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[0:01:42.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success. Introducing your host, Matt Bodnar.
[0:01:50.4] MB: Welcome to the Science of Success, the number one evidence-based growth podcast on the internet with more than three million downloads and listeners in over a hundred countries.
In this episode, we look at how to live a healthy, happy, successful life from the inside out. We explore what it means to have an integrated brain, look at lessons across vastly different scientific disciplines and share the accessible, simple strategy you can use in 20 minutes to integrate the most important learnings from scientific research to create an integrated brain, body and mind, to improve your health, happiness, well-being and success, with our guest Dr. Dan Siegel.
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In our previous episode, we showed you how to solve any problem in your life using a simple no-risk tool that you could start with right now. We dug into why you get stuck on problems and how we often deceive ourselves. We talked about why reasons are often a ruse and how they can become dangerous once they turn into excuses. All of that and much more in our previous interview with our guest, Dr. Bernard Roth. If you want to crush any problem that's been holding you back, listen to that episode.
Now, for our interview with Dan.
[0:04:45.4] MB: Today, we have another exciting guest on the show, Dr. Dan Siegel. Dan is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and the founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA. He's a multi best-selling author and award-winning educator and a distinguished fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. His work has taken him across the globe to work with individuals, such as the king of Thailand, the Pope, the Dalai Lama and more. Dan, welcome to the Science of Success.
[0:05:14.6] DS: Matt, it's a pleasure to be here with you.
[0:05:16.5] MB: Well, we're very excited to have you on the show today and to get into some of the fascinating stuff that you talk about. I'd love to begin and open with this idea of integration. You talk and have written and spoken a lot about the idea of integration. What does it mean to live a truly connected life?
[0:05:31.8] DS: Yeah, well that word is a really great one to start with, Matt, because it's a simple process where things that are different, or unique, or special within whatever focus we're looking at; let's say, it could be your brain inside your skull, it could be your whole body including its brain, it could be a relationship between two people and a close emotional relationship, or it could be a family, or even a company you might work in. Whatever the system is, the idea is different parts can be honored for their differences and then linked, or connected, or allowed to be having communication with one another.
This way that you maintain differences and even cultivate them, nurture them, while also establishing connections, it doesn't have a formal term in mathematics, but it's something we can call integration. That linking of differentiated parts turns out to be the fundamental way, what's called a complex system, which is a certain system; the way it optimizes its, function the way it has what's called self-organization. A complex systems optimal self-organization creates basically harmony, a flexible adaptive state of flow.
When it's in that state, we can say it's in the state of health. There's a lot of reasons over the years of the last 25 years that I've been writing about this, to show that health, a healthy life, a successful life, a happy life come from integration. The science of that is absolutely fascinating. When that's not happening, you go to either chaos, or you go to rigidity. It's like a river. One bank is the bank of chaos, where things are completely unpredictable and overwhelming, it's out of control.
Or the other bank outside of this is more harmonious flow of integration, is the bank of rigidity, where things are completely predictable. They have this dullness to them, they're unchanging, they're inflexible. Those two banks, it turns out describe whether it's an individual, his or her life, or it’s family, or a company, or a nation, or even the world. You can look at chaos and rigidity as being a sign of things not going well. They're not successfully unfolding. They're not happy. They're not healthy. Those are all impairments to integration that are revealing themselves as chaos or rigidity and not the harmony that comes with the well-being of integration.
[0:08:10.6] MB: Tell me more about this idea that a healthy, successful, happy life comes from being integrated.
[0:08:17.3] DS: Well, it's such an interesting thing. When it first started emerging in the early 90s, I'm a scientist as well as a clinician. Of course, I'm a person, but also in different roles as a son, a brother, or a father, a husband, all these different things I am, I started wandering across all those roles. How do you're successful in any of those things? What's the science of success? What's the way that you go beyond just what people might tell you, but actually think, “Gosh, is there a fundamental unity of what ties those together across all those roles we play in our lives?”
It turns out that through a long line of deep reasoning about the various sciences, and I work in a field called interpersonal neurobiology, where we combine every discipline of science for example, math and physics, chemistry, biology, of course including neuroscience, genetics, medicine, things like that, psychology, sociology, linguistics, anthropology, all those scientific fields. What we do in our framework, interpersonal neurobiology, is we combine them all together.
