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The Wheel of Awareness

A Unique Model for Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness & Neurobiological 

Tools for Healing - A Training Resource

By Jim Messina, Ph.D., CCMHC, NCC, DCMHS-T
What's Behind the Use of the Wheel of Awareness (Siegel, 2012)
The wheel of awareness is a practice Daniel Siegel created in order to focus on the integration of consciousness as a domain of development in our lives. Integration is the linkage of differentiate parts, and so what would the elements be that are differentiated in the experience of consciousness? We can distinguish the many different things that can be known:
  1. senses that bring in the outside world
  2. the felt experience of the body
  3. our mental activities
  4. sense our connections to others
  5. distinguish the experience of awareness or knowing from that which we are aware of, the known.
These are the many elements of consciousness that can be differentiated from one another. How can these then be linked to create integration?

Siegel believes that One way of depicting this integration of consciousness is as a wheel, with a center hub and an outer rim.
  • The hub represents the experience of awareness itself—knowing
  • The rim contains all the points of anything we can become aware of, that which is known. 

Seigel then went on to say that we can send a spoke out to the rim to focus attention on one point or another on the rim.
The rim itself can be divided into four sections, each which can be differentiated from the others. In this way, the wheel of awareness becomes a visual metaphor for the integration of consciousness as we differentiate hub awareness from the rim elements, and the four sections of the rim from one another.

The four sectors of the rim can be visualized along the rim’s circumference as four slices of a pie that depict various mental processes
  1. The first segment contains the points from the outside world: our sight, hearing, olfaction, taste, and touch.
  2. The second segment contains the input from the interior of the body and enables us to have interoception of the muscles and bones of the body (head, limbs, and torso), as well as the input from the genitals, intestines, lungs, and heart.
  3. The third section represents mental activities, such as emotions, thoughts, images, concepts, memories, beliefs, attitudes, moods, intentions, hopes, and dreams.
  4. The fourth segment represents the sensations of our connections with others, a relational sense.

Siegel then divided the eight components of the wheel into four sectors:
  1. Sector 1 - the five senses bringing in the outside world
  2. Sector 2 - the sixth sense of the body
  3. Sector 3 - the seventh sense of seeing mental activities
  4. Sector 3 - the eighth relational sense

Siegel went on to say that we need to notice how the numbers can get a bit confusing so it is sometimes just more straightforward not to label the senses, one through eight, in this diagram. The use of an image of a spoke, sent from the hub outward to the rim, enables a visual metaphor to be created of focal, directed, concentrated attention. Sometimes one can just allow anything from the rim to enter the hub and experience open awareness.

Training the Atttentional System of the Mind
In doing the initial wheel practice, it is helpful to systematically do a “rim review” so that one moves the spoke, sector by sector, around the rim with intention and regulation. This is part of the training of the attentional system of the mind. The training of the mind through this practice refines the ability to differentiate these distinct senses from one another and also to differentiate the senses from awareness itself. This is a vital differentiation, often not present in our daily lives.

Roles of the Components of the Wheel of Awareness
When we integrate consciousness, powerful changes in life can occur.
  • The hub represents a spaciousness of mind that gives us room to pause and reflect.
  • The use of the spoke to direct attention reaffirms the person’s innate capacity to choose where to place attention.
Impulses may arise, and we can learn to just sense these as points on the rim within the hub of our mind, not acting on them but just noticing them come and go within awareness.

We can put a space between impulse and action, choose our various options, and remain fully present even when there is a lot of busy chatter arising from the rim.

The Wheel of Awareness is as a Metaphor is Just a Map
One important additional implication should be mentioned as a general point. Whenever we use a metaphor, like the wheel of awareness, we need to realize that it is just a map of a territory and not the territory itself. In other words, there is no wheel anywhere except as a drawing, a map on paper, or in our mind’s eye, our imagination. This is just a visual analog of a functional reality of distinguishing knowing from the known, of separating out the many things that can be known from one another. And as with any map, it is only useful if it can be a guide to arriving somewhere. It should not, and cannot, replace actually being somewhere. It is helpful to remind people of this view with the following analogy:
Wheel of Awareness Metaphor
If you were traveling from Asia or Africa or Europe and you wanted to visit Yosemite Park in California but arrived in New York City, what would be most helpful for you?
  1. Should we say, “Go west, young person!” And then just keep our fingers crossed and hope that you’d find your way? Possibly. But how helpful would that be? 
  2. Another option is to give you a map of the United States, perhaps set you on a means of transportation to the West, and ultimately you’d more rapidly arrive at the national park. Yosemite would be a lot easier to find if you had a map! 
  3. Yet we’d expect you to put the map you had in your pocket so that it served as a guide and not a distraction once you were actually in Yosemite! You’d experience all the waterfalls, the rivers, the forests, the deer and bear, and the gorgeous cliffs with your direct sensory input. The map got you there and can represent a place, but it is not a replacement for the experience of being there. (Siegel, 2012)

Reference: Siegel, Daniel J.(2012). Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology: An Integrative Handbook of the Mind (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology) (Kindle Locations 2883-2890). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

What is the Wheel of Awareness?
Daniel Siegel developed the Mindfulness model of the Wheel of Awareness to be used by us on a daily basis to main our centeredness, inner peace and ability to cope with the stresses that face each one of us on a daily basis. Now lets look at the outline of the Wheel of Awareness.

