It's Not About Me, It's About "Mwe" with Dr. Dan Siegel
Meditation is such a trendy thing to do these days that it is not only a staple practice for those of us in the wellness industry, but for the mainstream medical community too. In fact, it’s this intersectionality between the east and west that I find so fascinating. Allowing yourself to be still and focus only on the here and now, is definitely no easy task, but with practice, you really do start to see a shift in your emotional state. Your focus is better, your mental state is calmer and among so many other benefits, you’re just able to process your emotions easier on a daily basis.
This focus on your emotions and the science behind why meditation works so well is where we dive in to today’s episode with my guest Dr. Dan Siegel. I’m so pleased to welcome such a distinguished guest onto the Soul Compass podcast today.
Dr. Siegel is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and the founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA. An award-winning educator, he is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and recipient of several honorary fellowships. Dr. Siegel is also the Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute, an educational organization, which offers online learning and in-person seminars that focus on how the development of mindsight in individuals, families and communities can be enhanced by examining the interface of human relationships and basic biological processes.
SOME TOPICS WE COVER:
The pillars of mindfulness training
The similarities between “attachment” parenting and “mindfulness”
Working on your “inner child” narrative
The integration of eastern and western medicine
What it’s like attending a completely silent retreat
A brief look into the Wheel of Awareness
“Me plus we equals mwe” and this idea of an integrated identity
Helping and healing humanity and the planet through this focus on integration
BOOKS WE MENTIONED:
Dr Dan Siegel: We have a lot of work to do as a humanity to dissolve the delusion of our separate nature as nouns, embrace the verb like reality of our interconnection and let awareness, interconnection and love be the way we live.
Vitina: Namaste and welcome, I'm Vitina Blumenthal and you're listening to the Soul Compass podcast. I'm here to help you find your inner calm and deepen your self-discovery journey. Take this moment and focus on yourself. For your mental health, your ability to find ease in your everyday life and your emotional well-being. It is so important that you nourish yourself not only physically but also emotionally and mentally. Here at Soul Compass, you'll learn practical tips from experts who will leave you with a sharper focus and a renewed commitment to yourself.
Hello and welcome to another Soul Compass episode. So grateful you can join us today.
I know I often say I'm so excited about this episode, but I truly am for most episodes. And today in particular I am very excited not only because the guest we have on the show today is someone that I've admired from afar for some time, but I also have a few different announcements that I can't wait to tell you about.
First, a lot of you have asked me how you could give back or how you can participate more in the Soul Compass community. And I ended up starting a Patreon account and I dedicated a few different levels of how you can participate and how you can join the community, such as: weekly meditations, workshops etc. So go over to a Patreon and check it out, let me know what you think and hopefully you'll be able to join us in some aspect of the community. And at the end of this episode I have something even more exciting to share with you. It's something that I've been working on for almost a year. So it's had a lot of nurturing, a lot of love, a lot of patience. But at the end of this episode I will fill you in on this particular project that I've been working on.
Before jumping into this episode. Let's check in. Finding that comfortable seated position. If you're in a chair, uncrossing your legs and grounding the soles of your feet on the ground. If you're seated, just pressing your sit bones into the earth. And reaching tall through your spine. And allowing the shoulders to draw away from your ears. Placing the palms on your lap. And closing your eyes if it's safe to do so. You know my disclaimer, if you're driving, eyes on the road.
Taking this moment just to breathe. Noticing your natural rhythm. Taking this opportunity to tune in. Being the observer, being the witness. First noticing any sensations in your physical body. Anything that really stands out to you right now.
Slowly allowing those thoughts, whatever came up to dissolve. Bringing your attention, bringing your awareness. Noticing where you're at emotionally and mentally. Being honest with yourself.
Not labelling it good or bad, or judging yourself for being where you're at. This is simply the act of observing. Becoming aware of what's going on. Taking a deep inhale in through your nose filling up through your chest all the way to your lower belly. Pause. Exhale to let that go.
Taking a deep inhale. Expanding through the heart to the belly. Pause. Exhale to release. Can you create a little more space in the body. Last time inhale. And exhale to let that go. Letting go of any tension that might be sitting in the body.
And whenever you're ready. You can gently flutter your eyes open.
Now that I have you in this moment here, now. Present. Grounded. Let's dive in.
Meditation is such a trendy thing to do these days that it is not only a staple practice for those of us in the wellness industry, but for the mainstream medical community too. In fact, it's this intersectionality between the east and west that I truly find so fascinating. Allowing yourself to be still and focus only on the here and now is definitely not an easy task. Simple, but not easy, but with practice you really do start to see a shift in your emotional state. Your focus is better, your mental state is calmer and among so many other benefits you're just able to process your emotions easier on a daily basis.
