Tag Archives: Meditation

Dan Siegel: Re-Wire Your Brain

91 Overpass-2 006Like I say, Dr. Dan Siegel introduced me to brain science, and I write about brain scientists like him ‘cos they saved my life.  It was all an accident… or a God-send.

In August 2010  I heard psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud on CD saying, “we can now do scans of the brain of older kids who were… not held, comforted or soothed, and there are parts of the brain which are dark. There’s nothing growing in there — because nothing was planted; neurologically there’s literally no brain activity.”

That was me, and it hit me in the gut: “Oh, s#$%!  Parts of my brain are dark!”  I thought it was fried for life.  I was commuting and almost drove off this I-91 overpass near Anaheim, CA at 70 mph (view from my car, above).  It was no trip to Disneyland.

Later I learned what I had was  “developmental trauma.”

But in March 2011, Dr. Dan Siegel taught me that we can re-wire our brains. It was literally an answer to prayer.  I clicked the wrong link in a friend’s email and ended up by mistake watching a webinar by some guy named Siegel titled  “How Mindfulness Can Change the Wiring of Our Brains.” [FN1]

He announces with characteristic excitement (I do love him) : “We’re in a moment now of making one of the most revolutionary findings from neuroscience: neuroplasticity.

“Neuroplasticity is the way we can study how the connections in the brain… continually change throughout the life span… we’re now learning  that the brain doesn’t stop growing after childhood or adolescence; it continues to grow throughout the entire life span.”

Re-Wiring with “Mindsight”

Dan Siegel Mindsight cover1 “Experience drives those changes by activating the firing of neurons, and then as neurons fire, they can rewire their connections to one another,” and make new synaptic connections, Siegel said. We can even grow more myelin coating on the neurons involved in the new thought patterns where we want to focus our attention.

That leaves the bad old brain patterns we don’t want to repeat, the ones which cause us emotional pain, not so myelinated.  And as our new brain patterns create more myelin on the cells we’re deliberately firing in new ways, our new neural patterns  become supercharged to fire faster and at way higher efficiencies, he continued.

We can use mindfulness meditation, therapy, and even brain exercises, he said, to “focus attention, which is basically harnessing the power of the mind to focus energy and information flow through the substance of the brain. As you do that, you can change synaptic connections, you can stimulate the growth of new neurons” and develop mental skills which grow myelin. “In all those ways, we can change the physical structure of the brain to the focus of the mind.”

Plus, Siegel said, we can specifically use a technique he invented called “Mindsight” to become mindful of all our mental activities, and reorganize them, to re-wire our brain even more efficiently.  We can recognize that whatever happens to be mechanically flowing through our brain is not really “us.”  It’s just the mechanical patterns of neurons which have been firing on autopilot (brainlessly!) without our wanting or needing them to fire, often since infancy, and most of them since adolescence.

“Mindsight is the capacity to sense that those mental activities are, in fact, not the totality of who you are, “ he said. “So in that sense, it overlaps with mindfulness… but it goes beyond mindfulness because once you have this ability to sense that these mental activities are just part of your identity, you then specifically can move the way your energy and information flow is happening in your mental life, in your relational life, or even in your neuronal life….”

For more, get Dr. Siegel’s book ”Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation,” (Bantam, 2010) (see http://www.drdansiegel.com/books/mindsight/ ).  Also check out his Mindsight Institute at http://www.drdansiegel.com/about/mindsight/.  [FN2]

What immediately blew me away was how Siegel used mindsight to work with a  ninety-two year old lawyer who came into Siegel’s office with half a brain (Lawyer? Was that a no-brainer?)  Siegel completely rewired the man.

Details in my next post — in two weeks, on Friday, July 25.  I’ve got to bear down on completing my book, so I’m moving to a new schedule to blog every other Friday.

Next Friday July 18,  I’ll send you current news from Dan Siegel.


Kathy’s news blogs expand on her book “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder—How I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.” Watch for the continuing series each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about Attachment Disorder in adults, adult Attachment Theory, and the Adult Attachment Interview.


Daniel J. Siegel, MD, http://www.drdansiegel.com is clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine on the faculty of the Center for Culture, Brain, and Development and founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center.  He is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute. He is also Founding Editor for the Norton Professional Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology which contains over three dozen textbooks.

