The Mental Floss of Mindfulness

By Steven Libowitz   |   December 12, 2019

While decades ago, meditation and mindfulness might have been considered a New Age distraction for woo-woo Californians, the practices have clearly been adopted as mainstream by individuals, businesses, families and other organizations. The medical, emotional, and spiritual benefits are palpable, but perhaps still somewhat difficult to grasp.

Siegel’s latest best-selling book, Aware: The Science and Practice of Presence, is the basis for his talk on Friday, December 13, at Hahn Hall

Integrating those two has been a two-decade-plus passion for Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., the internationally acclaimed author, award-winning educator, and child psychiatrist who is currently a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine where he also serves as a co-investigator at the Center for Culture, Brain, and Development and co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center. Siegel has been at the forefront of investigating the science behind how the mind and consciousness work and are connected, and nowadays his greatest passion is offering those concepts of integration as a solution not only to personal issues but also global ones, with a mission no smaller than saving the planet.

That’s not a phrase used by Siegel, although he noted that one of the instigations of his work was a plea by the Dalai Lama that, Siegel said, since spiritual traditions haven’t done anything to help the world be a more compassionate loving place, scientists needed to figure out something that could be helpful. “This work was my response,” he said.

Siegel’s latest best-selling book, Aware: The Science and Practice of Presence, is the basis for his talk on Friday, December 13, at Hahn Hall produced by the Santa Barbara Consciousness Network, which has recently presented events with area personal growth experts Jack Canfield and Gay Hendricks among other thought leaders. The talk will touch on Siegel’s exploring the true essence of awareness and mindfulness with the aim of awakening the mind to an expanded awareness and sense of integration between the brain, the mind, and the body that can lead to success in all areas of life.

Siegel developed “Mindsight,” a combination of insight into one’s own internal life – the subjective experience of feelings and thoughts – and how you see the mental life of someone else (aka empathy), that also includes a third process called integration, which means linking the different aspects of the system, whether within yourself or between yourself and others. Research that he has conducted or compiled shows that mindfulness increases the interconnectivity of the network of neural connections in the brain, and that the level of integration is the best predictor of well-being.

Fortunately, we don’t have to do the research ourselves. Siegel will be presenting his Wheel of Awareness meditation process and how to implement it effectively at the Hahn Hall event. He talked about the Wheel, the book, and more over the phone last week.

Q. What’s the main discovery or takeaways from your book and talk?

A. The bottom line is that they’re about the idea of presence. What that means to have open, receptive awareness. We’ll be talking about the science and do a practice that cultivates certain aspects of presence that are accessible and give a window into the nature of the mind and of consciousness itself.

Can you explain how the Wheel of Awareness technique works?

It’s a simple practice that takes two ideas about integration and differentiation and actually integrates them. The basic principle of the field – interpersonal neurobiology – combines all fields of science into one framework that integration is the basis of health. Consciousness is needed for intentional change. The wheel places the knowns of consciousness on the rim, the knowing of consciousness in the hub and has a practice to link them. That science part, by the way, has a lot of overlap with spiritual traditions, from Buddhism to Eckhart Tolle.

It’s not just theoretical. I’ve been working it with my patients and my students’ patients for years, and people with anxiety, PTSD, fear of death or mild depression all seem to get better. I do the practice myself every day. I find it extremely helpful.

If you are meditating on your own, how does this practice become relational?

What we need from the moment we’re born is a connection to other people who have presence. We’ve all been practicing noticing and then relating. That moment of connection through presence allows each of us to become part of a much larger system than an isolated self, that sense of finally being seen. This practice changes your capacity to connect with other people, to perceive them, make sense of them, respond in a timely and effective manner. It creates a joining that is the essence of love, of feeling the self, and feeling belonging. Interpersonal relationships that have those qualities thrive, those missing them shrivel. When you learn to be present within, you can then be present between.

Many people are already practicing presence or meditating. Why does it matter to have an understanding of the brain and the science?

Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” When you learn about the science of the mind, it becomes better prepared so that when you are meditating, you can amplify the benefits. For many people, knowing the science makes it incredibly motivating… It’s like brushing your teeth. If you know that it keeps bacteria away and results in healthier teeth and gums, you are more likely to do it. Think about it as mental floss, or better mental hygiene. It’s not exactly brushing your mind, but literally taking the gunk that accumulates in the brain pathways and cleaning it out… My experience has been that when people know the science of meditation, they’re much more likely to commit to it.