This focus on your emotions and the science behind why meditation works so well, is where we dive in to on today's episode with my guest Dr. Dan Siegel. Yes you probably see and hear me have a few fangirl moments. Enjoy.
I'm so pleased to welcome such a distinguished guest onto the Soul Compass podcast today. Dr. Siegel is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and the founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA. An award winning educator. He is a distinguished fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and recipient of several honorary fellowships.
Dr. Siegel is also the executive director of the Mindsight Institute, an educational organization which offers online learning and in-person seminars that focus on how the development of mindsight in individuals, families, and communities can be enhanced by examining the interface of human relationships and basic biological processes. We cover so many topics today, but a few that we'll dive into are:
The pillars of mindfulness training.
The similarities between attachment parenting and mindfulness.
Working on your inner child narrative. One of my favorite things to do.
The integration of Eastern and Western medicine.
What it's like attending a completely silent retreat. Something that really personally scares me.
A brief look into the Wheel of Awareness.
Me plus we equals Mwe. If you are wondering why the title was dedicated to that. We'll reveal it. Don't you worry.
And this idea of an integrated identity. Helping and healing humanity and the planet through this focus on integration.
So without further ado let's dive in to this week's episode.
Vitina: I am so excited to welcome Dr Dan Siegel onto the podcast today. Dan, thank you so much for joining us.
Dan: Well, it's great to be here with you.
Vitina: I am a little jealous because I haven't been able to get to a Mindful Society Conference in Toronto which is where I'm based, but I did get to see you at Summit LA last year in November and I got front row and I couldn't wait. I was like a fangirl up there, just waiting to hear you speak. Being here today with you is just such an honour. Thank you so much for connecting with us today.
Dan: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Vitina: Of course. Well, our interviewees are guests on the show get into this self-discovery journey because there's some sort of catalyst that pushes us into this journey and I'm curious for you because I know that you've been researching and with all of your credentials, what shifted your research and really I'm sure your journey in the mindfulness direction?
Dan: When I was in medical school, people didn't focus on what patients were feeling and what they were thinking or even what the students were feeling and thinking. I got very disillusioned with medicine so I dropped out of school and during the year, what ended up being a year away, I really came to deeply appreciate from an experiential point of view that what we experience in terms of our feelings, what has meaning in our lives, where we pay attention or don't, or what's in our awareness, all those things, let's just call it the mind, the subjective experience of being alive was quite real.
I went back to school, the same school with the drive to say, is the mind real? The feeling was, I think the answer is yes. Then it's not as real, but it's really important. That started me on a journey back in the late '70s, early '80s to try to bring into my training as a physician the importance of awareness and attention and intention and meaning and stories and all that stuff. Years later after I was trained as a psychiatrist and then child psychiatrist and a researcher in parent-child relationships called attachment, by accident after I wrote a textbook on the developing mind with my daughter's preschool director.
She and I were putting together a book for parents that said, "Why parents paying attention to the inner life of a child was so important." We said, "Well, those parents need to be conscientious and they need to be awake and they need to be caring and aware and compassionate." We said, "My God, those are too many words, let's come up with one word. We go, "Okay, well I guess they need to be mindful." Then we wrote a book called Parenting From The Inside Out.
Mary Hartzell and I did. People said, "Why don't you teach us to meditate?" I was already an outsider in the field of academia because I was saying the mind was bigger than the body and broader than the brain and it was a relational process as much an embodied process. People would think weirdly of me if I was going to ask them to meditate, which back in those days was not really solidly scientifically grounded thing to do.
Anyway, so I said, "What kind of meditation was it?" They said, "Oh, it's mindfulness meditation." I said, "What's that?" They go, "What?" There's a whole thing, of course, called mindfulness meditation has been around for 2,600 years. Well then, I was so short sighted, I didn't know about it. That began for the first night me going, "Oh wow, what is this story?" Then right after that book came out, I was asked to be on a panel with a guy at a conference who I hadn't heard of. I read his two books and read his two scientific papers. His name is Jon Kabat Zinn.
He had brought mindfulness as a term into the medical community at University of Massachusetts, Worcester and I found it really fascinating that the outcome findings for Jon Kabat Zinn and Richie Davidson's work was almost identical to my field. I'm an attachment researcher. What we had shown, secure attachment promotes awareness and emotional understanding and all this kind of stuff. What that meant was you could see some overlap between relationality in terms of love between a parent and child and the relationality that was nurtured with mindfulness. That was really fascinating.
Vitina: Wow. I was getting chills because I'm just thinking about how it must've been when you first started. Meditation I know now is such a trendy thing and people are really doing that but you and John were really pioneering the way and it's really fast.
Dan: Not me, I just happened by accident to use a word that John had been deeply, deeply devoting his life to, so I wouldn't call myself that. I was just like a student of everything and the student of life and I was fascinated that the attachment world and the mindfulness meditation world seemed actually to be resonating with each other in ways that we can talk about. It was fascinating.
