Utilizing the Four Directions to Facilitate Communication

(When I redesigned this site, I eliminated the articles page. I am republishing some of those writings in order to include them in the current site. This article was originally posted in 2006.)

The following model is one that I created for a workshop that I was teaching on communication at our local community college in 1998. I created the model based on ideas from Native American Medicine Wheels and an illustration of the process of communication by Virginia Satir in Making Contact (Celestial Arts; Berkley, CA, 1976). The purpose of the model is to assist with identifying some of the different factors that influence the process of communication. The model is designed for simplicity and as a starting point and is not intended to represent all of the complexities of the communication process.

When we attempt to communicate, our thoughts, feelings, body sensations, energy, and spirit all influence the process whether we are consciously aware of them or not. If we are trying to facilitate genuine and authentic communication, it is beneficial to consider what underlying intentions, thoughts, and feelings are present in ourselves and those we are communicating with as well as environmental influences. In my opinion, and the opinion of many many teachers and masters that I’ve read and been influenced by, if genuine communication is to take place, we must start the process with ourselves first.

Active listening is an important part of communication and requires being present. Present with ourselves and present with others. This requires establishing a relationship with ourselves, learning to dialogue internally (Whether through meditation, journaling, contemplation, with a therapist, or whatever methods you choose.), learning to listen, and initiating an ongoing exchange between the different aspects of our selves. For if we are not clear in our own minds about what our intentions are, then how can we convey with clarity to another?

In my experience as a teacher, therapist, and personally, I have found utilizing the concept of a Native American medicine wheel very beneficial in assisting to differentiate between the various aspects of psychospiritual awareness. In a medicine wheel, each of the four directions represents different elements. For the model I use, East is spirit, South is emotional, West is physical, and the North is mental. I have adapted the concept of each direction to reflect factors that influence the process of communication both internally and externally. Some find it beneficial to physically sit facing a direction and then move around to each position in an effort to help them focus on one aspect at a time.

It has been my experience that many people, regardless of gender, confuse feelings with thoughts, so learning to differentiate between the two is important. Also, I think we tend to under emphasize the energetic influences that we have on one another and the unspoken, but assumed, rules that we construct in our minds with belief systems or are implied due to social context. Learning to pay attention to the various influences is an important aspect of increased self awareness, clarity, and genuine exchange.

It is my hope that the model can be utilized to facilitate a process of expanding ones conscious awareness to include a holistic perspective. Personally, it has benefited me greatly to consider the many factors that influence the communication process internally and externally in an effort to foster genuine and authentic experiences. As with anything I present, use what you find beneficial and discard the rest. It is up to us as individuals to choose what we learn from and utilize as resources.


© 1998, 2006 Sallie Odenthal. All Rights Reserved.

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Medicine Wheel Communication Model




What are you thinking?

How do you convey your message?

Are you matching what you are saying with what you are feeling and thinking





What are you feeling in your body?

What are the relevant social, cultural, and personal rules

What other energy(s) are present?




What does your intuition say?

Are you willing to risk being truly honest with yourself and others?

Do you trust yourself?





What are you feeling?

How do you react to your emotions? Do you allow yourself to feel and express them or stuff and deny them?

Do you feel responsible for how others feel? Or, are you holding others responsible for how you feel?

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