This articles explores the wisdom of the Inca Medicine Wheel. A mandala for life, the wheel takes the seeker through a transformation journey.
Fears are selfish. Fears originate from disconnection from the universe. If we accepted that everything was connected, had purpose, and was spiritual, there would be no fear in the horrific or awe in the wondrous. There would only be acceptance of our place. The light of this acceptance is the light that dispels the darkness of grudges and addictions. The same light dispels the fear of the future, for all is seen as having a time and place. Fears rearrange the universe. The new fear based arrangement may have little resemblance to what is really there. It is naturally unsettling to think we have a map of a town, and find that nothing is where it should be. Our sanity is doubted, and the resulting distrust of the map - our sense of unity with the universe – shuts us down as we run in smaller and smaller circles. Eventually fear convinces us that the small circles of our lives are reality, and we are lost.
The ever restricting bindings of fears are illusionary. They have only the substance that we give them. They are only what we put intention into. They are the magic that we are creating now. They are the destructive magic that predominates our lives. How do we change this? What lessons does the shaman have that can guide us? The shamans of old embarked on harsh initiations that forced the recognition of the illusion. Through pain and deprivation the phantom shadows were dispelled. The shamans were forced to give up supporting the fears if the shaman was to survive the initiation. The shaman would fail, indeed, perhaps lose their lives, if they hung onto the fears. All of their strength was needed in the moment of the initiation in its apparent cruelty and hardship. Just as the fires of the melting pot separated the dross from the pure metals, the suffering of the shaman’s initiation removed the fears of the past and future. Only the purity of the moment remained.
2.0 The Medicine Wheel
The journey of the Four Winds, the path of the Medicine Wheel, is an expression of the shaman’s journey of the soul. This is a journey into Eros, the feminine, the intuitive mind, the place of myth and dreams. This journey is foreign to most of the human species as they are living under the dictatorship of logos, the patriarchal, and the rational mind of the last half of the second millennium.
There is no specific formula for transformation within the shamanic tradition. There is a concept of the Medicine Wheel, but the lessons learned and the skills acquired along the way are not dependent upon specific places of power. Shamanism is not a religion; it is not a regimented system of devotion. It is an attitude, a personal discipline, a state of mind.
One can never finish the wheel. The medicine wheel is a circle, a great spiral. The medicine wheel traditionally represents a life’s journey, but it can also represent the movement in life that takes place during a week, year, or decade. Indeed, the wheel can be traveled in a single breadth or across lifetimes. The application is friendly to the goal of living in the moment while also applying to learning and growing through multiple lifetimes. There are small journeys in big journeys. Each part of the shaman’s life may be on a different part of the wheel, while their entire life is on another.
Many who travel along the Medicine Wheel become seduced by its power. Few complete the circle, commune with the ancient ancestors and their knowledge of the North and overcome their power in the East to become persons of knowledge, children of the Sun. The person of power casts no shadow, as does the Sun.
The past is normally assembled in bits and pieces, avoiding those things that cause us pain, seeking to recreate the things that bring us pleasure. Remembering reframes the past and justifies our present. It is conscious, and subject to embellishment. In reality, individuals are at the mercy of the past. The traumas of the past still prey on our fear of the present. The joyous events feed the desires of the present, limiting our future as we seek to recreate the substance of the desires. This holds true for the family, tribe, nation, culture, and the species.
There comes a time when one must encounter the past. For those who are dreamed, this occurs at the moment of their death. For the dreamer, the person of power, this moment takes place alone, before a fire, when he calls upon the specters of his personal past to stand before him like witnesses before the court.
The person is a bundle of loose ends. The past keeps us bound to an image of ourselves. We must place ourselves in the fire that will consume the past, but it will not burn us. Instead our personal history will be erased.
The individual must gain control over their destiny, separating themselves from the larger groups of people. The person of power confronts the past. He hears testimony from the specters. They are dismissed, and he is acquitted. The person of power has no past, no history that can claim him. They cast their shadow aside. The past is shed like a snake sheds its skin.
Knowledge can only be had when one can exercise power over destiny, and our destiny is a daily victim of our past. Spirit cannot grow when the dead flesh of the past clings to it. We must bring no history to our study of shamanism.
The South holds fear of the past. The shaman is called to remove links to the chains of the perceived traumas and pleasures in the echoes of what has been. Only then can the shaman be as a child, and have the healing laughter of spirit of the child. The ego fears removal of the past, and fear is the result.
