Life is Like a Wheel

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What are your images of life?









Four pictures of the same person.







Life has four phases. Where are you?

What is Life like?          

We can ask, "What is life like?" Different images present themselves. A frequent image, found throughout the centuries, is that of the wheel. The metaphor of life as a wheel helps us understand not only the longing for happiness but also happiness’ temporary nature. The wheel is an ancient symbol combining the meaning of the circle as wholeness or completion with the element of movement or passing away that is captured in the wheel’s turning. At the center of the wheel is a still point, the axis. It is central to the wheel’s movement, but it does not move. Daily life occurs at the periphery or the rim of the wheel. When this image is represented as "The Wheel of Life" or "The Wheel of Fortune" the rim represents life’s perpetual change and transitory nature.

Many variations of this image of the wheel exist. Some examples are found carved into the stone walls of medieval cathedrals. At a time when people were illiterate, these images were meant to instruct them about the nature of life. What was the message? What was to be understood?

Life is a Wheel

Let's look at one frequently occurring example of the "Wheel of Life." Wheel of LifeIt is a wheel surrounded by four different images of one person. At the top of the wheel is a well-dressed person, smiling and content. This person is in the position of happiness and success. As the wheel turns clockwise on its axis, the next image is of the same person appearing distressed as he falls head long into the abyss of change and loss. Fortune has turned, and the wheel continues to move. At the bottom of the wheel the person is naked and is in suffering as he lives through the experience of loss. This is the position of despair and loss of hope. Once again the wheel turns and the person rises in hopeful expectation. The person is again clothed and has a look of anticipation as he moves towards the top of the wheel.

The Four Phases of Life          

These four images represent the phases of life which are in continual movement. These phases can be distinguished from the stages of life. Life stages are broad divisions such as infancy, childhood, adolescence, adult, midlife, and old age. The four phases of the wheel occur within these stages in an on going cyclical manner. As individuals living in the world, we are always at one of the life four positions: Happy, Loss (Descending), Suffering, or Hope (Ascending). Because the wheel is continually turning, we can assess our present position and look ahead to where we will be next. If we are presently happy, it will not last. If we are falling, it may get worse. When we are suffering, we may get through it to rise again in hope. Happiness will be regained, but the wheel also continues to turn. The cycle is repeated, and such is life.

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