Vitina: What are some ways that they resonate with each other?
Dan: First of all, and the outcome measures that I noted when I was on the panel with John, one way was that in mindfulness meditation, which some people includes training focus attention and opening awareness and other people would take those two and build it with compassion training. There's a debate in the literature, what do we mean by mindfulness training? For sure, it's the two pillars of focused attention, open awareness, some people add the third pillar of compassion training where you cultivate an attitude of kindness and care towards the inner life and towards the life within another body that you weren't born into. I try to avoid the word self and other as much as I can. Those three-pillar trainings lead to emotional balance and resilience.
They lead to self-awareness, they lead to mutual relationships that are helpful, they lead to some really wonderful ways as a sense of self that's fully realizing its potential, let's put it that way. You meet your intellectual potential, your attention is good, your sense of self is coherent. You have a narrative that can make sense of your life, this kind of stuff. That's with mindfulness meditation, turns out secure attachment did do the exact same thing.
What was really funny was when I first started seeing these overlaps and I said it to John on the panel I go, "I don't know anything about meditation. I've never meditated before in my life, but my God, I've read your two papers, your two books and it looks like it's exactly like my field which has extensive research showing the exact same outcomes."
He goes, "Well, I don't know anything about attachment but you don't know anything about meditation?" I said, "Absolutely. I don't know anything about it." He goes, "Go meditate." The first time I meditated was at a week-long silent retreat with a bunch of scientists. I ended up writing a book about it, like here's this naive diving into meditation by spending a week with all these other experienced meditators. I wouldn't necessarily recommend that, but it was interesting for sure. I think what they share in common is attunement. Attunement is a word we can use for focusing attention on the inner world.
You can have personal attunement for tuning into your own world inside the body you're born into or you can have interpersonal attunement for tuning in, let's say to a baby, what she's feeling, what she's thinking, what has meaning for her. In my field of attachment search parents who tune into the internal world of the child, who see the mind of the child, mindsight is what we call it, they have kids who develop all of those things we just mentioned and mindfulness I think is a way of changing the relationship with yourself so you have intrapersonal attunement, whereas attachment security is interpersonal attunement. I think that's what's going on.
Vitina: Oh, that's so fascinating. We do actually have a lot of parents that listen to the podcast. Do you have any tips for them while they're raising their children that you have found to be really successful in terms of the mindfulness fields?
Dan: You mean for parents to raise their kids with secure attachment or do you mean for them to get their kids to meditate?
Vitina: I would say maybe secure attachment.
Dan: Tina Payne Bryson and I have written a number of books, Whole-Brain Child, Yes Brain, No-Drama Discipline, and the new one, The Power Of Showing Up, the way I like to word it, and it's really based on what Mary Hartzell and I wrote in a book called Parenting from the Inside Out, parental self-understanding is the best predictor of how kids turn out in terms of security of attachment. When I went to the researcher, who was my teacher Mary Main, and I said, "Mary, your research instrument be adult attachment interview, which is the most robust predictor of security of attachment of a child is if the parent has made sense of her life or his life." I'm trained in the AI through Mary and Eric Hesi when you look at the coding process for determining if a person has a coherent narrative, it basically is a 100% overlap with a field that Mary and Eric knew nothing about mindfulness. It's really a way of taking a narrative and assessing the mindfulness of the speaker. So it being trained in the AAI, being a therapist, and then beginning to learn about mindfulness. It was such an exciting time, this is now 2005, 2006, to go, "Wow."
Then when I found mindfulness teachers who would say things like, "Self does not exist and narratives are the enemy." I'll go, "What did you say?" They go, "Self does not exist and narratives are the lie. Stories are a lie." I would go, "That's fascinating. Tell me more." It actually was some pretty heated arguments, because their worldview was that self is a delusion. I think maybe what they meant to say was separate self was a delusion, but they wouldn't talk like that. They would say, and I would say, "Do you mean separate self?"
They go, "No, no, I mean, any self, there is no self," and I go, "Well, actually in my field attachment," and then they would go, "In Buddhism, for example, we want to get rid of attachment, you're totally delusional." They would say to me. Or they would call me a dualist.
The true reality is there's no dualism and I would say, "Well, isn't it kind of dualistic to kind of take such a dualistic view? You're either a dualist or not a dualist, isn't it like dualism?"
It was very strange, I got to say because that's not my background. So I have no problem just confronting some of the main teachers in these areas. I don't care. I mean I care. I wasn't intimidated. That's what I mean by don't I care. Then the business of narrative in the attachment world, the coherence of your narrative is the best predictor of how your children turn out. Around that time, I started getting patients because I'm a therapist, who were meditation teachers. One of them in particular, was a person was working on ending his third marriage.
