With minor exception, my recent blogs have dealt with my spring road trip out west. That discussion focused primarily on three days I spent at a metaphysical bed and breakfast called Sacred Rocks Sedona. Although I arrived at Sacred Rocks purely through happenstance, the place became the story of my trip. Upon arrival, I learned that one of the owners - an Ojibwa woman named Meaghan - offered healing sessions there, and I decided to take part in one. Throughout my stay, however, I was approached by other B&B guests about participating in additional ceremonies, so I obliged. On the first night, that took the form of a crystal bowl ceremony, and on the last morning, a medicine wheel ceremony.
On my final morning at Sacred Rocks, I awoke to intense sunlight and the sound of a black cat calling to me from beneath my trailer window, as had become tradition during my stay. With the temperature rising, I dispensed with formality, deciding to attend the morning’s ceremony wearing khaki shorts and a t-shirt (albeit one I deemed to be appropriately respectful). With my bags packed for a quick departure, I exited the trailer and headed past the main house to the medicine wheel.
Sacred Rocks’ medicine wheel is fairly large and sits opposite a large stupa. The red rock stupa was built by the previous property owners, who ran a Buddhist retreat center there. The wheel - which some might consider unspectacular at first glance - consists of many stones arranged to form a circle containing four spokes. At the wheel’s center is a square made from white stones, which contains a circle made from dark stones, in which sits a large, rose-quartz crystal. Interspersed throughout the circle are various other natural items likely deemed to hold some sort of healing significance: a crystal here, a unique stone there.
When it comes to medicine wheels, looks are not the point. In Native American tradition, medicine wheels - when combined with ceremonial intention - are believed to hold healing power.
In conducting their ceremonies, Native Americans navigate the wheel in a circular fashion, traditionally clockwise, or “sun-wise”. Movement is tailored in this way to facilitate alignment with natural forces.
Within a medicine wheel, the four directions (North, South, East, West) are recognized to hold special significance, and are sometimes represented by colors: white, red, black and yellow. These colors may represent the various human races, but may also be interpreted to hold other meanings, such as: the seasons, stages of life, or elements of nature.
Arriving at the wheel, I was met by the two Australian “intuitives” I have mentioned in previous blogs. The women, also B&B guests, wore colorful dresses, and soon enough the three of us were joined by Meaghan, who would lead the morning ceremony.
In getting underway, Meaghan began moving us clockwise around the circle, eventually stopping at each of the four directions to engage in a specific aspect of focus. At every stop, Meaghan asked us each to speak a little, to add our personal sentiments to the ceremony. While the Australians spoke quite freely, I was surprised at being asked to contribute, especially after spending so much of my time at Sacred Rocks as an observer. Although I was given four opportunities to contribute, I felt I should maintain as much silence as possible, so I limited myself to one word at each of the four stops: love, hope, faith, and peace.
Our clockwise trip around the circle completed, Meaghan led us into the wheel’s center via its east entrance. When conducting a ceremony, tradition dictates that a medicine wheel be accessed from the East, the direction in which the Sun rises. Upon reaching the center of the wheel, Meaghan instructed us to get on our hands and knees in the dirt with our heads down, each of us aligned to one of the four cardinal directions.
Once on my hands and knees my mind began to wander, not because I was unfocused or uninterested, but because I was suddenly struck by how odd my present circumstance was. There I was, face down in the red desert dirt with three women, each one a psychic by trade -- somehow the thought of it made me smile helplessly. How had this happened? How had my departure from Michigan with no planned itinerary or destination led to this? I suppose something inside of me simply had to laugh, not because my position was ridiculous, but because life is marvelous in the way it can delight and surprise us, should we choose to let it.
Before leaving the wheel’s center, Meaghan instructed each of us to carry a pebble out with us. Exiting the same way we came in, Meaghan led us to the stupa, then spoke a few more words before instructing us to drop our pebbles through an opening in the top of the stupa and into its hollow center. Via this act, we released whatever we needed to let go of.
I found the medicine wheel ceremony to be a peaceful and grounding experience and, upon completion, I said my goodbyes and quickly took my leave of Sacred Rocks. On the road again, I departed Sedona, winding through red rock canyons. I began to notice that I was feeling better, having spent the previous three days in a strangely weak condition. As I continued to drive, I became aware that something else felt very different, it was my shoulder. I was suddenly noticing that it was no longer hurting like it had been, not even close. I couldn’t place it exactly, but there was something different about the shoulder in a very positive way.
