The Four Directions of Healing: The Medicine Wheel and CRP
"Journey to the Healing Heart of Your Dreams"
THE FOUR DIRECTIONS OF HEALING
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Created 4/9/01 Last Updated 4/9/01
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