Wheel of Awareness: Ferris or Steering?


The Chester Fair was a late-summer highlight of my rural Connecticut childhood. And why not? It offered the intoxicating combination of junk food (I was known to go a whole weekend eating nothing but fried dough), unusual activities (Tilt-A-Whirl! Steer pulling! Chickens with strange feather arrangements!) and a tantalizing amount of parental freedom.

Smack dab in the middle of the Chester Fair Grounds was old beat-up the Ferris wheel (are they ever new?). Even before my first stop at the fried dough stand, I would get in line for the wheel. I loved it for the high-up view both in the hazy summer sun and at carnival-lit at night. I loved it for the air and the speed and the swinging cars, and the odd cocktail of intimacy and exposure as I swung in the car above the fair.

There was also the utter randomness of riding the Ferris wheel. The slightly dodgy, mildly creepy, never-smiling men who worked the wheel had some kind of incomprehensible algorithm for which cars were loaded and unloaded and in what order and when they would throw the switch for a grand whizzing ride around. When I rode on the wheel, I was at its mercy.

Sometimes my mind is like that: a big, crazy, slightly rickety, unpredictable Ferris wheel of thought and experience. I’m on the ride and flying around. Or I’m trapped at the top. Or I’m in the car with my sister who insists on swinging like a maniac. There are lots of things going on and I don’t have control over any of them.

At the same time that I was going to the Chester Fair, our family had one old color TV in our house. We had two channels to choose from and an actual dial on the actual TV was used to make the selection. (This actually isn’t a bad “back in my day” skit) When I sat on our burnt orange love seat to watch Fantasy Island or Love American Style, I would stand up, walk across the room, and turn the dial to either 3 or 8. Like the captain of a ship uses the wheel to navigate his craft, I would chose what I wanted to see by turning the dial.

Years ago, I came across psychiatrist, researcher and author, Dan Siegel’s metaphor of a wheel to describe awareness.

drdansiegel_wheelofawarenessHe writes:

The hub [of The Wheel of Awareness] represents the experience of awareness itself — knowing — while the rim contains all the points of anything we can become aware of, that which is known to us. We can send a spoke out to the rim to focus our attention on one point or another on the rim. In this way, the wheel of awareness becomes a visual metaphor for the integration of consciousness as we differentiate rim-elements and hub-awareness from each other and link them with our focus of attention.

Dr. Siegel describes the TV dial, the steering wheel of awareness. I’m never actually in the spinning Ferris wheel, I only think I am. I have a choice of where to point my attention. There are times when focusing on what is difficult or not working makes sense. There are other times when shifting my focus to what is working and what feels good is essential. Practicing this choice in low-stake environments – on my cushion, on my mat, on a walk – make it easier to make those choices when the creepy guy flicks the switch and I start to spin.

The practice is to know that I actually always have the steering wheel in my hands. It’s just a matter of choosing where to turn it.

For more information on Dr. Dan Siegel and The Wheel of Awareness, go here.

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  1. Brian Sosdian said:

    Thank you, Susan, for another skillfully written and eminently useful post. Yes, the practice is definitely maintaining awareness of choice. For me, it is also about tossing out the false beliefs that it is too hard to follow through on a different choice, or choosing a new focus will not make much difference, or I really don’t have the strength to turn the wheel. Love that you used Dan Siegel; I have been a fan for several years.

    • Always grateful to hear that the post landed in a useful way. And isn’t Dan Siegel the BOMB? I think he’s just amazing. Keep breathing and moving and choosing, my friend. ❤

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