What is Consciousness, and Why Does it Matter?

Dan Siegel is a psychiatrist and neuroscience researcher at UCLA. If you’ve ever read anything about mindfulness, you’ve probably interacted with some of his work. According to Siegel, well-being is all about integration. This kind of integration can help us manage stress, anxiety, and depression. It can also help us thrive at home and at work. Siegel describes integration across eight domains: consciousness, bilateral and vertical neurology, state, memory, narrative, interpersonal, time, and identity.

Consciousness is thinking about thinking. It is about cultivating an awareness of focusing on what we are focusing on. We are always focusing on something. Sometimes we choose to focus on something. For example, right now you are focusing on the words on this screen. Other times, our focus is grabbed by an external source. For example, if you suddenly heard a gunshot, or a loud crash outside your window – your focus would leave this screen, and be drawn automatically to the loud noise.

The point is, “focus” is something that ebbs and flows – and something that we have a great degree of influence over.

There is a particular cluster of neurons in our brains that act kind of like a focus muscle. They allow us to shift and change our focus on demand. Just like any muscle, the more we work them, the stronger they get. If we don’t work them, they atrophy and get weaker.

This is the premise behind meditation. Mindfulness meditation is like the bench press for your focus muscles. The stronger our focus muscle gets, the more effectively we are able to control things like our thoughts, or grow in awareness of things like our emotions. Each of those tasks then help us better manage all of the ups and downs of life.

Written by: Eric McClerren

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