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Putting my Shoulder to the Medicine Wheel

2016-05-28 12:25 PM | Dave

   Many of us first read Black Elk Speaks in a college course like I did in 1971 at Sonoma State University. “You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles … In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished." (Black Elk Speaks)

   It is nearly impossible to explore the canon of American Indian literature without coming across this famous Lakota leader’s bawaajigan--vision. Native American elders continue to use a sacred hoop concept, the medicine wheel, as a representation of Earth’s energy, incorporating the four directions. Many psychological counselors make it part of a therapy to support the development of a balanced life. Ojibwe teacher, Sun Bear, recommended its use for “self-understanding,” and wrote, “during our lifetimes we are constantly moving around the Wheel ... It’s important for a person to keep moving around the Wheel, to learn life’s lessons ... so they can constantly grow.”

   The Urantia Book alludes to the historically spiritual significance of the wheel for Native Americans, “All ancient clans and tribes had their sacred stones … among the red men it was usually a circle of stones.” (The UB, 85:1.3) These sacred circles were once used for Vision Fasts (or quests), a ritual that fosters personal religious discovery wherein usually a young person seeks contact with spiritual realities. Using the stone circles as a place to commune with the Spirit has declined, the more they’ve become tourist destinations.

   The symbol of the wheel in spirituality crosses cultural boundaries into many groups. Although, in general, Western culture likes a linear model of reality, where cause leads to effect and progress continues in a kind of arrow of time, the poet Rilke, born in Prague (Czech Republic), had a distinctly non-linear vision, described beautifully in one of his Love Poems to God.

   “I live my life in growing orbits which move out over the things of the world. Perhaps I can never achieve the last, but that will be my attempt. I am circling around God, around the ancient tower and have been circling for a thousand years and I still do not know if I am a falcon, a storm or a great song. (Rilke, The Book of Hours, translated by Robert Bly)

   Some Native American philosophers adopt Carl Jung’s wheel of intelligences (also wheel of personality) for use in conjunction with the Native American medicine wheel. Jung’s idea was there are four intelligences in each of us, ways of understanding the world: thinking, feeling, intuition, and the ability to grasp physical fact (fr. Robert Bly). He visualized these modes as a circle. Usually one “intelligence” was dominant in the north position, the south position being occupied by what he called the “inferior function,” one which the individual and our society as a whole often reject while the dominant mode is encouraged. Jung’s circle, startlingly similar to the American Indian medicine wheel, as the road to a healthy psyche, gives value to all the functions in balance. Jung believed we would develop more empathy and compassionate understanding of others if we cared more for our inferior function, incorporating it more fully into our self-development.

   The UB also teaches that progress takes place more in terms of “circle-making” than in a linear mode, a straight line. “It is from these arrangements in the central universe [attaining the circuits of Havona] that the circles of progress in the human mind have been designated.” (14:5.4)

   We learn some details about the Seven Psychic Circles in Paper 110:6. “Every decision you make either impedes or facilitates the function of the Adjuster; likewise do these very decisions determine your advancement in the circles of human achievement. It is true that the supremacy of a decision, its crisis relationship, has a great deal to do with its circle-making influence; nevertheless, numbers of decisions, frequent repetitions, persistent repetitions, are also essential to the habit-forming certainty of such reactions.” (110:6.6)

   I would suggest that much wisdom could be gained by modifying our concept of linear progress toward a well-defined goal, or at least its dominance in our thinking. It tends to lead to a desire for materialistic accomplishments, to rushing ahead for the new without savoring the value of old achievements and the progress we’ve earned, and to a disregard for the development of a balanced personality. In The UB, we even learn about a group that helps us revisit the circles of accomplishment, the Reversion Directors. They help us to slow down and experience “agreeable pleasure in living over again the enactments of other days and ages. The early experiences of the race or the order are restful to reminisce.” (48:4.10)

   I put my shoulder to the Medicine Wheel to get through those hard emotional patches, old griefs, memories of pain and failure, where I get stuck now and again. I circle “the ancient tower.” As the Indians have taught me, most eloquently in Black Elk’s vision, I seek to mend the sacred hoop, restore the flowering tree which stands at “the living center of the hoop.”

   I hope the young people in my care, whom I am tutoring, find it in themselves to achieve what I hold as a goal for myself, “The supreme purpose of life, the development of a majestic and well-balanced personality,” (195:10.17) different words for the same healthy psychology envisioned by American Indian counselors, spiritual advisors, and Jungian therapists.

   Rodan the philosopher put it this way, “by actually subjecting the total personality to the consciousness of contacting with divinity; to grasp for possession of new and better methods of adjusting oneself to the ever-changing situations of living existence; to effect those vital reconstructions and readjustments of one’s personal attitudes which are so essential to enhanced insight into everything worthwhile and real; and to do all of this with an eye single to the glory of God.” (Rodan in The UB, 160:1.11)

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