed like a hummingbird was the perfect welcoming agent.
    I was awake early and after my morning routine and I set out for a hike up into the Sandia Mountains leaving the truck parked at my camp. There was lightness in my step as I set out but a lifetime living close to sea level in Pennsylvania had left my body unprepared for the Northern New Mexico altitude. At close to six thousand feet the thinner air can make a big difference and as I hiked up an arroyo it was difficult to keep from being winded. I paced myself pretty well at first but as the trail got steeper my breathing labored, my muscles tired and I quickly exhausted myself. And when the sun’s warming rays finally reached over the mountain, even though it was not yet mid-morning, its heat set to wringing out of me the last of whatever had animated my steps. Often I use exercise and hard work to release emotion and in this strange new world a great sadness grew in me as I tired. That license plate slogan might have been foreshadowing but my mind was unaware of any sense of the magical discovery that lay ahead of me, I was only feeling the loss of what I had cut loose.
    The recent end of my twenty-five year career with IBM, and the accompanying sense of purposelessness weighed me down. In a call home the night before to the woman I had been dating for three years, the conversation seemed like a set up for the ‘Dear John” phone that was coming; she was not going to wait for me. To punctuate the end of my IBM career I set off on a trip around the country and now, after only three weeks on the road, mostly living in my pickup truck, I felt I had no purpose, no destination, no place to go, no plan on when to return, and this morning I was beginning to feel there was no place I had come from.
    My ruminations combined with my exertions to produce a loneliness that became unbearable, I began to sob. I pushed myself along but my breathlessness and the heaviness of each uphill step overwhelmed me. I couldn’t go any further, I collapsed and sitting at the edge of little canyon I cried full force. I wailed and sobbed and blubbered for my pitifully lonely self. From deep within my sadness a song welled up to express my feelings.
    “Sometimes, I feel, Like a Motherless Child,” came out of me. Slowly and sadly I sang, like a funeral dirge. I needed to take a breath between each word so the pause between each phrase was exaggerated.
    “Sometimes breathe breathe, I Feel, breathe breathe, like a Motherless Child, breathe breathe breathe.”
    As I sang, my hands found each other and began clapping, again very slowly, something like this, “Sometimes clap breathe, I Feel, clap breathe, like a Motherless clap Child, breathe clap breathe.” “A long, clap breathe, Way, clap breathe, From Home, clap breathe.”
    Singing, clapping and crying… I was caught up in my isolation and self-pity. Had I ever felt this lonely? Was there no one to care? Then an answer came. Someone was clapping along with me. I immediately went from sad to alert. Had someone followed me, had they been watching me and listening to my sad song? All these thoughts came in an instant me and in a second instant I realized that I was hearing my echo. Without even missing a beat I had found that it was not some human that was clapping with me, it was the mountain herself. The timing of my claps was at the exact beat so that the claps the echo returned matched my rhythm. Each time I clapped the echo from the previous clap came back and joined my new clap. The Mountains had joined my song and I was no longer alone. Mother Earth herself was responding to my loneliness. The mountain was singing along with my lonely song which was being transformed into a more soulful blues sound, that amazing blend of sadness and joy. My heart raised, my tears dried, and I felt a new wholeness as I came down from the mountain, ready to face an unknown future knowing I did not walk alone. My mother, our mother, was right there with me.
    Back in the truck, I drove to the nearby home of the Native American mystic, Joseph Rael, Beautiful Painted Arrow, and within an hour I stood face to face for the first time with the man whose teachings have led me to the Medicine Wheel, which has come to be the ordering principle of my universe. That weekend I went along with the small group that Joseph took into the Pecos Mountains to do ceremony. For three days we fasted and danced the Drum Dance and I write more about that elsewhere. Since that time the rituals and ceremonies Joseph taught have become my way of prayer. His teachings have become my way of understanding the world and have guided my actions. And this has all combined to bless me so that the wholeness I felt walking out of the arroyo is with me often.
    All of the ceremonies that Joseph taught revolve around the four directions of the Medicine Wheel, as do all of his teachings. Over the years, I have come to understand all of life’s transformations as fitting on the four directions of the Wheel. And as I look back I see how my experience in the arroyo is a good example of how this works. The East of the Wheel is the place of new beginnings and seeing things for the first time. I had left my truck and hiked toward the East into the dawn’s Mountain shadow. By its very nature there is an isolation that happens when we have a vision, in this case it was the vision of how pitiful and alone I was. In that moment I felt hopeless and if I stay there I would have indeed stayed hopeless. But all things in this world have a response. Things go out and things come back. My thoughts of my sad condition were responded to by those overwhelming emotions, the South. These emotions led me to move my muscles and I clapped. This was a physical action, the West. And then the echo came back, a blessing from the North. The echo reminded me of the connectedness of all things. The echo was completely outside me; I didn’t make the echo, yet it would not have happened without me. This is the kind of return that the universe generally provides, we are part of the universe but we are not the universe. There is a marvelous co-creation going on in the universe. This is the kind of blessing that I have come to expect from Nature’s God, the Medicine Wheel predicts it.
    I now see that the events in the arroyo came together to form just one of many Wheels within Wheels. Singing along with the echo, meeting Joseph, and dancing the Drum Dance were the East of a new life for me. The wheel in the echo in the arroyo made its full turn within an hour, and the Wheel of my new life would take years to become recognizable as such. I see it now but at the time I was seeing as if it was very early dawn, when the light is weak, the shadows are long, and I was thinking with a mind that was holding on to sleep and dreams. Now, after many years, I find that I can write about those days.