What is consciousness-subjective experience of knowing and being aware of the known

Hub: is the knowing - Space of Presence
Rim: the known
Spoke: of Attention
Five Senses: Vision, Hearing, Smell, Touch, Smell
Sixth Sense: Enteroception interior perception of the body
Seventh Sense: Mental perceptions and mental activities
Eighth Sense: Relationship to people and places
Mindfulness: Using awareness & the focus of attention to transform
Daniel Siegel uses the Wheel of Awareness to help us become more aware and to transform systems in our body including:
  • The Brain
  • The Immune System
  • Sense of well-being
  • Attention
  • Relational Function
  • Epigenetic Regulation

Presence and “Mindful Awareness”
Daniel Siegel believes that Through Mindfulness use of the Wheel of Awareness we will experience:
  • A form of awareness that comes from paying attention, on purpose, non-judgmentally to the present moment
  • A loving awareness and a kind attention
  • Focusing attention on intention
  • Awareness of awareness itself
  • of Training the Mind to focus on inner experience
  • Fundamentally Integrative: Differentiating sensory awareness from observing/narrating awareness and linking attentional practice

Integration, Presence and Health
  1. Studies of Well-Being reveal the interconnected connectome (integration of the brain), or linkage of differentiated regions best predictor
  2. Studies of impaired well-being reveal impaired integration of the brain
  3. Neural integration is the mechanism beneath regulation (mood, emotion, thought, attention, behavior, relationships, morality)
  4. Integrated Relationships ->Neural Integration ->Health
  5. Coordination and Balance in the brain

Mindfulness use of the Wheel of Awareness will impact positively the following:
  • Bodily regulation
  • Attuned Communication with self or others
  • Emotional Balance
  • Fear extinction
  • Flexibility
  • Insight
  • Empathy
  • Morality
  • Intuition
Wheel of Awareness Resources: on Dan Siegel's website you can get ongoing free resources at: http://www.drdansiegel.com/resources/wheel_of_awareness/

Daniel Siegel Videos of Mindfulness Meditation of the Wheel of Awarness

Wheel of Awareness Meditation
(Expanded) by Dr. Dan Siegel
33:03

Guided Meditiation
with Dan Siegel (Wheel of Awareness)

More Videos with Dan Siegel


Becoming "Aware" with Dan Siegel 2018

at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDbtkz0wyb4


A Truly Connect Life Dan Siegel Wisdom 2.0 2017

at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zF8nBDKxAQI


Are we our mind? Dan SIegel at TEDxPrague 2013

at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyhxXwclfNs


Mindfulness and Neural Integration: Dan Siegel at TEDxStudioCityED 2012

at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LiyaSr5aeho


TEDxSunsetPark - Dan Siegel - What is the Mind? 2012

at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ak5GCyBFY4E


TEDxGoldenGateED - Dan Siegel 2011

at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-BJpvdBBp4


The Power of Mindsight - Dan SIegel TedxBlue 2009

How to conduct a Wheel of Awareness Mindfulness Session

1. Begin by getting into a comfortable position, and sensing the rhythm of your breathing


2. As you breathe in and out, begin by visualizing the wheel. The “hub” is at the center and four quadrants surround it with a rim encompassing everything you know and can be aware of. For each portion of this practice, you will send out a spoke from the hub to the rim to focus your awareness. After each part of this practice, we suggest you center yourself with a deep breath before moving on.


3. Now, turn your attention to the first quadrant – your five senses. One by one, take time to focus your awareness on what you’re seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching.


4. Next, focus your attention on your “sixth sense,” the inner sensations of your own body. This is the second quadrant around the hub. Take a few moments to move your focus throughout your entire body, becoming aware of sensations you feel from inside your physical being, from the muscles and bones of your head, limbs, and torso, to feeling the sensations in the organs of your body.


5. Now it is time to focus on the activities of your mind itself. These include emotions, thoughts, memories, hopes, beliefs, dreams, images, longings, attitudes and intentions. This portion of the practice is separated into two parts. First, begin by just becoming aware of what enters your mind – invite any mental activity to come into awareness.


6. Once you have taken some time to do that, the next step is to pay particular attention to the characteristics of how these mental activities enter and leave consciousness. How do they arise and pass? Do these activities come up suddenly or gradually? Do they then stay constant, fade in and out, or reverberate? Then how do they leave? And are they replaced immediately with something else or not? If not, how does the gap feel between two mental activities?


7. Now it is time to try something a little different. As in other parts of this practice, send your spoke of attention out from the hub, but this time, bend it back toward the hub itself to direct your attention to focus on your awareness. With this part of the practice, you are working on “awareness of awareness” and feeling what that is like. This will take some practice, so try to be patient.


8. The fourth quadrant represents our sense of connection to things outside of our body. Start with focusing your awareness on the people who are physically close to you, then expand to others who are further away. Next expand to those whom you feel close to – family and friends – and then to others whom you’re engaged with, such as co-workers, students, teachers and others. Then widen your sense of connection step by step to include those who live in your neighborhood, city, country, continent, in the whole world, and finally to all of living beings on earth.