The Medicine Wheel suggests, by its very structure, a relativistic approach to human experience. There are four directions, an inner circle and an outer one. Things appear differently depending upon your position, where you are on the wheel of life.
In the south, usually the place of trust and innocence, childhood and playfulness, there is a rather primitive way of seeing. Children have a narrow view of the world. Our mother and (perhaps) our father are the first objects to be experienced. Nourishment, love, affection, warmth, and having one’s needs met are in the south.
The womb, from which we emerge at birth, is symbolic of the psychic soup in which infants and young children swim. There are no boundaries between the experience and the experiencer. The child feels things. As he or she grows, so does touch, hearing and sight. Awareness of oneself as separate from the family and the environment comes slowly and at different times for different children. At first there is perception. As we interact with family members, we begin to understand things differently. The infant’s self-centered way of experiencing the world is entirely appropriate for that stage of life. When her needs are met and she grows up in the family, she realizes that not everything is hers.
This becomes a fact when her mommy becomes pregnant and the new sibling arrives. There isn’t as much time for the first born child. She is expected to change her behavior. When she rips her toy out of the grasping hand of her brother, he cries, just as she did. Then she cries and much to her surprise, she is told that her taking back of her beloved object from the usurping baby brother was not OK. This reality check is painful. Not everything in her world is still hers in the way it was. Her mommy is still hers, but she has to share her mommy with the new baby brother. She may like the usurper sometimes. He’s cute and obviously valuable, her parents think so anyway, but he’s also a bother. He frustrates her getting her needs met immediately which she was enjoying before he arrived. Sometimes she acts out her jealousy and the baby has an accident, maybe when mom and dad aren’t looking. The bump on the head occurred when he “fell” she tells mommy. She doesn’t talk about how she tripped him. This is where the extended family can also be a bother. Sometimes the aunt or the grandmother saw what happened. Then come the blame, the guilt, and being held responsible for her actions. Still she is a very primitive being, tightly embedded in the spirit world, and hence emergence from the psychic soup is not always welcome.
When my 4 year-old grand-daughter talked to the space in front of her, my son would ask her what she was doing. “Talking to the lady with the feathers” was her reply. “She wants us to cedar off the lodge.” The adults couldn’t see what she was “seeing”, but the vision came in a feminine form and with specific instructions. Her papa did as she wished, he validated her vision. She was just beginning to separate herself from the psychic realm of the mother and all the ancestors. She could speak and communicate with her family and would soon be going out into the world and preschool. Validating her vision would prove to be a problematic choice on her papa’s part, when she discovered her “people” were invisible to everybody and that her teacher wasn’t willing to do her bidding like her papa and mama were. The school experience wasn’t user friendly for someone with shamanic abilities. Here enters Coyote, the spirit keeper of the South. She understands the problem and is happy to be of service.
Looking at things from the Coyote’s perspective, life is a fun, curious experience filled with spontaneous bursts of dance, joy, and tears. The primitive animal side of the human is clearly evident. She is jealous and cruel, as well as loving and affectionate. Survival is important to a developing organism of any kind and children will steal, lie, and pretend in order to survive. We notice this in the best of homes, with the most loving and responsible of caregivers. In a problematic household where alcohol and other interesting substances alter the moods and behavior of the parents and caregivers, the child learns quickly when it is safe and when it is not. She becomes hyper-vigilant anticipating danger when it first appears. Her eyes and ears are trained on the first signs of violence and abuse, so she can run away and hide. Seeing her as one of Coyote’s students will help us understand her environment and her response to it. Both the healthy child and the abused child stand in the South with the Coyote. In a way they express the dual aspects of each of the directions. Coyote is the Trickster and her tricks can be lessons to help us grow. They can also be disasters. It all depends on what we need to learn and how we approach life.
When we are going through the Coyote phase of human development, Coyote jumps on your back to teach you a lesson. My Chumash friend, the Roadrunner, used to share that saying and end it with, “three years ago Michael Melville jumped on my back and he still hasn’t gotten off. I guess I haven’t learned my lesson yet.” When we play the role of the Coyote, we remind our brothers and sisters that it is important to remain trusting, curious, playful, and innocently open to life. When we get out of balance, Coyote comes along and jumps on our backs. If we are lucky, we fall to earth and become grounded. When we get up again, we appreciate the vision of “seeing up close” having had our nose to the ground, which changed our perspective. That is the Trickster’s gift, a reorientation and reminder that we need to have the childlike openness to life, if we are to walk in balance on our mother the Earth. Sometimes we aren’t so lucky and the lesson is painful, but the result is the same. We see things differently from the way we did, before the Paw of Destiny knocked us to the ground. There is always a positive and a negative side to Coyote’s interventions. Hopefully you’ll be lucky when she hits you running and you’ll learn your lesson well. Welcome to the medicine of the South.