If you're looking at, let's say an individual life, like I do as a psychotherapist, I bring the lens of interpersonal neurobiology into my work, so that I'm offering first of all, a definition of the mind, which is very useful to have if you're a mind therapist. I can get into that later, but a healthy mind, basically a mind that creates success and well-being is a mind that's creating integration within. Integration inside your body and integration between, which is integration in the relationship of the body you're born into with other people and the planet. You can go step by step through any of those areas; the internal world and the relational world and identify when relationships, let's say with other people, when are they integrated, when are they not?
We can talk through the details of that, but when you just basically use this scientific framework, it's amazing how useful it is to first of all, clarify what success and happiness really mean, then to be able to measure it scientifically, then also to be able to an intervention when things aren't going well. When you're stuck on that bank of chaos or rigidity, how do you know that that's happening and then what do you do to get yourself back into the main flow of harmony? That's the overall view of the relationship of integration to success and well-being.
[0:10:55.5] MB: I think that this multidisciplinary approach that you have is fantastic. It's so important to approach problems from any and all angles. No academic disciplines exist in a silo.
[0:11:07.0] DS: Exactly. Well, that's right. I mean, they function as silos, but when you look at the nature of reality, like the old Indian fable of the blind man and the elephant. There's a whole elephant, even though a given blind man may just – may only study one part, like the toe, or the tail, or the ear, or something.
You're right, the whole elephant does exist, even if the blind men are separate. Even if the disciplines tend to silo themselves. They shouldn't be siloed, because the reality they're trying to study actually is a non-siloed reality. Would you agree with that, Matt?
[0:11:43.1] MB: Yeah, absolutely. That's what I meant. Obviously, they exist today in many instances and silos, but it's so refreshing to see somebody whose approach is so broad and integrated and cross-disciplinary.
[0:11:54.1] DS: Yes. Thank you. Well, thank you. I really, really appreciate that. It's an interesting space to work in and try to really maintain, because of course, in the university life, there’s a beautiful book called Concilience by EO Wilson, which points out how the –
[0:12:11.6] MB: Great book.
[0:12:13.1] DS: Yeah. You like that book, huh? It's the economic psychological and political structure of a university encourages silos and a lack of collaboration and cross-disciplinary work and also just thinking. It's a beautiful book. I agree with you totally. In that approach basically, when I used to be full-time at the university, I found it so intriguing, this is way before Wilson wrote the book, but I was living the life of what was later write about, that when I brought a bunch of scientists together, how you could address a simple question like what is the connection between the mind and the brain? That was the one question we were going to address.
We had 40 scientists that I had invited into a collective discussion about it. There was very little agreement. I had to try to find ultimately what Wilson would call a concilient view. I didn't have a word for it. I would just call it common ground or something, what could let’s say an anthropologist and a neuroscientist, just use two examples, what can a neuroscientist and an anthropologist in the room use as a common ground vocabulary, where the concepts and the methodologies that they use in their siloed approaches don't really overlap, but could you squint your eyes in a way to see what was in common across them?
What I did was have these 40 scientists. It was an emotional experience, because they were all my either teachers or friends or colleagues or whatever and they were all in the room and we had this one question, what's the connection between the mind and the brain? I needed to, because they weren't getting along. After the first meeting, really developed this concilient attitude and saying like, “What if everyone is correct? What if all the blind men are correct? Could we offer a big picture of you, so you say yes anthropology, you're correct. The mind is a relational thing. Yes, neuroscience you're correct. The mind comes from brain activity and everyone in between.” They're both correct.
Now when we first got together, they couldn't see any way to see that they are both direct, because there were a lot of argument and a lot of very uncomfortable feelings in the room. In the second meeting when I had to bring a view of what the mind might be – actually, there was no definition of the mind, short of brain activity, or something that was very vaguely described. The definition of the mind that I ended up offering turned out to be a concilient statement that allowed us to meet for four and a half years.
