Archive for February, 2010

Mindsight and Blue Man Group: An Interview with Daniel Siegel, M.D.

Friday, February 5th, 2010

Today I bring back Dr. Daniel Siegel  to show us his comedic side, while explaining the concept of mindsight’s connection to a sense of resilience, compassion and well-being. Dan received his medical degree from Harvard University and completed his postgraduate medical education at UCLA with training in pediatrics and child, adolescent and adult psychiatry.  He is the co-editor of a handbook of psychiatry and the author of numerous articles, chapters, and the internationally acclaimed text, The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are. He has also published a wonderful book on parenting with Mary Hartzell, M.Ed., Parenting From the Inside Out. His breakout book in the field of mindfulness is The Mindful Brain, which explores the application of this newly emerging view of the mind, the brain, and human relationships. His newest book which I am thrilled about is Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation.

Dan has been invited to work with some esteemed people as a result of their interest in his work including: the U.S. Department of Justice, The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family, Microsoft and Google, early intervention programs and a range of clinical and research departments worldwide. He has been invited to lecture for the King of Thailand, Pope John Paul II, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

He has done all this and yet, if you know him, you know he remains so personable and accessible.

Elisha: You are involved in a really comedic video explaining Mindsight with the Blue Man Group that I’m posting below. I’m going to have the readers take a look and then have you give us a glimpse into your experience here?


 Dan: The world of seeing and shaping the mind, of mindsight, is relevant for a wide array of our human endeavors, from education and clinical work to organizational functioning, policy formation, and the story-telling process of entertainment.  In my journey, I’ve had the good fortune of being asked to consult to a number of organizations, including the “Blue School” created by the founders of the Blue Man Group entertainment company.  Their brilliant creation of a multimedia rhythmic comedy live performance inspired them to think deeply about how people learn and cultivate their creative capacities.  As their own children grew toward school age, they started a pre-school that now has been growing into a primary school focusing on developing social and emotional intelligence in a supportive and creative environment in New York City.  

Mindsight is a natural fit for their goals, and I have been serving as an advisor to the school on how to promote the skills of reflection, resilience, and relationships in addition to the usual “three R’s” of “reading, riting, and rithmetic.”  After they read the manuscript of the book, Mindsight, they were generous to offer to create a short “comedy” of the topic with me interacting with the Blue Men.  In that video, which had a framework but was in great part spontaneous in its emergence, you’ll see and hear the fundamental principles discussed and revealed.

Just the day before we also did a more serious set of talks at the TEDxBlue event, which can also be found on the web at YouTube “Mindsight Siegel”.   There our talks were focusing on the potential to re-think how education might be revamped to embrace our new knowledge about the brain and the need to support mindsight growth in kids so that on the personal level they are more resilient, on the interpersonal level they are more compassionate and empathic, and on the planetary level they can be more proactive in embracing the interconnected nature of our home on this fragile and magnificent Earth.

Thanks again Dan for all your great work. As always, please share your thoughts, questions and stories below. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on

How Mindful Eating Can Calm a Distressed Mind

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

In some past posts I’ve inquired if mindful eating can change our lives and also written about rethinking our relationship to food. However, I think it would be good to share a personal example of what this has looked like in my life. In my upcoming book, A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook (March, 2010), co-authored with Bob Stahl, Ph.D, I discuss an experience that I have with mindful eating and how it shifted me from a state of distress and frustration to calm and ease:

Back in my midtwenties, when my life felt out of control and I went on a one-month retreat, each time we sat down to eat we were instructed to be aware of what we were eating, where it came from, and the people who prepared it and to be thankful for it and eat it mindfully. Since I was resistant to being there in the first place, I dug in my heels on this issue and just continued eating as I always had. Often my mind would be swimming with doubts, questioning my decision to even come to this place, thinking I had more important things to be doing, and worrying about whether I really fit in. Most of the time I would be halfway through the meal before I even really tasted the food.

One day, as another participant in the program was talking to me about the importance of being intentional and present in all the activities we do, I immediately thought of the eating and asked him, “Doesn’t it annoy you that they make such a big deal about eating here?” He gently smiled at me, brought out an orange from his knapsack, and said, “Treat this as an experiment. Take this orange and really think about where it came from, how it started from a seed in the ground, how real people cared for the tree to make it healthy and then plucked the fruit from that tree. Think about how this orange was carried from there by many different people before it came to me, and now I’m giving it to you. Now, take this orange and drink it in with all of your senses before even peeling it, much less tasting it. When you are ready to take a bite, chew it slightly slower than you normally would, and then come back to me and let me know how it was for you.” And then he left me.