I said, "Well, let's do the adult attachment interview," and he goes, "What's that?" I said, "Well, it's a research established interview where we explore in a very specific way your memories of your childhood and see how you make sense of them." He goes, "I don't do that," and I said, "Well, what do you mean, you don't do that?" He goes, "I'm a mindfulness teacher." He was like a major teacher. He goes, "I live only in the present. I don't reflect on the past." I said "Okay, well, how's that working for you?" It wasn't working so well.
So we did the AAI because I said, "Look, right now in your brain, in the present moment, your present moments are being filtered by stuff that happened in past present moments, called memory and that's how neural plasticity works for your brain.
Maybe that's part of the issue." Anyway, so he was very courageous, very brave. We did the AAI and huge trauma came up that he had never talked about. It was really powerful and he did the work. To realize sometimes you have to go to the past to see how you're imprisoned by unreflected upon past experience because he came up with a narrative which is, "I'm a non-dualist who does not go to the past because all that exists is nonexistence." It was like, "Okay, well, all right. I'm not going to argue against that but it doesn't seem like you're so happy."
Vitina: Right? Wow. This is why I love the integration of east and west. This is why I'm so fascinated to talk with you today, because I know one, you're so open-minded based on all of your experiences, but the inner child work. I know I work a lot with my therapist on that and I have always practiced yoga. I've always practiced meditation but the inner child work has helped so much for the present moment in helping me unravel belief systems and also beliefs that were not necessarily mine.
Dan: That's exactly why reflecting on the past and making a coherent narrative is so crucial because some of the things that are imprisoning you are not yours. You have to reflect on them to know that they're there and disentangle your selfing experience because we're more like verbs and nouns and we can be rigidified as a noun, without our even knowing it. With all these beliefs that people talk about.
Vitina: Yes, I want to reel back a little bit, because you said that you went to a silent retreat. Good for you. Was it a week or 10 days?
Dan: A week. It was a week
Vitina: Did you have any aha moments when you were doing that silent retreat?
Dan: Well, yes. The first was, I think, for anyone listening who knows this, and maybe you know this yourself. We're so often like chatty and talking all the time. So silence is, number one, you don't talk. Number two, you also don't do nonverbal communication. So it's the royal silence not just speaking. You don't look people in the eye, you look away, you're not doing nonverbal signals to them. That was really interesting and hard to not engage with people around me. Especially some of them were heroes of mine. That were on my same hall and I would love to have chatted with them, but it was a silent retreat so I couldn't chat with them. Scientists I've always wanted to meet. Anyway, that was the first thing.
The second thing was, it was amazing how when you're surrounded by people and intentionally not connecting with them, how busy your social mind gets. Now we know we call this the social brain part of it that gives us a sense of wholeness, we want to know what's going on with my inner life. What's going on with another person, all that stuff. You really are intentionally in the royal silence, quieting that down and that's really hard to do. By day, maybe two or three of learning these new meditation techniques that I had never heard of. Focusing on the breath, returning to the breath.
I thought I was going to lose my mind. I told my teacher in the little meetings we had at night and also you get a private meeting twice during the week. I said, I thought I was going nuts, because I thought the instruction was to stop thinking, and I was thinking a lot. She said, "No, now, you can just let the thoughts be there, but just don't get swept up by them." Which was really helpful.
I had already been doing this thing with my patients called the wheel of awareness. So I was familiar with distinguishing the hub from the rim but I wanted to just sort of let that go and just try to be with whatever these Buddhist teachings they were teaching. Is that insight meditation society. So I let that go, but even when I brought up the wheel to one of the teachers at my second meeting, he goes, "Don't be so sure of yourself." So I stopped talking to anyone about the wheel because he was so intimidating to me. Maybe he reminded me of my father or something. I don't know.
One teacher I felt very supported by, the other not very much. Then the next thing that happened in day three, was there was a shift where things got very clear. I don't mean intellectual clear, I mean just spacious and open. Things became hilariously amusing. Let's say, a walking meditation. Lifting up a foot. Moving the foot forward. Putting the heel down on the floor. Moving toward the ball of the foot. The other foot simultaneously, slowly lifting up from the heel.
Lifting up from the ball, the foot, the toes still being there. I would just start to laugh. It was like a miracle to be awake and aware, and alive and moving these things we call feet. It just became hilarious, but I couldn't share that with anyone because you weren't supposed to talk to anybody. Things like one time we had dinner and I was in love with an apple. I was looking at the apple, feeling the apple with my fingers, smelling the apple, tasting the apple, even listening to the apple.
Then suddenly, I could see all the people that had ever planted apple seeds and generations of humanity that had had orchards. It was a beautiful- it was just this moment of deep connection. Then I got up from the table, put my tray away and then I go out to look at the moon rising and it's just absolutely exquisite. I look to my right, I have this feeling there's someone there. In the book called The Mindful Brain where I talk about this, I just said, and a friend was by my side. Well, it was Jon Kabat-Zinn who had told me to go to this meeting.