FN1   Siegel, Daniel J., MD, “How Mindfulness Can Change the Wiring of Our Brains,” National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM), www.nicabm.com; 2010 Webcast and my first NICABM webinar, downloaded March 31, 2011. Rebroadcast October 11, 2011.  http://www.nicabm.com/nicabmblog/meditation-medication/ and http://www.nicabm.com/mindfulness-2011-new/

FN2  Siegel, Daniel J., MD, “Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation,” Bantam Books, 2010

Must-read interview:
Siegel, Daniel J., MD, “Early childhood and the developing brain,” on “All in the Mind,” ABC Radio National, Radio Australia, June 24, 2006 at: www.abc.net.au/rn/allinthemind/stories/2006/1664985.htm

Books by Dan Siegel:
–”The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are,” (Guilford, 1999). How attachment in infancy and childhood creates the brain and the mind.
–”Healing Trauma: Attachment, Mind, Body, and Brain,” Marion F Solomon, Daniel J Siegel, editors,  New York, NY:  W.W. Norton and Company;  2003.   357pg  Reviewed by Hilary Le Page, MBBS at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2553232/
–”The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being,” (Norton, 2007)
–”The Mindful Therapist: A Clinician’s Guide to Mindsight and Neural Integration,” (Norton, 2010)
–”Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation,” (Bantam, 2010)
–”Parenting from the Inside Out: How a Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive,” (Tarcher/Penguin, 2003) with Mary Hartzell
–”The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind,” (Random House, 2011) with Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D
–”Brainstorm: Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain,”  (Tarcher, 2013)

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Stardust 2

Tara Smile smaller fr Reacting Wiesely 8-10-11Last week, after the video class by therapist Dr. Tara Brach (left), I said that for one day, I’d try to be Present with What Is.  Hey, I struggle with a regular meditation for 45 minutes, so this’ll be a stretch.  [FN1]

On Day 1, when the alarm rings, instead of growling, I lie there and take as many deep breaths as I need, until I can greet the alarm with wonder: “Wow, I have a cell phone that works; look, it’s even got an alarm.”  I sit up, and my back hurts, so I take as many breaths as needed until I can say “Hello Back, let’s stretch” and feel the wonder that I still have a sturdy back.

Seeing my calendar for today, I take as many deep breaths as needed until I can relax the rising stress about all those calls and emails. Instead, I delight that my bed is supporting me as I stretch, that the floor is supporting my bed, and the Earth is supporting us all, as Peter Levine points out (these hints have a reason). [FN2]

What’s really amazing is that I have this tofu between my ears known as a human mind which can perceive all that. And “all that” is organized, oddly enough, so that it supports my back and my body (if I just take a moment to feel into them). All without my doing anything except paying the el cheapo movers $150 to move the bed up the stairs back in 2010 when I was suicidal and got this place thinking it would be my mausoleum.

I start to faintly believe Tara’s wild idea that all of it, like me, is made of stardust.  It feels really, really good.  I’m likin’ this…

“Stardust… stardust” I mutter to myself and my normally anxious cells as I get up, brush my teeth (amazing Procter and Gamble can put stardust in a tube), and drink a liter of liquid stardust, er, water.  The water is the best part; drinking slowly and with deep breaths, I can feel it flowing down my throat and my happy little digestive cells just soaking it in.

I make it to the kitchen; what a quandary.  A friend has left a vase of flowers on the counter.   The sight, the scent intoxicate me; the fact that someone did this for me overwhelms my heart; my eyes well up.  Then there’s my kitchen window: sunlight and tropical foliage and the bright blue California sky, has this denizen of the New York underground gone to heaven?  Can I go swing on my deck swing?

But I haven’t even opened the fridge to see what avocado or fruit treat awaits me… Just walking into the kitchen, I’m like the cat in the delicatessen: he couldn’t decide whether to eat the ham, the salami, or the baloney, so he starved to death.

Yikes, how long is it going to take me to be Present and really taste breakfast (oh, yum), choose a dress from my closet (all so gorgeous) and get outside?  Then how do I make it past all those flowers and trees and birds in the parking lot to my car?  How do I not drop to my knees (bad for the panty hose) in awe of the cherubim of Infiniti, that they could forge such a steed?  How do I choose from a dozen uplifting musical recordings for my soul while driving?  Drive?  What a concept…  By the end of the day, I’m in happy but exhausted shock.  Good God, God is time-consuming!

