Soul & Synapse

Soul and Synapse

Imagine immersing yourself in a systematic exploration of the nature of mind that gives you a new way to experience life. And then consider that you can “integrate consciousness” at the same time as you are diving deeply into a new way to knowing your mental world. But how do you integrate consciousness? What could be differentiated in our experience of being aware? And how can we then link those elements of consciousness to one another?

Years ago, I came across an interesting finding: Every form of change seemed to require consciousness: Education, parenting, personal growth, psychotherapy. Each of these ways we help others, or ourselves, to grow and change, to develop in a focused way, each called for the individual growing to be aware, to be conscious. And at the same time, another pattern had emerged: Well-being seemed to arise from a fundamental process of integration, the linkage of differentiated parts of a system, of a relationship, of a person. Without integration, chaos or rigidity ensued. With integration, harmony unfolded with the five features of FACES flow: Flexible, adaptive, coherent (holding together dynamically over time), energized, and stable.

So with psychotherapy clients, I would have them get up from their chair or couch and walk to a table which has a clear glass center and a broad, wooden outer rim. I invited them to imagine that this was a “wheel of awareness” with the central “hub” representing the experience of knowing of consciousness; the rim represented anything that could be known. Those knowns could be represented on each of four segments of the rim and are the first five senses; the sixth sense of the internal perception of the body’s signals (“interoception”); the “seventh sense” of mental activities such as feelings, thoughts, and memories; and even an “eighth sense” of our relationships to other people, and to the planet. And the “spokes”—the parts of the table that held the tabletop up—represented attention, the way we focus energy and information flow.

If you systematically move the spoke of attention around the rim, you could differentiate the spectrum of things you can be aware of and then systematically link them to one another. This simple practice was also a powerful tool to stabilize the mind. With the Wheel of Awareness practice, I offered patients one more step. They could bend the spoke of attention around, aiming its focus right into the hub of knowing of awareness itself. This would enable them to experience “awareness of awareness.” For many, this step offered a glimpse into the deep and expansive nature of consciousness, a sanctuary of clarity and spaciousness that stayed with them throughout the day.

And with this integration, lots of changes started to happen—reducing anxiety and fears, helping heal trauma, reducing sadness and stabilizing mood, strengthening a wandering mind with attentional challenges, and giving an overall sense of clarity and well-being—experiences which seemed to come directly from integration.

Once patients seemed to improve, I started teaching this practice to other therapists in ongoing seminars and finally public conferences with similar results. More than reducing challenging symptoms of chaos and rigidity in people’s lives (which can be seen as a result of blocked integration), many patients expressed a new way of experiencing their lives—with more stability, more clarity, and more equanimity. I then made the Wheel available for educational use. Kindergarteners reported similar results, improving their behavior in school.

Because many people had experienced a widening of their sense of connection to other people, and to the world around them, I felt the Wheel would offer a powerful way to have an experiential workshop that blended spirituality with scientific knowledge. I’ve called these immersion weekends, “Soul and Synapse.” These are intensive three-day events with direct experience, first-person descriptions, scientific discussions, and a continual attempt to integrate objective research findings with subjective experiences. It has been a profound source of inspiration and connection for me personally, and professionally, joining with others on this journey to understand our place in the world, the nature of our mind, and how we can effectively expand our consciousness to live a more meaningful and connected life. I look forward to our next gatherings as we dive deeply into the mind and share the journey of integrating our lives, together.

Dr. Dan Siegel led his retreat, Soul and Synapse: The Integration of Science and Spirituality at the Garrison Institute from May 29-31.