Archive for the Medicine Wheel Category

And so…

Posted in Autumn, dreams, Forgiveness, Healing, Initiation, Medicine Wheel, poetry on November 9, 2016 by Standing West

We get the government we deserve…

It is decades of greed, arrogance, fear mongering, laziness, stubbornness, bigotry, Jingoism,unbridled Nationalism, and our refusal to play a larger role in our own governance that have led us to this place.

And now that we’re here, what will we do? Will we, as a people hunker down and learn the hard lessons? Will we wake up? Become more politically involved? Learn the power of protest? Change the system that spawned this entire affair? Will we look deeply into the soul of this country and pray for the courage to admit and accept the sickness there? Will we do whatever is necessary to bring about its healing?

Or will we continue on same as before: asses glued to couches and bar stools; bitching about how “the system is rigged” and how “we can’t change anything…”

All the while ignoring the fact that WE are the ones who’ve allowed this to happen.

And yet a soft rain falls. Grackles and starlings peck the earth for a last few seeds before the first snows come. The rain feeds us. Washes away the dust of what came before. It brings life, and assures us green…in time.

We stand in the place of work and responsibility. The time of gathering in what we have sewn.  Soon we will eat of it; letting it carry us through the long dark of winter.

We’ll sleep in our thoughts and plan for spring.

But what will we do when the snow melts and the rivers flow again?

Tales from the Crypt…

Posted in Healing, Initiation, Medicine Wheel, Shamanism, Spirituality on January 14, 2014 by Standing West

Wikipedia defines Transpersonal Psychology as a school of psychology that integrates the spiritual and transcendent aspects of the human experience with the framework of modern psychology. It is also possible to define it as a “spiritual psychology”. The Transpersonal has been defined as “experiences in which the sense of identity or self extends beyond (trans) the individual or personal to encompass wider aspects of humankind, life, psyche or cosmos.”(Wikipedia, 2011)  Through this approach, one comes to view one’s healing not only in personal terms, but in terms of how one acts – and reacts – within the entirety of creation in ways ranging from the internal to the mytho-poetic.

In the forward to Alan Bleakley’s  insightful book, Fruits of the Moon Tree: The Medicine Wheel  & Transpersonal Psychology,  Peter Redgrove talks about healing as the process of  “…becoming thin–skinned, like the shamans reported by Eliade, who have scraped and scraped the old skin off with pumice until they obtain visions of immediate truth.  The armor is off, and it is a brave man who dis-arms himself in this world.” (Bleakley, 1984)

I came to these words at a moment of relevance the other morning as I thumbed through the book passing the time before my first appointment with the Elder who facilitates our monthly sacred drumming circle. These circles are a source of wisdom and a wellspring of powerful and often deeply cathartic release.  Although we are taught various techniques and theories associated with the drum, we are mostly encouraged to do our own work, and to provide compassionate witness and support for the other members of the group.

During my individual session with our teacher, he commented on the fact that I build a wall around myself in the presence of the group, and how that wall prevents me from experiencing the type of healing release I’m hovering just at the edge of.  I agreed with him, and committed myself to be more aware of it the next time it occurred. 

As I arrived home after the session, I pulled into the driveway only to find that the wall surrounding the flower bed in front of our house had partially collapsed due to the heavy rains we’d been experiencing.  Obviously, there were larger forces at work.

At our circle the following day, I took notice as my personal walls came up, and made a focused effort to bring them down. As I decided to place myself completely in Spirit’s hands, I was aware of the loving presence of Mother Bear placing her huge paws on my shoulders and drawing me into her warmth.  This has happened several times, and so I knew that something important was about to occur.

As we started to drum, the Elder instructed us to go deeply within, and to free ourselves of those things which no longer served us.  Within minutes, my head tilted back and a series of deep growls arose from inside me.  The growling changed into laughter, then tears, then back into growling. As he reminded us to focus on our breathing, a spell of dry heaves shook my body.  These finally subsided as the drumming died down.  I was altered and tired, but also aware that I’d stumbled across an old wound hidden in the darkness and opened it up to receive the light of healing.

