Neuroscientist Dan Siegel defines the mind as an embodied, relational, self-organizing entity that processes and regulates the flow of information and energy. This means that the mind is not simply the brain or brain activity—the mind is connected to the entire body.
Mindfulness is key to deepening self-awareness, acceptance, and emotional regulation. There is a pre-sensing activity of being aware of what is happening internally with as little judgement as possible. Mindfulness reinforces the notion that the mind is connected to our body. We might feel a pit in our stomach, pain in our chest, tightness in our jaw. Tapping into these sensations is how we regulate the flow of information and energy, allowing us to know what is happening, how it makes us feel, and, thereby, how to respond appropriately.
When we are mindful, we activate that observing sensation that allows us to attune. Attunement is awareness of the internal state of self and others. The relational aspect of the mind is essential for our well-being in that it allows for secure attachment with others. Secure attachment is a relational quality where safety and positive view of self and others is activated. In secure relationships, we can ask for our needs and wants. We might have had a bad day at work and need our secure attachment—whether that be a friend, sibling, or spouse—to just watch a silly movie with us and hang out to help us decompress. We can mess up and know that the hurt can be repaired because there is a basic level of trust.
When we have a secure attachment with others our neural networks integrate in ways that build trust and deepen our internal self-organization.
By self-organization, Siegel means there is an optimal self-organization of all the parts that compose us. The goal of self-organization is integration of those parts, not unification or homogenization. In life, we can recognize that certain parts of us become activated depending on the situation. A child crying might lead to a part that is tender and soft. A friend who continually takes advantage of your generosity might require us to set boundaries. In other words, we don’t need to merge the tender part with the firm part. When our parts blend, we become chaotic and rigid, unable to respond to life’s difficulties. When our parts remind separate but integrated (i.e. self-organized), we become flexible and adaptable. We know how to show up in many different situations, however difficult and painful.
The neuroscience answer to the question, “Where is your mind?” is, “throughout your body.” When we start to appreciate how our entire body gives us essential information about our experiences, we can start to listen to our mind—and trust that it has something to tell us about how to be in the world. Importantly, it reorients the relationship we have with ourselves. It’s tempting to privilege our thoughts above and beyond other pieces of information, but what Siegel helps us see is that our thoughts are not our mind.
This Post Written By:
Nicole Rizkallah, LAMFT – Therapy With Heart
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