Archive for April, 2010

The ocean of the mind



The wheel of awareness

big wheel

rose window

I’ve recorded a guided mindfulness meditation practice here.

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Dan Siegel who has created an area of understanding known as Interpersonal Neurobiology makes the point that most mental health professionals have not been taught a definition of the mind, and, often, aren’t clear about what good mental health looks like.

He answers these issues as follows –

His definition of mind is that –

mind is an embodied, inter-relational process of regulation of the flow of energy and information

His definition of well-being is the integrated flow of energy and information. He explains that health is like a free flowing river with two banks, one of which is rigidity, and the other, chaos. We veer towards one or other of the two banks as we make our way through life.

He uses a three-aspect model of well-being to explore this, the three aspects being the mind, the brain and relationships.

I like this definition. What do you think? Is this an interesting way to think about the mind?

In some ways, this builds on the ideas of embodied and extended minds by writers such as Varela, OgleClark and others.

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Is meditation about stopping the mind?

Is it about emptying the mind?

I used to think it was one of those, and I couldn’t for the life of me manage to ever stop my mind. In fact, I couldn’t even figure out how I’d know if my mind had stopped! The same applied to emptying. My mind might often be full of trivia or nonsense, but that’s not the same as it being empty. Seemed too difficult to me.

Then I learned that it wasn’t about emptying the mind at all. It was about noticing what was going on, and letting it pass right on. I learned it wasn’t about stopping the mind at all. It was about enabling it to flow.

As Dan Siegel says, a healthy mind is an integrated mind. Like a river, it flows. He uses the metaphor of a river with two banks, one of which is rigidity, and the other is chaos. We veer towards one or other bank as we travel through life. When we’re well, we are neither stuck in a narrow, trapped place, nor are we falling to pieces, into disintegration. Rather, we’re flowing.

How do we do that? Well, one useful technique is to meditate regularly. I meditate twice a day, for 20 minutes each time, but there’s no strict rule about that. If you can, take a few minutes, at least once every single day, and quietly try a meditation exercise. There are many ways to practice mindfulness meditation. Essentially, it’s a method which allows you to become aware of the content of your mind. Dan Siegel in his “The Mindful Brain” (ISBN 978-0393704709) includes a script he uses with his patients to introduce them to a couple of ways to begin meditation. I’ve recorded his script here.

Just click on the link to hear it.

The basic technique is to become aware of breathing in, and breathing out, and to return the focus of your attention to your breathing every time you become aware that your mind has drifted off to consider something else.

Dan includes two great metaphors. The metaphor of the sea of the mind, where below the surface your awareness lies, calm and peaceful, and from where you can observe all the activities of the mind up there on the surface, coming and going and like the waves. The other is a “wheel of awareness”, with your awareness as the hub of a wheel, the spokes of the wheel being the direction of attention you send towards the rim, and the rim being made up of the five senses which bring the outside world into your mind, the sixth sense, which is the inner state of your body and its component parts, the seventh sense, which is the content of your mind, and even the eighth sense, which is your attunement to others.

I hope you find some of this helpful.

If you’d like to know more about Dan Siegel, and his understanding of the mind, I’d recommend you read “Mindsight”, or download it as an audiobook. (ISBN 978-0553804706)

You’ll never see things the same old way again.

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