Turning again to Bleakley: “The unacknowledged and unknown is the dark part of us, our other self (wyrd) or shadow, the part that we are to become or individuate to.  The wyrd is then our destiny, which is open to choice.  Because it is unacknowledged or remains unconscious, the shadow naturally distorts and disables, and then carries ‘negative’ content…To raise this to the light, or to descend with illumination and enlightenment to our ‘other’ part, our depths, is a task for which we have many guidelines from older psychologies such as mythology, fairy tale, legend, and alchemy…” (Bleakley, 1984)

While this was by no means a resolution to years of psychic damage brought on by living in an impoverished household with an emotionally abusive and binge alcoholic father, it was undoubtedly an important step in the Wounded Healer’s Journey.

When I returned to the book a couple days later, I came across the following: “In the first chapter we argue that the shadow, as vulnerability or wound is also opportunity in disguise, a gift.  And that the receiving of a wound by the male hero in myth, usually a goring by a boar in the left ‘thigh’ is parallel to the ‘given’ but ‘hidden’ menstrual wisdom of women.  If the wound is left as openness in character, a place where feeling and value ‘speak’ directly, rather than closed over prematurely, then we may engage with the shadow through this wound, and in this, energy is released for creative application.”  (Bleakley, 1984)

As I type these words, I’m reminded of the oval shaped birthmark on my own left thigh.  I see the healing that has already taken place, and recognize that a good deal of work still lies ahead of me.  I find strength in this, and I know that facing whatever I need to will only further prepare me to serve as a vessel and compassionate witness for the healing of All My Relations. . .

Sources:

Bleakley, A. (1984). Fruits of the Moon Tree: The Medicine Wheel & Transpersonal Psychology. London: Gateway Books.

Wikipedia. (2011, April). Transpersonal Psychology. Retrieved from Wikipedia.

Initiation…

Posted in Autumn, Healing, Initiation, Medicine Wheel, Shamanism, Spirituality on October 28, 2013 by Standing West

The circles are growing smaller these days.

Autumn with its darker mysteries brings a need for slowing down.  Even the blood seems to thicken as Grandfather Short Tail prepares himself for the slow, purposeful crawl into darkness where, through dream journeys and quiet solitary work, he’ll shed the bulk he’s gathered and step forward once again into the light of a new day after the initiation of his healing.

We, too, sometimes, must lose the things we’ve gathered:  emotional ties sustained for naught but reasons of perceived security;  the burdens of friendships that no longer serve, or drag us back to places left behind;  old habits crumpled up and tossed in a pile like clothing that no longer fits, but kept because of the comfort it provides.

Autumn is a time of difficult questions, and often, more difficult answers.

The ground, much like our own life path, is strewn with dead and dying reminders of greener times cast off.  Sometimes we are saddened by this; and yet we might take comfort in the knowing that this casting away of dying things not only nourishes the roots of our existence, but opens space for a new and deeper greening once the snows of winter have subsided.

It is our clinging to these things that holds us back; our fear of leaving the closeness of our cave to gaze in childlike wonder upon the light of new and stranger visions.

Perhaps we tell ourselves that we’re too old. Or else we fear the lack of financial stability.  While our years have taught us to weigh our responsibilities, our culture has taught us to bind our feet with them.  And so we stumble from one extreme to the other, and this stumbling invariably becomes our initiation.

We might lose faith and walk away from it all, or bury ourselves in the security of the material.  We might become short-sighted, and convince ourselves that it isn’t worth the effort.   Or perhaps we’ll simply offer it up, and soldier through for the good of All Our Relations – placing ourselves in the hands of the Creator, and fervently allowing things to be as they are.

My own path has provided no easy answers.  Old attachments still get the better of me.  In this, I’m reminded of the child still learning to walk whose bruises tell of many misadventures, and also of once more rising to his feet – walking is, after all, a series of interrupted falls.

The nights grow longer.  A brisk wind shakes clean the stiffening branches.  And in the gathering shadows, a lumbering Old Man of the Forest takes stock of his provisions in preparation for the sacred work ahead. . .

Signs. . .

Posted in Coyote, Crow, Goose, Medicine Wheel, Middle East, Shamanism, Syria, visions on September 12, 2013 by Standing West

“There’s a feeling I get when I look to the west
And my spirit is crying for leaving. . .”

“Stairway to Heaven”
-Led Zeppelin

In a recent blog, I wrote about my feelings of deep distress over the prospect of war in Syria and the subsequent signs I was given that brought me to a state of peace about the whole affair. If the healing path and my studies of the Medicine Wheel have taught me anything, it’s that there are larger forces at play in the physical world; and that those forces will readily communicate with us if we simply open ourselves up and allow it to happen.

