This is the 7 Directions article approximately as it appeared in Sacred Hoop (Issue 85).
The Seven Directions
A Daily Practice That Could Change Your World.
“Above me, below me, before me, behind me, to my right, to my left, within.”
Every day – like most people in the West I imagine – I am subject to an onslaught of information and images from around the world that alternately break my heart and make me furious. Our Earth, our precious one and only home, is being subjected to a battering the like of which she has never before experienced. So are her animals and so are her peoples. Signing and sharing petitions and disseminating information are all well and good, they are certainly time better spent than ‘liking’ videos of idiot (disconnected, heartsick, uninitiated, quite possibly hopeless) teenagers drinking pints and pints of spirits, but they don’t feel like anything near enough to me. I am not in a position to go out and join anti-fracking protests far from home, or go to sea on a Greenpeace ship – so I’ve been wondering – “what can I do?”
Every religion and spiritual tradition throughout time has offered instruction on what to do with the self - the ego - with all its jabbering wants, needs and opinions. Some tell us to punish the self which they see as inherently wicked - others ask that we work on improving ourselves through study. Shamanism, like Buddhism, asks us to see that our notion of self is an illusion; we can experience ourselves as individual, but in truth we are part of a bigger whole. One of the primary teachings of Shamanism, as it has been handed down from mouth to ear all across the globe and throughout time, is to know that we are not alone but a tiny part of a huge interconnected web of life encompassing our planet and everything on it. Just as there are many Bees in one hive, still each individual Bee is unable to survive at-all without the others, without the whole of the hive. We are part of this one and only Earth-home, we are the cause of her problems and can hopefully be the solution.
The practice of the Seven Directions begins with an awareness of yourself in your body (this is rare enough by itself – in this distracting, heady time we live in). As you slowly speak the words “Above me, below me, before me, behind me, to my right, to my left, within” you send your awareness to each one of these directions. It can help to move your arms into these directions. Then you can expand your awareness to your immediate environment, just a few feet around you – repeat the directions; expand over yards, miles, counties, countries. The imagination is a muscle that can be strengthened like any other with exercise. Traditionally – and this practice exists in varying forms in many shamanic cultures around the world – you would repeat the words and the shift in expanding awareness three times.
I would heartily recommend to you that you undertake this practice first thing in the morning and outside. Make it part of a daily salutation to ‘all that is’ and allow it to fill your heart with gratitude for all that you are part of. At first your attention might be directed to getting to know your immediate environment through your senses; which animals live to my right, which trees, which birds sing? Then perhaps a sensing of the greater geography of your surroundings; below me – what are the rocks beneath the streets I know so well? Which constellations arrange themselves above me? As you practice you can learn to expand the circle of awareness so wide that the body of the earth becomes your body; the rivers your veins, the rain your tears, the trees your lungs. When you can experience yourself as this greater whole what follows is yet more capacity to truly love – yourself and everything else that both is and is not you.
Openheartedness leads inexorably to gratitude; gratitude for everything we are and everything we have until gratitude becomes satisfaction and when we are finally satisfied, we have enough. Suddenly we are not subject to the endless demands of the 21st century tutored ego that constantly whines that it’s craving for more be met. We are free – our concerns are for far more than our tiny separate self and our whole hearts can start to unravel the terrible mess that each one of us subscribes to every single day as a planetary way of being.
We can and will change the world.This we Know:
The Earth does not belong to man,
Man belongs to the Earth.
All things are connected like the
Blood that unites one family.
Man did not weave the web of life;
He is merely a strand in it.
Whatever he does to the web,
He does unto himself.”
- Chief Seattle, 1852