For spiritual growth, the importance of attention, awareness and kindness have been highlighted throughout time.
Friday evening at a Consciousness Network event, psychiatrist Daniel Siegel — whose latest book is “Aware: the Science and Practice of Presence” — will talk about the importance of attention, awareness and kindness — a trio he refers to as the three pillars — for medical benefits.
“It involves changing the structure of your brain in ways that it becomes … more integrated, which is the basis of resilience, basically,” Dr. Siegel told the News-Press. “It also changes the five different features of how your physiology operates.”
The features include reducing inflammation, improving immune system functionality, improving cardiovascular functionality, reducing stress, and slowing down aging, Dr. Siegel said.
The findings come from peer-reviewed articles and scientific research of possible physiological effects of age-old practices, such as meditation, he said.
“When you dive into the science, you begin to understand what basically Louis Pasteur says, ‘Chance favors (only) the prepared mind,’ ” Dr. Siegel said.
“Take for example, the question scientifically, ‘What is awareness itself? What is consciousness?’ Looking at that can actually be done on a surface level when you say, ‘Well, it’s just being aware of something.’ Or it can be on a much deeper level where you say, ‘Well, it has to do with the mind’s experience of emerging from energy flow,’ and you can look at the nature of energy to understand, for example, why some people experience a sense of interconnection and timelessness when they go to pure awareness. Well, why is that? We’ll talk about scientific understanding of why that is a very common finding.”
Dr. Siegel has spoken throughout the world about the physiological sides of honing attention, awareness and kindness. One of the countries where he has spoken is a Southeast Asian country where the majority of the population practices Theravada Buddhism.
“I was asked a little while ago to go to Myanmar/Burma to actually teach them about exactly these issues. And I got there, and I said, ‘This is so funny because some of the traditional practices that are used in the research came from Burma. It’s funny that you ask me, an American, to come back to Asia where these practices, that are the source of the research strategies, came from. … You should be teaching me,’ ” Dr. Siegel said.
In the U.S., he has noticed a new wave of interest.
“Part of the amazing thing that’s happened over the last 30 years or so is that you have an incredible interest in meditative practices,” said Dr. Siegel, who highlighted that mindfulness-based stress reduction research and other studies “were able to demonstrate for the American-doubting public that this ancient set of practices called meditation, done in a particular way … on a regular basis — people didn’t only feel better, but there were measurable changes in the structure and function of their brain.”
The regularity of practicing presence plays a key role for Dr. Siegel.
“The challenge for Americans is they want a fast fix, and meditation isn’t ‘You do it once and you’re done.’ … You got to keep on doing this, kind of like brushing your teeth,” he said. “You don’t just say, ‘I brushed my teeth three years ago. Why did my teeth get decay?’ Well you need to brush your teeth every day. You need to meditate regularly, like every day.”
The event — sponsored by the Glendon Association, Hospice of Santa Barbara, and Paradise Found — takes place at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Hahn Hall, 1070 Channel Drive. Tickets can be found at siegelsb.eventbrite.com.