Medicine Wheel #1 : Balanced Coreography of Energy

I cried a lot last summer. About many things; too many things. Reasons meld together and form dense crystalline compounds of emotion that lodge themselves into the forefronts of the heart and mind. Work, loss, love and confusion, the usual tormentors, all become overbearing, and insufferable in unison. Upset, exhausted, drained, repeat: my personal pain tape looped endlessly as my emotions determined my choices, actions, and even more frightening, my inaction and indecision.

I held tightly to this dark pattern until a visit with my aunt in her back garden one late summer morning. She listened patiently to my exhausting expulsion of emotion and then told me to ask myself: “So, what else is possible? How does it get better from here?”

I repeated these questions to myself daily. While there were many answers that arose, her questions were surprisingly effective in a different way: Entertaining the notion of possibility provided a certain resolve, a lightness in my physical body and mental space that just isn’t there when we dwell on the past: I felt empowered and hopeful. Also, the repetition of this inquiry actually took me out of my pattern of pain, or, looping negative emotion by shifting my attention, regardless of whether I had an answer or not. These questions became a seed of change, then the sprout, stalk and leaves arrived during a weekend at Red Lodge when I was given the Medicine Wheel of Balanced Choreography of Energy.

According to this medicine wheel, the fundamental energies that animate us are: giving, holding, receiving and determining. Based upon the premise that we can be described as an amalgam of mind, body, spirit and emotion, which sit, respectively in the north, west, east and south places of this medicine wheel, balance/harmony is said to occur when we; receive with our mind (N); hold with our body (W); give with our emotions (S).

Receiving with our mind invites us to be open to new ideas yet, discerning with the information we consume. (Pico Iyer writes a fascinating piece on this topic here) In the west we hold with our body by fortifying and purifying it through exercise and diet. This idea is matched in yoga by the concept of our physical body as a container for spirit and prana: the stronger the container, the more prana it can hold, (think paper coffee cup vs. a earthenware). In the east, the home of our spirit, we determine and set the course our actions, our lives, choosing from bliss, not logic, or love or money. Finally, the south is home to our emotions and also to the water element, which informs us of the fluidity necessary for emotional health. Giving in this sense is not an outpouring of our vitality, but clearly expressing our emotions without emotionality, and the catalyzing and determining energy that makes us frantic and unstable.


I felt a pang of recognition as I read over the description of the South in imbalance from our workbook. This was definitely where my choreography had been way off. I thought of the panicked phone calls to my best friends and my the tear-ridden walks alone in the park on so many gorgeous sunny July days. Had I been letting my emotions determine my days and my decisions? Had I been holding on to pain for too long? Perhaps. I set aside my skepticism and opened to this new wheel: What else was possible?

There’s a physicality to truth and understanding. When you know something to be true you can feel it in your fibers - genuineness feels good -  it feels healthy. I connected with this medicine wheel in such a way that even imagining the circle, the symbols, and reciting the concepts in my head felt good. Visualizing myself living and moving and being with this energetic alignment was near ecstatic. In a way, the physical understanding of the wheel, as though this knowledge had already lived inside of me my whole life, predicated and influenced my lived experience of it.  

My tumultuous summer was followed by a much smoother fall. Using this medicine wheel, keeping it close in my mind and dreaming with it, it revealed more of itself. There was an ease and momentum to my heart and to my life. When trouble quaked, and it did, eruptions were fewer - and mostly, less damaging. Taking better care of my body, listening to the fire in the pit of my stomach more than the ache in my heart, lead me to more inspiration, and less frustration. Less and less did my emotions spin into dizzy fits of confusion. I experimented with the perception of emotions as necessary expressions of my energy and therefore, let them be fleeting and short-lived in their nature. This fluidity, the rise and falling away of strong emotion was challenging, and deeply satisfying. And all this because I was keeping my mind in-step with the receptive energy of the north in trying on different perspectives and new tools, like this one.