“Everything, except love of the most beauteous God, even though outwardly it seems as pleasant as eating sweats, is in reality an agony of spirit. What is meant by agony of spirit? It is to advance toward physical death without drinking the Water of Life.” Rumi
Here Rumi reminds me of my favorite teaching of the Medicine Wheel. This Wheel is a circle with the four directions indicated by a vertical line and a horizontal line that cross at the center, the heart of the Medicine Wheel. It appears as a cross with equal arms. However, the vertical leg of the cross is red while the horizontal line is black.
Typically, the vertical line is drawn from the south to the north and is called “the good red road”, while the horizontal line is drawn from east to west and is called “the black road.” If you think about it, the black road begins at dawn, the beginning, and ends at the dying of the day. It captures the life lived purely in the physical realm where we are born, live for a while, and then die. All it knows is the physical, and if we follow the edge of the Wheel, sun-wise, we see this confirmed as life’s journey travels through the south, the place of growth, on its way to the west. This journey never wanders into the northern region of the circle.
On the other hand, the ‘good red road’ begins in the south, life, and is drawn northward to the place of the Medicine Wheel that represents winter, the pause between fall and spring. The north symbolizes the place of purification, the pause that purifies life and rejuvenates it in preparation for rebirth in the spring—the new dawn.
What strikes me particularly important about this symbol is that the ‘good red road’ represents the spiritual path. It does not begin at birth, but is rooted in life. In other words, a spiritual life is not automatic, it is a choice that can only be made once someone has matured enough to understand the alternative of either a purely physical existence, or the path towards the purification of life that will open the doorway to spirit, the northern region.
And it is a stark choice! One is focused solely on the physical while the other holds focus on the spiritual. Of course, since the spiritual life begins in physical life, the south, the ‘good red road’ does not exclude anything of the physical, it just adds to it the place of spiritual vision and realization. It opens the way to live the full value of both the physical and the spiritual together where we are not trapped within the physical realm but live free to soar into the rarified realms beyond and where we can know the full value of our humanness as both physical and divine!
To me, the interesting thing is that the two lines meet at the center, the heart, and that point is equidistant from every point on the circle that surrounds it all. From here, all the directions are available simultaneously. That being said, you cannot reach this balance point, this heart, this center, accidentally. Simply wandering from birth to death would lead you along the edge of the Medicine Wheel. To reach the center, to go deeper, you have to begin in life, the south, and walk north. That is the inward journey, that allows us to transcend the petty, surface concerns to discover what lives within.
So, the ‘red road’ will allow us to penetrate beyond the surface façade of life to the very heart. Our efforts toward purification and to see the sacred and the divine in life, does not cause us to leave life or to dissociate! On the contrary, we begin to embrace more of life than was ever possible before when we looked with a single eye at only the physical. Here we are able to live the fullness of physical life and the fullness of spiritual life. This is the place of mastery of both the heart but also all the points of the perimeter of the Medicine Wheel. Here there is no inner or outer, neither north or south, nor east or west. Here all points are known and all are equal. Here is fullness. Here is Oneness.