Switch to Accessible Site
"It is out of the deepest depththat the highest must come to its height"
Men Therapy Session

Dr. Dan Siegel - influence and inspiration

Without a doubt, one of the main influences in my mental health training and personal practice of transformation has been Dr. Dan Siegel. His work - along with the work of Jung and his followers,  the examples of those in contemplative traditions, and more recently the work of those who work in fields influenced by the intersection of meditation and neuroscience such as Richard Davidson, Andrew Olenzki, Antoine Lutz, John Dunne, and Evan Thompson - lines the shelves in my personal library of books and articles and is an ever-present source of insight and direction.

I am putting this out there with the intention of fully littering this blog space and my clinical practice with examples, exercises, aphorisms, acronyms (Dr. Siegel is an acronym wizard!), and neuro-scientific findings from Dr. Siegel's wonderful body of research and writing.

What I love most about a figure like this is that, after a while, it becomes so much less about the person and so much more about benefits resulting from the person's efforts. I'm sure Dr. Siegel is a great guy, but I've never met him! What I have gained from reading the writing resulting from his (and his students') work of clinical experience, research, and editing, however, has been profound.  

One "Siegel-ism" that has proved particularly fruitful in my own practice of introspection has been his Wheel of Awareness. I fully encourage anyone who is interested in enriching their relationships with themselves, others, and their surroundings to research a full explanation of this practice. Below is merely a basic overview of the exercise:

3 parts (like characters): the hub of "knowing" (consciousness), the spoke of "awareness" (attention), and the rim of "the known" (that to which consciousness pays attention).

The overall goal of this practice (as I see it) is to allow one's experience of "knowing" to be differentiated yet linked with that which is "known". We use the spoke of awareness as a wedge of connecting space between the observer (hub of knowing) and the observed sensation or mental object (the known). By practicing this routinely, we can develop a mental habit of feeling comfortably separated yet connected to the world, those in the world, and our own inner experiences. This last point can be one of the most difficult to achieve: habitually understanding that through open observation, we can come to view our identity as something other that that which we experience. In other words, within our inner world (our minds), we can be released from the imprisonment of feeling identified with and overwhelmed by our sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts by using our attention to set these objects in front of our awareness and observe non-judgmentally. The exercises takes our conscious attention through (at least) 8 stages of awareness - Dr. Siegel calls them our 8 "senses" which I categorize into 3 groups. The first 5 senses, which I consider exteroceptive senses are those of sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch. Senses 6 and 7 are interoception (the sensations of the internal organs, especially the hollow visceral organs of the enteric nervous system) and mentalization (emotion and thought-watching) respectively. I consider both of these within the group of interoception because they are observations of internal stimuli as opposed to the observations of inner representations of external stimuli (as in the 5 senses). The 8th sense on the Wheel of Awareness is that of interconnectedness - we progressively contextualize what we observe as a massive (arguably infinite) web of interconnectivity of which we are at once a part (through our participation in it) and the whole (due to our capacity to contain it in our conscious awareness). I think of the progression through this sense as moving from module, to mode, to system, to process (not unlike the layers of organizational structure in the brain). Imagine an image of a tornado. We start at a point and move up and out assimilating more and more. This movement toward complexity (a topic of prevalence in Dr. Siegel's work as well) can lead us to feel our sense of "self" as shifting from a singular noun to a plural verb.

In my experience, a full cycle of this exercise can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. Not everyone has that kind of time, but if you could shave off enough time to start with mindful breathing (to at once promote relaxation and improve concentration), eventually these "senses" can be experimented with and incorporated into daily life.