Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW, MSW
Last week I attended a training led by Daniel Siegel M.D., clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine. Siegel is a big name in the field of mental health, and I like him because in spite of the fact that in every new book and new conference he says the same thing over and over again, he has that lovely combination of searing intelligence and deep humanity so often missing in brainy famous folk. Plus the guy straight up amazes me: he spoke for eight hours without a single note.
Siegel just wrote Mindsight, a new book on mindfulness and the healing of the brain and then in turn the healing of interpersonal relationships which furthers the healing of the brain. This is his shtick and it’s a darn good one. But what’s different is that his new book is written for the general public.
His other books were written for people in the mental health field willing to do a bit of translation. For instance, his 1999 book The Developing Mind is chockablock with sentences like this: “Neural activation profiles can be linked to the activity of the prefrontal cortex and give the internal sensation of being within an attentional focus of consciousness.” And questions like “How does experience influence hemispheric specialization?
I must warn those of you who might run out and buy the book and discover just how fascinating neural plasticity can be: Beware! You will want to talk about it with others because it is fun to share interesting information. Slow down there, Sparky!
I have made this mistake before. Sadly, most folks don’t care about the anterior cingulate. To wit, if you go around spouting things at cocktail parties like “physical pain and social rejection both stimulate the anterior cingulate portion of the brain, which makes sense if you think about evolutionary programming because among our ancestors belonging equaled survival,” other people tend to back slowly away, eyes darting about as if you were brandishing a gun rather than a shrimp. (Okay I haven’t been quite that boorish but I have forced dinner guests to listen to full passages of Barbara Kingsolver’s Natural Wonders which no doubt made me near insufferable).
So here is my recommendation: get two copies of Mindsight. Keep one and give the other to your partner or your best friend or your mother. Read it at the same time. Fall in love with the middle prefrontal cortex together. Talk amongst yourselves.