Day at the Beach

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy Saturday I’m exhausted and not feeling so mahvelous dahling anymore.  I walk to the beach listening to that same Tara class again on my mp3, dejected that I’m so tired and by the way, walking to the beach alone.

If you recall, Tara starts with the need-fear dilemma: being deeply present with other human beings is love, and we need that kind of love for our brains to develop.  But once we’re born, “the primal mood of the separate self is fear.”  [FN3]   No birth or parenting process is perfect, so we get “conditioned” by painful experiences to fear love.  And coming from infant brain stem trauma, I’ve had boatloads of fear and its stand-in, anxiety. (Details in Stardust 1)

Again Tara makes her biggest leap (right after minute 19):  If we only wake up out of our bad conditioning, she says, “The basic principle…  is that love is intrinsic to what we are.  In the most real way possible, we belong to this living world.  We’re made of stardust, we all are composed of the same stuff.  We’re breathing in this world, we’re breathing out into it; everything effects everything else.  We belong, that’s the basics. ”

Just as she says this I emerge from the trees onto the beach at my favorite picnic bench.  I’m looking at a 180-degree view of the ocean about 70 feet away, tropical foliage with huge birds of paradise flowers, the seagulls, the sun on the water, the most gorgeous weather possible, and it hits me smack in the chest:  Do I have a question about whether I intrinsically belong to this world?!

I pause the audio.  Tara says I belong.  Tara says I belong.  Wait,  I said it makes no sense, this shrink’s crazy!  “No, remember, it’s physics and biochemistry that we’re made of stardust.  So we’re loved 24 x7, by the Creator of the stars, no less.  Except we don’t feel that way ‘cos of our bum programming.”

Now I’m back full steam in my comfort zone of head talk.  “Wise men have written about this forever.  Swami Muktananda says when a fountain becomes still, we can see a bright penny at the bottom; just so, as we meditate and still our mental noise, at the bottom of our heart, we can see the face of God. Gospel singers say: “Way down in the bottom, Way down in the bottom, you can find the love of Jesus, in the bottom of your heart.”  (Click here, then scroll down to song list and click Play arrow to left of #3, “Way Down.”) [FN4]

Oh, nuts to reasoning why!  Tara says I belong.  Tara says I belong, and I want to believe her, in fact I long deeply to believe her – No damnit, I DO believe her.  Tara says I belong!

Sitting there staring at the sun on the ocean, suddenly I’m sobbing full-body heaves of joy and sorrow and who knows what — a wave of astonishment too big to contain so that it shakes me from head to toe or maybe vice versa.  This has hit me often when I’ve gone to the ocean;  I’ve always been moved by it;  I’d stand in the water or sit by it for hours or days at a time.  Because something within me said: this is here for you.  Something deep that goes to the core of my being, without having a word for it.

It all subsides; I take deep breaths and restart Tara’s audio. “And when the heart experiences that truth — in a visceral, vivid way — the experience is love,” she says.  “Awareness, when it’s awake, when our awareness is aware of our own Presence: we belong to the world, and the world is part of our heart.  It’s intrinsic.

The love we need is already inside us.

Visceral?  Did you say visceral?  Damn right it’s visceral, it hits me in the chest and the gut.  I have no rational explanation but every cell in my body is suddenly singing at the top of their little cellular lungs “We BeLO–NG” and yes, Virginia, they believe it. This goes way beyond anything head talk can manage; this is a physical experience. No other way to put it.

Mendelssohn No. 4

Kathy Gown Messiah IMAG0671And then I remember the Mendelssohn.  I remember Thanksgiving 2012 after singing Handel’s “Messiah” when I had to drive home alone in despair in a ballgown, hairdo and jewels, singing “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth” at the top of my lungs down Interstate 5 for an hour. (That’s my pic at left, but here’s Lynn Dawson singing; she really captures the wonder).

I got home and put on a favorite, Mendelssohn’s 4th Symphony,  3rd movement — and began sobbing for the sheer beauty of it.  “Oh, this is what love feels like!” I said into my mp3’s record button. “This is what Mom should have felt like. This is what God love feels like; this is what people love should feel like — platonic, romantic, I don’t care! Yeah, I like this, this is what I like.” [FN5]  (To play Movement #3 now, left click on “Download file,” then click “open.”)

