Posts Tagged ‘Daniel J. Siegel’

Mindful Awareness Practices (MAPS)

April 19, 2014

This post is based largely on entry point 25 (Time-In and Mindful Awareness Practices) of the Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology by Daniel J. Siegel. William James, who is regarded by many as the father of modern psychology, proposed more than one hundred years ago that the exercise of returning a wandering attention again and again would be the “education par excellence” for the mind. I remember reading his words when I was a student many years ago thinking “right on.” My mind wandering during my studies was a constant source of frustration. Later in my life I read James’ Varieties of Religious Experience. If memory serves me correctly, eastern religions were not among the varieties of religious experience discussed. Unfortunately there is an anti-eastern/pro-western bias in western education. Had James reviewed these eastern religions, he would have discovered practices in meditation and mindfulness that addressed this very problem.
The UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center (MARC) uses the term mindful awareness practices (MAPS) to the many approaches for developing the skill of being mindfully aware. These strategies focus attention on the present moment. They focus attention on intention and also create awareness of awareness. When the breath is supposed to be the object of attention, the focus of the mind usually wanders and becomes distracted, the intended goal is to redirect attention back to the breath again and again. If the intention of the practice, to focus on the breath, is forgotten, then the exercise will not be performed well. Stabilizing attention requires being aware of awareness, and paying attention to intention. These are the keys to mindful awareness that strengthens the mind itself.
Time-in is a term used to refer to the ways in which we can take time to focus inward, to pay attention to our sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts (SIFT). That is, we SIFT the mind’s inner experience. Doing this each day can promote improvements in emotion regulation, attention, and empathy. Increasing the capacity to be aware of awareness and pay attention to intention strengthens the brain’s circuits for executive functions. These executive functions include the ability to sustain attention, to avoid distractions, to selectively change attention and then focus on the designated target, and to allocate the resources necessary to complete a task successfully. Research done at MARC found as much executive function improvement as is found using stimulant medication in adolescents and adults with attention deficit challenges. Other research at the University of California has found that sustaining mindful awareness can increase telomerase, the enzyme needed to maintain the telomeres at the ends of the chromosomes that sustain the life of the cell.
There is some debate regarding whether being mindful is primarily a way of focusing attention on the present-moment experience or whether it also entails a state of positive regard for self and for others. COAL is an acronym for the notion of being aware that is imbued with kindness. COAL stands for curiosity, openness, acceptance, and love. One kind regard it as either ironic or justified, but being concerned for others also benefits one’s personal health.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Supporting Neuroplasticity

March 18, 2014

Neuroplasticity is our capacity to change, regardless of how old we are. Daniel J. Siegel’s superb book, Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology: An Integrative Handbook of the Mind offers the following aspects of our life that can support neuroplasticity.

“. Aerobic exercise – when medically possible, voluntary exercise can support continued brain growth.

Good sleep – we consolidate our learning from the day when we get a good period of sleep with plenty of REM states for dreaming.

Good nutrition – the “soil” of the brain’s structure requires good food and water, including safe sources of omega-3’s in order to function properly and allow the “seed” of good attentional focus to work well.

Relationships – our connections with others support a vibrant and plastic brain.

Novelty – when we get out of a rut and expose the brain to new stimuli, when we are playful and spontaneous, we keep the brain growing and young.

The close paying of attention—when we avoid multitasking and distractions and care about what we are focusing on, we can actually stimulate the release of chemicals locally and widely support neuroplasticity.

Time-in. When we focus on our inner sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts, reflecting inwardly, we encourage the growth of regulatory, integrative neural circuits.

And, possibly, humor—some preliminary studies suggest that when we laugh we promote health growth of the brain.”1

My personal endorsement of the benefits of humor is less tentative and much stronger. Laughing entails breathing in healthy amounts of air along with what is frequently a healthy social interaction. Humor also involves the switch of contexts that implies the use of unanticipated circuits in the brain. See the healthymemory blog post, “Paraprosdokians and a Healthy Memory.”

1Siegel, D.J. (2012). Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology: An Integrative Handbook of the Mind. New York: WW. Norton & Company, pp. 8-8 to 8-9.