    a meditation on finding four-leafed clover

    Posted By on December 2, 2009

    On Monday, October 26, 2009, about 5:30 PM, I found a four-leafed clover on the lawn beside the flag stone path, just a short distance from the patio. It displayed itself about six feet away; it was standing up by itself as proud as could be. I had been looking for it all summer and in autumn I found it at last. I go for a walk most every day and whenever I came upon a clover patch I put my head down and looked, brushing all the three-leafed ones around to separate them. With Autumn’s changes, my level of frustration was rising and I was fighting off the impulse to bargain with the powers that make four-leafed clovers visible. You know, “If you show me a four-leafed clover, I will never again …,” fill in your favorite vice here. Looking for relief from my frustration I discovered some gratitude when I noticed the clover patches were being covered with falling leaves and it occurred to me that I will enjoy walking in the snow when the clover patches will be completely invisible.

    Before it had become like a grail search, my interest in finding four-leafed clover came about as way to expand my ability to vision, merely an exercise to improve my consciousness, my presence. The idea is that we all miss more then we see as our minds select from the overwhelming volume of data collected by our sense.  This is the stuff of why drivers run their cars into the motorcycle; their minds were so occupied with looking for other cars that they look right through a two-wheeled vehicle.  And the data is clear that eyewitness crime reports are often extremely inaccurate.  And of course, this is the stuff stereotyping, as well as that of the fundamentalist that is so certain that they may resort to violence in rejecting evidence against their beliefs. Thus it seemed a good thing to expand my vision by seeing if I could see a four-leafed clover.

    It sounded simple. I had done some on-line research and the science of it is that variations in the number of leaves on clover are fairly common, that in any clover patch there will be clovers with four, five, and even nine leaves. With the idea that they are there for the finding, I practiced and learned a foot brushing technique that was recommended. By brushing the clover in front with one foot while balancing on the other, anyone could find one if they looked long enough and carefully enough. But I also felt that there must be some other talent or luck involved. Over the years I have known a couple of people who have found many. Bobby Ray was good at it but Dave Thomas was amazing. He could find them on command. It seems to me that I remember once that we stopped the car and he got out, and within two minutes on a lawn by the side of the road he found a four-leafed clover. I think he left open the passenger door for the short time he was gone, he was that confident that he would be right back.

