The Compassionate Brain: Week 2

MondayThe topic of week 2 of The Compassionate Brain series focused on mindfulness and the term Mindsight, which was developed by Dr. Dan Siegal.  Definitions of these terms are as follows:

Mindfulness: Staying in the present.  Being aware of your feelings and separating them what is actually happening around you.

Mindsight: the ability to see the inner life of a being, such as feelings, thoughts, or ideas.

Mindsight requires insight, empathy, and integration with the world.  This entails honoring the differences while promoting the linkage.  For example, you stub your toe.  You might start berating yourself, calling yourself stupid for managing to stub your toe.  Instead, accept the fact that you stubbed your toe, it hurts, and be aware of your surroundings so that you don’t do it again.

We are all interconnected and compassion is natural.  There is the outer world, the inner  world (inside the body), and mental life. Integration with your environment involves the interconnection between inside and outside the body. It is the process of being one with your environment. You are not bound by your skin, but rather you are a part of the whole universe. A sense of integration provides harmony, whereas a sense of non-integration produces chaos and rigidity.

If you see a negative event, for example, a car accident, you can practice compassion without it overcoming you.  Let the observing part of the brain recognize the sadness, but name the feeling so that you don’t shut down or want to withdraw.  Identify what another feels about the incident rather than what you would feel if it were you. Name it to tame it. By naming the mental process, you tame the process and prevent becoming overwhelmed.

Compassion for others is a necessary part of integration.  However, opening yourself up to compassion can make you feel raw, as if the suffering of whole world suddenly becomes part of you.  To avoid being overwhelmed, it is our responsibility to find the joy in life, in spite of the suffering.

Avoiding a sense of overwhelming requires training. You need to stay in the present.
1) Utilize your observational capacity to provide a distinction of awareness and feeling.
2) Knowing about the brain, the difference between the right (internal processes) side of the brain and the left (logic, language) side of the brain. Bring the mind into balance.
3) Self-regulation: the concept of differentiating yourself from a situation in order to integrate yourself with the universe.

We want to lead a compassionate lifestyle, but what do we do when we have an argument?  We need to do a little mental time travel.  Visit your past by thinking about what events happened that caused a button to be hit.  Visit your present by understanding how that past affects your present situation.  Then visit the future to see how this is impacting your life.

When we have an argument, we need to first acknowledge that something happened.  Next we examine it, and lastly we make an effort to reconnect with the person that we had the argument with.  It is important to take responsibility and admit that you made a mistake, but realize that making a mistake does not mean you need to beat yourself up.

Studies have shown that mindfulness will make the mind stronger.  It decreases burnout and increases resilience.  It has also been shown to have a positive impact on both physical and mental health. Health with emerge if you focus your attention and be present for life instead of reactive to life.

Ultimately, the key to health and happiness is to treat your mind with the same care that you treat your body.  Supportive, empathic relationships are key to medical and mental health, longevity, and an increased immune system.  Generosity, gratitude, and giving back are hallmarks of compassion and mindsight.

More Resources:  One component of mightsight is the wheel of awareness.  While it’s not described in detail in the webinar, you can learn more from Dr. Dan Siegal’s website.

Any errors or misinterpretations of this webinar series are mine alone.  Please be gentle if you find any. Thanks.

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One thought on “The Compassionate Brain: Week 2

  1. Very nice summary, yet again! I particularly like this bit: “By naming the mental process, you tame the process and prevent becoming overwhelmed.”

    This seems very much like what we’re working on in DBT skills right now with emotion regulation. Simply identifying emotions analytically does a lot to put you in control of them.

    Looking forward to the rest of the series!

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