Jon is also walking out to see the moon. We can't talk to each other, but there's the moon rising, my eyes are taking it in. I looked to my side, there's Jon who got me there. I'm absolutely in love with him and in love with the moon. In love with the apple, in love with my feet. I mean love is everywhere. That was day three, and then I would hear all these-- I'm not a big joke teller at all. I don't even know how to tell a joke but I would here all these jokes. Everything became like a joke.
I didn't know if a silent retreat meant you couldn't laugh at your own jokes but I would end up laughing. I would see little something written on a milk carton and I would just laugh at what letters were. They were symbols and everything was dissolving into this interconnected verb like set of events that were just-- It was just like about interconnection and love. It was just exquisite. That was day four and day five it was just like a lovefest. Then day six, when we came out of silence it was really sad because everyone was chatting, chatting, chatting, chatting.
Then you were focused on, "Oh, does a person understand what I'm saying? Do they understand what I'm saying? Do they understand what they're saying?" Then we did that for an hour, and I thought, "This is exhausting." Then they rang the bell and they said, "Back into silence," and I was like, "Oh, that's so good. We're back into silence." Dropped back into the noble silence for another whatever 12 hours and it was like the sanctuary of silence is spaciousness. It was like, basically the hub of the wheel, it was like this open place. Now I do the wheel of awareness every day as my regular practice, like this morning. Not every day is the same but some days like this morning was like, oh my God, you drop into this place and it's like there's no time, it's eternity. There's no space it's like infinity. It's just filled with a sense of love and gratitude and connection. I don't know. I mean, no one was teaching that but if I were teaching that retreat now, I would be very direct about having people do the wheel of awareness, who have a wheel practice we do.
Now I'm a wheel teacher from way back then when I was 14 years ago. Now I do regular wheel of awareness workshops, where I'm going to say this with a lot of humility, but since I'm not trained in contemplative practice, I don't have a Buddhist background. I don't have any kind of spiritual background. I'm a scientist and a clinician, I'm a physician and a therapist. I just take the concept of integration with the differentiation of parts of a system and link them.
What we do is we integrate consciousness with the wheel of awareness by differentiating the knowing in the hub, this metaphoric wheel of awareness from the things that are the norms in the rim, and then systematically differentiating them by moving the spoke around. I've done it now with 45,000 people in person, recorded the first 10,000 when people respond, and the results are absolutely fascinating.
It's in this book Aware, so far it provides a really-- consilient, is the word we use. It puts together different fields like math and physics and stuff in biology and psychology and contemplative studies, and it helps make sense of what that silent retreat did in a pretty-- To me, really exciting way we can talk about.
Vitina: Amazing. Could you break down the wheel of awareness for us and for our listeners?
Dan: You can come to the website for free, you can do the wheel of awareness and we have all sorts of trainings in the wheel live but also recorded that you can do. I'll just say this about the wheel, right through the wall in this rim where I am, there's a table, and the table has a center glass part to it and an outer wooden rim part to it. I would bring my patients up from the chair that they were sitting. This was the late '90s when I first actually made this table just for architectural reasons.
I designed this table not for meditation reasons. I wanted them to try taking two ideas and put them together, that integration was health, differentiating making. I've written a bunch about that. Then consciousness was needed for change. That was really an interesting idea for parenting or therapy or education. You need people to be conscious. I thought, what if you integrated consciousness? That's where that idea comes from. Then I looked at the table I said, "Well, that's cool. You could put the knowing of consciousness in the hub of this table and differentiate from the stuff on the rim like four sections of the rim, on the table is divided into four areas.
The energy flow from outside the body, like what you hear, see, smell, taste, or touch is just energy flow from outside the body. Then you have, we always talk in energy flow in the field I'm in. Energy flow from inside the body called the sixth sense or interception. Then you have mental activities like feelings and thoughts and memories. Then you have your relational sense, your sense of connection to other people on the planet. You're part of nature.
You move this rim around and differentiate all those rim elements from each other, its spoke, I'm sorry, move the spoke around the rim, single spoke and then you in a more advanced stage, you bend the spoke around or retract the spoke, so you just drop into the hub. That's the whole practice. That's it. When I presented to Richie David's lab, they were so excited. They said, "Why don't you add statements of kindness, compassion statements?" And I said, "Well, there's no science behind that," Which there wasn't at the time, it was a long time ago and they said, "Gary, we did a study. We just haven't published yet."
They showed me the results. Barbs Fredrickson did a similar study, she showed me her results, the scientist, so I said, "Okay, I'll put them in the wheel. If it's science-based integrative, I'll put it anywhere." The original wheel had none of those statements. Then once I went to Richie's lab and Barb's work became available to me, I put them in. Then you also add these statements of positivity, which is fun because I can add this word 'mwe', which I love.