I really learned a lot from my colleagues about the importance of honoring different disciplines and understanding how hard the work they do is. Yet for me as a therapist and someone trying to put this, what we called, ultimately called interpersonal neurobiology framework together; it was really important to see if you could find common ground, so that we could collaborate with each other. Now we have over 75 text books that I've edited in the field of interpersonal neurobiology. I'm the founding editor of the Norton series in that field.
It's been a beautiful journey to say you could recognize the importance of cross-disciplinary thinking to bring all of the sciences together, even though it's a hard space to do, because you get people maybe getting a little irritated sometimes, or wondering why you're not just sticking with their discipline, because their discipline is better than the other discipline. I mean, so you really have to be very politically astute and scientifically on your toes, because you really want to respect the individuality of each discipline. You're also creating this concilient framework that says hey, everybody is important. Not just one person. That sometimes, it has to be in the front of your mind as you do the work.
[0:16:21.8] MB: There's so many different ways that we can unpack that. One of the underlying principles that I think is really important to expound upon as this notion that the reason it's so important to have a concilient approach is that reality is one interconnected whole. We think it's easy to divide it up into silos and disciplines and even ourselves as something separate from it and yet, when you really look at the hard science and the data and the reality of it, it's actually nearly impossible to truly separate any one thing from anything else.
[0:16:55.2] DS: Exactly. Well Matt, that's exactly the point. The common ground that felt at the time worth proposing to these 40 scientists, and when I came back in the second meeting and there was a 100% agreement that we could go with this proposal. I was floored, because you can't get academics to agree on even what to have for lunch.
They would agree on this fundamental notion. Basically, it came from a walk on the beach and it's very simply, it's the idea that if you were studying the beach and a university required you to either be a water specialist, or a sand specialist and you said, “Hey, but I'm interested in the whole coast.” They go, “No, you have to choose. Is it water, or is it sand?” You go, “But the coast is both.” They wouldn't let you do it. You would be a water specialist, or a sand specialist and you never really see the coast.
The coast is made up of sand and sea. In a similar way I thought, “Well, if an anthropologist is correct and a neuroscientist is correct, what could be the thing shared in culture that is shared in neural circuitry?” The simple common ground, now we would call concilient possibility is that it's energy and information flow. A culture is filled with the sharing of energy and information flow in this embedded way that we call culture.
When you study neuroscience, basically its energy and information flow streaming among the interconnected cells, the neurons and other cells inside your skull. The common ground there is the flow of energy and information. It can take different forms in those different locations. One is electrochemical energy flow, that when it's in certain patterns is in formation. It's having a symbolic capacity of meaning, but the same is true with culture. We have sounds that could be like this [inaudible 0:19:05.3]; pure energy, but then we can have billboards on the road. Or if you go into a restroom in a hotel in a certain culture, you see in the men's room a diaper changing table. Well, that's a cultural message. Get your act together men. You're responsible for changing your baby's diapers.
That's a simple example of energy and information flow. It's a little sign on top of a diaper changing table in the restroom that is embedding meaning, which is what information is through energy patterns; in this case, the light that you would be seeing this object in the bathroom. That view then says, well energy information flow is what's shared in neuroscience and anthropology. Then it turns out that every different discipline could use that. Then you say well, what's the mind part of that? How is the mind a part of a system, which is embodied and relational energy and information flow?
Then that's where you get into this idea of complex systems, which are open and capable of being chaotic and what's called nonlinear, which means a small input leads to large and difficult to predict results. That view of energy information flow being the essential element of a complex system, led me to really look back in the early 90s to the properties of complex systems. One of those properties is just called emergence that the essence of the system is interacting with itself, like water molecules and air molecules in a cloud. It gives rise to something that's called emergence.
Emergence is a real property in our universe of complex systems. One of those emergent phenomena is called self-organization. It's how this complex system regulates its own becoming, without a conductor or organizer. Just is a part of the probability theory, systems theory, complexity theory, understanding of how complex systems unfold over time. What I thought was when you look at the properties of self-organization, the self-organizing, fundamental aspect of a complex system, when it's optimizing that functioning, it’s differentiating and linking. In math, they don't have a name for that, but we're just going to name that integration.
