The History of Healing, Part 1

Come with me back into the depths of time, to the days when your great-great-great-great x 1,000 ancestors walked this Earth.

Let’s follow their footsteps and learn what healing in their time can teach us about healing in our time. The healing practices we need may just be the healing the world needs.


Once upon a time there were a People who rose up from the dark soil in the same way that mushrooms, mountains, turtle hatchlings and wild springs do.

Having the same origin, they knew themselves to be younger relatives of the springs- and therefore all of the waters, the turtles- and therefore all creatures, the mountains- and therefore all of the land, the mushrooms- and therefore all things that grow both above and below the ground.

Looking around, they saw that these elder relatives had made room for them and provided for their every need: plants for food, medicine, fibers, shelter and tools; animals for food, medicine, bedding, clothing, tools; soil and stones for paint, tools, shelter, protection; clean water to drink and to become clean themselves, to make soups and teas.

But these were just their basic needs. Beneath these, their relatives also provided for their spiritual needs, their eternal needs.

Woodblock painting by Ohara Koson, Japan, 19th + 20th centuries

Bear showed them which plants would help them see beyond illusion. Oak showed them that true strength starts in the roots were. River showed them how to flow, snake how to shed skins to grow closer to your truth, clouds how to shapeshift, bones and stones how to listen.

Everything that shared this land with them was sentient and every sentient being had wisdom or medicine to share with them.

Along the way, they became aware of air and fire as well- the little sun in everyone’s belly, the inspiration carried from the breeze into the lungs.

The People lived amongst a wealth of beauty and wonder and spent their lives in awe of how much they had, how much more than they could ever have thought to ask for.

Accordingly, they walked upon the land- the Great Mother of themselves and their relatives alike- with every step like a kiss and they made their lives into neverending expressions of reverence and gratitude. And when those lives came to an end, they returned gratefully to the warm embrace of their Mother, having learned from winter after winter after winter that nothing truly ends in this world.

Immersion is the best way to learn a language and so these people were fluent in the languages of Nature. They could read the surface of the lakes and the hibernation patterns of the bats. The knew when and where to settle into their own winter camps and where to find the first green sprouts of spring (and how to not get carried away and take what their relatives needed).

Gradually, out of the immensity of wonders in their daily lives, a distillation occurred from which emerged four primary elements (or, in some places, five) , the basis of all life and creation. In many places- for, like mushrooms and oaks, The People had grown out of a great many different soils in a great many different lands- those four elements were Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Often these elements were organized into a symbol like the one below, with each element corresponding to a season and to one of the four cardinal directions, determined by the winds that carried those qualities to The People. These varied around the world, but all of them were right in their own way.

Somehow, this conception of 4 elements, 4 seasons and 4 directions evolved into what is variously known as the Wheel of the Year, Medicine Wheel or the Four Directions. It’s also closely related to the Chinese Yin/Yang. Whatever the name, this was a masterpiece of indigenous science that works just as well today as it did all those thousands of years ago.

What appears simplistic to us who are used to healing knowledge being complex and obscure, is actually profound. The very act of discerning four elements out of everything that Life is made up of is astounding if you put yourself in their shoes. And with this guide, the life map of the Medicine Wheel, anybody can unlock healing and maintain it independently.

The key is to know which elements you are made up of- the best way to begin to figure this out is to learn what your dosha is. Briefly, dosha is a term from Ayurveda that refers to the constitution of a person. In Ayurveda there are five elements- fire, air, earth, water, and ether- but they line up well enough to work with the four element system. To me, it speaks to the deep inviolability of these systems that they complement each other despite being uncovered independently, thousands of miles apart.

Once you have your dosha (I like the quiz on Deepak Chopra’s site: You’ll have to give your email to get your results, but it’s well worth it (I’m in no way affiliated with him or his business)) you can begin to see which seasons, foods, colors and daily practices are likely to put you closer or further from balance. I promise you’ll be stunned at some of the ‘healthy’ foods you’ve been forcing yourself to eat that aren’t actually ideal for you.

This is the most obvious entry point, but the Wheel of the Year applies to your time of life, your emotional/ physical/ mental and spiritual bodies, various organs and more. You can jump onto the Wheel via your daily routine, your parenting, how you celebrate holidays, how you journal…. like the Wheel itself, the possibilities are virtually limitless.

This wealth of options can be overwhelming, so you may want to find a practitioner to help you navigate. I offer private sessions for tailored guidance and also teach classes on these topics throughout the year (as well as the Yin/Yang and Chakras).

By Kananginak Pootoogook, Inuit

Now, this may not be the tool to turn to in a medical emergency- Western Medicine deserves all the credit it gets for surgery and certain emergency procedures.

No, while the Wheel of the Year is therapeutic in most situations, it functions better as prevention than intervention. Work with it to foster a lifestyle that builds resilience and fluency- between you and your body, and between your Self and Nature.

The greater these levels of connection and communication, the more a person can move in harmony with internal and external rhythms, the more easily health flows, seemingly effortlessly, from daily life. Moving from imbalance to balance has its challenges, but it doesn’t have to be a struggle.

Nature, in her incomprehensibly vast wisdom, always cycles toward balance and so do all of her children- wild animals thrive without medical treatment and wild humans did too (and still do, though their numbers are dwindling rapidly for other reasons).

As we have become more “evolved” and “advanced”, we’ve developed beliefs and practices that are counter to nature. Over time, these habits become blockages and stagnations that then turn into pathologies which we then seek out cures for.

Often these cures bring relief in the moment, but ultimately create more distance between ourselves and the simple path of innate, organic health because they don’t touch the root cause of most illnesses: that we’ve fallen out of sync with Nature.

For all of us who struggle with health (whether physical, spiritual, mental or emotional) that seems to swing from too far in one direction to too far in the other, cures for side effects of other cures, feeling completely lost just about what we should actually be doing- these are all symptoms of forgetting where we came from.

And the Wheel is here, just waiting for you to remember, waiting for you to come back.

Learn a little more about how the Wheel actually works in Part 2, coming soon.

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