Me plus we equals mwe, is integrated identity. That's how the whole wheel ends. Anyway, that's when I started dealing with all these people in the workshops. The bottom line is people would start feeling empowered by integrated consciousness in my practice, so I started teaching it to my students who were therapists. They started buying it for themselves was really empowering. They were teaching to their clients who like my patients, reduced anxiety, reduced mild to moderate depression. It helped them with trauma.
They worked with some people-- like I had a number of people sadly who had life-threatening illnesses, and then the panic and terror they had about dying it really helped them get calm and clear.
My father was dying actually, it helped him, not the wheel, but just the ideas from the wheel. So then it became like, "Whoa, this is amazing." Then I started reading mindfulness and I thought, "Well, maybe all of mindfulness is where you integrate consciousness." I started teaching with Jack Canfield a lot. Jack was open to that, because he's very open-minded and wonderful person. We started teaching a lot together. It was like, "Okay, here's Buddhist teachings. Well, this matches the idea of integration as hell, even though they weren't talking about integration." Now, I started teaching with people like the Dalai Lama and five times I talked with him and even though integration is not spoken about according to the Dalai Lama, if fits to the whole idea of compassion. Compassion and kindness empowers us to feel and joy, are really integration made visible.
This is what my patients were experiencing, my clients so I started doing it in my students, clients. Then I started doing in workshops and people who weren't in therapy, they started getting better over these different things so it became this amazing question, what is going on? Why would a 25-minute practice that people start doing regularly lead to such deep changes? Why? I did it once with Jack in Seattle and then a Microsoft engineer who just retired, he had this experience of incredible connection to all things when he got in the hub.
I did it in a parliament in another country, and one of the parliamentarians was cheerful when he said, "I've never felt so much love and connection in my life."
That became the theme that in the hub, when people just drop into the pure hub experience, three things were there. Open awareness, interconnection, and love. It was as if those were like three threads of a singular tapestry of life. Then as a scientist, it was correcting this data of first-person direct subjective experience with a very controlled stimulus, the wheel of awareness practice.
I did the same way every time with all these people. Now, I mix it up because now the survey is done and now I can have fun. Here's what I think the mechanism and let's do the wheel now, whatever. We take a week. Good, excellent. We do this every year. I think there's a mechanism we can talk about that the survey reveals of why love, interconnection and awareness emerged from the hub. The hub is a metaphor for something.
In the book Aware, with my daughter's help as the illustrator for the book, Maddie Siegel, she helped me really illustrate what I think awareness is where consciousness arises from. It's been an incredibly exciting time because it's just a guess, it could be completely wrong but it's built on careful collection of first-person experiences with a very controlled stimulus, the wheel of awareness. It basically says if this is what the common description is all around the planet, no matter a person's meditation history or not, no meditation history, educational background, gender, race, ethnic background, religious background. You name it, doesn't matter.
The results, if I go to a workshop, my students can't believe this when they come and meet in this workshop. At the workshop they go, "We've heard this three times ago, two times ago and one time ago." I said, "I know, this happens every time." We've had one person in Australia, I did five cities. She said, "No one is going to believe that at every one of these workshops you have 500 people in every workshop, is why you can get to 45,000 pretty fast."
She said, "Everyone takes the microphone says the same thing. It's not that everyone has the same experience but in the five cities, you could have made a recording." I said, "I am recording. I'm recording all of this." It was fascinating and so as a scientist, I had to say to myself, "What explains the fact especially when people get in the hub, that time disappears. That a feeling of connection to everything unfolds? That a lot of people say it's empty but full. It isn't that myself disappeared. It's like myself expanded."
I looked at every study I could find of the brain and consciousness, and the main thing you find in those studies is the beautiful work of Giulio Tononi and Christoph Calc and the late Gerald Edelman on something called the Integrated Information Theory of Consciousness, which basically says that when different regions of the brain link together, so differentiation and linkage equals integration. When you get that integration, somehow consciousness arises.
I thought that's a nice theory. It doesn't say why consciousness arises or it doesn't even correspond to what the wheel of awareness shows, so I know all those studies, I read them, but they didn't help. Then I had to say, okay, if all the existing research on the different proposal neural cores of consciousness don't correspond with the wheel of awareness empirical findings, that's another kind of empirical data, just called first person instead of third person, where can we turn to find conciliants, which is Neil Wilson's term for when independent fields come to the same insights. I had been working since gosh, 1992 with the notion that the mind is an emergent property of energy flow. That didn't make me friends with many people but anyway, I stuck with it.
That flow is much bigger than what happens in the brain. Of course the brain is about energy flow throughout the stuff from the head. That's fine. No one is putting the brain down but it also goes through the whole body, but guess what, skin or skull is an impermeable boundary for energy flow, when energy has symbolic value, that flow is called information. We say energy and information flow means change. Anyway, it's bottom-lines energy. I said, "Well, who's an expert in energy?" The answer is physicists.