To download mp3, click below: (Firefox users: right-click link, select ‘Save Link As…’   Internet Explorer users: right-click link, select ‘Save Target As…’ )  Mendelssohn Nr4 Tr3 Con moto

“But ‘it’s just not happening for me’!” I cried, still quoting Dan the first rebound guy.  “What’s up, Lord, why is it always No?”  Then I simply had a really good sob about it, it was so painful to let it go through me, but when it was over, I felt better and better, then fell asleep in my clothes, exhausted but oddly happy.

“Maybe it started with you marinating so long in ‘My Redeemer Liveth’,” said a friend next day. “Sounds like an experience where we are so much in God’s presence, that it’s ok that it all sucks.  It’s ok you’re alone, again, that it hurts so bad – because there is a comfort here which you and I have a hard time putting words to.  God spoke to you in that Mendelssohn, God knows you well enough to know that if He speaks to you in music, to say ‘I’m with you,’ you’re gonna get it.  This is what Pure Love feels like.”

I thought that was nutty in 2012; how could an unseen etherial being make me feel better, when what I needed was a flesh and blood husband?  Still I had to admit: I did for no reason feel a whole lot better.

So a year later on my bench, I switch from Tara to Mendelssohn’s 3rd movement, still on my mp3.  And here it comes again, I feel it all over again: Oh my God, He’s right there with me, all the time!  “The Lord is my shephard, I shall not want… I shall fear no evil.”  I can hear Mendelssohn, I can see the sun on the ocean -– and the sobbing starts in overdrive. I get it, Tara, thank you, thank you: We ARE Made of Stardust.

I’ve been pondering this mystery for a year, so this time when the physical wave starts, I remember a yogi who says “Whatever happens, let it be OK and Just Watch.”  I sit for ten minutes letting it all slam over my body and out again, and the less my head gets in the way asking why, the deeper and wider the bodily reaction gets.  Then suddenly it’s done, and I feel like a million bucks, just like Thanksgiving 2012.  Is there a pattern here?

At that point my body just took off down that beach running for the ocean like there was no tomorrow; I almost was not in control of it.

Salt Creek sun Monarch_Beach_Xmas 051I hit the water and then I was dancing all over the beach sobbing for about an hour, playing the third movement a dozen times, running the length of the entire two mile strand, dancing and singing and skipping and jogging. People were staring at me, I didn’t give a damn, I never felt so much flat out joy in my life.

Then I danced my way through the whole symphony, starting with the first movement. It didn’t matter how tired I was, that first movement just leaps out at you and there I was leaping and running again like a madwoman.  The physical reaction was huge.  (Click “Play” arrow at left below for Movement #1:)

To download mp3, click below : (Firefox users: right-click link, select ‘Save Link As…’   Internet Explorer users: right-click link, select ‘Save Target As…’ )  Mendelssohn #4, Movement #1 Allegro

Eventually I crawl off the beach to my bench with a huge grin across my face.  Gosh, this Presence thing sure is time consuming!  Who’d believe that just spending a week practicing being Present With What Is for every little ordinary thing, could lead to such a wave of physical emotion of belonging and being loved?

Physical Experience

Salt Creek long Monarch_Beach_Xmas 082No matter what the people were doing, I’ve known that something in me had some deep connection to this world since I was little, without knowing to use the word “belong.”  It was bizarrely simple.  I connected to the beauty of nature, and that’s what’s resonating now.

It puzzled me no end as a kid.  I remember thinking from grade school, “Seeing that tree over there really moves something inside my heart.  But that tree is 20 feet away, and my eyes are over here; why should I feel any connection? Why should that be?”  The question has no tangible answer, none; in fact at times it seemed downright impossible to me.

And yet as a kid I had this physical experience over and over, every time I saw trees or stars or the ocean. It was just too beautiful for me, so I felt it as “visceral.”

There was little religion growing up; I learned Psalm 23 from the recitations in school whenever they thought the Russian bombs were about to drop.  Still even as a kid I could only find one answer:  Someone made this for me!  Then I would start to cry and I didn’t know why.  Despite all my anxiety and loneliness, all the wounding in my brain stem, there was a very strong sense that this was made for me.

