An expert in the practice of mindfulness, Daniel J. Siegel, MD discusses how you can gain more energy, focus and resilience despite the stress of everyday life.
New York Times bestselling author DANIEL J. SIEGEL, MD introduces his science-based meditation practice in his groundbreaking new book Aware: The Science and Practice of Presence. It’s a guide to the Wheel of Awareness practice that aims to make you more focused and present, as well as more energized and resilient in the face of stress and the everyday challenges life throws your way.
What is mindfulness?
The term “mindfulness” has no fully accepted definition. I think of it as a practice of training the mind that builds on three research-established pillars: focused attention, open awareness, and kind intention. It supports meditation—“mind-training practice.” It would include mindful awareness—being aware of what is happening without being swept up by judgments or reactivity.
How long should we meditate?
A dozen minutes a day may be the minimum we need.
What’s a good place for a newbie to start?
Begin with the basics: focused attention training. Being mindfully aware of the breath is a good place to start. Trying out the basic Wheel of Awareness is a natural next step.
What is the Wheel of Awareness?
Think of a wheel. The hub represents the experience of awareness itself — knowing. On the rim are four segments: the first five senses; the internal sensations of the body; the mental activities of emotion, thought, and memory; and finally, our interconnections. We send a spoke from the hub to the rim to show how we focus on one element of the rim at a time. By systematically moving the spoke around the rim, we can practice by differentiating these elements from each other, as well as by differentiating these elements from the knowing in the hub. We can even explore the hub of awareness itself. This is how the Wheel practice, and even the Wheel image, integrate consciousness.
What happens in the brain when people meditate?
It depends on the kind of meditation. For the three-pillar training, the brain becomes more focused, awareness more open, and intention more kind. In the brain over time, these become long-term traits that are associated with more integration in the brain. This means that the different areas of the brain become more interconnected. That allows for a more well-functioning brain.
Why is mindfulness practice helpful for people with depression?
Mindfulness practice has been shown to help prevent relapse of chronic depression. This may be because the brain becomes more integrated. Or it could be that the mind becomes more aware of the negative thought-emotion downward spiral and can reverse that depressing way of approaching life.
If you are already too inward-looking during a depressive episode, is turning inward for meditation really a good idea?
Mindfulness meditation during an acute bout of major depression may not be helpful, though research reveals it can help prevent a relapse.
What about people who can’t focus because they get caught up in rumination or anxious thoughts that won’t stop?
The Wheel can be helpful for people who ruminate because it helps them experience the difference between the hub of being aware and the rim of the ruminative thoughts. The more one can differentiate the hub from the rim, the more freedom one experiences from anxiety, mild or moderate depressive rumination, and traumatic intrusions of memory or thought.
How does awareness tie into resilience?
It’s like a cup of water. If awareness is only the size of an espresso cup, and life dishes out a stressful tablespoon of salt, that small amount of water cannot dilute the salt enough to make the water drinkable. Stress is then overwhelming. But imagine if that cup were the size of a child’s wading pool. Throw that same stressor of a tablespoon of salt into the water and the water is still fresh to the taste. That is what resilience is—not avoiding life’s challenges, but having enough awareness to handle whatever stressors life dishes out.
Printed as “Back Chat: Daniel J. Siegel M.D,” Fall 2018
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