When it's not balancing the linkage of differentiated parts, as we mentioned earlier, it goes to chaos or rigidity. That's straight from complexity theory. Then I thought back in 1992, wow, what if one aspect of the mind beyond subjective experience and consciousness and information processing, which are common descriptors, what if there's a definition, a fourth facet of the mind, which goes like this? The embodied and relational, so that's a location within the body and between the body and the world around it. The embodied and relational, emergent self-organizing, so we're saying it's a part of a complex system, the emerge and self-organizing process, so it's a verb not a noun.
What's this process doing? It's a self-organizing process that is regulating the flow of energy and information. That's the definition I brought to the group. I said, maybe the system of mind is energy and information flow. It’s embodied and relational, and maybe one facet of this multifaceted mind is self-organization. Every one of the 40 people raise their hand, “I can go with that.” We met on to meet for all these years.
It was absolutely fascinating that with that definition, you could then predict back in 1992 that future research, which didn't exist at the time, if it came around, would show that health emerges from integrated systems, whether that's in the brain, or the whole body, or relationships. That unhealth would manifest as chaos or rigidity and would be emerging from a impaired integration. So far, every study that's ever been done, I have 16 interns work with me to revise my first textbook into its third edition, I say, find something that goes against this.
We've reviewed 3,000 articles. I’m not going through them all, so I could tell you it's a lot of work. Everything supports the notion. We wouldn't say it's proven, but supports it that every study of the brain of someone with a major psychiatric condition has impaired integration. Every study of well-being shows that integration in the brain is the best predictor of well-being. When you look at interventions, like mindfulness practice, or doing these ways you train the mind to be compassionate and open and focused, I call it three-pillar training. Those are the three pillars of compassion training, or kind intention training, open awareness training and focused attention training.
This three-pillar training basically integrates the brain in exactly the ways that certain situations, like trauma impair the growth of the brain. We can go into the details Matt if you want, but that's just an overview to address your question of where do we go with the interdisciplinary view. To me, it's just an incredibly exciting moment, because these hypotheses from 92, now over 25 years later, have all been supported. We can't find anything to go against it.
Then you could do interventions like this thing called the wheel of awareness, where you integrate consciousness and get these really magnificent windows into not just the nature of the mind, but how to create a healthy mind and a successful life of well-being.
[0:24:46.8] MB: I want to unpack a lot of these different pieces. I definitely want to dig into this idea that the mind is embodied and also relational. I want to talk about three pillar training. I want to talk about the wheel of awareness. Before we get into any of those, to contextualize this a little bit more, I want to hear your story about your experience in Namibia.
[0:25:06.2] DS: Yeah. Well, our institute is called the Mindsight Institute. For years when I was in medical school in the 70s, I noticed that my teachers didn't sense the mind and that is they treated people like bags of chemicals. It was very strange. I dropped out of school for a while. Before I came back, I made up this word mindsight for how we see the mind. You have physical site, where you see things like chemicals, or the body, or whatever. Then this mindsight, it's a different system.
Flash forward many years, we became very interested here at the Mindsight Institute as to whether other cultures that represent in some ways, not the influence of contemporary culture, would they have words that try to communicate about the inner nature of our subjective experience, or what we're aware of? That would be how you'd look at the insight capacity of a person to have mindsight, and then how they would use that for empathy. These are two of the three aspects of mindsight. Mindsight is insight into your own mind, empathy to understand the mind of another and integration. The third thing is to honor differences to promote linkages. It's basic kindness and compassion and love really.
We went to Namibia, because there was some reason to believe that genetically some of the ancestors of the group that was the originally the homo sapiens who were the originators of all human beings were there in Namibia. There's some other views these days, but that was the line of reasoning then. We went to Namibia and we went out to different tribal groups and we had the good fortune of being able have a translator with us and interviewed the villagers to see if they used mindsight language. Indeed they did.
That's why we went and it was a really exciting thing. If there was any way to get close to the original ancestors of all of us, we were there. It was a beautiful thing. One evening around the campfire, we were just hanging out with the villagers and I asked the translator to ask one of the villagers a question, because there was a drought there and there was a famine and there was a lot of disease and there was a lot of poverty and people were appearing really, really happy.
