I went to an amazing education day earlier this week. It was about bringing “Culture in the Clinic”, particularly first nations culture from the aboriginals that first inhabited these lands. I live in British Columbia, in the Snunymuxw territory. It is one of the most beautiful places in the world to live I am certain.
Unfortunately much of the First Nations culture – with it’s strong connection to plants, animals, spirit, ceremony and community, was brutally devastated by colonization of Europeans and the creation of residential schools. These “schools” opened in the 1870’s by the new settling Europeans and families were forced to say goodbye to their kids usually at about the age of 5. At the schools, children were abused in every way. Many died and many are still unaccounted for.
When children arrived at the schools they were young and alone. They were not allowed to contact family and they certainly were not allowed to practice any of their cultural ceremonies, or speak their own language. And their hair, which was traditionally kept long, was cut short. Could you imagine living through this? How might this affect your sense of self? How would it affect your mental health? Your physical health? Your spirit?
Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, apologized for this publicly in 2008, but in 2009 stated “we have no history of colonialism”. This ignorant statement basically erased his apology in the eyes of many.
It may seem as though all of this happened a long time ago, however the culture still suffers, with 50% of the children still in alternative care, whether it be foster homes or adopted families. First Nations people are now all of higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, addiction, poverty and many other health concerns.
This remains a current issue that needs to be recognized as a problem and needs compassionate attention.
One way to give compassionate attention is to learn about the culture. And what an amazing culture it is. Something that stood out for me in the learning of the day was the Medicine Wheel as a personal tool.
This is a tool that can be used, regardless of your history or your culture. Firstly, you must see your body as your house. Like any house, the foundation is key to keep it standing. Typically in First Nations culture they have ceremonies in a wooden, rectangle shaped long house. This house has four posts as part of the foundation, just as the wheel has four foundational sections.
Take a look at the wheel. It’s four pillars, or quadrants are Mental, Physical, Emotional and Spiritual. In our culture, we are really great at the mental component – we put a lot of value on academic education and individuality. We are beginning to get better at the physical component, maybe, with more programs to build community and more awareness of healthy nutritional choices. We have much work to do to get our emotional and spiritual posts in order to find balance. (The First Nations culture could help us with these pieces…)
But now lets look at the medicine wheel as an individual, because really, we are all individuals first. We all can control only ourselves, and even that is harder than we would like most times.
The better we care for ourselves, the better our families, our communities and our towns/cities, and world will be. But it all starts with us as an individuals first.
For any of us to function at our highest capacity, all four of these sections need to be in balance. For example, A student who spends all his waking moments studying will be unbalanced and will be less productive than the person who is studying but also getting a full nights sleep, connecting with a higher power, and spending time feeding healthy relationships.
I challenge you now to take a blank sheet of paper. Draw a big circle on it. Now draw two long lines on the circle, splitting it in 4. Now label each quadrant, one MENTAL, PHYSICAL, SPIRITUAL, EMOTIONAL.
Write down one thing in each quadrant. It can be something you are already doing and want to continue to do, or it can be a goal. Don’t chose something you are already doing as a regular habit, but rather chose something that you are working to continue. Put your wheel somewhere where you can see it on a daily basis. Maybe a good place for it would be on the fridge or on your bedroom door.
Some basic examples;
MENTAL– Learn three new phrases in Spanish
PHYSICAL– Exercise for 30 minutes 3x this week
EMOTIONAL– Notice my self talk and how it affects my mood this week, spend five minutes at night recording my findings in a journal.
SPIRITUAL– Take time to walk slowly through the forest 3x this week
Now make your own. Look at it every day and begin to build your four pillars of a healthy home that is your body.
“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become”