Medicine Wheel Studies Exercise 1 – To begin working with the Medicine Wheel as a method of meditation and self-study, we will want to gather our stones. To do this we will need a bag to keep them in. We call such a container a Medicine Bag. In a Medicine Bag we place items that help bring our mind into a quiet, contemplative place. To this bag we add a lighter, a small candle, a small box, a fragrant burning material like cedar, and any other item we feel needs to be part of our travel-sized altar. We also keep 36 pebbles in this bag to take out and arrange at any time.
Today’s home-play assignment is to find your 36 stones. You might have access to a beach or a river or a trail that offers little stones. You may have access to a gardening store where you can buy a lovely bag full of colorful stones for not much money. You may have 36 stones lying around your house, waiting for you to gather them all up.
Medicine Wheel Studies Exercise 1 : Find a special drawstring bag that pleases you or any sort of pouch you like that is about the size of your hand. Gather 36 stones today and put them in a special bag along with a lighter, a candle, a piece of incense, and a small empty container like a box, to represent the holding of water. (You don’t have to fill the box with water, only recognize the object as the space-holder for the water element in your traveling altar.)
If you are a crafty person, you may want to make your own medicine bag. But finding one online or at a store is also a perfectly fun way to begin your Medicine studies. To become a medicine person, let’s begin by locating our medicine bag. Let’s fill that bag with 36 small stones along with items representing the other three elements, Fire, Air, and Water. Think of this gathering time as a sacred initiation into the temple of the Healing Arts that always resides in your heart. Think of today’s activity as a welcoming home process.
The heart of this exercise lies within your ability to observe how you feel while gathering your supplies. Are you excited? In a hurry? Frustrated? How do you put all the items together? What feels right? What brings calm? This process may not happen all in one day. It may be a longer ceremony of gathering. Enjoy putting your Medicine Bag into good order and let it take the time it takes. It is actually an ongoing conversation. Does your Medicine Bag need smaller bags to hold little items separately? What feels right? Arranging this small space is a tangible way to begin arranging your mind. Organize a Medicine Bag as a way to organize your thoughts and feelings. This gathering process is a meditation and an invitation to visit with the quieter, younger aspects of your inner being. Play and let it be simple.
The center stone of the Medicine Wheel represents the concept of the Great Mystery.This stone is a space holder for the supreme “All,” the Unified Field of all that is which will always be a wonder and a mystery to our limited minds.To ponder this stone is an exercise in learning how to let go of needing to understand something at this time and finding peace without clarity. The issue at hand is much too large to fully understand. The Great Mystery stone is a reminder that it is not in our power to ever fully understand a person or a situation. Everyone we meet is an infinite universe.We can explore and discover, but as we do, the Great Mystery expands before us even further.
Trying to make sense of this world is like trying to organize the ocean.Sometimes it is helpful to recognize when a mental task is too great for us to grasp. The Great Mystery stone reminds us it is time to let go of a certain struggle and make peace with our limitations.We seek clarity and understanding because we believe that finding clarity will bring us peace.In small, one-on-one circumstances this is often possible.But in relation to the whole, we can not achieve clarity of life while still living in a physical body.
When we stand at the position of the first stone of the Medicine Wheel, we can know for certain that we are only one tiny, tiny part of an infinitely larger situation.To have a physical body is to be inherently limited in perspective.You have your one perspective.I have mine.We can expand our perceptions, but while alive we will only find peace by making peace with being limited.The Center Stone of The Medicine Wheel reminds us that only the non-physical (energy) dimension can ever be unlimited.It is from this dimension we came and it is to this dimension we return.So if you are not at peace, be at peace about that.You can not figure it all out.And it is not necessary for you to do so.The clarity and revelation you are seeking will come in good time and in just the right way for the structure of your unique mind and body.
The non-physical world is the realm of thought, emotion, character values… things we can not touch or see or hear overtly with our physical senses, but which hold a quality of sensations that causes us to nod our heads and say, “Yes, there is that experience I am seeking.”The non-physical realm is an “All” field which is governed by truth.The foundation of the cosmos is love.The Great Mystery stone wants us to remember that we are much more than our physical bodies.We are a vast, eternal continuum of creative, joyful, pure energy on an exciting journey of expansion and discovery.When standing in the energy of the Great Mystery stone, we are in a time of awe and wonder outside of time and space.When we stand here we glimpse the Whole. We register other dimensions beyond our own. We realize how we are limited and we are invited to open to the act of opening itself.