It was perplexing from a contemporary cultural view of the importance of material comfort that we associate with what we think success and happiness is. I see a lot of miserable people with a lot of stuff here in the contemporary world, but there we were in Namibia with all these challenges to material comfort, but basically very happy.
The translator says, “You want me to ask this guy if he's happy?” I said, “Yeah. If he's happy, why is he happy?” “You want me to ask him why he’s happy?” I said, “Yeah, please.” He asked the villagers the question. The villager says to me, I will never forget. He says in his language and it's translated back into English for me, he says, “My people are happy, because we belong. We belong to one another in our community and we belong to earth.” There was this silence and I felt incredibly grateful for the response and then this wave of sadness came over me about just thinking about back home in the United States.
Then the villager asked the translator a question who translates it for me and he says, “He wants to know if where you come from, do you belong and are you happy?” I thought about how much misery there is where we are. I said, “There is a lot of experience of not belonging and there is a lot of unhappiness, even though there's a lot of relatively. There's food. There's not the disease you're facing. We have water. I mean, there's a lot of unhappiness and people don't feel successful and they're on this ladder to try to get more successful and more stuff and more of this, more of that.”
We just all stared at each other. That moment has really stuck with me. The whole notion of belonging relates directly to what we're talking about, the mind being both embody and relational. It raised for me back then when I was in Namibia, a deep – it's a question, but it's really like an emotional question thing. What is the self? What it was itself really? My next book is all about this that I'm just starting. This idea of in contemporary culture, we tend to think of the self as your body, or since the time of Hippocrates, you say the mind is just brain activity, or neuroscientists certainly reaffirm that.
That places the mind as the source of self inside your skin and case body. I think there's just something fundamentally limiting about that, if not outright wrong, that this villager was really describing the idea of belonging to community and belonging to earth. Since then, a lot of the workshops I do and the connections I have with – I consider people coming to workshops my colleagues. We're all in this journey together trying to learn. The whole notion of an integrated self would be where yes, you have a body and the body is an I or me, it's an internal locus of your – location of your mind, of yourself.
You also have a relational self that's different. It's differentiated, but it's equally as important and yet, it's not really a focus of what we often do in contemporary culture. It's all about I, me, mine; this internal thing. A relational self will be like an us, or a we.
I started teaching these lectures called from me to we, which sounds cool, it rhymes. One of my online students had come for this in-person workshop and she got really angry at me very appropriately and she said, “I'm really mad at you.” I said, “What are you mad about?” She goes, “The title of your talk.” I said, “What's wrong with my title?” She goes, “It's me to we.” I said, “Well, what's wrong with that? We is important.” She goes, “Yeah, I know we is important, but why get rid of me?”
I go, “Oh, my God. You're right.” She goes, “Shouldn't I be exercising my body?” I go, “Yeah.” She goes, “Shouldn't I be understanding my personal history and where I came from and my relationship with my parents, parenting me inside out approach?” I said yes. “Shouldn't I sleep well?” I said, “Of course, you do all these things.” She goes, “Isn't that all the internal experience?” I said, “Yes, it is.” She goes, “Why would you want to dop me?” I said, “You shouldn't.” She goes, “Well, come up with another name.” I said, “Okay, well how about not only limited to an internal me, but also extended to a relational we?” She goes, “That doesn't rhyme at all.”
I said, “Okay, okay. If you can integrate itself, it would need to be a candle.” Now I'd say this is like a candle is both the wax and the light. You're going to be the wax of your body as a me, but the light of your relationships which is a we. If you integrate that, you maintain both somehow. “Me plus we equals mwe,” I said to her. She was very excited about it.
I've been using we mwe, M-W-E as the simple three-letter word. We've been getting all sorts of other foreign languages born from English, other languages to come up with their own version, like you don’t know it’s in Spanish and things like that. It's been fun, because mwe allows you to have your internal experience, but also puts right into the word the relational identity as a we; me plus we equals mew. That's what came from Namibia.
I was realizing that belonging and not just fitting in, but actually belonging where you're maintaining your me, but you really are part of a we, so you're a mwe, is I think for me the, or from mwe, it is the way the belonging lesson from Namibia has come through in what I'm working on now.
