Lessons from the Wheel of Life

Photography by: Stephen Austin Welch
Lessons from the Wheel of Life

When you first meet Maria Yraceburu, as I did recently on an overcast afternoon in Oakland, Calif., she does not shake your hand. Instead, she cuts through the superficial by opening her arms and wrapping them around you. "I prefer to hug because that puts us heart-center to heart-center," she explains.

A small woman with long dark hair and a generous mouth frequently open in laughter, Yraceburu (pronounced "yayse-buru"; the first "r" is silent) embodies a combination of directness and compassion that announces itself with that first hug. The granddaughter of a Quero Apache holy man of the Snake Clan (Tlish Dyan), she has dedicated her life to sharing the wisdom handed down to her. As a storyteller, healer, ceremonial leader and author of several books, Yraceburu, now a grandmother herself, is on a mission to spread the word about the earth-centered Quero Apache way of life.

"The basis of the philosophy is that we are all interconnected," she says, summing up a cosmology that can be, to the newcomer, quite intimidating in its complexity. "We all have a need to connect, not just to human beings, but to natural and spiritual beings as well."

symbolic road map
Like many Native American peoples, the Quero use a medicine wheel to represent and harness spiritual and healing energies. The Tutuskya, or Great Wheel of Life, is a set of three spirals representing the past, the present and the future. The wheel also acts as a kind of calendar, based on the 24 lunar cycles of the year (12 new-moon and 12 full-moon cycles). Each lunar cycle is associated with a totem animal that embodies its own power and personality.

"It can be looked at as a road map of the cyclic life in harmony with earth rhythms," Yraceburu says. In addition, each point on the spirals corresponds to a directional line of energy. The south, for example, is associated with emotional energy, the west with physical healing. In ceremonial and healing rituals, a person walks the wheel, asking for guidance from any and all of these forces: the directional energies, the totem animals, and the spirits of the past, present and future.

To help people connect daily with the worlds of spirit and nature, Yraceburu has written a series of prayers that speak directly to each of the forces represented on the Tutuskya. Her new book, Prayers and Meditations of the Quero Apache, offers a way for people to discover a renewed and deeper relationship with the earth, other people and animals, spirits and themselves. Yraceburu recommends saying one set of prayers every morning to establish an inner sense of peace, centeredness and openness "to the energy of the day, to what spirit has in store for you."