Around the Medicine Wheel with Jim Frank

—Don’t we all want a map with a big arrow that says, “You are here!”

The Medicine Wheel – an Overview

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.

About The Author


Comments are closed.