Just around that time when I was facing all these frustrations, brain studies just don't cut it at this moment anyway. I was invited to spend a week with 150 physicists in an old monastery. It didn't help that it was in Italy. I mean that was great. In those days, I could eat gluten. We had a lot of pizzas and pasta. I hang with this physicist and I said, "What's energy? What's energy?" The said the most amazing thing, "Energy ultimately can be defined as the movement from possibility to actuality."
I said, "Whoa," and so, ultimately I started drawing it out. I learned drawing for some students who were there. I showed it to different physicists there. Ultimately, one of them particularly was there, Arthur Zajonc, who was the president of Mind & Life with the Dalai Lama and was a quantum physicist. He loves what I am about to tell you that if I say to you I am going to say a word and there are a million words you and I share, what's your chance of knowing which word I am going to say?
Vitina: I don't know. I guess one in a million.
Dan: Exactly, It's one in a million. It's one in a million. We put on a graph, the bottom would be where one in a million is. It's close to zero. If you're doing up and down axis on the graph, it would be the y-axis. That would be near zero. Not quite zero, one in a million near zero. Now I say ocean, and that possibility of all the words has now transformed into an actuality, and we put up at the top of this graph, which would be 100%, one out of one. I said, "Ocean." Now if there's just-- Like let's say there are five oceans in the world and I said, "Which ocean am I going to pick?" You would have a one out of five chance.
We start that process of energy flow where there is like what we call a plateau when you make it a three-dimensional graph where time goes across in the x-axis, that's change really, then ZX is going in and out of this plane of this drawing. We would have this diversity, "How many things are there at once?" Basically what you have at the bottom is a plane of possibility where all possibilities are, and in this case we have five possible oceans. It will be a little circle up where the probability, the probability curve is the up and down axis would be 20%, one out of five.
Now I say Indian Ocean, and it pops up to the 100%. Energy flow moves from this places of possibility or probability into actuality. Okay, fine. Then if you look at it, then well, that's what the thought is. When people say thoughts arise, they say they bubble from somewhere and then dissolve again. I think where a thought is or an emotional or memory and all that stuff, basically our energy flow that's moving from possibility through probability usually to actuality and then dissolving back again.
When people describe the hub of the wheel, I think they're describing the plane of possibility. The formless source of all form is what a physicist will call it. Arthur likes to call it, Zajonc likes to call it the sea of potential. It correlates with the quantum vacuum. I think this is the origin of consciousness. This could be completely wrong, this proposal but if it's true, what it means is that when you do a practice like the wheel but it could be many mindfulness practices do this, they just don't name it like this. Now what you're doing besides the wheel gets you the three pillars that research shows are important to do.
You get them all in one with practice, but you also can differentiate the hub from the rims. You're dropping out of plateaus and peaks, which are the rim stuff into a plane of possibility. Why this is important is because, and there's a lot of implications of this, but one of them is the quantum vacuum or the sea of potential allows us to realize that physics has demonstrated we have two realms we live in. When I have asked techies at Wisdom 2.0, "How many do know there are two realms?" 1% raise their hand out of 3,000 people in the room.
A few weeks later, I was in a room with 3,000 therapists. About 1% raise their hands. 99% of well educated, well-informed people don't know this. Yet it was the cover story a month before Aware came out in the Scientific American, when did these two realms meet? It's like when you swim, if you swim, sometimes you're underwater doing a breaststroke. Then you come up for air, there's an air realm and there's a water realm. Nobody freaks out about that. One reality, there's an air around the water realm. Big deal makes sure you come up for air. I think these two realms are basically called the quantum realm of microstates, small things and the Newtonian classical realm of macrostates.
Macrostates is the condensation of energy into something we call matter. The properties that Newton figured out have certainly mathematical equations that determine if you fly an airplane, how it works or if you try to predict where the planets go and or driving your car or walking your body, all those basic Newtonian classical physics call them macrostate world that your in, but that's the body and your car and airplanes, we also have small things. Not microstates but small energy packets called quanta or units of energy, which is really a probability field like an electron or a photon.
This unit of energy is quanta has none of the properties of Newtonian physics. It has a whole different set of equations, which basically go like this, "In the Macro state Newtonian classical world, things are like noun like entities that are separate from one another." But in the quantum world, things are verb like events that are massively interconnected. In the macrostate world, you have something called an arrow of time, which is a directionality of change, so if we break off an egg, because an egg is a microstate collection of molecules you can't unbreak it, as a directionality of change, we call awareness of the directionality of change, time.