As I sat alone, I noticed some resistance arising but decided to try his experiment. I reflected on all the effort it took for this little orange to get to me, including the fact that it was a gift from him, and noticed that I felt a twinge of appreciation and a smile came to my face. I had to admit I liked that. I looked a little closer and noticed all the tiny indents in skin. As I slowly peeled the orange, I noticed a mist of citrus spring into the air, as though the orange was rejoicing to be opened, which made me laugh, and then I smelled the pungent aroma. I noticed the contrast between the vivid orange of the outside of the peel and the pale, whitish inside surface. Once the orange was peeled, I brought it closer to my eyes and saw the smooth, veined texture of the outer membrane. As I broke apart one section, I really looked at all of the tiny individual pieces of pulp, swollen with juice. When I finally put a piece of orange on my tongue, tingling sensations ran up my cheeks. All of my attention was on the taste of the orange, and as I began to chew, I felt a rush of sheer delight at the amazing taste of this orange. I had eaten many oranges in my life, but I had never tasted an orange in this way. And then I noticed that the distress I had been feeling was gone, and that I felt calm and at ease.

It’s amazing what can happen when we become present to something as seemingly routine as eating. Please try it out. Choose a snack or meal today and choose to put judgment aside for a moment and tune into the experience of eating. Notice the sensations, contemplate all the natural elements (e.g., sun, rain, earth) that have gone into the formation of this food and all the human work that has transpired to get this food to you today (including yours).

One note: The paradox here is that as you do this, it’s important not to expect miracles as this automatically places the mind in the future. The point  here is to just practice being present with the experience.

As always, please share your thoughts, questions and stories below. Your interaction here truly provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on

Moving Past Avoidance: Monday’s Mindful Quote with Helen Keller

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

There is a tradition on the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog. Every Monday, I cite a quote or a poem that is related to mindfulness and psychotherapy in some way and then explore it a bit and how it is relevant to our lives. For me, quotes and poetry can often sink me into a state of greater understanding. So for today, here is a quote by Helen Keller:

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.”

Safety and security is something we long for as babies and some say before that, in the womb. We all experience different levels of security growing up, some people feeling more secure and others less (“nor do the children of men as a whole experience it”). This is the basis of attachment theory in psychology. This theory was formulated by psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, John Bowlby. He first used the word “attachment” when he theorized that children are more likely to feel secure, connected, and loved if their parents are able to be attuned, in the present moment, to the child’s internal world of emotions and needs. This is one idea about where security and insecurity in this world come from.

In later research, Mary Ainsworth, found that while some attachment styles may be coupled with a sense of security and safety, others attachment styles may be paradoxically coupled with insecurity and anxiety. In this theory we come to understand that our early relationships with our parents or caregivers affect how we behave in our relationships as adults and with our own children. It’s really fascinating.

In The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being, Daniel Siegel, MD, writes that when parent and child are attuned, the outcome is a state of resonance that allows the child to “feel felt.” This state of resonance helps build regulatory circuits in the brain that support the child’s resilience and ability to engage and connect in meaningful, empathic relationships later in life.

Here’s the thing, even if we grew up with insecure attachment profiles, we can “earn” the security later in life. In other words, we are active participants in our own health and well-being and can “retrain our brain” to “keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate in strength undefeatable.”

One way of doing this is by becoming aware of what we’re avoiding. While avoidance in life can be healthy (e.g., putting our hands in fire or being in an abusive relationship), for the most part it is a source of sustained stress in life.

Very practically speaking, there are all kinds of ways to avoid (e.g., shopping, drugs, alcohol, internet, sex, etc…). Avoidance may come in the form of coming home every day and switching on the tube or jumping on Facebook because talking to your partner is uncomfortable. Or at work, letting the mind drift to surfing the net or answering unimportant calls and emails because the work in front or you seems overwhelming. Even depression can be viewed as an unconscious escape from feelings as it can numb them out. All this avoidance is likely coming from some place of insecurity.

Experiment: Here’s your task for the week should you choose to accept it. Find one thing that you avoid, don’t choose the biggest thing, just something that you avoid. This could be a conversation with a partner, a task at work, being with yourself, exercise, going to sleep early, there are a myriad of choices. Choose to really experience that once this week. In other words, as an experiment, expose yourself to it this week and see what comes up. Get curious about it and treat it as an experiment without expecting miracles, but more to see what it is like to “keep your face toward change.”

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on