Quite often, the messages are anything but subtle, and shake us to the very core of our being. Other times they bring with them a quiet sense of assurance. Laid out before us like the tracks of some illusive animal, they provide a trail for us to follow through the confusion and uncertainty of life. One learns to watch for these signs – not to force them, or assemble them out of unrelated events – but to notice them as they appear; and to act upon them with gratitude and resolution.

I’ll set the stage for this blog by saying that I did not watch President Obama’s speech as it happened the other night. I planned, instead, to watch it online in the morning. As I came downstairs, I was greeted by a news blurb stating that he’d decided, albeit half-heartedly, to back off temporarily in favor of diplomacy, stating that Russian President Vladimir Putin had proposed a plan calling for the Syrian government to hand over its stockpile of chemical weapons. I’ll admit that although I felt a great relief upon hearing this news, a small part of me couldn’t help but wonder what Putin was hiding. Surely, as those responsible for the online alternative news sites I frequent would admit, there must be something buried beneath this gesture.

I dismissed this flash of cynicism, and decided for once to accept things at face value. Russia and America, whose recent relationship could be described as chilly at best, were sitting down together and discussing peaceful alternatives in the Middle East – something millions of people worldwide had been crying out for.

As I kissed my wife at the door and stepped out onto the front porch I was greeted by the raucous cawing of a crow perched atop my next door neighbor’s chimney. As quickly as I noticed them, his cries faded into silence, only to be replaced by the honking of a flock of geese breaking the tree line north of the house and zooming southwards, directly over my head towards the chimney and the now silent crow. It was a flock of perhaps twenty or so, each shouting its own message; and yet I was aware of some concerted effort in the sound. As the garrulous noise and snapping of wings receded, I knew that I had been given another sign.

Crow has somewhat of a reputation for being a trickster. This makes him, in a sense, a feathered cousin of Coyote. He is often portrayed as a liar and a thief; and yet, as Ted Andrews tells us in his wonderfully insightful book Animal Speak, Crow’s imperative squawking marks him as a messenger, reminding us “to look for opportunities to create and manifest the magic of life.” (Andrews, 1996) A jet black presence loudly announcing himself from the height of his Southern perch, Grandfather Crow was shouting at me about the darker things afoot in the world. His griping was a litany of conflict, aggression, fear, and opposition; all of the negative aspects of the South. And yet, he was also reminding me about the fact that these things can change.

When the flock of geese appeared I was reminded of a discussion I had with an Elder who gifted me with a couple of goose feathers for holding a pipe ceremony at his Medicine Wheel. He taught me that regardless of the number of geese in a flock, or how many of them were simultaneously honking, one could still recognize the individual calls of each goose. We also talked about how if one goose drops out of formation due to sickness or exhaustion, another leaves the flock and travels with it, staying with it until the point of death or recovery. Then one or both resume their journey until they return to their original flock.

Goose, then, was showing me that the voices of millions crying out in unison against military action had been heard. In that moment, the call for opposition had been silenced.

And who, more appropriately to lead us out of conflict and into potential resolution than Mother Bear herself, through the agency of a man whose nation is represented by that very animal. Bear sits in the direction of the West, the place of sacred work, of the coming together of opposites, and of rising up on our own two legs and, after a time of descent into the darkest places of our own souls, walking forward into the light of a brand new day.

It may seem to some a bit naive to take this view of so a critical situation. But regardless of personal or national agendas, the missiles would not launch. The messengers of that morning spoke of a greater potential, set the vision of a healing path before us, and dared us to walk it for the greater good of All. . .

East, South, West, North. . .

Posted in Medicine Wheel on September 11, 2013 by Standing West

The Golden Rule. . .

Posted in Medicine Wheel, Religion, Spirituality, sweat lodge on December 8, 2012 by Standing West

“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

-Matthew 22:37-40

Often it is the meaning of those things with which we have the greatest familiarity that seems to elude us the most.  I cannot even begin to count how many times I heard these words in the Gospel readings at the Roman Catholic church where I served as an altar boy well into my teens, and at my Grandmother’s Pentecostal church where I attended Sunday School on weekend visits as a child; and always, the focus was on an outward expression of that love.

Again and again, I was told that I was a sinner – that I was unworthy of God’s divine love, and even less so of receiving the body of his Son; and yet I was also told that as a follower of Christ it was my duty to love my neighbor as myself.  If one is taught from the time he is old enough to understand such things that he is utterly worthless in God’s eyes, how can he expect his feelings to manifest in any way differently towards his neighbor?