The lesson of the South is to achieve freedom from the fear of the past. The past represents the attachments to ideas, lifestyles, habits, opinions, traditions, and motivations that are given to us by society. The fear originates for what would happen if the attachments are not obeyed. What if we are not like our fathers and mothers? What if we do not conform? The harsh lesson in the South is that the past holds the shaman from being in the present. The past was perfect in it’s own moment, and the expressions of the past may have been genuine in their own place, but they are only malignant intruders in the present moment. Both the pleasure and the pain of the past hold us prisoner. The bars of our cell keep us from feeling the spiritual unity of the present moment. The bars are formed from the fear of pain and the fear of loosing pleasure.
Grudges and addictions are put aside on the path of the South. The purity of the moment appears as the burdens are shed. The muddy puddle reveals its inherent clarity as the mud is removed and put in its proper place. Grudges and additions – fear and longing – are not destroyed. Instead they are recognized and put aside. They are brought forward from their hiding places and purged in the light of self-acceptance. The purging is similar to turning on a light in a dark room. The darkness vanishes. The only substance that the past has is what we give it. Once the power of grudges and addictions are removed, the clarity of mind is achieved.
Past is seen (serpent).
You shed your personal self, shed the self that is an outcast from the Garden and condemned to travel naked, hungry, and unloved by Nature. When you free the spirits of the past, they find peace and no longer feed on our present. The memories of the past are severed that hold you back from reaching your potential.
You gain an energy body.
I shed my past like a snake’s skin. I enter a state of consciousness – a ream of awareness within which the most significant events and people in my past are manifest before me. They are then dismissed, and I am free from their grasp.
Fear is a volatile emotion. Nothing robs the mind of its power as fear. One does not face death by creating experiences that bring you near to death. Death is the greatest act of power to the shaman. Unordinary reality, the spirit flight, is a journey beyond death. To learn how to die is to learn how to live. If one is claimed by life, one can never be claimed by death. The person of power spends a whole life learning how to die.
The shaman is a spiritual warrior with no enemies in this or the next, free from desire and fear. Desire is formed by our experiences of the past, and the fear of death haunts our future. The Shaman is twice-born, once of women and once of earth.
The way of the West, where the warrior faces the jaguar, the spiritual warrior frees himself to live his present fully. When death comes upon him, it will know him and he will know the way. The West is where the body and the spirit part. By dying consciously, the shaman may leave this world alive. By dying consciously we maintain individuality after death.
The body is a vessel of spirit, of energy, of consciousness. When one dies consciously, one leaves behind the vessel and identifies with what the vessel contains: the divine/God/life force/energy. This is the difference between tonal and nagual. The spirit is an orb, a luminous ball of light.
At the time of the passing of our vessel, we make the final journey to the West. We make this journey alone.
The fear of the future remains. This is faced in the West. The little deaths and the big deaths hold us paralyzed. The present moment is held prisoner to what could be. Change is seen as the enemy. The ultimate change, the passing of the body/mental, overshadows what is happening NOW. The lesser entities, those of everyday change, harass us and wear us down. The combination of the ultimate change and the lesser changes rob the future shaman of unity. Why? Fear of the future places the shaman in the same place that the fear of past transported them to.
The West holds the knowledge that all things must past, and that death and transformation a necessary element of the shamanic path. While we know death comes in small changes at every moment and a larger transformation when we pass, the ego would hold this knowledge in a place of false clarity. The ego feeds false assurance that all is known, that there is more than enough time, and that there is no need to hurry. The ego lives in this place, and presents the enemy of clarity.
The revealing light of the West is the experience of death. We voluntarily experience, with love, acceptance, and understanding, the small and large changes of life. When experienced and accepted, either in actuality or symbolically, the deaths/changes of the future no longer have power over us. The fear is removed as we are born again in a continuous fashion. It is not enough to be born again once. Instead we offer ourselves to die and rebirth at any moment. This makes the moment. This defines the moment. When the present moment is no longer based on the moments of the past, and only recognizes past moments as having their own past rightness, and there is acceptance that the moment will pass away and be reborn, than all is in unity. The unity of the moment, the spiritual, and all things, is embraced.
Strength to face death (jaguar).
You go to meet death and step beyond fear. By facing death and learning the spirit flight, you identify with the transcendent, immortal Self, you free yourself from the grip of fear and claim our lives to the fullest, for you can no longer be claimed by death. You face the unknown, that we fear the most. Fear. It is very common to have visions on the Western path.
You gain the Nature body, an etheric one. The body of the jaguar.