There's probably no such thing as time as something flowing but there is directionality of change of the microstate world. In the microstate quantum world, no arrow of time. It's timeless. The microstate world is where things manifest and dissolve away. In the microstate quantum world, things are basically arising in this formless source of all form and you get this very different quality. I think that's where interconnection comes from and it's where love comes from.
In teaching this now to people to experientially dive into the hub to look at this proposed mechanism if it's true. It could be completely wrong. If it's true, what it means is you learn to let life happen and let love light up the world rather than make it happen. So often, we're taught in school to be certain of things and to act like a noun like you're separate from other people in the planet. We're destroying unearth because of that illusion of separation. Einstein called it an optical dillusion of conscience.
Part of the journey I think all have to get on is to move from the separate noun like me and yes, you have a body. You should sleep your body well. Enjoy your body. Exercise your body. Feed your body well." That's great. The body gets about 100 years to live. Great, that's then noun like Newtonian reality you have. That's me. You also have a verb like quantum we, which is very, very different.
In that difference, what you get to do is allow yourself the freedom to integrate. "Yes, I have a body when I come to a red light. I need to activate a plateau and peak that says, I know how to drive a car. I press on the brakes." Because if you don't you will become one with everything at the intersection. You have a body. That's just the truth, but you also have consciousness, which has many elements of the quantum reality in it, the quantum realm. It's not a hypothesis, the quantum realm. What the hypothesis is, is that awareness comes from there. That's where the hypothesis is. Anyway this has been an incredible moment in the unfolding of this issue because it allows us then to look at all the different contemplative practices, wherever they are coming from, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islamic faith, Jewish faith, Christian faith, the indigenous people so far having so many wisdom traditions come to me and say, "This wheel of awareness and this plane of possibility proposal fits with my people's teachings, whatever my people means. I go, "That's great. That's beautiful. That's conciliant.
It may just be that this is, "If it's accurate, this might be the bridge between science and spirituality. If it's true, then the exciting thing is, "We have a lot of work to do as a humanity to dissolve the delusion of our separate nature as nouns, embrace the verb like reality of our interconnection and let awareness, interconnection and love be the way we live."
Vitina: Just like fireworks going off down, right now. So many light bulbs as you're talking. I feel like I'm sitting front row. I'm so excited to share this episode with all of our listeners, but I'm just, I keep thinking in my head, "Oh, my goodness, the amount that people in our Western culture, we fill our schedules in thinking that this is what's going to bring us happiness. This is what's going to bring us joy. From everything that you're saying, and also from my personal practice and knowing and meditating every day, it's in that spaciousness that I do feel the most connected. It's so beautiful that you're able to verbalize and explain what I'm feeling inside as you're talking.
Dan: I love it. I love it. It's so beautiful.
Vitina: It's really, really special. I can feel your passion and you're so in alignment with your gift in this lifetime, because as you're talking it's just like flowing through you and the joy that I see in your face and your smile and in your eyes, it's really really special and such a beautiful thing to witness. I'm just very, very grateful for your work.
Dan: Thank you. It's so interesting you said about-face because people can't see your face but I was going to say exactly those words about what I see in your face. That's beautiful.
Vitina: Well, we're just mirroring each other.
Dan: Yes, that's so good. Look at what we can offer the world to join together. I mean, really in deep community of liberating one another from the illusion of the separate self. Of course you have a body, treat your body well. That's the me, but the we part of it gets equally honoured as who we are. You don't lose the me. No one is saying, "Oh, just get rid of the me and just become a we. We're a we and this is a beautiful opportunity. I think there's an end note to you have a beautiful group in Toronto. That's the me to we group. They asked me to write the end note for their beautiful book that's coming out on me to we, where I say, "The beautiful thing about the organization me to we is it doesn't say, "Get rid of me." It's really more about we is what they mean by that.
They were so excited about that. I'm really honoured to be a part of that journey with them because I think when kids are raised in adolescence emerge into their lives thinking about things as a separate self, they realize there's something really wrong. People are running around this feeling of not belonging and not feeling like there's this meaning there but then when they do this me to we is the way you could say it, then there's this incredible energy that's released because I think people come to realize that we as a me has been living a lie. It's not only misguided and wrong, it's destructive.
It's toxic and if we don't change it, it's going to be lethal. When you realize and we are all connected that, you go, "The job is to really support one another for what Arthur designs taught me the term pervasive leadership to empower each other to really take on these ideas. No one owns them. It's really about empowering one another and really supporting one another with empathic joy and really support and encouragement. Then to say, "Okay, we're not only a part of each other as a human family, but we're also really a fundamental part of nature. We stop treating earth like a trash can me and instead realize the plants and animals around us are us."
That's a different way to live and I think the earth is waiting for us to wake up from the slumber of the delusion of the only separate self, realize, "Yes, okay you get this time to live in a body. That's fine, but who you are is going to exist for generations beyond this body you get a chance to live in." Then there's this joy where you go,