[0:33:13.2] MB: Clarifying this for the listeners and making sure that I understand it as well, this idea of the relational self; in a very real and scientific sense is the notion that our minds are composed of and one aspect are relationships with others and with the world as well, is that correct?
[0:33:30.0] DS: Absolutely. When you put the mind as this embody and relational, emergent process is coming from energy and information flow, then basically what you do is with that view, you realize skull and skin don't limit that flow. It's an artificial divide to put the mind and the self, which I think comes from the mind to limit that by your skull or by your skin.
The system is energy and information flow just as you're saying Matt, it's inside your body and underscore and, it is also in the energy information flow you are sharing from the body you’re born into, so you do have an internal me for sure. We're not denying that. You have a relationship with other people and the nature around you, which just to make it to piece, we'll call that the planet. It's people in the planet is the connection that creates your relational self. It's really an interconnectedness.
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[0:35:53.5] MB: Let's dig into the three-pillar training that you talked about before. I'm starting to understand the importance of being integrated and how that can make us live in harmony and be much healthier and happier. How do we really implement that into our lives and start to become more integrated individuals?
[0:36:10.5] DS: Yeah. Well, I think the question you're asking is so important, because these – while these concepts are scientifically grounded and all these things in the science books, developing mind and other books I read are trying to review the science, you really want the practical application of it.
I wrote this book Aware to extend these ideas that are summarized in also a book called Mind, just as a journey book, to understand it to say well, could there be a book that teaches a person exactly how to do this? Mindsight is a book which gives you stories of what people have done across their different domains of integration, so we want to recognize that. One of the first domains a person should work with of those nine is the domain of consciousness, of your awareness.
The three-pillar training is basically that you're asking about is what research tells us in the studies that have been done over the last let's say 15 years, that if you train your mind with three fundamentally practical steps; the first is to develop focused attention, where you sustain attention on something and when your mind gets distracted you learn to let go of the distraction and redirect your attention back to the intended focus. That's focused attention, number one.
Number two is called open awareness. The second pillar of open awareness means you're opening the mind to be just letting whatever unfolds unfold. I'll give you a visual image of this in a moment, that I think helps it become clear. That's open awareness training.
The third has various names. Some people call it kindness training, compassion training, love and kindness training. There's all sorts of names for it, but they're all basically similar. It's to honor our interconnected nature with a kind regard. Because that's an intentional state, I just call it kind intention training.
Those are the three pillars; kind intention, to develop this positive approach to one's inner life or the life of others, open awareness to open up awareness to whatever arises and be present for that and focused attention, to learn to focus attention, sustain it and redirect it when you're distracted. Let's just call that three-pillar training. It overlaps with what some people would call mindfulness training. Other people say, “No, no. It's not mindfulness training. It's compassion plus mindfulness training.” Other people would say, “No, it's this and that.”
Just knowing those researchers who named it different things and looking for the consilience, I just call it three-pillar training and everyone's happy. It's three-pillar mind training. What does the research show? Research shows just to start with the science, that if you do the three-pillar mind training, you actually will cultivate integration in your brain. I mean, I can go through the parts of the brain that get more integrated, but basically, you're going to develop what's called neuroplastic changes. Neuroplasticity is just how you change the structure inside your head, the brain in response to experience and you're basically directing these mind training experiences to in the three-pillar ways that integrate the brain.
That's awesome, because every form of regulation that's responsible for a successful, happy and resilient life depend on integration of the brain. That's regulating attention, emotion, mood, thought, memory, behavior, morality, relationality, all that depends on integration of the brain and these areas are integrated with three-pillar practice. That's awesome.
Then you also with three-pillar training, in terms of health of the body and a successful health span is what it's called, here are the five things that three-pillar training has been shown to do. These are number one, it reduces stress or lowers the stress hormone cortisol. That's a good thing. Number two, it improves immune function, so you can fight off infection. That's a good thing. Number three, it optimizes cardiovascular factors, like lowering cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, improving the way the heart and the brain in the head communicate with each other; some people call that enhanced vagal tone. It does that. That's number three.
