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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Mindsight--Mind, Brain, and Relationships

Overview: I believe that the heart of this book is embodied in a quote by Martin Luther King Jr. from the Letter from Birmingham Jail: "We are caught in the inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects us all indirectly."  Professor and psychiatrist Dan Siegel illustrates King’s words in action.  He explains how Mindsight helps us integrate and regulate the flow of energy and information both within ourselves and among others, while at the same time honoring differences and reshaping our own brains. The brain is a social organ and mindsight is about regulating and integrating emotional and social intelligence.  Indeed, knowing ourselves and sensing the inner world of others is uniquely human. Through mindful breathing and reflection, we can learn to “name and tame” our emotions rather than being consumed by and “becoming” those emotions. He proposes a triangle: Well-being = Mind + Brain + Relationships.
2.     About Mindsight: Mindsight focuses on both internal reflection and external relationships, which result in an integrated, social, and resilient mind—one capable of weathering the ups and downs of life. For example, when we reflect and can name an emotion, we get a chance to tame that emotion.  Thus, saying “I’m mad” (identifying with the emotion) is far different than saying “I feel mad” (a transient condition). Well-being results from Siegel’s mindsight triangle of the mind, brain, and relationships. Well-being emerges when we integrate information and energy within self and between others while honoring differences. Such connections with self and others keep us from becoming too rigid (stuck and depressed) or chaotic (angry and explosive). Navigating the mindsight process between self and others ultimately sculpts and changes the shape of the brain.
3.     About the Brain: Neuroplasticity describes how our brain changes and grows throughout our lives, creating new neuronal connections based on our experiences with self and others. Siegel uses complex systems’ interdependence and dynamics to explain how various biological, psychological and physical functions interact and influence the mind. He describes a metaphor for a healthy mind as the flow of a river, naturally integrating energy and information in a complex system between two banks—one of chaos reflected by anxiety and anger and one of rigidity—being depressed or stuck in place. The healthy flow of this “river” can be marked by an integrated system that is Flexible, Adaptive, Coherent, Energized, and Stable (FACES). Thus, the river flows smoothly, neither crashing up against chaos nor against rigidity.
4.     The Mind and Body: We have both a physical and mental state. Often doctors separate the two, treating only the physical, ignoring the mental. Our thoughts shape our brain and that shapes how we feel, relate and act. We can turn off mindsight and view people different than ourselves—without empathy—as truly “other.” For example, the Nazis did that to the Jews; in fact, every act of genocide emerges from this inhumane premise. However, as humans, we are part of an interconnected whole. Moreover, the brain is the social organ of the body, but too much focus on the body itself can warp our insight. Relationship is the lifeblood that makes us human and resilient. When we share information with each other, energy flows and relationships grow. Our neurons transmit our information and energy to others, and our mind regulates the process. We develop our ability to self-regulate through practices like mindful breathing and meditation. This reflection and regulation takes place in the prefrontal cortex (PFC).  
5.     Your PFC: The very front of your brain is called the prefrontal cortex. It connects and integrates everything—especially the upper (rational) and lower (emotional) brain. The nerves in the middle of the PFC can be strengthened and accelerated by reflection, such as mindful meditation. And the more we reflect, the stronger the nerves become that communicate with and control the limbic system. So, reflection leads to self- and other-relationship regulation.  The PFC is where reflection takes place and what helps us develop mindsight that promotes the following 9 domains of mental integration: 1. Bodily regulation (regulates heart, digestion, etc.); 2. Attuned communication with self and others; 3. Emotional internal balance and meaning—not chaos or rigidity; 4. The extinction of fear (self-calming); 5. Flexibility and pause before responding/reacting; 6. Capacity for insight into self; 7. Empathy for others; 8. Morality—awareness of the greater good; 9. Intuition—integrating bodily “felt sense” (the wisdom of the body) with the more logical mind.

6.     Reflection, Relationships, and Resilience: When you reflect and understand your own feelings, you can better navigate relationships with others and become more resilient to the ups and downs of life. The “tripod of reflection” consists of: 1. Openness—being receptive and aware, not judgmental or stuck; 2. Observation—seeing the context while experiencing an event; and, 3. Objectivity—having a thought or feeling but not being swept away by it. Reflection through meditative breathing is the best place to start. Focusing on our breath calms the mind and integrates the body and the mind.  Developing a regular, reflective mindfulness practice strengthens the PFC’s connection to the body and limbic system and puts us in a more integrated state capable of relationships and resilience in our lives. All the research on well-being says that for resilience, social relationships are the #1 determiner of our success. And reflection helps us develop and maintain strong, positive, reinforced relationships.  

Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation by Daniel Siegel, M.D. (Bantam Books, Copyright 2010), reviewed by Steve Gladis, June 2016. 

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