Spring, Gratitude, and The Medicine Wheel

Alicia Daniel, my friend and colleague, and a field naturalist at UVM, was the guest presenter in my class this week. Her theme was “Spring and the Medicine Wheel”. Although it had been snowing and raining for over 24 hours, Alicia gamely took the class to a nearby natural area to look for signs of Spring, before settling in to our warm classroom to explore the nuanced meanings inherent in the Medicine Wheel. There was still snow on the ground as the class dutifully trudged off along the trail.  Here and there, atop the snow, rested sap buckets, recovering from this year’s sugar season. My favorite sign of spring was a bullfrog croaking in the nearby wetland.

When we returned to school, Alicia constructed a Medicine Wheel. The class then explored a few of the many levels of meaning inherent in the Medicine Wheel. As a class, we discussed the characteristics different cultures attribute to the Directions, the class settling on a set of attributes they could agree upon as common to their experiences. Finally, Alicia provided a deeply moving and powerful demonstration of the Medicine Wheel meditation she does daily. I hope my students were as grateful to Alicia for sharing her life with us, as I am.

Today the temperatures are in the 60s! Tomorrow we may have Thunder! When the Thunder Beings return, the time of telling sacred stories ends. Before that happens, we take a moment to be grateful to the maple trees for giving us maple syrup. Next, we look forward to the arrival of the strawberries! On the Medicine Wheel, we stand somewhere between Winter and full-blown Spring. Life is returning to the Earth, yet change is still slow. In the weeks to come, the pace of growth and change will quicken.

Each of the Elders who has presented to my class this term has spoken of the Medicine Wheel, and the necessity of Gratitude. The Medicine Wheel’s teachings of Gratitude are sometimes difficult for us humans to accept. We are often hungry and afraid. Out of Fear and Hunger arises Greed. These spirits can eat us for lunch, initiating us into the land of loneliness and great suffering. They can also teach us to follow our heart’s longings and find compassion. I imagine these two journeys are often, in fact, one and the same. They bring us to the psychotherapist or the shaman, and more fully into life.

I know the journey through Greed is a necessary part of maturing, yet sometimes the Greed I see in the world breaks my heart. At other times, I feel rage and/or despair. I find myself challenged to be grateful for greed, and the other aspects of life I find difficult. Yet I know the teaching of the Medicine Wheel is one of Gratitude for all of creation. Even as we walk the circumference of the wheel, meeting many challenges, we are encouraged to be grateful. As we walk the Life Ways that bisect the Wheel ( the Wide Road from Birth to Death, from East to West, and the Narrow Road of Spirit, from South to North), we are also encouraged to find balance through the teachings that make up the moments of our lives. There is a time and place for Greed, a stopping place on the path towards wisdom.

Gratitude is a difficult lesson for our collective culture. We are taught from an early age to throw away that which does not benefit us economically. We abandon children, elders, the ill, and the disabled. We use up precious resources, and destroy the my beings who stand between us and the procurement of those resources. Often, we forget the joy and pleasure those unique life forms bring to our lives. Yet, even as we strive for ever more economic gain, some aspect of us remembers that we to will become old, or ill, and we are filled with dread. For what is a life without others who feel grateful for our presence, and who will support and love us in our infirmity?

I suspect that most of us do not fully appreciate our parents until we change our first diaper. Perhaps we can not appreciate the clean air Pachamama provides us until we develop bronchitis from visiting an air polluted city. We may well not be adequately grateful to  those who love us, until we begin to see our own foibles and hurtfulness. But already we are approaching the West on the wheel! Right now, in Nature’s time, we are in the East: it’s spring! May we slow down, watch the buds fill and swell, and the Crocus burst  into bloom. Let us grow, and be forgiving of ourselves, and others, for the errors we make in the exuberance of Spring! May we remember to be grateful to one another, Pachamama, and the Great Spirit who gives us life.

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