All these years later, and due in no small part to my recent metaphysical studies, I have come to see these often-repeated words in a whole new light. Certainly Jesus’s teachings encourage us to love our neighbor.  But I have also come to understand that his words mean a great deal more than simply this.  The things we feel about ourselves will certainly manifest unto our fellow human beings, and by extension, the rest of the world.  If we cannot first recognize the divinity inherent within ourselves, we cannot hope to recognize that same divinity in anyone or anything else, and as a result, will have no problem exploiting them for our own material gain.

This, I believe, is why we so frequently see our leaders in the Western world holding aloft the Bible with one hand, and beating the drum of war with the other, while our lands are stripped of their natural resources, and the arm of our military might grows ever longer.  “When Fascism comes to America,” Sinclair Lewis tells us, “it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.”

The nightly news is filled with reports of atrocities fueled by religions whose persecutory dogma have broken the backs of their followers with their own supposed unworthiness almost since birth.  How different this world would be if more of us had been taught that we are divine beings, created by a loving God who deems us worthy of sharing this beautiful world equally with All our Relations; and who in His infinite wisdom has placed us here as its caretakers.

Imagine for a moment if instead of separating God from the whole of creation and forcing us to buy ourselves back into His graces through Faith and good deeds, our Western religions instead taught us to embrace God as an inseparable part of all that is.  How many wars would we then wage in His name?  How many peoples would we attempt to convert to His “one true way” if deep in our hearts we already believed they were vessels of His light?

I have recently discovered  a great deal more in Jesus’s words than I did so long ago;  and I have also come to recognize a common thread in many other teachings as well.

In the inipi, or sweat lodge ceremony, for example, we pray in four rounds, the first of which consists of prayers offered for ourselves. Here we pray for strength, for guidance, and for healing.  And here we also cry out for a vision.  While some might consider such a practice selfish, the Elders tell us that we have every right to pray to the Creator for our own well-being, because in the Great Hoop of Creation, every living thing depends upon us.

In our lives, we are wives and husbands, adult children of aging parents, brothers, sisters, partners, parents, and caretakers of everything that exists.  As such, we need to be strong and healthy, blessed with clarity of vision, that we might better serve all beings with whom we share the entirety of Creation.

We cannot hope to do this on our own, and so we ask the Creator to bless us with His wisdom, and the things we need for the greatest good of All.  In this sense, we recognize that we are the touchstone of the Creator’s love.  We are the place where the pebble strikes the surface of the pond, and all that stirs within us ripples outward, influencing everything it touches.

It is no coincidence that as the water splashes the red hot Grandfather stones, and the steam rises towards the roof of the lodge, our Elders tell us that “Our prayers go into the center and rise out to the Universe.  They resonate forever among the Heavens and the stars, and return to bless us all.”

The teachings of the ancient shamans make clear that we must heal ourselves before healing our neighbors. Once we have healed our neighbors, we are able to begin healing our communities. After our communities have been healed, then – and only then – are we truly capable of focusing our efforts upon healing the world.  Whatever we may feel about the condition of our planet, we may do nothing to effectively help Her until we have taken the necessary steps towards bringing healing and balance into our own lives.  Without first accomplishing this, we can only sew anger, discord, and illness upon the very Earth we would seek by our actions to heal.

It is evident then, that the nature of the world in which we live hinges directly upon the way we treat ourselves.  If we poison our bodies with Styrofoam-wrapped, chemically-enhanced garbage, why should we treat our water supplies – or our children- any differently?   Understanding this, one would do wisely to consider the words accredited to Hermes Trismegistus: “Know then the greatest secret of the Universe: as above, so below – as within, so without.” 

We also find this principle beautifully illustrated within the Native American Medicine Wheel. As we stand in the East, with the rising of the Sun, a vision is given to us by the Creator.  That vision stirs within us in the emotions of the South, and manifests itself through us into the physical world in the West.  Finally, everything in Creation receives the benefits of that vision in the North.  Only if we are truly open to the will of the Creator, place our egos aside, and let that vision flow through us unimpeded by personal desires, will it enter the world for the greatest good of All.  Yet if we seek to bend that vision to our own selfish desires, or lock it away and refuse to share it with those for whom its gifts are truly intended, it will die on the vine, or worse, it will fester within us and rot, leaving nothing but pain and suffering in its wake.