    So, maybe finding four-leafed clover is a gift we either have or we don’t, that I wasn’t finding one because I just didn’t have that blessing. But the other thought, that they were there and I just hadn’t looked carefully enough was still stoking my obsession. The latter formed the basis of my theory – finding four-leafed clovers is merely a function of perseverance and careful observation. That theory, seems to be supported by theories of perception; when we look at something we see only what we expect to see. This theory has been explored by many studies, I am thinking of the one where people were shown a movie of six people passing two basketballs around and the subjects were told to count the number of passes or some such, and they became so involved in their task that they didn’t notice the guy in the gorilla suit walk through the frame. Really! Over half the subjects missed the gorilla who stops in the middle of the frame and beats his fists on his chest. The subjects only saw what they expected to see – and I was very used to seeing three-leafed clover. Every time I looked at a clover patch my eyes lock in on the three-leafed clovers there. I suspect that even if there was a four-leafed clover there, my eyes would move on to the three-leafed one next it before it could register in my consciousness. That thought was particularly frustrating because there seemed to be nothing I could do about it. My mind’s desire to be right kept me from seeing the four-leafed clovers because it was so wrapped up in confirming that I was going to see what I had always seen, three-leafed clovers. This theory left it all up to me, that if I said enough affirmations, if I talked to the clover, if I opened my heart enough, I would find a four-leafed clover. I just wasn’t open enough.

    Then again, I don’t know. About ten days before I found mine, I was walking with my friend, Adam. Down the hill, through the woods skirting the east end of the lake, we came upon a thick patch of clover by the side of the lane that passes around the corn field. “Did you ever find a four-leafed clover?”-I asked. “Yes” – he said. I threw in – “Did you ever find two?” And with his, “No,” he joined me in looking at the clover patch at our feet. While we searched I explained my theory of perception, how we are so used to looking at what we have seen before that it was likely that even if my eyes paused on a four-leafed clover they would immediately click over to a nearby three-leafed clover. “What’s this?” Adam said as he reached down among the many three-leafed clovers to a little bud-like thing. When I say little, I mean tiny, about the size of a match head. And when I say bud, it was so tight that you couldn’t tell it was clover except that it was the right color and it was in a clover patch. Bending down, he used the tip of his finger to gently tease open the clover bud and then counted the four tiny leaves. I was speechless. One of us might have said something but it didn’t register with me. Adam had found a four-leafed clover and he had not even seen it as such before all his attention went to it. It was as if the clover had called him.

    This threw me into a funk. We walked for a bit and I thought over my theory again. What had happened? He sure seemed to be called to that little bud, giving credence to the gift idea that a four-leafed-clover was a blessing. But the observation theory was also supported by the idea that he had noticed something different in the clover patch, that his attention had gone to the bud, that he had looked past all the clovers with three leaves and focused on the unusual.

    So that brings me back to the one I found. I was standing on my patio, not really searching, when I rather casually glanced along the flagstone path at the clover there. Yes, there is a lot of clover in the area. And yes I was seeing a lot with three leaves. And I had put effort into developing a habit of openness to seeing something other than the three leafed variety. But the one that showed itself was standing by itself. It was not among a clump of ordinary clover. It was standing tall, by itself; it had reached above the leaves of grass and there wasn’t another piece of clover for a foot around. I wasn’t using any foot brushing technique; I was merely standing, five or six feet away, absentmindedly looking down. I didn’t have to find the unusual, out of it’s isolation it was  calling to me. I had been there to respond to the call but I am not convinced that finding it had anything to do with my improved powers of observation. And on the other side of things, I could not blame and shame myself for not seeing what I didn’t see.  I could do what I could to acknowledge my limitations but understand that there is also a capriciousness to all that might be seen and known.  This is what Bobby Ray meant when he would say, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Sitting with this later, another quote came to me, “Many are called but few are chosen.” I can make myself ready but it is not under my control. I am still searching but I believe that I have had my humility reinforced. This all reminds me to be grateful for all my blessings.

