I’ve been teaching the Medicine Wheel for over 15 years. I started teaching the Wheel after I adopted this life-philosophy to help me cope with chronic illness. It helped me so much that I became convinced that it could be a miracle-worker for everyone. I didn’t quite use those words or even that kind of enthusiasm then, but that was pretty much the way I felt. Religion, psychotherapy, and even alternative medicines didn’t help me much – not to say that “they didn’t help me at all.” I’m extremely grateful for the guidance and the help that I’ve received along the way no matter where it came from. Still, for me, at the start of my journey, I needed a tool that was practical and that considered my physical, emotional, psychological or mental, energetic and spiritual bodies. I experienced illness at all these dimensions and wanted to find healing at all of these dimensions as well. When I finally found the Wheel – it was introduced to me in this manner. The teacher, an elder, First Nation Woman spoke of this philosophy as the path that leads us back to wholeness. She talked about this Sacred Circle Tradition as the only “mag wheels” our soul will ever need to get us anywhere…
After almost eight years of studying, exploring and experiencing the Wheel I started teaching it to special interest groups. I was just starting to offer it to circles of nurses, teachers and people who suffered with chronic illness when a friend of mine, a teacher at the elementary school level asked if I was interested in coming into her classroom and talk of the Wheel to her students. At first I hesitated. It scared the daylights out of me. Children are so very different than adults. How would I explain the Wheel to 6-7 year olds? When we come across the topic of the Medicine Wheel in Anthropology or even in Spirituality it seems so serious and academic. Even in books it is so complicated. I remember telling my friend that I would need a few days to consider the request. It was only when I was tucking my two kids to bed that night that I realized that it didn’t have to be such a big deal. After all it was the simplicity of the philosophy that had attracted me to it in the first place.
What is beautiful about the Wheel is that it translates into our every day behaviours, attitudes and choices. It’s not something that is separated from us or our reality. I had a harder time adapting to certain diets than to consider this philosophy as a daily, helpful tool and guide. I noticed with the help of practical events in my life that I was already teaching my toddlers about the Wheel just by my actions. All I needed to do to bring this to a classroom was to be myself and show these first graders what the Universe had so patiently showed me through my life story. Plus, this particular philosophy is taught with the help of stones which are set in spiralling circles. Who better to understand this than children? I have to admit that the first time I stepped into a class room with children my knees shook so bad I thought the pupils could hear the bones rattle two classrooms away. In fact it was the inspiration for a story that I told to break the ice that day.
When I started journeying with the Wheel I had a dream. I could see the sun rising over this great big canyon. At the top of the rock formation I saw these skeleton men dancing. They were just bones held together by a whistling wind. The bones rattled as they danced and the men sang the song of their ancestors. It was as if they were calling up the sun. Once the sun was up into the sky above the canyon the men stopped dancing and the bones dropped to the ground. I woke up from this dream understanding that every morning the rattling of the bones of our ancestors calls up the sun without them there would be no DAY and no start to our Wheel. Well that morning, the kids applauded and screamed so loudly that I understood for the first time what it meant to be successful.
Children understand the Medicine Wheel so easily. It makes sense to them that everything in nature is round and speaks of something whole. They can even come up with examples that even adults would over look. I remember ending my lecture that day with a bit of drumming. This little boy was in tears the whole time I drummed. The teacher assistant somewhat embarrassed by this behaviour tried to stop him from interrupting the ritual. I had to crouch down before she had the chance and ask him quite bluntly: “What’s up? Why are you crying?” His reply caught me by surprise and I remembered tearing up myself. He said: “I saw these warriors around a fire and they were happy you were here and so am I.” SH invited me to her class every year after that until she retired and I started a long career of talking about the Wheel to children of all ages from that point on.
There’s no doubt there are many different perspectives that we can take to teach the Wheel whether it be to young children, teenagers, or adults. The idea is to go with your gut feeling and to “not pretend”. The Wheel talks about the now and the real. If you can figure what that means for yourself, you’ll have no trouble sharing it with kids and others in general. It’s always the best place to start when teaching the Wheel.