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Descent into the Mind

Posted on February 20, 2015

Over the next several weeks we’ll be going on a journey of exploration into the mind. This journey will be an intellectual and experiential process, with a goal of increasing our own resiliency while also examining how to help traumatized clients regain the power of their own mind. I am fascinated by the ability of the mind to heal the biological, psychological, and social impacts of trauma, including trauma’s impact on the brain itself. In this post, let’s search for a definition of the mind.

Daniel Siegel defines the mind as, “A relational and embodied process that regulates the flow of energy and information.” This is by far the best definition I have seen in the literature. My only issue with Siegel’s definition is that it doesn’t take into account the impact of the environment or other biological systems outside the nervous system. Through my work in homelessness and with chronic diseases, I have seen firsthand the impact of socioeconomic status (poverty, homelessness, etc.) and chronic (non-nervous system) diseases on clients’ ability to access the healing power of their minds.

With all respect given to Dr. Siegel’s great work, I would like to tweak his definition just slightly. The human mind is a relational, environmental, and biological emergent phenomena that has the power to regulate the flow of energy and information. Let’s break this down so we know exactly what we are trying to access.

Relational – According to Siegel and others, there is a transfer of energy and information between individuals that impacts the functioning of the people in those relationships. This is shown powerfully in the impact of childhood attachment and in the impact of traumatic relationships (abuse, neglect, domestic violence, war).

Environmental – Through a process called epigenetics (which we’ll explore further in a future post), the environment interacts with our genetics to express certain genes which determine our biology and brain structure. While we have mentioned social and economic factors already, things like climate and cultural norms also play key roles in who we are as people and how our minds develop and operate.

Biological – Biology is a combination of all the systems in our body. While we will primarily discuss the biology of the brain and nervous systems in this series of posts, it is important to remember that all systems within the body are highly connected and depended on one another.

Emergent – Google Dictionary defines emergent as, “The process of coming into being, or becoming prominent.” This perfectly sums up my conclusion about the human mind. We have yet to find the mind on a brain scan or in an autopsy examination. While the mind is highly dependent on biological and social (relationships/environmental) factors, it appears to be something greater than just the sum of these parts. We know that the mind (our psychology) can change our brain and body (biology) in real and measurable ways.

Power – The mind is the seat of our volition or free will. The power of the mind is the ability to choose our own destiny.

Flow – Our biological and social systems are designed to efficiently move energy and information (see below) from a place that has energy and information to a place that needs that energy and information. The internet is a great example of how massive amounts of energy and information flow between people through time and space. The brain is another great example.

Energy – Our bodies are energy systems. There is a constant flow of chemical electrical currents that allow us to take action in the world. Energy is the biological activation of systems that result in a responsive action or response. This action can be something physical, such as walking, or psychological, such as experiencing a mental state like sadness or having a spiritual experience.

Information – Information is a signal or symbol that provides context (cognitive or emotional) for something being processed internally or in the environment. Emotions and memories provide a rich context for our experiences in the world.

The mind is a complex phenomenon emerging from a highly complex brain and social systems. Yet, it is easy for most of us to access. This week, I want to start small for those that are not doing any mindfulness practice (building the strength of the mind). Please consider doing this small exercise, as we’ll build upon the capacity it develops in the coming weeks.

  1. Find a quiet space and time (I highly encourage you to do this before and after work)
  2. Sit in a comfortable position
  3. Take 25 deep breathes (if you do more, great!)
  4. If any thoughts or feelings come up:
    1. Notice the thought or feeling
    2. Accept without judgment
    3. Dismiss without engaging in the thought or feeling
    4. Return attention back to breathing

That’s it! This will take less than five minutes to do and will be the foundation for more complex work I will introduce in the coming weeks. Try to do this twice a day – for those already practicing, keep it up!!

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