    A morning walk

    Posted By on November 24, 2009

    Before the Eastern sky has warmed with even the slightest hint of a new day, I go to the woods to walk.  In the heaviness of the dark I feel a comfort, a being held, swaddled in the weight of the cold and damp air along the noisy creek.  The early winter wind has blown the path clear of the crunchy leaves and my feet are close to silent, just the whishing of the grass making way as I step out with purpose.  I am alone this morning, my walking companion has called out sick, allowing me to dip deeper into this silence as the path rises and carries me away from soft cover of the water sounds.

    I hear a new sound, it’s an owl—hoot, hoot hoot hoot.  I stand still to hear it again and just when I am about to give up, when my weight is shifting to take a step, it calls again.  I recognize that call; it is a great horned owl. From across the stream and highway, it calls from the woods on the other side of the valley, at least a quarter mile away.  In the winter of 2000 there was a nesting pair of great horned owls in the wetlands woods near my home.  Their call could be heard at night but even better, each evening at dusk they could be seen flying out on their breakfast hunt. The great horned owl is a very large bird, and it flies as if it is pulling itself through the sky rather than the more graceful soaring of a hawk.  They are like a swimmer doing the butterfly stroke; there is beauty and grace but the raw power of each stroke is what impresses.  And at dusk each evening I could watch them fly from across the sky above my yard.  For the ten seconds it took for them to go from west to east, I would be transfixed by a beauty that reached deep into a place close to the center of my soul. This is a memory now and full of the errors that memories allow but I think there must have been some special warning in having the owls be so present then because that coming year contained so many dark moments, personal as well collective.  The death of two close friends, nine-eleven and another divorce came together to inflict wounds that have taken years to scar over with what I suspect is still an incomplete healing, and as I resume my walk I feel I am still walking in the echoes of that time.

    Then the path turns up the hill, the woods open into meadow and now the sound of the grass is only challenged by the sound of my own heavy breath.  Ahh, the blessing of hard work releases my mind from memory as I exert myself by maintaining the same pace up the hill that had carried me along the path by the mill run.  My body has warmed now and I open my jacket.   When I reach the level ground again I pause to catch my breath.  The sky has lightened now, just a bit, and my gaze is attracted to shadows in the field of unmowed grass.  I stand still, uncertain, is it a deer I see standing twenty feet away.  I wait to see who will move first, me or the deer.  But the light shifts first and I see that I have fallen for an illusion, it is merely a shadow, there was no deer at all.

    But fifteen minutes later I find them.  Now the darkness has given way to the dawning and in this light I make no mistake. In another meadow, into other woods, I follow a retreating herd of a dozen or so deer, their white tails waving me on, or waving good-bye.  I don’t know which.   My trail crosses their route into the woods and I smell the wonderful musky odor they left behind two minutes ago.  It is a circus animal smell, it is a dog smell, it is a farmyard smell, and it is stopping the car just short of a jay-walking buck on the ride home from my mother’s funeral.  One moment I am completely in the present, allowing my wild animal senses to dominate my experience. The next moment my memory has me in my car ten years ago, then on the midway fifty years before.  The deer have entered the woods on their tiny deer-paths which are much too confining for me so I stick to the trail which circles around them to where we cross paths again.  They hold their ground this time, I am downhill from them, up wind from them,  and through the trees they stand silhouetted against the even brighter sky.  Their ears are perked in full attention as they watch my progress.  Almost passed them I call up to them.  I wish them a good morning and tell them of my plan, my intention to work my way back to the trail along the mill run and back to the car.  It seems to me that they are mostly interested in avoiding me so perhaps they will understand that I am not really following them.  They are like those memories on this walking meditation.  I have crossed paths with my past but I have not followed there this morning.  In this moment, this life is good.

