The Wheel of Life is the medieval model of change. It describes the emotions of change. In the Middle Ages when many people were illiterate teaching took place through images or pictures. The Wheel of Life was often carved in the stone walls of cathedrals. People seeing the image received instruction about the change process. What was the lesson?
At the top of the wheel is a well-dressed, smiling, kingly or queenly person. This person is in the position of Happiness. Things are normal and going well. The wheel turns with a clockwise movement. Change has occurred. The same person is now upside down and falling through space with a look of distress. This is the position of Loss. The wheel continues its movement and at the bottom of the wheel the individual is now nude and is being pulled along through the muck and mire of life. This is the position of Suffering. The wheel turns and the person, who is again clothed, rises up to the position of Hope. There is hopeful anticipation of once again reaching the position of happiness. The wheel’s lesson is that there are only four positions in life: happy, loss, suffering, and hope. We are always in one of these positions.
Happy is where we want to be.
Happy is where everything seems normal. Happy is where we all want to be. What we are doing is succeeding. There is a routine that works. We are comfortable.
“Suffering” means to allow
Loss is where the happiness of routine begins to fall apart. A variety of events have signaled change and we are being challenged to let go of the routine that worked. When loss comes we want to return to our lost happiness as quickly as possible. We want to regain our equilibrium by making the wheel go in reverse. The wheel, however, only moves forward with a clockwise motion. To regain happiness we must follow the wheel into suffering.
Suffering is at the bottom of the wheel. Suffering is the phase of transition. The Latin root word for suffering means to “experience or allow.” So, to suffer means that we go through and fully experience our loss as we make and then implement our plans for a return to normal. This is a process that we cannot short circuit and still achieve our goal. We cannot go over, under, or around the transition phase. We must go through it with the hard work of planning, implementing, and revising. This is often unpleasant and there is true suffering (tension, stress, anxiety, worry, frustration, anger, conflict, sadness). It is out of suffering (experiencing) that hope arises.
The Wheel always turns.
Hope comes when our plan is working and progress can be seen. We begin to feel competent. Our goal comes into view and we have a vision of a return to the happiness of normalcy.
The normalcy that we see will not be the same as the “old” normal. Through an effective process of change we return to balance but it is a new and different balance. Happiness is found in a new state of equilibrium.
Once returned to normal we look ahead and get that uneasy sense that, “Something’s Up?” The winds of change continue to blow. The wheel always turns. Our happiness, normalcy, is not a permanent state. More change is coming and the journey around the wheel into loss, suffering, and hope begins again.
Whenever change enters our life we experience the emotions of change. As we sense that loss is coming there is anxiety, apprehension, and worry. When loss arrives we feel sad, angry, irritated, and frustrated. Grieving needs to be done. With the experience of suffering through change may come stress, depression, burnout, helplessness, or even hopelessness. Eventually, hope brings a renewed energy, optimism, and enthusiasm and happiness brings a sense of satisfaction and contentment.
The Wheel of Life teaches that we cannot get happy and stay happy. Change always comes. Change brings growth. The emotions of change are expected and normal. They cannot be avoided. Looking for and accepting them in yourself and others helps work through the process of change.
Where are you on the Wheel of Life?