I was once told by a teacher of mine that a Capitalist might look at the world and say something like, “modern man is building more computers today than he ever has before,” while a shaman observing the same world might offer something to the effect of, “Computers are using mankind to manifest themselves into the physical world at a much faster rate than ever before.”

This reflects perfectly, I think, the idea that all things are a living gateway through which The Divine’s creative impulses are expressed.  To put it plainly: all possibilities exist in an unmanifested state.  These possibilities bubble up randomly and vibrate within every living thing.  In Man’s case, he has been given the gift of free will, which allows him to decide whether or not he will act upon those impulses.  One could even say that we are like transistors, deciding whether or not we will allow that energy to continue to flow through us and out into the Universe.

If an impulse is allowed to continue, it then manifests through us, and “tunes” us to a different frequency.  Rippling outward, these vibrations reverberate against others around us, who then choose whether to allow themselves to resonate at that same level, or to continue to resonate at their own.   As an impulse gains momentum, it may grow to influence an even larger aspect of creation.  One need only look to the ideals of Nazi Germany, or the success of internet viral marketing campaigns to see this principle in action.  One also observes this clearly in the phenomenon of sympathetic resonance, where, for example, if two tuning forks are placed within close proximity, and one is struck, the other will soon begin to vibrate at the same frequency.

The idea that the world at large is deeply affected by what we carry within us is also summed up succinctly by Mahatma Gandhi, who entreats us to “seek to be the change (we) want to see in the world.”  With these words, Gandhi shows us that change can only come from within.  As we allow ourselves to change, the world around us will begin to do so as well. If in fact, everything is vibration, as Quantum Physics, and many other religions tell us, Gandhi’s words make absolutely perfect sense.

Consider also the work of Dr. Masaru Emoto who examined frozen water crystals through an electron microscope, and photographed their perfectly symmetric structures. Next he took the same water, and placed it into beakers labeled with phrases like “I Hate You”.  When he froze the water in these vessels, he found that the crystals were deformed. He and those who follow his work believe this experiment offers irrefutable proof that our emotions have scientifically measurable effects upon the world around us.

So how does this affect one’s everyday life?  I would say that the implications of this understanding of Christ’s words, coupled  not only with the examples expressed here, but also with countless others easily researched, are nothing short of staggering if truly taken to heart.

How can one comfortably foster violence, hatred, and bigotry in one’s own personal spiritual space, knowing that once these feelings have taken hold, they will ripple outward beyond the confines of one’s own skin and resonate throughout the entirety of creation?

If we allow concepts such as these to poison our own minds and bodies, how can we continue to lay blame for the murder, starvation, corruption, and rampant exploitation of natural resources witnessed today at the feet of any but ourselves? In recognizing this, however, we must also allow ourselves to recognize that any radical shift towards healing, peace, and forgiveness, as witnessed in the works of Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and Jesus Christ to name but a few, all began with one single human being allowing a divine light to shine into the Universe through the lens of his or her own person; an act of which any one of us is truly capable. . .

Looking Northward. . .

Posted in ceremony, dreams, Inspirational, Medicine Wheel, prayer, Spirituality, Sun Moon Dance, visions on July 9, 2012 by Standing West

Today is July, 9th.  In 10 days I’ll be stepping into the arbor again for the Sun Moon dance at Birdsong Peace Chamber in Pottstown, PA.  Perhaps “stepping into” isn’t really appropriate, for I feel as though I’ve never completely stepped out.

This will be my fourth Sun Moon dance.  As the directions go, I’ll be dancing in the North, the place of spiritual healing, where the blessings of our visions are received.  I can’t even begin to predict what that might mean – not that I’d even attempt to in the first place.

Those who routinely read this blog have probably noticed a recurrent theme of late.  Over the last few months, I’ve been blessed with several important dreams, journeys, and visions during which I’ve found myself in the presence of indigenous Elders.  This, I’m sure, is not unrelated to the direction of the upcoming dance, because the North is also the place of Wisdom, and the Grandmothers and Grandfathers who carry it.

I’ve also noticed, for the last several months, that my heart is beginning to open in ways I can only describe as “magical”.  When the Monkey Mind starts chattering away and rattling the bars of its cage,   I find myself sinking into love, or rather, allowing the love that’s always there to move through me and out into the world.  With this the mind falls silent, and contentment floods in to fill the empty space.

I’m grateful for the teachings I’ve received, and ask only to become a hollow bone; that their wisdom and light might flow through this body and out into the world that the People may live…

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