The Medicine Wheel: Learning to Walk

DoorwayThe fog is burning off. Being March, it is warm one day and cold another; rain, sun, and snow take turns moving across the landscape.

Sunday marks the Vernal Equinox, a time for remembering to walk in balance. Of course, this walking is no easy task. When we watch children learn to walk, we notice they frequently fall, landing on heads and behinds. As their legs strengthen, they practice lunging from place to place. Perhaps they move from sofa to parent’s leg, or chair to table. They always seek something to grab on to for support; sometimes they make it to their destination. When they fall, they get up and keep going, or, if they are tired, crawl away to try again later.

Walking is a delicate task, one filled with nuance. Just think about it for a moment. One must balance on one foot, then shift one’s center of gravity slightly forward. Next, one kicks out the opposite leg, rebalances, then moves one’s torso to once again be balanced over the first leg. All the while one focuses on one’s destination. This is all very complex, yet, after a while, we do it without thinking.

I usually say I learned to walk twice: initially, then again after Polio. This is not quite correct; twenty plus years ago I broke a femur and, after several weeks of being in bed, had to learn to walk yet again! This experience of learning to walk a second or third time can be quite frustrating, even embarrassing. It is difficult to lose, and be forced to relearn, basic life skills!

I imagine most of us have had the experience of starting over, of relearning something. Maybe this followed an illness or injury, the end of a job or school, or the disappearance of a  treasured relationship. These moments demand much of us, and can be quite taxing. At such times, we are challenged to remember that on the Medicine Wheel that is our life, we are, as at an equinox, in a liminal state, the magical place where nothing is as it was, and where everything is possible.

We will not know what we will be till we take a step into the new. This stepping out into a changed life takes much courage. It is also the stuff of story, the transformative moment that gives our lives resonance, and creates the arc that, when we look back, will give them meaning. Sometimes it is only by looking back that we understand the vision that kept us moving forward.

As we stand on the cusp of a new season, we prepare to step into Spring, the East, and renewal. Most likely, here in Vermont, the weather will lag behind us.

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13 thoughts on “The Medicine Wheel: Learning to Walk

  1. Thinking of being widowed at 45 after 24 years of marriage, then going on a ‘first date’ when my last ‘first date’ was when I was 15. You give me a new way to think about that – an equinox in my Medicine Wheel. Good stuff to ponder!

  2. Nicely put. I have certainly re-evaluated my life while learning to walk again. Not a bad thing.

    Walking is definitely trickier second time around, but so worth the trouble.

  3. Most people take it for granted that the world around us is by default a shared world. It is not. But the less the surface of our reality differs from what we perceive others’ reality to be, the less chance we have to be aware of this. The more conscious effort we need to participate in “everyday” life, the bigger our “difference” or “disability”, the more potential we have to embark on a journey of discovery about ourselves and others, towards true sharing and participation. It took me more than twenty years to be able to tell one person from another based on their faces. At university, I had a psychologist friend who once asked me to “teach” him what I hear when I talk to people, and in return, he “showed” me what he sees when he looks at people. It was very revealing for both of us. I never forget a voice, and I can tell lots of things from changes of tone and rhythm of breathing etc that most people don’t even notice. But on a bad day, I can still miss even very obvious grimaces of the face, for example. With years of work, I got to the point when I was more or less comfortable even with facial expressions etc, when I re-located to a country half a continent away, where I didn’t speak a word of the language and people have very different styles of meta-communication. But in the meanwhile, I have learnt so much about how perception and communication works that I was not really anxious. I knew it would be okay. And it is.

    • Ah, yes. I agree, and disagree. The disagree part is that only a tiny percentage of information is passed visually or aurally. Most is much more direct, as in the inhalation of the world. Still, the human level of everyday sharing remains an enormously challenge place, does it not?

      • I think we use “shared world” in two different ways here. Yes, there is a world around us and we are flesh of its flesh. but I was thinking about our personal worlds. What are the things we hold onto in the multitude that is the world around us, and what do we disregard? What are the things we choose as threads to weave our tapestry from, and what do leave lying on the ground? It’s quite a transformative experience to discover that it is possible to perceive things, others, yourself in new ways. when you discover that you are not the carpet, you are the carpet-maker.

        And sure, human interaction can be challenging, but my expectations about that have changed a lot over the years. On the one hand, I discovered that with some (very few) people, it is possible to share experiences I would never have dreamt possible. On the other hand, I have accepted that, with most people, it takes me tremendous effort to share even the most minute stuff. And that didn’t change when I changed countries, it’s not a linguistic or cultural problem.

  4. I’ve been reading a ‘history’ of walking so it has been on my mind a lot recently – the way the purpose of walking has changed through time (from the simple necessity of moving from one place to another to walking for pleasure or pilgrimage). It is something we take for granted, so to have to re-learn it does take courage and perseverance.

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