Can Mindfulness Make You More Healthy and Resilient?
Parvati Magazine interviews Dr. Dan Siegel on his new book, “Aware”
In his latest offering “Aware”, psychiatrist Dr. Dan Siegel guides the reader to cultivate conscious awareness and feel more integrated, through a meditative practice using the “Wheel of Awareness” framework he created. “Aware” combines psychology with mindfulness and even quantum physics. Parvati Magazine caught up with him to find out more.
Parvati Magazine: Tell us about “Aware”.
Dan Siegel: I wrote this book to give readers an opportunity to learn a basic reflective practice using the Wheel of Awareness. We also put together the experience of ten thousand people who underwent this practice, and tried to correlate and explain those findings to give a possible scientific view of consciousness. The reader can then use the wheel as a window into the nature of the mind to improve their lives.
The Wheel of Awareness is a visual metaphor where you have a wheel with a hub, rim and a spoke that represent elements of the mind. This started in my psychotherapy practice where I took two basic findings and combined these into the Wheel: the idea that integration—the linking of differentiated parts—is the basis of health and happiness. The second finding is that intentional change, for example personal growth or parenting, requires consciousness. Then the idea came: integrating consciousness, or conscious awareness. To integrate something, you have to first differentiate it into its parts and then link them together. Integration in the brain is linking different specialized areas through interneurons. Integration in relationships is to honour the differences between persons, and connecting them through respectful, compassionate communication.
Consciousness is our subjective sense of knowing, and we can know certain things such as bodily sensations, input from our five senses, etc.—the “knowns”. We are putting the knowns of consciousness on the rim of the wheel and the knowing on the hub, connected by the spoke of attention. Through this practice, we are strengthening the experience of knowing, and opening our capacity to be aware in a more expansive way.
PMAG: What are some health benefits of this practice?
DS: We found some amazing results: people reported reduced anxiety, depression symptoms, post-traumatic stress, even being better able to tolerate uncomfortable memories. This correlates with research on meditative practices centred on focused attention, open awareness and kind intention, that have been shown to improve well-being and the growth of integrative fibres in the brain.
We also know that when someone believes that the self is separate and is only a person in a body, this view of self may lead to anxiety, depression and even suicide. So, if the Wheel practice allows a person to feel, experience being connected to something larger, it may explain these benefits, the sense of enhanced empathy and compassion. Energy and information flow are the essence of mind, and through the Wheel, you are integrating this flow and tapping into open awareness, which has the ability to shift the way our bodies function and how our relationships run.
Research has shown that mental presence improves immune and cardiovascular functioning, and even changes epigenetic regulators (the molecules that sit on genes and regulate their expression) and levels of the enzyme telomerase, which influences aging. What you do with your mind’s awareness changes the molecules of the body that create health.
PMAG: You then bring this to the quantum level, linking awareness with possibility.
DS: I delve into the concept of energy in this book, which can be defined as the movement from possibility to actuality. When you take this view that the mind is an emergent property of energy, I propose that the knowing of awareness may arise when energy has moved into the plane of possibility. If this is true, the plane of possibility is not only the source of being aware, but it is the formless source of all form. So when people drop into awareness, they open the mind to new possibilities of experience, not just being aware of the experience of the practice. When people drop into the hub of knowing in the Wheel, the feelings of timelessness and connectedness come with learning to live in the plane of possibility.
Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., is clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, the founding co-director of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, and executive director of the Mindsight Institute. Dr. Siegel is the author of several books, including “Mindsight”, “No-Drama Discipline” and “The Whole-Brain Child” (with Tina Payne Bryson).