All that exists in life is included in the whole of all that is.Nothing is excluded from the Great Mystery which is the supreme ultimate container of all that is. But it is not a container in the traditional sense because the Great Mystery is forever expanding.As we see this stone in the center and notice how all the other stones radiate out from it, we see a symbol indicating the observation that we live in an expanding universe.Expansion is joy.Learning and changing is joy.If your journey has brought you to stand at the first stone of the Medicine Wheel, it is a time to say, “I do not understand what is going on in this situation I am currently in.The problem or struggle I am having with this person is beyond my understanding at this time.I am learning.I am letting new awareness in.I am growing.I will always do this.I put down all effort and let the Great Mystery carry me through this confusion towards peace and joy.”
The center stone says that it is time to keep quiet company with the small, still voice within your heart and mind which speaks the truth to you.The wisdom of the Great Mystery will never shout and it never impose.To hear the teachings of this center stone, we must grow quiet, lean in, and listen.It is time to wait calmly for truth to be revealed.What we need to know will be told to us in the perfect time just when we need to know it.We need not strain for any more comprehension than that.Connect to the Great Mystery, and know you are at the center of your being, in your perfect right place in the whole.From this place on the wheel bow to the wonder of the world and say to this stone, “Dear Great Mystery, I bow to you and take my one small place in the fabric of your wholeness.I let awe fill me now and carry me to a clarity, not of the mind, but of my heart.My heart is clear and free when I make peace with my smallness in relation to your vastness.I am the student, and you are the teacher.I acknowledge now my limited capacities of comprehension.I stop trying to figure this mystery out.I step aside and let you lead my way, knowing that peace and joy are all that the universe wants for me.”
The universal movement of the Great Mystery knows better than you can ever know what will bring you to the peace and joy you seek.When we let go of our misguided conclusions about a situation and realize we don’t have the whole picture, we can let ourselves be carried through a situation by the life force that DOES have the whole picture.This takes trust and courage to give up control in order to be guided towards the natural unfolding of peace that is inherent to the nature of the Great Mystery.My notions of what I thought would lead to happiness will always need correcting as I travel the Wheel of life.Sometimes I will drive my journey and sometimes I will step aside and let the mysterious Life energy carry me through.As we begin our journey of studying the Medicine Wheel, we put down our need to control and we let Creation lead the way.When at the Great Mystery stone, it is time to become a passenger and be carried through the movement of life.Rest assured, it will bring us to yet another stone, another teaching, another point of discovery.
A Medicine Wheel is an interactive conversation with one’s thoughts and observations through the use of stone arrangements. Building a Medicine wheel with pebbles or larger rocks can provide us with a map into the human psyche as we find our place in the cosmos. Each stone is a place holder for a specific teaching about the nature of life and each stone represents one part of the whole process of how to live balanced and well. As we travel from stone to stone we visit these learning point vortexes and discover what we need in life at this time. Where are you in the wheel today? Build a wheel and see what messages come your way. Which stone are you most drawn to?
About the author
Hi, I’m Jess. I study and practice nature-based healing methods. I offer healing arts workshops and life guidance in Los Angeles, California. Learn more about Jess…
Preparations for working with a Medicine Wheel
Personal Practice Rituals
As Einstein said, we can not solve a problem by using the same kind of energy that created them.We must find a way to shift, at least into a willingness to receive new energy. When we sit down to learn something, it is very helpful to establish a ritual before and at the end of that endeavor.This makes a distinction in our minds between casual thinking vs true exploration for the purpose of real growth.These distinctions are the foundations of developing your own personal spiritual practice which, if cultivated, will be a profound companion in your life. Here are a few suggestions on how you might set up your own Medicine Wheel Studies Preparation.
How you set up the activities that define your intentions to make a shift into an earnest session of self-discovery is your creative adventure.Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Before beginning to study a Medicine Stone post…
1. Change your clothes into a color that means something special to you.That could be white, purple, blue, gold… your choice.Designate a certain garment for your Medicine Wheel work (or any spiritual work of any modality you may study) I have two garments I like to wear when studying the Medicine Wheel. One is a multi-colored robe and one is a knitted hat. What is your ritual garment?
