As I age I am becoming ever more appreciative of the wisdom of the Medicine Wheel teachings. As a result, I find I am increasingly looking for ways to incorporate them into my work, whether that be therapy, teaching, or traditional healing.
This morning Jennie and I awoke very early, and were soon conversing about the spirituality of the four directions. My view of this is ever-changing, and, hopefully, deepening. Today, perhaps because we are both doing ceremonies for others, I find myself focused on the role of empathy in our journeys around the Wheel.
It seems to me that, ideally, in the East we experience ourselves, and the world, as new, and everything herein as related to us. Thus, children routinely grieve when even dead trees are cut down, perceiving the “dead” trees to have feelings, and thus to experience loss, if not pain. In the East, each loss of another is a loss of self.
From about the age of six, to perhaps twenty-five, we are faced with the twin tasks of differentiating ourselves from our families and learning to be contributing members of groups. Often during our time in the South we lose empathy, at least for a while, or our empathy may become limited and over-focused. In the South, we learn the basic rules of cause and effect, and may lean heavily on threats of punishment to guide our actions as we wait for our minds to become mature. Our youthful ideas about Karma may also promote blame, and inhibit true empathy.
In the West, we focus on nurturing our loved ones, friends, and local communities. We may become more empathic as we understand that those around us are suffering, and that suffering will inevitably visit our families. As a result, we extend ourselves to those we know who are in need. We may also begin to link our fates to that of the wider world.
Finally, in the North, we are invited to face our mortality, understand ourselves as bridges between generations, and begin to grasp the profound connections that bind us to the larger world, the Ancestors, the spirit beings, and the Creator. In the North, we strive to understand the teachings inherent in our journey around the Wheel, and, once again, begin to have empathy for all beings. Yet, even as we acknowledge our mutual dependence with innumerable others, we face the task of letting go of this world, and, possibly, of returning to the East.
I like to remind myself that in each lifetime we make many turns around the Wheel, our understanding changing with each. The grand sweep of our lives is a pilgrimage composed of shorter journeys, each part of an ongoing conversion with Self, others, and the Creator, an opportunity to build meaning, and empathy, from lived experience.
It seems to me that these teachings are good to think about, that they are helpful in our attempts to be truly human. Do they speak to you?