2012-11-08

Perceiving, Not Just Having, Thoughts

Jill Bolte Taylor’s stroke shut down her left brain and allowed her to see in a flash of awareness that, as she put it:
“We are the life force power of the universe with power to choose to be at one with all that is. The more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner peace circuitry of our right hemisphere, the more peace we will project into the world and the more peaceful our planet will be.”
Taylor appeared on Oprah, where she said:
“Pay attention to what you’re thinking. Pay attention to what you’re thinking.
And you are not your thoughts. Your thoughts are created by a tiny, tiny, little group of cells about the size of a peanut sitting in your left hemisphere. And many of us let that little peanut rule our lives. And you have to recognize that it’s just a group of cells that is designed to tell stories so that we feel safe in the external world. You are not your thoughts. So pay attention to what you’re thinking – and then decide if those are thoughts that are creating the kind of life that you want created, and if it’s not, then change your thoughts.”
That may be easy for her to say. How do we actually develop the ability to perceive a thought – not just have one? This is the question of how to be receptive to the mind’s riches and not just reactive to its reflexes. It’s the question of mindsight: seeing what your own mind is actually doing.

Sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts arise. Freedom lies in recognizing them, and neither indulging nor repressing. “Mindsight,” Dr. Dan Siegel, professor of psychiatry, explains in his book, Mindsight:
“actually frees you to become less self-absorbed, not more. When we are not taken over by our thoughts and feelings, we can become clearer in our own internal world as well as more receptive to the inner world of another....By harnessing the power of awareness to strategically stimulate the brain’s firing, mindsight enables us to voluntarily change a firing pattern that was laid down involuntarily.”
Dan Siegel tells about some of the patients he worked with.

Sixteen year-old Jonathan had dark moods, bouts of crying that came out of nowhere, bursts of rage.

Then there was Stuart, age 92, had apparently never had an emotional life. Lived in his head, and been a highly successful attorney. Late in life, his detachment had finally reached a level that his son brought him in for counseling, even though Stuart insisted he didn’t need it.

And there was Anne, age 47, a doctor and mother of 11-year-old twin girls. Said her life just felt empty. As a child, Anne had had a distant father, a mother who died when Anne was three, and subsequently a step-mother who was a harsh disciplinarian who criticized Anne relentlessly. At age 11, after one particularly painful dressing-down, Anne promised herself "she would never feel anything again.” It was a protection mechanism that lasted into adulthood – that Anne hadn’t recognized, and didn’t know how to turn off.

Allison, age 31, had persistent relationship problems, eventually revealed as connected with having been assaulted as a teenager in a way that was so traumatic she had no conscious memory of it.

Mindsight profoundly changed the lives of each of these people.


(Video of Dan Siegel on "The Power of Mindsight." 24:21)

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This is part 3 of 4 of "Mindsight."
Next: Part 4: "Paying Attention"
Previous: Part 2: "Neither Repressing Nor Indulging"
Beginning: Part 1: "Practice Practice Practice"