Over the past few weeks, I’ve struggled to make even the smallest of decisions. I’ve struggled to write and to express my thoughts and feelings. I’ve struggled to create – often sitting in front of a blank piece of paper wondering where my inspiration has disappeared to.
When I’m asked for an opinion, I’m blank – just like that piece of paper. I want to push through the fogginess and get clarity but I can’t see one foot ahead of me. My ego is saying, COME ON, GET MOVING. My heart and my soul are whispering, stop, be still, listen and observe. I am exactly where I need to be – I’m in the winter of my natural life cycle.
We are reflected in nature
Just like nature, we move in cycles. We each have our seasons of summer, autumn, winter and spring, and just as we wouldn’t plant a seed in the winter and expect it to grow, so too we shouldn’t force ourselves to grow, to create, to move during this time of rest.
A significant part of my sessions with women today is working with the medicine wheel and understanding where they have become ‘stuck’ or disconnected.
The medicine wheel is a tool which has been used by indigenous cultures all over the world. In essence, it is a representation of life’s cycles and the interconnectedness we share with nature. By understanding this connection, and acknowledging that we are all one, not separate, we are able to move through the darker periods and challenges, knowing that there really is ‘light at the end of the tunnel’
In this post I’d like to explore the medicine wheel in more detail and share this incredible connection we have with nature.
The medicine wheel
Embedded in the medicine wheel are the four directions – east, south, west and north (as well as the earth, the sky and all that surround us). Each direction represents the stages of life, the seasons, the aspects of life, the elements, the spirit or totem animals and the ceremonial plants:
- Stages of life: birth, youth, adult (or elder), death
- The Seasons: spring, summer, autumn, winter
- Aspects of life: spiritual, mental, emotional, physical
- Elements of nature: fire (or sun), air, water, and earth
- Totem Animals: eagle, wolf or coyote, bear and buffalo
- Ceremonial plants: tobacco, sweet grass, sage, cedar
Anything that moves in a cycle can be attributed to the medicine wheel:
- The Sun: sun-rise, midday, sun-set, midnight
- The Moon: new moon, first quarter, full moon, last quarter
When working with the medicine wheel, we always start with the east – the direction of the rising sun. The east represents the spring, new beginnings and renewal. It is the dawn of a new day, birth and early childhood. The seeds are pushing their way through the earth and the trees and flowers are in full bloom. This is time of tending and nurturing.
The east is symbolised by the element of air which represents the mind – our ability to visualise, conceptualise, learn and understand.
Each direction often has a ‘totem animal’ and in the Native American medicine wheel, the eagle represents the east. It is believed that the eagle flies closest to the sun and is thought to carry prayers to ‘The Creator’. In other cultures, the east is represented by all birds or ‘winged creatures’.
Moving clockwise, the next direction is the south. The south represents the midday sun, the summer, and growth, change and creativity. It is youth and early adulthood and everything is heightened at this time.
The south is symbolised by the element of fire – which makes sense when we think of the heat and intensity of summer. In native traditions, fire is sacred and represents the spirit (this is why fire is often present in prayer, meditation and ceremonies).
The totem animal of the south is coyote – a reminder to stop taking life too seriously. The coyote reminds us to lighten up and laugh at ourselves. This is fitting for the stage of life – youth – often seen as ‘clowning’ around.
Continuing around the wheel we come to the west – the direction of the setting sun. The west represents autumn, the time we reap the harvest of all we have grown. It is late adulthood – a time of reflection and perspective.
The west is symbolised by the element of water – which governs the emotions, the world of deeper feelings, intuition and soul-knowing. We often refer to our ‘older, wiser self’.
The totem animal of the west is the bear. The bear is seen is both gentle and fierce, she goes into her ‘cave’ to become still, to nurture and grow life within her. So too is this an important time for us to start slowing down and turning within. In other cultures, the west is represented by fish and all ‘water beings’.
Finally to complete the wheel we come to the north – represented by midnight. The north is winter – a time for stillness, rest and letting go. It is the end of our lives and death. In nature, some things must ‘die’ or fall away in order for new things to grow – so too must parts of our lives.
The north is symbolised by the element of earth – for it is back into the earth we lay when we die. Just as the west represents our emotional aspect, the north represents our physical aspect (this includes our physical body and all solid matter).
The totem animal of the north is the buffalo – it gives all of itself to sustain its people, and because of this it is viewed as a supreme teacher of the giveaway.
Understanding the four directions and the natural cycles in life gives us permission to let go, to surrender to what is and to stop forcing change. Just as there is a time for creativity and growth, there is a time for rest and stillness. And while our ‘springs’ and ‘summers’ tend be bright and full of activity, our ‘autumns’ and ‘winters’ can be quite dark and lonely.
The beauty is that in order to grow, we must allow that darkness into our lives – just as the quote says, ‘it is only in darkness that we can see the light’