Dan Siegel: The Science and Practice of Presence (Episode #37)

Dr. Dan Siegel - The Science and Practice of Presence

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In this episode, I speak with Dr. Dan Siegel. He is a clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and the Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute.

Dr. Siegel has written 16 books and multiple New York Times best sellers, including Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation and The Whole Brain Child (two of my favorites). However, most of our conversation covers topics in his new book, Aware: The Science and Practice of Presence.

If you feel like some of the things Dr. Siegel talks about in this episode go over your head, you are not alone. His work is interdisciplinary so there are times when he uses ideas from biology, neuroscience, psychology and math to talk about a single concept. This is what makes his work so interesting and groundbreaking but also difficult to grasp at times, especially for the uninitiated.

Clarifying terms

That said, before you listen to this, I think it would be helpful if I clarify and explain a couple of terms that come up during the course of our conversation.


One of those terms is integration -- a central concept in much of Dr. Siegel’s work. He uses this word in a slightly different way than it is normally used. He defines it as the linking of different aspects of a complex system.

One example of integration might be the intermingling of feeling and logic. If something traumatic happens to you, it will presumably produce negative emotions in you. Integration is the process of balancing your emotional response with the logic of recounting your experience, figuring out what it meant, why it happened and labeling your emotions. These two processes correspond roughly to the two hemispheres of the brain. The result is something approximating emotional intelligence.

The result of integration is kindness, resilience, health, and harmony. A lack of integration results in chaos and/or rigidity. (This concept is very similar to the “Maintain Balance” principle I’ve written and spoken about in my series on the ABCs of Self-Development.)

The Wheel of Awareness

We refer to “The Wheel” several times throughout our conversation and if you don’t know what it is you might feel a bit confused when we start talking about it.

Dr. Siegel developed The Wheel of Awareness as tool to “help balance our lives and integrate our experience of consciousness.” In particular, he uses it as a tool for a more methodical way to meditate, which we discuss. I’ve included a basic illustration below for your reference. (For a more detailed version, see his website.)


Topics & questions covered

  • The general theme and purpose of Dr. Siegel’s research (11:30)

  • What is integration and why is it the key to health? (21:00)

  • What is the mind and how is it different from the brain? (24:30)

  • How can we make our brains more integrated? (34:30)

  • My personal experience with the Wheel of Awareness (38:15)

  • Why is acceptance such a powerful practice? (57:30)

  • How do we break the illusion of separateness in our children? (1:13:00)

Notable quotes from Dr. Dan Siegel

  • “As a clinician, I look for things that are practical and helpful for individuals and communities. As a scientist, I’m looking for things that are true. By combining those two ways of being, I’ve arrived at a view that seems to align with the sciences and also a wide range of spiritual traditions.”

  • “The best predictor of your personal health is how integrated your brain is. Practices like mindful awareness training help integrate your brain. So far, every psychiatric disorder that has ever been studied shows impaired integration in the brain.”

  • “The mind is an emergent property of energy flow. The location of that flow is not just in your head, but within the entire body.”

  • “Information is energy in formation.”

  • “We have inhibited our growth in the field of mental health because we’ve bought into the limited view that mind is just brain activity. But it’s a much bigger story than that.”

  • “You have three brains in your body. One around your intestines, one around your heart, and one inside your skull.”

  • “An integrated brain is a healthy person.”

  • “The mind requires interconnectedness and relationality. Energy and information flow is broader than the head brain and is bigger than the skin encased body. There have been studies on the negative effects of being deprived of nature and human contact.”

  • “Why is mind different from brain? Because mind also includes what happens in your heart, your intestines, your immune system, and other bodily systems. Energy is fully embodied, not just enskulled.”

Selected links & resources

If you liked this episode, check out…

Ep. 4: Donald Hoffman - Rethinking Reality

Ep. 13: Dr. Rubin Naiman - Rethinking Sleep and Dreams

What did you think?

Leave me a review on iTunes with your biggest takeaway (I read them all). Or, drop me a comment below. I appreciate your feedback!

Ruben Chavez is a writer, personal development educator, and host of The Think Grow Podcast. He has created a community of over 3 million readers across his collective platforms, including his popular Instagram page ThinkGrowProsper. Along with this blog, these platforms are his way of inspiring and connecting with thoughtful, creative, and ambitious people just like you.