I confront fear. Fear lives in the future and our greatest fear is death. I fear what I do not know, and by experiencing death I learn to maintain awareness and identity after death. If I am able experience myself as a being of conscious energy – as a Children of the Sun – then Death becomes a doorway only. It loses its menace. It is a phase in an infinite lifetime.
North the Dragon path, a place of ancient masters, grandmothers, grandfathers.
It is interesting to note that many religious paths offer teachings that cover the South and West steps of the wheel. Believers are instructed on how to discard their old lives and face death with assurance that there is something beyond. That is where their journey ends. A wall named dogma blocks the traveler from moving forward to the realm of the North.
The North is the place of the nagual. When named, the nagual is thought of as:
· The ayin, the divine nothingness of the cabala
· Looking into the eyes of the Lady behind the veil and see the birth and death and destiny of the universe.
· Blackness of infinite hollowness
It is none of these, and may be experienced as these. The way to the North is in the belly and the heart. It is not in the mind. There is no dogma in the North. To imagine it in the mind is to contaminate the North. When we rationalize the things ephemeral, when we intellectually frame the metaphysical, the thinking brain’s version of the divine is just another mask of God. To speak the name of God is to name the unnamable, to carry a concept of the Divine within our heads is to carry a shield between us and the experience of the Divine.
The awakening of ancient memories in the North is not the individual remembering. It is rather stepping through the crack between worlds and taking a place among the twice born, those who have conquered death. They are those who have done battle with the archetypes and the forces of Nature to become persons of knowledge. They are our ancestors, the trustees of Earth.
Mystical knowledge and abilities reside with the influence of ancestors and the elders in the North. The ego, seeking to sustain itself in this place, pacifies the shaman with visions of power used for the ego’s ends. The male and female meet in the North, and here they blend to androgynous mind, the creative principal that we personify as God, the union of Sun (masculine) and Earth (feminine), from which all life claims a common ground. The use of the power by the influence of the ego prevents this union and chains the shaman to be little more than a tyrant.
Way of mastery (Dragon, ancient masters).
The Feminine, Eros. Where we claim the lineage of men and women of knowledge. The place of androgynous mind, the creative principal that we personify as God, the union of Sun (masculine) and Earth (feminine), from which all life claims a common ground. Sex.
We gain an astral body, one that has a lifetime of the stars. The body of the ancient masters. A mystical body. Wisdom of the universe.
There are few shamans of the North – few true persons of knowledge. Many who tread this path stop along the way and are content to be healers and medicine people; they become masters of the South or West. They are not master shamans.
I journey to acquire the wisdom of all those who have journeyed before me. The North is not easily understood, as it is not something that is understood; it is experienced, and experiences seem limited. It is inaccessible to any who seek it encumbered by preconceptions or fears the past or the future.
According to legend, the eagle path in the East is the return to one’s tribe. In the East the individual accepts the gift of vision and the task of exercising that vision to create a better world politically, ecologically, and personally, to dream the possible future.
The shaman assumes full responsibility for who we are becoming and influences destiny by envisioning the possible. Destiny is not something over which you seek to gain control. Control of one’s destiny is an oxymoron. A man or woman of power can influence destiny. In the East one learns to dance with it, lead it across the floor of time.
And lastly the East, a place of returning to the tribe with knowledge and ability, is a place that few tread. The knowledge and power gained in the other directions are seen as gifts and tools, and not seen as the goals of a lifetime. They cannot be seen as goals, for the fourth enemy, old age, is not influenced by knowledge or power. The ego would like to use knowledge and power to battle old age as a last attempt to sustain itself. The shaman answers the call of Spirit to share and serve, and in this place of no-ego, the shaman finds their true place in the web of life even as they seem to give way to the last enemy.
Call upon power animals, acquire skills to work with the world, cast no shadow, leave no tracks (eagle).
The way of the visionary, whose task is to overcome pride and self-aggrandizement, to envision the possible human. The place of nonviolence in a world divided by struggle.
We gain a casual body. The thought before action. That which exists before the fact. Creative principle. The eagle body.
The East is the most difficult journey. In the East I learn to reconcile all that I know with the world in which I live. I call upon power animals, acquire skills to work with the world, cast no shadow, leave no tracks just as the Eagle in flight leaves no track.
3.0 Recommended Reading
Dance of the Four Winds : Secrets of the Inca Medicine Wheel by Alberto Villoldo, Erik Jendresen (previously printed as The Four Winds : A Shaman's Odyssey into the Amazon)
Island of the Sun : Mastering the Inca Medicine Wheel by Alberto Villoldo, Erik Jendresen