Asklepia Foundation
"Journey to the Healing Heart of Your Dreams"


The Medicine Wheel and CRP

by Graywolf Swinney, ©2001

Old Ezekial saw a wheel a-rolling way in the middle of the air.
A wheel within a wheel a-rolling, way in the middle of the air.
And the big wheel ran by faith, and the wheel ran by the grace of God,
Old Ezekial saw a wheel a-rolling, way in the middle of the air.

The four directions of healing is one model or organization that can be used to describe the steps in healing processes in general.  It does not drive the processes, but is a means of organizing four key steps or stages in healing, and most specifically relates to natural or spiritual healing.  It directly applies to the Consciousness Restructuring Process (CRP) and derives from the medicine circle, or wheel used by aboriginal tribes throughout the world but, most particularly the Americas.

The particular version of the wheel described in this article comes from Central America as described by shaman Don Edwardo who was studied and his work chronicled by Dr. Alberto Villaldo, a well known psychological anthropologist, (author of Healing States with Stanley Krippner).  We have added our own notions about the way that the wheel relates to the more contemporary healing processes and specifically the CRP.

All healing processes involve passing through each of the four directions of the wheel, and each direction represents a principle that applies to life in general, as well as healing.  Each of the four directions has a guide or totem that represents this principle.  Each of the four directions also represents a cardinal compass point.  In native American teachings, it is stated that one constantly travels around this circle and in so doing attains harmony and balance, and comes full circle.  This may indeed be the purpose of any or all diseases, to provide an evolutionary opportunity for an individual organism to evolve.

I derived this model in a brief flurry of panic under the following circumstances:  I had been invited to address an early breakfast meeting of a large group of healers of all persuasions.  The talk was to be on Shamanism, and in particular to discuss the contents of medicine bag, how they had come to me and how I used them.  That morning when I went to get into my car, it had been burglarized and my medicine bag had been stolen.  I was due to talk in about ten minutes and now had no topic, or at the very least had lost my props.  The following model is what I presented.  It seemed that by just speaking and listening to what I said, the following notions came forth.  This event is chronicled in my article The Empty Medicine Bag.

The East

The first of the four directions is the East.  It is where the sun rises and comes back into our sight and awareness each day.  It is the direction that brings light into the world so that we can see what is about us.  It represents the beginning of each day when we re-awaken to the seeing and sensing of the outer world.

The teacher or totem of the east is the Eagle and the lesson it brings to us is that of the "eagle's eye."  The eagle can spot a tiny mouse in a field from great heights and swoop down to feed on it.  It is this acuity of vision that represents the lesson of the east.

The healing principles involved are about seeing or sensing.  The first step in healing is to see or sense that we have a disease, the nature of it, and that healing is needed.  For us personally, this is the stage when we become aware of the symptoms either directly or though our dreams.  We must sense or see that we do indeed have a disease and understand its nature.

The symptoms alert us to a condition that needs attention.  Indeed in all forms of healing we must identify what it is that needs to be changed, physical, mental, or spiritual.  In medical practice this is the stage at which the diagnosis is made.  Only by making a valid diagnosis can the physician provide treatment according to medical criteria or protocol.

In psychological healing we must realize that we have a condition that needs to be resolved.  The joke about "How many psychologists are needed to change a light bulb?" is germane here.  The answer is "Only one, but the bulb has to want to be changed."

Spiritual malaise is often much more difficult to identify.  We often only realize it through our physical or mental symptoms.

The first step when one goes to an allopathic doctor is for the doctor to diagnose the illness.  It is only after knowing what the illness is, that the doctor can undertake a treatment.  Added to this, the comment made by Sir William Ostler is applicable, "It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease, than what sort of a disease a patient has."  One needs to see the patient as a full person rather than as only a disease.  In this much more holistic and humanistic approach, one still needs to see or sense the nature of the condition and come to know the nature of the one with the condition before treatment can be administered.

With respect to the CRP, this stage of the East involves identifying the nature of the problem in its many manifestations.  This is done in partnership with the patient.  For example a client shows up suffering from great discomfort of being in confined spaces.  The psychologist might get more specific information but has probably already formed a tentative diagnosis of claustrophobia.  He would probably ask questions to confirm the diagnosis and perhaps explore the etiology of the condition.  The mentor, however, would further pursue the matter by asking about how the condition may present physically or spiritually as well.  In this he might also discover that the patient has fibromyalgia and in further questioning may find that the person also feels restricted in their marriage and occupation.  They may be feeling the limitations of their religion or lack of it. (See Fibromyalgia and CRP by Swinney and Kuehn, Chaosophy 2000).