Number four, it reduces inflammation by changing the epigenetic regulators that sit on top of your genes that control inflammation. That's good, because information can cause a lot of sometimes life-threatening illnesses. Then number five is the optimization of an enzyme called telomerase that is an enzyme that repairs and maintains the caps or telomeres of your chromosomes. Overall, this especially but all these things help you basically slow the aging process.
When I turned in the aware book for review from my colleagues who do this science, one of them Elissa Epel who wrote a beautiful book called The Telomere Effect with the Nobel prize-winning Elizabeth Blackburn who discovered the system, she said, “Dan, Dan. You turned the book in yet to the publisher?” I said, “No, not yet. It's going to printer in two days. What did I leave out?” She goes, “Oh, everything's great. The book is great, but you left out one thing.” I said, “Oh, my God. I thought I had to write another chapter.” She said, “No, no. You don't have to write another the chapter. You should need to say one thing, it slows the aging process.”
I said, “How can I say that as the world's expert in aging?” She goes, “Because Elizabeth and I have shown that, so you should say it.” They will see that in the book too. The idea here as wild as these five things of improving health and the brain changes, the sixth thing of integrating the brain, these are now established in some of the most rigorous peer-reviewed journals in the world, in terms of science.
Fortunately, I had developed years ago before these studies were done a practice called the wheel of awareness, which basically integrates consciousness by you can imagine a wheel putting the knowing of consciousness called being aware in the hub, and all the different knowns, like your first five senses of hearing and seeing, etc., on the first segment and then the interior signals of the body in the second segment; mental activities in the third and then our interconnected relationships in the fourth segment. You move a singular spoke around and then you even have a chance to bend the spoke around, or retract the spoke and explore the hub itself, the hub of awareness.
We've had over a million people stream this from our website. We give it away for free, so you just go there drdansiegel.com and do it. What's been so fascinating about it is as a scientist, I did this with my patients and they got better over all sorts of things. Anxiety got reduced. They could deal with traumas in a better way, things like that. My students who are therapists started it using it themselves and with their clients, they started finding improvements.
Then I did it systematically in a workshop setting with 10,000 people. I recorded the results and took those results and tried to find a consilient understanding of what's the science of consciousness that we could understand what the wheel of awareness is doing and how it might work?
In a nutshell, we can get into this, but the wheel has the three pillars right into it. The first two segments you're doing focused attention, the third segment you do open awareness and when you explore the hub itself. Then kind attention, you're developing the fourth segment. It's really fascinating, because it's an integration of consciousness practice that just fortunately by good whatever, fortunate it has what independently the individual studies that those are usually separate focused attention, open awareness and kind attention training, but it's all in one practice, so it helps get some research behind the individual practices.
Now I have a number of scientists are going to systematically study it, but in a 10,000-person study, you get a view of what the experience is and that has opened up a whole new way of thinking about the nature of mind and in consciousness and why integration is the basis of well-being in your body and in your relationships.
Anyway, that's what the three-pillar practice is. If you said, “Well, what can I do to bring this into my life?” If you just like doing a practice like that, you can go to our website and do it, or if you want to see the practice taught alongside the science being explored, then the book Aware teaches you how to do that. That's a first of nine domains. It's an important one and a good place for everyone to start.
[0:45:03.1] MB: Briefly, tell me a little bit about what that wheel of awareness, what does it actually mean or do? What is the process of going through it and how long does it take?
[0:45:11.2] DS: Yeah. It's a table in our office that then gets turned into just a visual image. No one wanted to call it the table, or no we don’t want to call it a wheel. It's an image. For some people like kids in school, they use it just as a drawing to know that the knowing can be in the hub, the knowns on the rim and you can just with that knowledge, it's amazing, you begin to transform how your behavior is. I have examples of how that happens.
For adults and adolescents, what's really useful is to use it as a reflective practice. What this means is that you can take time. It can take about 20 minutes, 20 to 30 minutes really. There's a shorter one that takes seven minutes, but I wouldn't recommend starting with that because you zip around the wheel. Give yourself the space to do a 20 to 30 minute practice. What it entails is sitting down, turning off your phone and/or if you're listening to my voice, you have the phone on airplane mode, but have it to our website. Then you can listen to me guide you through the steps.
