In a van bouncing along bumby, dusty switchbacks from L’Ago Atitlan to Guatemala city, I discovered the Peruvian Medecine Wheel (hereafter “the wheel”). The wheel provides a map for how we can hold compassion for ourselves, and embrace each phase of our journey to freedom.
In “Destination consciousness” (DC), we often miss the beauty of where we are in our preoccupation with getting where we want to go. The dark forest of painful emotions is often interpreted as failure, rather than a temporary, bumby switchback, and part of our growth.
The wheel reminds us to be fully here with this, even when it’s messy, painful, and unwanted. In fact, only when we can be here with this rather than run, hide, numb, or project elsewhere, can we truly heal. How we deal with this is key to shedding our old skin, and dreaming our authentic self into being.
My medecine wheel messenger was Claire Levick, creator of Soul Woven, a fair trade fashion collection connecting Mayan artisans to a wide market of conscious consumers. She sat behind me in the van, and described the wheel as a beautiful cycle that one can relate to from many different aspects of our lives…
Similar to other Medecine Wheels, the Peruvian Medecine Wheel emerged from an ancient civilization with a vision for healing that is represented by the four directions: South, West, North, and East. Each direction is symbolized by a different animal that holds unique power to release us from suffering, and catalyze inner peace.
In an age when many of us are striving to reach a destination, the wheel encourages us to be present. Like the moon which has different phases, our process of transformation is constant. The wheel invites us to appreciate the gifts that are available to us right now.
Under the sway of DC, we remain in perpetual anticipation for the satisfaction and fulfilment that waits in the wings of our achievements, and acquisitions. DC whispers to us in hushed tones, “Not here, not now”. Seducing us with visions of that perfect relationship, job, amount of money, living situation, or other, it steals our peace. “You can only be truly happy, and feel that you are enough when…” is its mantra, and “Wholeness is a destination” is the unexamined belief that drives it.
The boa or serpent is the the first animal in the wheel. Under its sway we can get caught up in a story about what’s happening to us. Judgements such as blame, shame, and guilt swirl, and emotions take over. Because the boa’s nature is to wrap itself around its prey and suffocate it, we need to remember to breathe, relax, and softly slip out of its grasp.
The serpent’s power is to teach us about the darker parts of ourselves. It helps us recognize that like the Buddha taught, both pain and joy are fleeting. Rather than avoid uncomfortable emotions, the serpent gives us the opportunity to transform our wounds into sources of love and power.
In the West the jaguar guides us to move through fear and reactivity as we recognize that our patterns and reactivity are rooted in the past. The ability to examine old wounds that scared, angered, overwhelmed, and caused us to doubt our true value requires we be a courageous warrior. To examine the roots of our fear, we need to be fiercely honest with ourselves. This is the gift of the jaguar that leads us to personal integrity as we choose to respond, rather than let our shadow overpower us with fear and complacency.
The royal hummingbird dawns in the North, and we find rest in beauty and bliss. Our wings feel like they have infinite energy to keep buzzing high above the tree tops. We feel gratitude for our gifts, and can see the joy and magic in life. Having been through the serpent and the jaguar, we are no stranger to pain, and less vulnerable to being triggered by it. With a deeper sense of compassion, we recognize the oneness in all beings, and the elements of nature.
The eagle resides in the East, and from his perch he surveys the landscape of this whole process from serpent, to jaguar, and then hummingbird. As we deepen our perspective of life, we can respond with strength or softness as needed. Every experience holds the seeds of birth and death, and the inevitable vulnerability that accompanies loss and change. The eagle reminds us to be the dispassionate witness as we repeat this process of letting in, and letting go many times in our lives.
DC would have us see this cycle as a linear trajectory: get to the top of that ivory tower of enlightenment and never waiver – be eagle forever more. This view turns our spiritual growth into another destination we need to strive for before we can feel whole.
The journey IS the destination. Whether we are flailing in a mire of serpent sludge, jaguar kung foo’ing our way through fear, humming with the nectar of bliss, or witnessing the whole cycle with the infinite wisdom of the eagle, WE ARE HERE, WE ARE IN IT.
OM SHANTI, PEACE BE WITH YOU.
More on the wheel…