    Foxhole Prayers

    Posted By on November 4, 2009

    I recently was asked this question:  During the Medicine Wheel workshop you said foxhole prayers were good. O.K. How do I get away with praying for that when it’s God’s will anyway? “God, I don’t want my business anymore. Please take it away” and then follow it with “but your will, not mine be done”. OHH, what a Catch-22.  I can’t wait to see how I can incorporate foxhole prayers. Actually, I don’t have too many.

    The First Noble Truth of Buddhism usually is translated “life is suffering.”  To realize this, that is to see the reality of this statement, is to come face to face with God, God being reality. So, when we see things as they are we are seeing God.  When we see something it is ours and ours alone, no one else sees things as we see things, we are alone behind our eyes.  Sure, we might compare with someone else and think they see the same thing but no one but ourselves actually sees through our eyes.  When someone comes to the First of the Twelve Steps, when they see and can admit to the reality that they are powerless, that they can not manage their life, they have come face to face with reality, God.  This is why I say foxhole prayers are the best prayers, and this explains the saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”  These prayers are the ones that are most in touch with reality.

    On the Medicine Wheel, the East is the place of the mental and the place of new beginnings. We pray with words, and words are the building blocks of thought, the mental.  The moment of recognizing the reality of suffering is always fresh, always new.  If we stay in the suffering of the past, and perhaps project that into the future, we block ourselves from the present and we are at risk of spiraling into depression.  Prayer can pull us back into the present, even if what we are asking God for is a better future or a different past.  God is much bigger than we can imagine, how can asking God for something ever offend God?  The idea of a God that can be offended is putting a limit on God that cannot possibly be true.  It is a childish anthropomorphism.

    There are those who say that praying is not so God hears what we pray for but rather so we hear what we pray for.  I think it can be both but it is worth keeping that in mind when we pray.  When we end a petitionary prayer with “Thy will, not mine be done,” we are simply reminding ourselves that even with all this praying, we may still not get what I want, it is merely an expression of humility. Ultimately it is much better in the end to move off that place of the East, go to the South and balance our feelings and our beliefs, move to the West take the actions in our life that we see are called for, and then in the North we may receive the blessing of having “getting what we want” transformed into “wanting what we get.”  This is the gift of Gratitude.   This is the Wheel of my spiritual practice, prayer (East), meditation (South), self-examination (West), and blessing (North).

    Meditation :part 2 of 3 entries on Spirtual Practice

    Posted By on August 7, 2009

    My daily spiritual practice consists of prayer, meditation and self-examination. This is the East, South, and West of a medicine wheel which has the blessing of balance in the North. Each morning I give myself an hour of spiritual practice when I rise. I have found that starting my day this way works best. I know some people like to use meditation to relax before going to sleep at night but I would draw a distinction between mere relaxation techniques and meditation. I do my spiritual practice in the morning when I first rise because I know I have the uninterrupted time for it then. I have often joked that I set the alarm and get up before the rest of the house for my meditation, even when I live alone. Consistency in practice is important and trying to fit meditation within a busy schedule just does not work for me. So, use your relaxation exercises when they will help most but still set the alarm an hour early and get out of bed to you meditation spot. And while writing about time, it is worth mentioning space. I have a chair I use most days and it is next to a table with my “altar.” It is best to have a spot that you use for no other purpose but most have to make do.