Thus the fundamental nature of the illness is seen to be a factor much broader than merely a psychological disorder, and to manifest in many aspects of the patient's life.  It weaves a thread throughout the tapestry of their experience of life.  It is this sense of being restricted that is more fundamental to the disease, and that manifests as many other symptoms.  This is to be discovered and revealed in the phase of the East.  During treatment the mentor and the mentored may revisit the east many times as the layers of the disease reveal themselves.

Dreams have within them the ability to help us to sense or diagnose that there is a problem long before it manifests as an actual disease.  This has been a recognized characteristic of dreams since the dawn of human presence on the planet.

In the CRP journey process, the journey itself often addresses this stage of healing.  What might identify such a journey is an apparent lack of resolution, and being left without completion.  However, both the mentor and the mentored have had a fuller experience of the disease or discomfort and may find that the information presented by the unconscious during the journey gives a fuller and more multi-dimensional experience of the issue, and provides information about its etiology.

One client, for example, bolted out of a journey and was unwilling to resume the process.  He had encountered a deep blackness that scared him.  This was consistent with one of his diagnoses, paranoia.  On re-entry, he stated that the blackness had triggered thoughts of a Black Widow spider.  His mother had considered herself as such and had even signed notes to her family as the "Black Widow."

He had been over controlled and the life taken out of him by this woman.  The journey was in and of itself complete in that it revealed this heretofore unknown data at a very visceral level and demonstrated its effect on the patient.  This image of the female as a black widow had adversely shaped his attitudes and perceptions of relationships with women his whole life, and proved to be necessary to his future work and evolution.

In other senses, all CRP journeys may incorporate this as one component of the process.  We can not begin to heal until we know that healing is needed and understand the nature of the crisis.  This is the lesson of the east.  For example, when one encounters the experience of the Primal Existential Sensory Image, this is a profound insight into the dynamics or nature of the self and the disease's dynamics.  In that most journeys reach the level of experiencing the primal existential sensory image, they reveal the primal sensory pattern of the disease.  This is the last stage in which the ego is involved and leads to the next step of the healing process, and entering into the transpersonal.  This happens in the South.

The South

The medicine wheel is based on the circle of the sun. When the sun is seen to be in a given direction, in this case the south, it is characterized by what happens there in the southern sky.  When this is the case, it is the time of winter.  It is cold, not much happens outside and most of our activities take place in the shelter of our buildings or lodges.  What leads or brings into the south or winter is the fall or autumn, when the trees let go of their leaves and cold takes its grip on the earth.

Echoing this natural pattern the CRP is almost entirely a process of letting go and becoming; of entering into the cold or blackness of the void.

In the cold, things become still; they do not grow.  Indeed, even the very motion of the atoms ad molecules is slowed down.  Things become brittle and shatter easily, losing their form as they break or dissolve into the chaos of many scattered pieces.

The guide of the south is the Snake.  The snake grows by shedding its old brittle skin.  Once new, soft and flexible, it protected and defined the snake.  The skin, eventually, however, becomes old and brittle and confining.  The snake becomes confined by this old skin and cannot grow inside it but must shed it to develop a new larger and more flexible skin.  So too the diseases we incorporate were once solutions to problems we faced, and these solutions protected and defined us.  As times evolve and our lives change, these old solutions become brittle and confining to us, so we must shed them.

The problem is that we often become attached to the old skin, and are unwilling to let it go, so the next stage of healing is to be willing to let the disease go.  It is not always easy to do.  Many who seek psychological help have the agenda of wanting the therapist to magically change those who they consider to be their problem.

For example, the paranoia of the client about the Black Widow nature of women was very protective for him.  It also defined who he was around women.  He had developed his body strength and muscle through rigorous daily workouts with weights, however his obsession with this had created a stiff and inflexible body, which was contributing to fibromyalgia or arthritic like muscle pains.  He was strong but brittle, and could not flow.  Moreover, he kept asking and plotting how to get his current girlfriend(s)) to change.

The skin he had developed to help him survive with his mother, who was likely insane, was now no longer serving him, and in fact was the basis of his physical and mental afflictions.  As a child he had come to believe that only by being very strong and tough could he survive his mother.  The idea of giving up that protective skin was terrifying to him and he fought to hang on to it.  He was as a snake, not wanting or willing to lose its skin and become vulnerable and sensitive.  His evolution was stuck.

The task of the south is to let go of the disease, as the snake sheds its skin.  This exposes our sensitive inner being to the world, and makes us vulnerable.  Many failures in healing stem from this stage.  Often the patient will discontinue or stop treatment if it looks about to succeed.

