Nothing has touched my soul and spoken to aging with grace quite like the ancient Indian medicine wheel and the traditions that have evolved from it.
From the National Library of Medicine, I learned that in the Americas, Indian tribes have multiple interpretations of the four directions, but the following prayer is my own, geriatrician’s interpretation of a version from the book “Black Elk Speaks and Oyate” (Nakota, Dakota, Lakota) tradition.
First, we get down on our knees and feel the soil, the sacred Mother Earth, bringing the world around us, the animals, plants, prairies, lakes, mountains, the environment of our planet from where all food and sustenance comes. Earth is foundation. Then we stand up on our tiptoes, and raise our arms to sacred Father Sky, the sun, stars, clouds, rain, wind, air and breath of life, light and dark; from where all energy flows and ebbs. Sky is infinity. Earth and sky, the beginning and the end.
Around the central campfire and within the circle, first we bow east, symbolized by red, rising sun, springtime, birth, blood, the very young; a sense of innocence, youth. May we have hope for a future with an open mind to all things new and true.
We bow south, symbolized by yellow, full sun, summer, sexuality, the anticipating young woman and young man; a sense of unconquerable power and invulnerability, early adulthood. May we have the courage and strength to fight for justice.
We bow west, symbolized by black, setting sun, an approaching dark thunderstorm, oncoming night, autumn, resignation, the reality filled community leader and medicine woman/midwife; a sense of the horrors of war and reality of loss, mature adulthood. May we have the gravity to protect freedom of choice and face vulnerability with honest eyes.
Finally, we bow north, symbolized by white, starry night, winter, old age, wisdom, the sagacious elder and teacher; a sense of beauty, grandchildren and the circle of life, an experienced body and mind, release from the fear of change and death.
May we have insight to savor family and friendship, and the good sense to walk in another’s moccasins.
Inside the circle is the tree of life, where we become aware of our self, our consciousness, tribe, community, country, world, and our connection to all direction.
Dear Mother/Father of Earth and Sky, thank you for your blessings, the sacred hoop of life, and especially the wisdom to find release from fear of death. May our sisters and brothers of all Clans and Nations realize our sacred connection and, in harmony, savor the joy and even the sorrow of our circle of life and aging.