In his seventh book of 15, Daniel Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA, provides an engaging exploration of our minds, coupled with tools to integrate the multiple regions of our brains and senses for increased wellbeing.
Mindsight reveals that by understanding our minds better, we become more able to connect with others and unleash the intuition, inventiveness, authenticity, and compassion that our lives and future workplaces will demand. As some tasks of future workplaces become automated or relegated to computerized systems and robots, our humanity and ability to connect will be increasingly important for businesses to succeed and grow. By tapping into our innate ability to integrate a range of states, ideas, and feelings, we are better placed to access these valuable traits and talents. Siegel shows us the benefits of a deeper and more connected sense of self, but Siegel also provides practical exercises to achieve this in our own lives.
The book provides a text that teaches while entertaining, engages, and primes us for a better understanding of ourselves, our relationships, and others. It’s illustrated with easy-to-understand explanations of our brain's physiology, vignettes of patient histories and their paths toward personal transformation, and exciting discoveries and inferences about how our minds function.
The power of knowing ourselves
Siegel describes mindsight as the ability to gain perception and knowledge from our minds, relationships, and the brain's mediating neural mechanisms. This ability removes the superficial boundaries that separate us. It allows us to see that we are part of a broader, interconnected whole – both internally and externally. Without this ability, we become inflexible, hostile, and lack a moral compass. This has a negative impact on us and can also adversely impact public policy, business relationships, and culture.
The author asserts people can become objects, rather than subjects worthy of respect and understanding when we lack mindsight. We are more likely to act from unconscious biases, favor people we believe to be like us, and treat those who aren't with disdain, disregard, and less compassion. Indeed, our very humanity is at risk without mindsight in today's connected world,
Wellbeing and happiness come from knowing ourselves and defining who we are as part of a larger, connected whole. A clear mindsight lens enables this to take place. Mindsight teaches us to remain curious, open and accepting of the thoughts and feelings that arise in us. It teaches us to observe and label our states of being and conduct constructive internal dialogue and even negotiations, so we become more able to monitor and navigate our inner world. In doing so, we are also able to modify our thoughts and behaviors. This moves us toward a state of serenity and clarity. It promotes wisdom and gives us the courage to behave with integrity while leaning into our vulnerabilities.
A firm base for understanding
At the beginning of the book, Siegel introduces us to the physiology and functions of our brains. We are equipped with an appreciation of what our brain does for us and how these tasks are done. From here, the reader moves on to explore the nine functions of the prefrontal cortex. That is, bodily regulation, attuned communication, emotional balance, response flexibility, fear modulation, empathy, insight, moral awareness, and intuition. The stable base for improving our mindsight is one of openness, observation, and objectivity. From this firm foundation, we can explore our minds clearly and confidently while embracing all that it means to be human within ourselves and others.
Siegel explains how our brains' firing lays the pathways for our thought patterns and responses to the full range of stimuli we encounter daily. He illustrates how the brain-body connection is a part of this flow of information and energy while explaining why the integration of our different parts is essential for understanding and regulating the flow of this energy and information.
We're shown through multiple patient stories that by becoming open to our body's feelings and states and the relationships woven into the fabric of our inner world, we open the gateways for clear mindsight. In doing so, we can achieve clarity about who we are and how we wish to shape our lives.
Where focus goes, energy flows
One of Siegel's book's most exciting revelations is the use of focused attention and how we can consciously shape our minds and lives. Likening our attention to a scalpel, he explains how we can channel our cognitive resources to directly activate neural firing and associated areas of the brain. As Siegel says – "what fires together, wires together." With mindful focus, we can direct the continued development of our brains.
Simple mindfulness exercises – focusing on the breath, body scanning, insight, and walking meditations, and journaling and aerobic exercise are our natural tools for directing the expansion of our minds. These tools enable us to target particular areas of our brains, strengthen existing neural pathways, and even create new ones.
Exercising attention is similar to developing a muscle. Monitoring our awareness and directing our intention is at the core of all mindfulness practices, from yoga to insight meditation. This ability to monitor our thoughts and feelings takes us on a path to a brain signature of resilience. It allows us to have an open and curious approach state to challenging situations, so we can move towards and through them with the confidence and calm needed to learn from each experience.
A picture of our brain and body
Our body is an extension of our brain, connected with neural extensions that are developed in the womb. Information, from our body, is transmitted via these pathways up through the brain stem, through the limbic system, and to the prefrontal cortex areas. This is where we can make sense of them. When we ignore or dismiss information from our bodies – gut feelings, heartfelt emotions – we are cutting vital information from our brains. Being aware of the states of our body is an essential part of full mindsight development. We are reminded of our inability to block bad feelings while keeping the good. We need to be aware of subcortical energy to have the full packet of information needed for informed thinking.
Our lives can seem empty of meaning if we miss the information, energy, and engagement that come from this body/mind vertical integration. Each of us has a single-window or tolerance; when the experience happens that fits inside this window, we are at ease and able to comfortably feel the emotions, feelings, and bodily sensations evoked by them. We remain receptive and open to the experience. But when day-to-day experiences fall outside this window, we are inclined towards reactivity and automatic responses – falling apart, blowing up, or becoming unreasonably defensive. As we develop mindsight and appreciate our inner and outer states of being, our windows of tolerance expand. We can then experience the fullness of our lives and those around us with more acceptance and clarity.
Mindsight shows us that mind, body, and temporal integration is not a luxury. It is integral to our work of caring and connecting with others. With developed mindsight, we can choose to advance the nature of our minds, lives, wellbeing, and relationships with others. This is undoubtedly a benefit for each of us now as well as for future generations in all aspects of our human existence.