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Lions Roar : March 2010
SHAMBHALA SUN MArcH 2010 96 Science of Mindfulness continued from page 69 attitudes. Theirs was a world of the physi- cal, and the subjective, internal life of the patient was painfully missing from their worldview. This realization set me on a decades- long journey to explore what the mind was, and how seeing the mind could help allevi- ate psychological distress and perhaps even enhance physiological well-being. First in pediatrics and then in clinical and research psychiatry, I dove deeply into the science of psychiatric suffering. I found that patients seemed to come for help with situations of rigidity, chaos, or both. They were stuck in repeating un- helpful patterns of thinking or behaving, or flooded by intrusive and unpredictable feelings or thoughts. Accompanying their disabling states was an inability to see the mind clearly or deeply. If I could teach them ways to see their mind—the world inside—they could become open to shap- ing that world toward a more adaptive and flexible way of being. I came to call this ability to monitor and modify the internal world in oneself or others “mindsight.” I became a researcher in the field of parent–child relationships, and stud- ied how attuned communication from a caregiver to an infant cultivated a child’s healthy and resilient development. The 1990s were the Decade of the Brain and I was immersed in working with scientists from a wide range of disciplines, includ- ing anthropology and neurobiology. We could now peer into the function and structure of the healthy, active brain, and then work to combine those findings with an exploration of the mind itself. Ultimately, this journey led to the cre- ation of an interdisciplinary field called interpersonal neurobiology (IPnB). It offered a working definition of the mind that researchers from more than a dozen disciplines of science could agree upon: A core aspect of the mind is an embodied and relational process that regulates the flow of energy and information. This def- inition enabled me to refine the concept of mindsight as the way we can sense and shape energy and information flow as it is shared in relationships, moves through the neural mechanism of the brain (seen here as the extended nervous system throughout the body), and is regulated by the mind. Relationships, brain, and mind formed a triangle of human experience that was the focus of our interdisciplinary investigations. After I wrote a professional text on this subject, and then a parenting book that translated IPnB for practical use and suggested that “being mindful” was a ba- sic principle of parenting, people in my workshops asked when they’d be taught to meditate. not being trained in medita- tion, I was at a loss at first, but then I be- came exposed to the whole ancient world of mindfulness and its recent scientific discoveries. A chance meeting with Jon Kabat-Zinn at a conference led to a new world for me when he encouraged me to gain direct experience in mindfulness. I soon participated in the first weeklong silent retreat for scientists offered by the Insight Meditation Society and the Mind and Life Institute, and then a week of MBSR training. This journey is described in my book, The Mindful Brain. Its basic concept is that mindfulness, instead of be- ing seen primarily as attention or emotion regulation, might be considered an “inter- nal form” of attunement—one in which the observing self is open and accepting, tuned-in, and curious about the experi- encing self. In my own exploration, I experienced mindfulness as a “wheel of awareness,” in which the central hub was the meta- phor for awareness, the rim anything that I could be aware of, and the spokes the intentional focus of attention. A key to mindfulness, in my experience, was the capacity to separate hub from rim, to not become swept up by anything within awareness as the totality of one’s experi- ence. This differentiation of rim from hub, and the reflection on awareness itself to enable a deeper sense of the present, the past, and the anticipated future, fit well with the IPnB theme of “integration.” Integration is defined as the linkage of differentiated parts of a system. With