It is interesting, after months of working with my shoulder in yoga to mixed-effect, I was left feeling that something I couldn’t quite place was amiss, something deep. It seemed as if my shoulder hurt everywhere and nowhere at the same time, causing my neck and back to tighten and knot in response. Now, although I could not say what had changed, something seemed as differently right as it had previously seemed differently wrong.
At first I was cautious about rushing to judgement and accepting that the shoulder was truly better than before my visit to Sacred Rocks, but as my trip continued, I found that the pain I’d been living with was greatly diminished, and that things like shoulder-checking, which had caused no end of discomfort on the drive out, were non-issues on the trip home.
Following my return to Michigan, I waited to see if my shoulder improvement would last or if it was only temporary. I was pleased to find that the improvement was permanent, and that although my shoulder was not completely free of pain, I was now able to work with in it yoga just like the rest of my body. Now, six months later, my shoulder pain is a fraction of what it was before departing on my trip. I no longer exercise caution when putting on a coat or performing daily tasks, and I have greatly widened my range of motion. Progress is slow, but there is progress where once the way was blocked, and so I proceed patiently, knowing that soon enough my shoulder and I will come to terms.
I have taken my time in writing this final Sacred Rocks blog. For some reason, in spite of my shoulder's tremendous improvement, it seemed as if I was somehow telling a story without a conclusion. I wasn’t sure why I felt this way, as the healing I experienced ought to have made for a decent story, all things considered. Yet, intuition does not lie, and something felt incomplete inside me, I could not deny it.
In an effort to shore things up, I did some research on medicine wheels, hoping the inclusion of some information on Native American tradition might round things out a little. Although I hadn't planned it, this endeavor retroactively provided me with a context for the ceremony I had taken part in on that final morning at Sacred Rocks so many months ago. What's more, in coming to understand the medicine wheel ceremony better, I came to realize something else, something that knocked me back a bit … something I’m not sure what to make of even as I find myself able to properly close out my story ...
I have previously written about my efforts to ritualize my meditative practice by including incense, candles, crystals, etc. Over time, I have landed on a certain way of doing these things, coming to inhabit patterns which feel right to me. In following my intuition, what was once experimentation has solidified into practice.
During a recent session, it occurred to me that my placement of crystals in four locations surrounding me very much resembled the configuration of a medicine wheel. I'd not known enough about medicine wheels previously to make such a connection, but the reading I did for this blog post had been enough to illuminate it. Although I was in a deep meditative state when this realization arrived, I jumped up to a standing position on my mat, almost reflexively, as if on the verge of understanding something I very much needed to.
Standing there, I remembered that part of my practice involved removing my shoes and leaving them in a certain spot, always entering and exiting my meditation space from the same location. Reaching for my phone, I launched the compass application and, standing in the center of my mat, I began pointing the device at the various crystals. Each of my four crystals was oriented to one the four cardinal directions. My heart may well have skipped a beat at that point, but I ignored it and continued by turning and pointing the phone towards my shoes, the spot from which I enter and exit my meditation space ... the compass was definitive in its conclusion.
"It's a medicine wheel!", I exclaimed to myself ... perhaps even out loud.
Of course I am aware that this might be a simple coincidence. It is well known that humans have a habit of finding patterns which suit them wherever they look. Yet, I had not simply found this pattern, I had created it. I did so by aligning with what felt right, by finding an arrangement with which my intuition agreed.
In traveling West, I sought not only healing for the pain in my shoulder, but an explanation for my strange yogic experiences as well; I very much wanted to know what it was that I had gotten myself into. The journey had taken its own course, inexplicably leading me to the center of a medicine wheel in the red dirt of the Sedona desert - a mysterious grand finale - or so I thought.
Standing in my basement, phone in hand, I was dumbfounded. For all intents and purposes, I had constructed a rudimentary medicine wheel within my home and had been using it to heal myself (with much success might I add). In that moment, I understood that life had delivered the answers I sought, even if it had taken me six months to see it. My journey had not ended in the Sedona desert, it had followed after me until finally, standing there with a blank stare on my face, I understood.
Where this leaves me now, I cannot say. Since that moment I have shied away from my practice, finding the whole thing to be a bit ... heavy. However, I can honestly report that while I consider myself an ardent servant of reason, my faith in magic remains firmly intact.
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