Now Dr. Tara Brach has put a word to it: Belong.  Just the word sets off an earthquake in my heart.  Something deep inside me, without reason or logic, has felt all my life a desperate need to belong, and when I got that in nature, it hit me hard.  It’s a big deal to have that big a physical experience of belonging, even if I only had it with a tree.

Eventually I wander home in a state of shock, trying to be present with the sunset and how beautiful is the path back to my place.  I try not to go into sensory overload or fall asleep en route.  Below is a video mp4 of sunset there and my path home.

Sorry, it may only work with Internet Explorer. After you click the Play arrow, watch the moving bar because that may show how long it will take to load.   Or better, forget the electronics, close your eyes, lean back and just imagine.

Look at all the stuff I didn’t get done today!  I missed five crucial emails, didn’t make a pile of calls, and now it’s dark and I won’t even get to the gym until really late.  Darn.  Does anybody really have time for all this?

Oh well, consider the alternative.

Suppose all of the above is claptrap.  Perhaps we humans are in charge of all that we see?  Not only did we make my bed and my floor and the toothpaste, but we’re pretty much responsible for everything?  Well then, obviously we don’t have time to sit back! We’ve got our achievement programming to obey! Step on it -– we’ve got to get out there and make the world run, get all those emails out, go sell things, phone clients, write even more programs (this time with computers), or go do whatever it is we do all day.  We’ve got to achieve!  We’ve got to hustle and tote that barge, lift that bale.  No time for this stardust hooey, forget it.

I guess free will means it’s up to each of us to choose.  I don’t like that second alternative.  It doesn’t feel good; it doesn’t even make sense.  Me, I’m developing a taste for stardust (yum).

Kathy’s news blogs expand on her book “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME:  The Silent Epidemic of Attachment DisorderHow I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.”  Watch for the continuing series each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about Attachment Disorder in adults, adult Attachment Theory, and the Adult Attachment Interview.


FN1 Brach, Tara, PhD, “Releasing  Barriers to Unconditional  Loving” – Part 1A  (5-15-13) at:
Books: Brach, Tara, PhD: “True Refuge,”  Bantam Books, 2013 and “Radical Acceptance,” Bantam Books, 2003
Biography: www.tarabrach.com/about.html
Website Audio & Video page:  www.tarabrach.com/audiodharma.html

FN2  Levine, Peter A., PhD, “Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body,” ‘Sounds True, Inc.,’ Boulder CO, 2005; ISBN 1-159179-247-9

FN3  Need-Fear Dilemma:  “We have a need in our heart for love, but when it’s wounded or hurt or unavailable, something very bad happens.  We don’t just sustain need.   If my Mom dies when I’m age 7, I can’t just wait 20 years and say  ‘OK now I’ll find someone nice to love me.’  Instead, when we have unmet need or injured need, something bad develops called the need-fear dilemma.  What we need the most, we begin to fear.  If it’s needing love, then we’re uneasy around love.  If we need understanding of our weaknesses, we get very uneasy about being weak.”
–  Cloud, Henry, PhD, “Getting Love on the Inside,” Lecture, April 2002 (CD),  www.Cloud-Townsend Resources.com
“The insecure resistant ambivalent child shown in the video is experiencing what has been referred to as the need-fear dilemma; he both needs the mother for comfort, but something in his history with this mother has instilled fear, and distrust whether he will find what he needs.  The video is of the Strange Situation, developed by  psychologist Mary Ainsworth in the 1970s to describe secure and insecure attachment. These two attachment patterns are vividly seen in the interaction of two mother-child pairs: http://youtu.be/DH1m_ZMO7GU  ”
— Gerson, John, Phd, “Understanding Secure and Insecure Attachment,”  www.theravive.com/research/understanding-secure-and-insecure-attachment

FN4  Marty Stuart, “Souls’ Chapel,” #3. “Way Down.”  Scroll down to song list and click on arrow to right of #3 at www.amazon.com/Souls-Chapel-Marty-Stuart/dp/B000AA7I14

FN5  Felix  Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A major, Op. 90,  “Italian”  was composed from 1829 to 1831.  Its inspiration is the color and rich history of Italy, where Mendelssohn wrote: “This is Italy! And now has begun what I have always thought… to be the supreme joy in life.  And I am loving it.  Today was so rich that now, in the evening, I must collect myself a little, and so I am writing to you to thank you, dear parents, for having given me all this happiness.”

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