(Dr. Dan Siegel on The Science & Practice of Presence takes place at 6:30 pm Friday, December 13, at Hahn Hall, 1070 Channel Drive. General admission is $29, premium seating in rows 5-7 costs $45, and $79 VIP tickets include seating in the first four rows plus a video of the presentation and a signed copy of Aware: The Science and Practice of Presence. Visit

Celebrating Solstice at Sunburst

Despite its name, Sunburst Sanctuary will be celebrating everything but the sun at the annual Winter Solstice event held at its center amid the oak-dotted rolling hills of the Central Coast. Actually, that’s not entirely true, because even though the event will be held mostly after the sun sets, it’s actually meant to celebrate the return of the light, as the days begin getting longer over the weekend. Visitors can enjoy an extended silent meditation, connect with friends new and old at the dinner in the retreat center’s charming lodge, and experience the magic of a labyrinth walk just several yards away with luminaria – a series of small paper lanterns comprised of a candle set in sand inside a paper bag, a Christmas Eve tradition in some cultures – under the stars.

Guests new and old are welcome to participate in any or all of the activities, which include the quiet meditation period in Sunburst’s gorgeous in-the-round facility from 12 noon to 6 pm (please come and go quietly on the hour), dinner at 6:15 pm, and the Labyrinth walk at 7:30 pm, weather permitting. Be sure to dress in layers. No pre-registration is necessary for the meditation or labyrinth walk, however Sunburst asks that you pre-register for dinner by December 13, or for available onsite lodging and camping options. A sliding scale donation $10-$20 is requested. Visit, call (805) 736-6528 or email Sunburst Sanctuary is located on 4,000 acres with entrance at 7200 Highway 1 in Lompoc, about a 45-minute drive from downtown Santa Barbara.

Raab on Writing

Montecito award-winning author Diana Raab, PhD, who writes nationally for dozens of publications and gives workshops all over California and beyond, sticks to her home village for an event at Lily of Montecito from 12-2 pm on Sunday, December 15. Raab, who also contributes to the Montecito Journal, will discuss and sign her two latest books in the field of employing writing for spiritual and personal growth: Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life and Writing for Bliss: A Companion Journal. The boutique, located at 1131 Coast Village Road, also offers an eclectic mix of jewelry, designer clothing, exquisite gifts, and intriguing interior elements for the home. Call (805) 695-0625 or visit

Quetzal Healing

Fabiola Farley, called White Buffalo Quetzal, is known as a priestess who answered the call to be a healer that brings together the nine tribes of the Earth and to unite the tribes of the Americas. Farley utilizes the indigenous healing modalities to address whatever needs visitors might have for her practice in a special Sunday healing event at Center of the Heart on December 15 that begins at 10:30 am with a Q&A session followed by the 12:30-2 pm healing session. Admission is $25 in advance, $30 at the door. Farley also offers Buffalo Blanco meditation sessions at 7 pm most Mondays and Thursdays at the center, located at 487 North Turnpike Road. Call (805) 964-4861 or visit

Healing in a Hammock

Shane Thunder’s regular monthly sound bath event gets a boost – literally – at Yoga Soup this Friday, December 13. The 7:45-9 pm session on Friday the 13th might even seem a bit spooky as a limited number of participants will have the opportunity to experience Shane’s gemstone crystal bowls, planetary and elemental gongs, chimes and other instruments above it all while suspended in a hammock. The Floating Sound Meditation experience provides a sense of floating in space while taking in the vibrations making the typical journey even more blissful and – dare we say it? – uplifting. Those uneasy in the air can still enjoy the restorative evening on yoga mats and blankets to be transported into a deeply meditative and rebalanced state to cleanse and purge emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual blocks. Admission is $25 in advance, $30 at the door, or $40 for a hammock spot, which need to be reserved in advance.

Seasonal Shift

Kaita Mrazek and Stacy Smith’s 5 Element Flow: Transition from Autumn to Winter workshop is a reflective gathering to support going within to consciously leave behind what is no longer serving you. Participants will explore the acupuncture meridians and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) with elements with yoga, meditation, and contemplation. There will be movement and writing exercises to solidify letting go of the old to embrace the new as we collectively leave the Metal Element and honor the Water Element as winter approaches just a week away. Mrazek is co-creator of the Ghost Flower Practice, a movement practice inspired by Chinese medicine, acupressure massage, and active stretching; Smith is a Licensed Acupuncturist, Herbalist and Feng Shui Practitioner who is also the founder of Homesmith, a process to simplify your home to promote a life well lived that employs Chinese Medicine Elements. The 2-4:30 pm workshop on Saturday, December 14 at Yoga Soup, costs $45 in advance, $50 day-of.