2. Gather together: A stone that pleases you, a bowl of water, a candle, a lighter, and a pleasing incense of cedar, sage, or whatever fragrance you like.Place these items in a clearing in your workspace.Light the candle and use it to burn the incense.
3. Sit in stillness for one minute just observing the fire flame, your breathing, and all the sounds occurring in the environment around you.If you are coming from a day of having sat for a long time, have this part of the beginning ritual be a walking meditation instead of a seated one.Walking around in a circle (large or small) can also clear the mind.You can walk a circle in your living room, back yard, or an outside open area.And again, place attention on the sounds of the environment.
4. From this meditative place say in your own words something like, “I call on the guardians of the watchtowers of the North, South, East, and West.Please come to me now and guide my perspective to higher ground. Then ring a bowl or make a harmonic sound to set the intention into place.
Now you have clarified your starting point for your Medicine Wheel studies choose a post and get comfortable as you read it.If it inspires you to give an exercise a try, follow that impulse.And when you feel you have reached a place of exhaustion, either blow out the candle or relight it and burn the cedar or sage or incense once more in order to designate the closing of the session.Into the smoke, say, “Thank you, this session is now closed.”
Closing a study session is important because our brains do exactly what we tell them to do.If we do not tell our brains to stop introspecting, it will go on and on with an infinite investigation even while we do dishes or watch a relaxing TV show.We can not maintain a constant state of self-discovery.Most of the time we just have to be that Self, roaming around and reacting as we will.Do not place expectations upon yourself to always be in a state of learning.Let learning time begin and end with clearly defined rituals.
Do these rituals with any endeavor you wish to study in an honored way.Bring a beginning and ending ritual to your jogging practice, your drawing practice, or even your bath time.And the most important quality to cultivate in developing a ritual practice is how to have it be enjoyable to you.There are no mistakes when conducting a ceremony.No stress, no pressure to perform correctly.Only a shift in observation and an opening to receive new information.Have fun and enjoy!
Here is an introductory overview of the whole Medicine Wheel before we study each stone. This Medicine Wheel Introduction is meant to acquaint the reader with the basic principles of the wheel and be a quick reference for the wheel’s basic parts.
Center Stone- (1) The Great Mystery. Begin building the wheel by placing the center stone which symbolizes the sheer wonder of all that is. In Lakota teachings, there is no heaven, no classical God. There is only the Great Mystery- the Void from which all life comes. Life is and will always be- a mystery.
Inner Wheel-(Stones 2-8) The Seven Clans around the Great Mystery. Around the center stone, seven stones are placed. These stones represent the clans (collective awareness of) Planet Earth, the Sun, the Moon and the four basic elements of life- Fire, Air, Water, and Stone.
Outer Wheel -in two parts
Part 1- Four Spirit Guardians- (stones 9-12) These are the Gate Keepers of the four directions; North, South, East, and West. These four large outer stones should be placed in the actual accurate directions they represent whenever possible. The four directions of the world hold profound cosmic wisdom of how reality comes and goes through spacetime. They work on the polar opposite axis with North being the seat of elders and teachers while South is the home of eternal youth and the process of always learning. East is the guardian of all things spiritual/metaphysical while the West is the portal to physical reality. The East/West axis is called the BLUE ROAD of spirit. It is the energy stream of ancestors and lives yet to come. The North/South axis is the RED ROAD of life. It is the ‘right’ path we walk in life to stay connected to what is true. Truth changes. We follow. Where the Blue Road and the Red Road cross is where communication between dimensions can occur, where we can access the Knowing field.
Part 2- Months Of The Calendar Year – (stones 13-24) The smaller stones between the four directions in the outer wheel make up a single calendar year with three months per quadrant. Each month holds a Spirit Animal Guide for that time of year as well as a color vibration and a stone. It is good to locate and contemplate the meanings of the stone of your month of birth and compare it to its opposite- which would be your particular life challenges and what you are learning in this life walk. Keep in mind, this interpretation of the outer wheel is a modern construct, as ancient tribes did not use a European calendar year. Sun Bear adapted the Medicine Wheel to modern culture.