    In a previous post I wrote about how I include prayer in my spiritual practice so I will continue from there. When I notice my prayer has turned to gratitude, I often find that thoughts of the day ahead begin to intrude. This is when I begin the inward journey of meditation. Since I have noticed the thoughts that are coming to me I turn my attention to my breath. I follow my breath out. That is where I start, breathing out to make room for all there is to come. You see, when I turn my attention to my breath I usually notice a tension in my body that goes with the kind of thinking that plans and anticipates, and emptying my lungs is an aid to emptying my mind. When my breath is out, I pause for a moment to notice that. Then I watch as my breathing takes place. I notice that there are four stages to this in-breath. First my belly expands then my lower ribs, followed by my upper chest and finally my upper chest fills so that I can feel my shoulders rise to make more room. I was taught this way of breathing in a Yoga class a long time ago and though I can remember a time when I put out effort to breath this way, now, after more than thirty years of meditation it is automatic. I merely have to watch that breath and when the chest is full of air, I notice the pause before the slow emptying again. I don’t have to do this breathing, it happens for me. It is more like I am being breathed than I am breathing. I sit and notice I am being breathed and I notice I am also being thought. Certainly I have an active mode of thinking when I concentrate of focus on a specific thought, but in meditation I let that go. Sure, thoughts come. But if I just notice them, they leave again. Thoughts come, thoughts go. I am breathed, I am thought.

    Some folks tell me that when they meditate, they like to repeat a short prayer or mantra. This can be helpful, and it was the first mediation technique I learned way back in 1976. But that meditation was at its riches when the mantra was not being said by me, rather it was being recited, like when I am breathed. I find today that watching that breath works better for me. Also, others tell me they meditate by reflecting on a story but that becomes too active for me so I don’t count myself among the contemplatives. No, I just sit and I notice. The rest happens by itself. The breath comes and the breath goes. Thoughts come and thoughts go. And sometimes they are pretty wild thoughts but I let them pass, not engaging my focus. The nuns taught us to not entertain unwanted thoughts and that is what I do when meditating. Maybe this habit continues during my day but it is great to have even a mere twenty minutes each morning when I notice that life’s drama is just a big story. I think it was on a recording that I heard Jack Cornfield say that when he sits, it is like the circus comes to town. Pema Chodran writes that the whole world tries to push her out of her chair. I remember a period of time, when my meditation practice was about two years old, when I would have moments of inspiration come to me and I would jump out of my chair and run to write them down. I have learned that if a thought will come during meditation, it will come again later in the day. So, when I find that my mind is following some thought, I merely turn my attention to my breath. I am breathed, I am thought. By the way, this is “practice” – I don’t grade my meditation by how many times or for how long I followed thoughts. It happens some days. But what that means more often than not is that I am tired and should get to bed earlier that night so I will be better able to meditate the next day.

    Sitting like this, allowing the thoughts, can be very healing. I find that I face everything in my meditation, because the thoughts that come include everything. I allow thoughts of my body and I find that I fit in my body better. I allow thoughts of relationship and I find I am better in relationship. I allow thoughts of death and I find that I am not afraid today. There seems to be many benefits to meditation, but that can be a trap too. I suggest that the idea of “practice” would mean that it be done for its own sake. Like any practice, having a trainer can help a lot. Many great books on meditation are available. I recommend Trunga’s, “Shambala: The Way of the Warrior”

    Prayer as part of my wheel of spiritual practice.

    Posted By on July 20, 2009

    The Medicine Wheel has wheels within wheels and one of these is my wheel of spiritual practice. I try to live a life based on a practice of prayer, meditation and self-examination, an East, South and West which gives me a North of balance. In the Wheel of the 12 Steps this wheel is found in the West of the wheel of the South, the sixth step.

    Prayer is in the East of this Wheel of spiritual practice because of the special vision that it both reflects and brings into being. When I pray I acknowledge the existence of God, that there is a creator, but since I am acting when I pray, I am also calling myself into existence. In this sense I am joining in an act of co-creation. My prayer confirms both my existence as well as the existence of God. In prayer, when it is in its most perfect form, I seem to merge with God and the difference between the prayer and the person prayed to disappears. I remember that as a child I was taught that heaven was the “beatific vision,” being in the presence of God. I believe this gives me an ideal of prayer to reach for. Joseph Rael places in the East the principle idea of Unity and Diversity. I think this fits what prayer is for me, this merging with God but also an acknowledgement that there is a God and I am not that God.

