Self-Care and the Medicine Wheel
By: Christine Smith (McFarlane)
WELLNESS – First Nations peoples have a way of envisioning the world that involves incorporating the teachings from the Medicine Wheel in their everyday lives. This is especially important when it comes to knowing how to take care of yourself, physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally.
The Medicine Wheel is an ancient symbol used by almost all the Native people of North and South America. The way it is understood varies nation to nation, because each nation views the concept of the Medicine Wheel according to their own teachings and what has been passed down to them through their Elders and medicine people.
According to the book “The Sacred Tree,” written by Phil Lane, Jr, Judie Bopp, Michael Bopp, Lee Brown and Elders “there are many different ways that this basic concept is expressed: the four grandfathers, the four winds, the four cardinal directions, and many other relationships that can be expressed in sets of four,” and the medicine wheel can be used to help us see or understand things we can’t quite see or understand because they are ideas and not physical objects.” (pg.9)
The Medicine Wheel teaches us that we have four aspects to ourselves: the physical, the mental, the emotional, and the spiritual. Each of these aspects must be in balance and equally developed in order for us to remain healthy, well balanced individuals. It is said that by living by the teachings of the Medicine Wheel, we as individuals will learn to develop vision of what is possible and that this vision will bring us closer to our vision of being a happy, healthy human being.
Each direction of the Medicine Wheel deals with certain aspects of us as individuals, and I find that the concept of self-care when it comes to the Medicine Wheel can be explained best when it is looked at it via the four directions- The North (Spiritual) deals with connection and the following feelings; faith, virtue, respect, love, selflessness and prayer. The Eastern (Physical) has to do with movement and the following behaviors non-smoker, non-drinker/drugs, balanced diet, rest, fitness level, lack of disease and safe sex. The Southern (Mental) aspect of the Medicine Wheel has to do with thinking and your ability to do the following-decision making, ability, judgment, reading, creativity, stress reduction, education and enhancement. Lastly, the Western (Emotional) has to do with feeling- how you express yourself, how your self-esteem is, the ability to cope, having a positive attitude, having healthy relationships and feeling adjusted.
Staying balanced is integral to good self-care. I remember in the early stages of my healing journey, a therapist brought forth the concept of self-care. She said “Christine, when it comes to recovery and healing, don’t be afraid to put yourself first. Take time for yourself, do what you need to do in order for you to feel good about yourself.”
I remember looking at her and saying “but self care that’s being selfish!”
My therapist smiled, shook her head and said “No, that is what you have been raised to believe by some people who don’t know themselves and what healthy boundaries are.”
It took me awhile to digest that thought, and to really start adopting that into my daily life. I was afraid of upsetting people, and them being angry with me. I thought the worst of myself because instead of putting others ahead of myself, I was taking the time to pay attention to myself first, and the feedback I sometimes got was not always the greatest.
When I got negative feedback from people who did not like me putting myself first, I had to learn how to build myself up and keep myself strong. Turning to the Medicine Wheel was one thing but acting on what I learned from it takes a lot of work. When it comes to taking care of yourself spiritually, it is important for you to be gentle with yourself, and because it has to do with connection, think about yourself and what will help you to be or stay connected. Does it mean making time for friends? What about volunteering or going to ceremony and/or seeing an Elder?
In order to function in a balanced way, we all need proper rest, a balanced diet, exercise, a lack of disease, which is difficult when a large number of the First Nation population has to deal with the rising levels of diabetes in their families and communities. Another important aspect of the physical when it comes to self-care is not dabbling in drugs or alcohol. Smoking is another thing, but I cannot speak to that, because this is something that I still have to work on.
The mental aspect of the Medicine Wheel involves your thinking and your ability to do the following- good decision making, ability, judgment, reading, creativity, stress reduction, education and enhancement. For me, I love having time to myself to read a good book, watch my favorite television show, paint my nails or be creative in one way or another whether that is through writing, painting, beading or sewing.
People use various techniques to help themselves mentally I have listed a few that you might consider, but do what works for you. Lastly, when it comes to the emotional side of ourselves, we need to have a positive outlook, express ourselves in a healthy manner, be able to cope well and have healthy relationships. So, the next time that you are feeling particularly stressed out or feeling low about something, try to think of the top ten things that you can do for yourself, in order for you to feel at the top of your game again and do them.
Listen to your self talk, if you hear yourself repeating things that hurtful people have told you in the past, stop what you are doing and tell yourself “this person is wrong,” and “I’m going to turn my thoughts into positive thinking.”
Having healthy self-esteem is important, and being able to maintain it can be a regular workout, but it’s worth it. Next time you find your self esteem suffering, sit down, tell yourself “I am going to be okay,” and say it over and over again. Eventually you will start to believe it and your self-esteem won’t take such a blow with whatever experiences life throws your way.
Remember the number one thing is that being gentle with yourself is of utmost importance and self-care can be anything that makes you feel good, as long as it is safe.