The Four Virtue Pathways
The Spokes: Virtue PathWays between the inner and outer wheels- Energetically, we are always moving either from the outside wheel to the inside or from the inside out. We are always moving between physical reality and spiritual metaphysical reality. How we move between the dualistic realms is informed by the Virtue stones. Each spoke in the wheel is comprised of three stones each (12 stones total) which connect the inner circle to the outer circle and create distinct quadrants. The connecting spokes are dynamic teachings that enable us to travel from inner to outer reality. One experience leads to the next and we are always cycling around from beginning to end and beginning again. The four virtue pathways are comprised as follows:
Virtue Pathway one: Spirit Journey of the North- (stones 25-27)
Cleansing Stone (25) –Renewal Stone (26) – Purity Stone (27) To seek enlightenment it is necessary to release illusions and misperceptions. This is done through a process of cleansing. There are many ways to cleanse body, mind, and spirit. Native cultures hold the sacred Sweat Lodge for this phase of life. Once cleansed in a spiritual ceremony we are renewed and have shed old unhelpful beliefs. The cleansing and renewal processes lead us to the reality of pure innocence. From this place, we are ready to move to the Eastern pathway.
Virtue Pathway two: Spirit Journey of the East- (stones 28-30)
Clarity Stone (28) –Wisdom Stone (29) – Illumination Stone (30)– Having released the illusions of the past we see what is- as it is. From the empty space of clarity, real wisdom about people and life patterns emerge effortlessly. We find in this part of the wheel that we have answers to people’s questions without much effort. This stream of wisdom leads to an even higher state. Beyond logical wisdom and data collecting, we discover an indescribable state of grace known as illumination. When we are in this part of the wheel we are able to leave our limited personal situation and grasp entire generations of conflict with compassion. From illumination connect to cosmic dimensions beyond our five senses. Achieving this moves us, ironically out of the Eastern arc and into the South, the land of the child.
Virtue Pathway three: Spirit Journey of the South- (stones 31-33)
The journey through clarity, wisdom, and illumination has the unexpected effect of bringing us back to the child’s place of learning. Having left the familiar dimension of the North environment and opened to new realms, we become students once again of unknown territory. The phases of this arc are the:
Growth Stone (31) –Trust Stone (32) -Love Stone (33)– Whatever we question can be dismantled, leaving us confounded and alone if we are not careful. To truly grow we must trust the process of life. When we learn to trust, we open to love. Can there be any greater achievement? But the wheel doesn’t stop there. It never stops. As we move through love relationships our awareness shifts us into the fourth quadrant- The Western arc.
Virtue Pathway four: Spirit Journey of the West- (stones 34-36)
Experience Stone (34) – Introspection Stone (35) – Strength Stone (36) Here we release the comfort of having answers and enter the uncomfortable phase of being taught again by elders in an area of life we’ve only just discovered. We grow. It is awkward but necessary and compulsive. All the love and connection we find in life at any time still does not ultimately define us. When we move into these virtues we understand that we are not what happens to us. No single relationship, no matter how loving, can ever define us definitively. Likewise, no single relationship no matter how painful can define us either. We are ever-changing energy fields through time. This pathway asks us to accept our independent, autonomous nature. The last stone in the cycle is Strength. The process of living always leads a soul to more power gained. EVERY life walk is a success on some level no matter how many mistakes we’ve made. One’s life always results in some amount of power achieved in some capacity. Connecting to, moving through, and releasing physical reality results in spiritual power. We survive the trials of life and simply grow stronger and more capable of another cycle of experience. It is our choice to use that power to enter the wheel again and cycle through another adventure. Or perhaps we will use our hard-won strength to travel out of the Wheel and sustain presence for others.
IT’S YOUR WHEEL
Build them wherever you go! It is your adventure and your wheel. Do with it what you will and bring what you discover to others. Build tiny wheels with pebbles in your bedroom. Build larger wheels with river stones at your next campsite. These wheels are invitations into the Field- a greater resource for wisdom.
The Medicine Wheel is a cosmic map into the Great Mystery. It is a living sculpture of energy patterns that teaches us how to listen to life’s moments with shamanic integrity and helps us locate where we are in relation to where we want to be and how best to move forward towards our life’s joy. This introspective tool, when combined with Animal Spirit Medicine teachings can open up limiting perspectives and shift a situation into deeper clarity and creative momentum.
Making a Medicine Wheel starts by placing a stone in the center and building outwards. Here is a numbered diagram of all the stones in a Medicine Wheel.