Ruminating on Rumi

Kavi Alexander, founder of Water Lily Acoustics – a small, independent, Grammy Award-winning 40-year-old record company based here in Santa Barbara – leads “Rumi: Music, Motion & Mysticism,” a night of storytelling and celebration of the mystical poetry of the Sufi master Rumi that includes a rare recording poetry recited in the original Persian and accompanied by classical Turkish music. Rumi’s life and his transformation serve as the background for poetry reading that celebrates divine love as expressed between Lover and Beloved. The recording includes accompaniment by Mevlevi Sufis on Ud (lute), Nay (reed flute) and Bendir (Frame drum), and was made to fulfill a dream of Rumi, who was also known as Mevlana Jalaladdin Balkhi, wherein he instructed that a recording of his poetry be made within his mausoleum in Turkey. Gather at 7 pm for soup and tea prior to the 7:30-9:30 pm event, which costs $25 in advance, $30 day-of.

Winter Restorative Workshop

Cheri Clampett, who was named a Local Hero in the Santa Barbara Independent’s annual Thanksgiving issue last month, takes stock of the change of seasons via an afternoon of restorative yoga, hands-on healing, essential oils aroma therapy, breath work and guided meditation to live healing ambient music played by Avahara. The workshop is meant to align our bodies with the practice of various healing traditions such as Chinese medicine in which the season of winter is a time for hibernation and introspection, yet has been altered in our culture to include many celebrations that spur us to socialize and become active as we shop for the holidays. The deeply restful and restorative yoga practice aims to help us find balance and give our bodies what they intrinsically need. Admission to the 2-4:30 workshop at the Santa Barbara Yoga Center on Sunday, December 15, is $50. Call (805) 965-6045 or visit

Journaling/Journey Junkies Unite

Self-confessed spiritual growth junkie Kelsey Cordle created her new Meetup group to hold space for anyone who is seeking a deeper connection with themselves as a form of personal and spiritual development. The Santa Barbara Spiritual Growth Meetup Group launches at 7:30 pm on Tuesday, December 17, with a Journaling Workshop to help participants learn how to use journaling as a tool to deepen the connection with oneself. The plan is to employ guided meditations and other spiritual practices to inspire the community of like-minded people to grow together as they grow as individuals. The first gathering, at an as-yet to be determined location, is organized as a powerful night of meditation, journaling, and spiritual connection. That serves as an opportunity for reflection on 2019 as well as intention-setting for the New Year. Journalers of any or no experience are invited to bring a journal/notebook/paper and a pen and any other favorites like crystals, essential oils, etc., to the first meeting, which costs $10. Visit

Yoga Out of Doors

Kundalini Yoga to Balance the Root Chakra & Attract Abundance from the Ascension Academy takes place 10-11:30 am Saturday, December 14, at the Rose Garden across from the Santa Barbara Mission. The Kundalini practice will be focused on clearing and balancing the root chakra, which is vital to our feeling of security and well-being and our basic survival instincts. During the sadhana (spiritual practice), participants will take part in a series of breath-work, kriya (movement meditation), mantra (chanting), and meditation to return to a knowing of complete security and confidence. More details about the donation-based class ($5-$25) at… The following morning Wild Yoga Santa Barbara heads up the canyon closer to Montecito for a sweet flow session at Franceschi Park (510 Franceschi Road). Participants will get their bodies moving freely while taking in the view of the city beginning at 9 am. BYO mat, blanket, comfy/warm clothes for layering, water and maybe a hot beverage depending on the weather. Admission by $5-$10 suggested donation. Info at

Spiritual Shorts

Geoffrey Hale’s Contact Improv/Dance Jam returns to Momentum Dance Company, 316 State Street, on Friday, December 13, for a low-key mellow tunes event at which all levels, including complete beginners, are welcome. Instruction and support will be provided upon request. (7-9 pm; $10;… Heart Songs Kirtan Circle with Darren Marc & Friends, which invokes the transformational power of sound vibration to still the mind and awaken the heart via call-and-response singing of very simple melodies incorporating mantra and uplifting English lyrics, resumes next Thursday, December 19, at 37 Colusa Drive in Goleta (7-9 pm; suggested donation of $10;


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