For example, an other mentoree suffered from multiple sclerosis.  It had manifested in response to a prayer in a particularly abusive relationship and eventually got her out of it.  This disease, however, now identified her and largely defined her relationship with her new husband.  It allowed her leisure, space and safety which had been lacking in both her family of origin and her first marriage.  When the MS appeared to be going into remission, this threatened her relationship with her new husband, which was based in her illness and his need to have someone ill in his life, and also threatened her identity.  These factors caused her to discontinue her healing work on it, at least with me.

Letting go of the disease takes us away from what has grown to be familiar and casts us into the chaotic maelstrom of the unknown.  Yet it is a necessary step.  It is in this chaos and vulnerability that the old forms dissolve or die so that we can be reborn.  We must let go into chaotic consciousness and trust or have faith in our organism's ability to heal or self regulate.  ("The big wheel rang by faith...").

In my own recent brush with death I recall as I was being wheeled into emergency surgery, letting go and putting my faith into the process I was experiencing.  I am convinced that this was very crucial to my surviving the ordeal.

In the journey process, this going into a death experience is integral to the process.  Otherwise we are only putting a superficial patina down to cover the disease.  The old must die in order for a true rebirth to occur.  The energy of the illness must pass into the cold of winter and death to be shattered and transformed into the renewed life and energy that emerges with spring.  This is the lesson of the south and carries us around the wheel into the west.

The West

When the sun travels into the western sky, it brings the night.  During the night we are still inside our lodges and it is in this time that we find release in the little death of sleep.  In this little death we encounter our dreams.  Night is the time of darkness, and in the darkness our senses are enhanced.  This too is in the nature of dreams, this enhanced sensitivity and also the ability to see or imagine what is yet to become, to dream.

The totems of the west are the black bear, the wolf, the panther, creatures of the evening and night who are familiar with finding their way through the darkened landscape, in this case the selfscape.  They do so through their enhanced senses.  Dreams too, through their enhanced sensitivity, guide us through the darkness, but dreams also provide us with occasional glimpses of the future, tell us what is to be.  It is in the west that the new image of who we are to become emerges from within us.

This is the next stage of healing.  After shedding the old skin, entering the chaos of loss of self to become unbound Self, ("And the little wheel turned by the grace of God...").  We must find within this realm of spirit, the image of our new self.  It is a case of creating the seed image that will grow to become what we may be, that will provide the new image that will shape us, and let us experience what we may become.

It takes place in REM and we have hypothesized elsewhere ("Remembering REM," and HOLOGRAPHIC HEALING), that REM may indeed be the consciousness in which we restructure both physiological and mental dynamics into healthy process.

In the CRP, this is experienced as the emergence from the chaotic consciousness or the unbound Self of a new sense of self.  In the CRP, the old image, the primal image dissolves into chaos and from this emerges a new and different sense of self; it is a creative, self-organizing process.  The organism begins to take on this new image but it is formed in the chaos and creativity of our REM or dream consciousness.  This is the lesson of the west.  It is the gift of REM.  It is the newly born self, a gift from the Self.

When we experience, embrace and indeed become this new sense of self, it provides the blue print for the eventual presentation of new behaviors and body structures.  This takes place in the completion of the circuit around the wheel, to the direction of the North.

The North

As the sun moves into the northern sky, it brings with it the warmth and rebirthing of spring.  When the sun reaches the northern sky it becomes the time of summer, the time when the seeds planed become mature, and the fruits and seeds ripen to feed and sustain us.

These are the healing principles of the journey into the North.  Once we have experienced the birth and inner presence of the new sense or image of self, we must let it grow and mature, much as the fruits and seeds need to mature in the summer heat or become useful to us in our lives.  The totem of the North is the Owl, and Owl guides us "through the valley of the shadow of death."  Indeed each healing journey is the death of something within us, a mental problem, a cancer or an ulcer, or millions of viruses, to allow our continued evolution.  In this way the north and the owl see us throughout the entire circuit around the medicine wheel.

In the CRP this follows after the inner journey and represents the bringing out of the new self image.  It begins during the re-entry process as the mentor and mentored dialogue about the journey and how to allow this new image of self to express in daily life.  It continues on for months or years after the journey, providing new insights into the healing and revealing new skills expressed in behavior, attitudes and perceptions of life.  In deed it is the emergence of a new wisdom about the self.

This wisdom is another characteristic that we have imparted to the owl, the image of the wise old owl.  This coming to wisdom brings us to a new enlightenment about the self and allows us to see ourselves in a new light which in its turn brings us back to the East, and the next healing journey around the medicine wheel.  In this way the the wheel is seen to be wheels rotating within wheels, spirals of evolution bringing us to every increasing maturity, health and wisdom.  May the circles be unbroken and lead one into the next.

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Created 4/9/01    Last Updated 4/9/01
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