    In the sweat lodge, we welcome all prayer. And we say, “How can anyone talk to God and that be wrong?” But one of the lessons of doing ritual is that things done in a way that reflects a certain flow does work better than others. In the sweat lodge, the prayers are as follows: In the East we pray for ourselves. Sometimes this may be as simple as praying that I make it through the ceremony. In the South we pray for our families, what I call “those people that help us be who we are.” In the West, we pray for our enemies. Here I do pray for those with whom I have differences but I include in that prayer all those who I have not prayed for in the South. In the North we pray for our dead, our ancestors, our teachers, and all those who have died as well as those future generations that have not been born yet. In my daily practice this is loosely followed.

    Each morning, when I have brought my coffee to my meditation space, even before I sit down I start my prayer. It begins by my thoughts of gratitude for my life, for the life of my family, for the life of my friends and the life of my ancestors. When I sit I spend a minute looking at my altar that is beside my chair. On it there are lots of little tokens that people have given me. I may reach out and touch a few of them and say a special pray for the intention of the person that gave it to me. Gratitude keeps coming back to me, partly because I am so filled by the abundance that I have been blessed with, but also it just comes out of the habit of prayer that I have done for many years. One of my first spiritual advisers once told me, “God is a sucker for gratitude.” So even when I am praying in supplication, I like to start with gratitude.

    This is how I start my spiritual practice. Of course prayer is not confined to my spiritual practice and there are other forms of pray that may show up at different times during my day. These may or may not be part of my spiritual practice. They may be part of the blessing of my spiritual practice. Like when I feel some challenge and I pray to God for strength or wisdom. Sometimes I will talk to God when I feel I need some extra help giving love and tolerance to others. Sometimes, just out of boredom I may find myself repeating a simple prayer, what the nuns called an aspiration. I love that, aspiration, each breath is a prayer. One of the things I love about being with indigenous people is their sense that everything they do is a prayer. Joseph has often said, “Work is worship.” When I am at my best I find myself doing that too. But I need to make the clear intention of prayer in my daily spiritual practice. That is where my day begins.

    Next I will write again soon about Meditation, the South of my wheel of spiritual practice.

    Food:: this is big subject

    Posted By on June 26, 2009

    I recently read Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food – an Eater’s Manifesto,”  and I am reminded of how food fits on the Medicine Wheel and how I use this as a guideline in choosing what food to eat.   GUIDELINE NOT RULE – this is picking food, not a religion.  Mr. Pollan suggests “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”  I like that. When he writes that we should eat food, he is saying to not eat anything that you great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.  Read the label and don’t eat anything that contains more then five ingredients or has ingredients with names that can’t be pronounced.  Pass on foods in packages covered in health claims. He makes a case that foods that are claimed to be “healthy” are so over-engineered in the name of the “Nutritionism” that the healthy claim is likely to be just the opposite. (More about the evils of “Nutritionism” in this NY Times article)

    So, having established that we should be eating “food” this is how I use the Medicine Wheel to guide my food choice. The East, being the place of vision, I pick foods that I can see right now, I strive to eat foods that are in season. Secondly, in the South I pick foods that are local. If it grown nearby, it is will be fresher, and maybe even of a variety that has better taste because it wasn’t selected for shipping and storage ability. My next priority will be to pay attention to how it is grown, is it organic? It makes a difference but please note, that is my third consideration. And Finally, the question of how it is prepared and served – whole better than processed. So every week I go to the vegetable market (I shop at Gentile’s in Newtown Sq.) and buy a big bag of fresh veggies. What I have found is that when something is season here in Pennsylvania, it sells for less and is less likely to have been transported across the country. And it tastes better and usually costs less too. It makes me crazy to see people buy “organic” strawberries in January that have been picked early to be ripened in the cartons while being flown one third around the world, polluting the worlds oceans with jet fuel while screwing up the local economy of some less developed country, all in the name of “organic.”  When I finish this post I am going to reward myself by going around to the local farm and buy some peak-of-the-season strawberries that were picked this morning at their very best. … I can’t wait, I’ll write more about this later.