Interpersonal Neurobiology

March 4, 2014

The Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology: An Integrative Handbook of the Mind by Daniel J. Siegel is a valuable and fairly unique book. I find the text especially relevant as it fits well with the philosophy of the healthymemory blog. Dr. Siegel posits a Triangle of Well-Being, more of which will be written in the subsequent post. It consists of three components: a mind, a brain, and relationships. The mind is an emergent phenomena that emerges from the sophistication of the brain and is represented in our conscious mind. The brain includes not only the physical brain, but also the entire nervous system. Relationships refer to our relations and interactions with fellow human beings. In the lingo of the healthy memory blog, this concept of relationships is captured in the category of transactive memory. Transactive memory refers to the memories of our fellow human beings and to the memories resident in technology. But be aware that these memories available in technology are the result of memories of fellow human beings. Thanks to technology, we are privy to the thoughts of the ancient Greeks, as well as all the great philosophers and scholars throughout the course of recorded time. This also includes the memories of people from diverse cultures speaking diverse languages. The key concept here is that we can and should use our minds to control and develop our brains to best advantage. This is not always easy as the brain often appears to have a mind of its own. But mindfulness techniques are there to help us control and develop our thinking, as well as control our emotions. Using the mind in this way allows us to exploit the neuroplasticity of the nervous system throughout our lives. Similarly, our minds can interact with our relationships to foster those relationships so that they achieve maximum benefits.

The Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology does not have chapters. Rather it has numbered entry points with titles, but there is no requirement to follow the numbers. The guide is written so that you can enter at any numbered topic you find to be of immediate interest and start reading. Each entry point has several terms that are nodes in a larger interconnected network. There are 168 nodes in this nodal network. The nodes and other important general terms are italicized for ease of reference throughout the text. They can be found with brief definitions in an annotated index. The nodes serve as a bridge to read different entries so that you can interweave the conceptual framework as you move in and out of the different entries to satisfy your own personal interest.

Some Words from Einstein Worth Pondering

December 24, 2013

I found the following in Mindsight by Daniel J. Siegel (p.255): “In 1959 Albert Einstein received a letter from a rabbi who had lost one of his two daughters to an accidental death. What wisdom could he offered, the rabbi asked to help his remaining daughter as she mourned her sister? Here is what Einstein replied:

A human being is part of a whole. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and foundation for inner security.”


December 14, 2013

When I was in high school I wanted to be a psychiatrist. I read Freud and learned about the id, the ego, and the superego. I read Carl Gustav Jung and learned about individuation, extroversion, introversion, and archetypes as well as the collective unconscious. I read Alfred Adler and learned about individual psychology and the inferiority complex. The patients in case histories were identified with mysterious initials. But when I attended psychology and started taking psychology courses I became obsessed with learning how memory works, how we perceive, and how we form concepts and make decisions. So I studied in the area of human experimental psychology and earned a Ph.D. In the working world, I addressed applications and worked in the area of applied experimental and engineering psychology. I became a cognitive psychologist studying cognitive science. Psychology had been divided into half. One half, consisting of what most people think of as psychology, clinical and counseling psychology. And the other half, consisting of people with more of a scientific bent interested in basic and applied psychology. Historically, there has been little interaction between these two halves of the field of psychology.

So when I read Mindsight by Daniel Siegel, M.D, and saw him addressing clinical problems using the language of cognitive science and relating clinical problems to brain structures, I was overwhelmed. Moreover, in his case histories he uses first names, rather than cryptic initials. Daniel Siegel is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and co-director of the UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center. Mindsight refers to gaining insights not only in to how our own minds work, but also in the ways the minds of our fellow human beings work. I believe that mindsight is central not only to a healthy memory and our own mental functioning, but also is key to effective relationships. I could go on and further argue that this is important to government policies, but I shall not belabor that here.

I strongly recommend Mindsight to everyone, especially healthymemory blog post readers. I think it would make a great and valuable Christmas Gift.

Obviously mindsight involves mindfulness. Many healthymemory blog posts on mindfulness can be found by entering mindfulness into the healthymemory search block.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.