You begin with the first five senses as you send yourself in the hub, put the spoke out to the first segment, you explore hearing and seeing, then you let seeing go, then you go to smell, taste, and touch. Then you move over and you explore the interior signals of the body. These are all energy patterns, either from the outside world on the first segment, or the interior of the body for the second segment. A very powerful way of sensing what's called interoception, really great source of intuition and wisdom.
Then you move the spoke over to the third segment and now you're moving from the focused attention training to open awareness. You invite anything in. This is for emotions or thoughts, memories, hopes, dreams, longings, desires, beliefs, all that stuff. Then you hit an advanced step, you can retract the spoke, or bend the spoke, or just leave the spoke in the hub and just experience what it's like to be aware of awareness itself. That's often a pretty profound experience for people.
Then you straighten the spoke out, move it over to your sense of connection to people physically close to you, more distant, people who live in your town, your city, your state, your country, the world, all living beings. Then you have statements of kind regard and that developed intention. It ends with the focus on the integrated self of a mew. That's basically the practice. What's absolutely amazing about it is now I've done it – I did it systematically with 10,000 people, recorded the results. Now I've done way more than that.
It's been accessible to people who've never done what you would call a formal meditation before, but when it's been done by very experienced meditators, people who run meditation centers or monasteries, they're very excited about how this integrates these three basic practices; focused attention, open awareness and kind attention into one streamlined practice.
In terms of developing success in creating well-being in your life, you've got a practice you can start to do. Just like brushing your teeth, you do it on a regular basis and you have dental hygiene. This is a way of having life hygiene by doing a regular practice. It's been really rewarding just to get feedback on when people incorporate the wheel as a regular practice into their life, a reflective practice. Some would call it meditation. Meditation simply means training your mind. Yes, it's a reflective integration of consciousness practice that people are finding very useful. Every time you do it, it's different. It's very exciting to both learn about your mind and create a healthy mind.
[0:48:55.9] MB: That may be the answer to this next question, but what would be one first step action item piece of homework to give to the listeners to concretely start to implement the ideas and themes that we've talked about today?
[0:49:08.6] DS: Well, I would say the wheel of awareness from the feedback we have been getting is probably the most efficient and effective science-based, concilient thing you can bring into your life. That's just not from my own personal experience, so I found it useful, which I do. I mean, it's what I do regularly. It's so grounded in science, it comes from the simple idea of integrating consciousness and so accessible for you to do anywhere. You can do it if you're traveling, you can do it on the beach, you could do it in your home, you can do it in a closet, you can do it in a living room. I mean, it's a totally transportable process that becomes your own, and it's so supported by the science that you can rest assured that it's in careful studies when you do the three pillars individually, those practices will be good.
We'll see if maybe there's even a synergistic effect when you can get into one practice that has all three that are usually studied separately. That's going to be so exciting to see. At least from the initial reports, people are finding it incredibly – I mean, if I said the words empowering, enlivening, illuminating, I mean, it's very exciting. I would say the wheel of awareness. You can go to my website and just do it straight from there. We have all sorts of fun videos that you can see too that explore it and other things, book and audiobook and all sorts of ways, that if you do like to practice, you can learn more about it and make it woven into your life.
[0:50:43.0] MB: Again, for listeners who want to find you, want to find the wheel of awareness, want to find all of your work online, what is the best place for them to do that?
[0:50:49.9] DS: The website is the best place to start, which is drdansiegel.com. That's D-R-D-A-N-S-I-E-G-E-L.com. There you'll find a whole bunch of stuff. If you go to the resources tab, it'll take you straight to the wheel of awareness.
[0:51:07.8] MB: Well Dan, thank you so much for coming on the show, sharing all of this wisdom, so much knowledge across so many academic disciplines. I love the way that you've integrated everything. It is such a cohesive simple framework to be able to execute and start to implement to our lives, so that we can become more integrated whole individuals.
[0:51:26.6] DS: Beautiful. Well, thank you Matt. It's been a pleasure to be here with you. Thanks for having me onboard.
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