Saturday, June 21, 2008

The healing power of mindfulness

Ah, the thrill of escaping a controlling parent! But what if the controlling parent lives inside your own head?

I just spent the last two days in a workshop with interpersonal neurobiologist Daniel Siegel and Buddhist psychologist Jack Kornfield. The two men were discussing the value of mindfulness meditation from their two perspectives: the workings of the brain, and the psychological effects and possibilities.

While Kornfield listed the main principles of Buddhist psychology, Siegel drew parallels between those principles and the workings of the human brain. The results were mind-boggling.

I haven't even begun to process everything I learned yet -- in fact, I left the workshop a little over an hour early because I was beginning to suffer a serious information overload (not to mention being worried about catching a ferry in time for dinner, given there was to be both a solstice parade and a walk for suicide prevention happening in the general area).

But it does seem clear, even in my exhausted state, that much of what we believe to be fixed in stone about ourselves can in fact be altered. Brain cells can be redirected, added, or replaced; new patterns of behavior, thought and emotion can be developed. It is possible for us to escape the rigid limitations we are inclined to impose opon ourselves and, by being open and present to the moment, to ourselves, and to those around us we can actually move the entire universe closer to healthy integration.

I left the room -- as did the other 1,000 people who attended, I'm sure -- with an incredible sense of hope for our future, both as individuals and as a planet. Perhaps now that science has confirmed what wise men have been trying to tell us for centuries we may begin to understand as an entire culture what was once only clear to a select few: that presence, mindfulness, and attention in the moment have the possibility to heal, not just individuals, but also our relationships, our communities, and our world.

Good stuff!


Stephanie said...

Hello. Where was the seminar held, please? In what city and state, I mean. Also do the presenters have a mailing list so a person can learn about future events? Thanks!

Diane Walker said...

The seminar, which was called The Wise Heart and the Mindful Brain (after their two books by the same names) was held at the Seattle Center in Seattle, WA. There will be a DVD of the conference available. The conference will be offered again in Washington, DC in October: see

Anonymous said...

hi, i heard a really interesting audio conversation between daniel siegel and daniel goleman, called better parents, better spouses, better people. it didn't take the buddhist angle, but did really deeply discuss the hold of the past, and how to deal with its patterns

Diane Walker said...

Yes, Siegel has a book out on parenting that tackles that subject. I love that the brain can change, that just a simple meditative practice can actually re-frame the pathways in the brain. So exciting!