Emergence of Human Consciousness


Emergence of  Human Consciousness:

Interpersonal Neurobiology and the work of Dan Siegel

    From what we can see from our vantage point here and now, the known universe emerged mysteriously some 13 billion years ago in a great flaring forth of energy, with matter, in the form of elementary particles, appearing and disappearing like bubbles and foam. Over time this emerging energy blob expanded, cooled and various shapes and forms of matter stabilized. At first large clouds of electrons and protons appeared, and then the protons and electrons combined to form hydrogen atoms, and the proto-galaxies arrived. These gave birth to mini (relative to the galactic clouds!) clouds which soon condensed into the first stars and the galaxies ignited into being.

9 billion years later, in a remote corner of one of the 100 billion galaxies, on a planet circling a rather ordinary mid-size yellow star, life emerged. Life is an on-going process, infinitely mysterious, self-organizing and self replicating, adapting and changing, complexifying, and evolving. Although truly a continuum of emergence that began 13 billion years ago, we have chosen the appearance of the cell the beginning of life. This simple organism found itself with powers and possibilities unknown to the stars and planets, the gasses and rocks, the atoms and molecules that slowly emerged and complexified over vast moments in time. It could replicate itself and this was something new.

Moving forward another 4 billion years in time we find a new emergence in the field of life, of aliveness: the proto-human mind. As mysterious as life itself is this mind with the capacity to self organize its own capacities, to complexify itself, to contemplate life, to contemplate itself, to imagine past and future and yet be fully present and awake now. This mind can also dream, both wondrous possibilities and hellsih nightmares, and can also get lost in these dreams and lose a felt sense of connection, of wholeness. It is a mind that can fall from grace and feel like it has been booted out of the Garden of Eden.


To truly unfold the mysteries of human consciousness, we are going to draw heavily upon the Dan Siegel trilogy, ‘The Developing Mind’, “The Mindful Brain” and the just published (Feb 2010) ‘Mindsight’. These are among the most fascinating and informative books I have ever read for those interested in yoga, integration, meditation and overall wellbeing. I highly recommend reading these on your own, and it will take years of reading and rereading to begin to absorb the depths of his insights. Dan describes the emerging field of interpersonal neurobiology, integrating the neurosciences and the study of neurons, brain structures and functioning with the study of human relationships. He describes eight interwoven and yet distinct domains of enquiry into how the human mind emerges, grows, complexifies and functions to present us with an ongoing experience of reality. These domains include memory, attachment, emotions, representations, states of mind, self-regulation, interpersonal connection and integration. A brief overview of each will be followed by a discussion on how we can use this in our practice and teaching.

Memory: Memory comes in two basic flavors, implicit and explicit or autobiographical memory. Implicit memory, to use Dan’s great image, creates the basic puzzle pieces that make up our mental experience. Implicit memory encodes, in neuronal firing patterns, our perceptions, emotions, bodily sensations and also our expressions of coordinated actions such as tying ones shoes or playing a musical instrument. Implicit memory also ‘harneses the brain’s capacity to generalize from experience’, creating representations known as schemas, which are summaries of similar events stored as a single pattern of activity. Finally implicit memory creates ‘priming’, the anticipatory process where the brain prepares to respond in a certain way to an expected event. All of this is stored as large scale complex patterns of activity in the body, the organs, cells and tissues.

Autobiographical memory has the components of implicit memory plus the additional ‘I am remembering’ thought. It involves a very specific area of the brain, the hippocampus, which integrates the implicit components to the sense of self, requires paying attention, and has many variations of expression. It does not emerge until 18 months or so, possibly up to the age of three, which is why most of us do not remember anything from the earliest months. Also, is diseases such as Alzheimers where there is damage to the hippocampus, new memories are not incorporated.

Attachment: Secure and insecure: The mammalian (and human) nervous system does not arise fully formed. It must mature after birth through entrained interactions with adults who, through their own actions, demonstrate patterns of behavior and self regulation. The brain is designed to be in relationship to others. Neuroscience has discovered what are known as mirror neurons is what is being called the social circuitry of the brain. Learning how to feel and understand the minds, feelings and intentions of other beings is a crucial component to health and well being.

Emotions: Primary and categorical: Emotions are patterns of organizing energies that allow a complex and dynamic set of responses to the environment.

Representations: How the nervous system organizes, presents and stores streams of energy and information regarding the world around us and our own inner processes. Each sensory modality organizes itself differently. Visual information is processed and recorded differently from auditory information, tactile information, The right and left hemispheres of the brain present very different types of information and if one is less stimulated, we may see a very limited understanding of what is happening. Humans also make representations of their own thought processes and of the minds of others.

States of Mind: waking, dreaming and deep sleep are three commonly experienced states. A state is a complex ordering of many processes and representations that has a level of stability in time. A healthy human mind can navigate through many types of waking states in a given day, including relaxation, the physiological arousal of running or engaged phyical activity, the alertness of listening to a lecture or musical performance, an animated conversation with a friend, a conflicted business meeting, etc. Each of these involves different levels of energy and differing modalities of perception and appraisal.

Self- Regulation: How we manage our arousal levels as the oscillate between high and low intensities. When children (or adults, when anger comes in) get too excited, they often ‘go over the edge’ and have a melt-down. Depression is when the energy level is stuck on low and no excitement is possible. How do we learn to raise and lower our energy levels to stay within a wide band of tolerance of experience, without “losing it”. Resilience.

Interpersonal connection: How do we develop the capacity to link up with another human mind to exchange energy and information. What does it mean to communicate? How do we learn to merge and separate with others in the social dance of life.

Integration: What is the process or set of processes by which multiple domains of mind can learn to function as a singular and more complex entitywhile retaining resilience. How can this process continue over time to become more and more complex. This is the realm of spiritual practice and here we will begin to see the science behind the ages old wisdom of the spiritual traditions.





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Micro-Cosmic Orbit: Pt 2

Exploring and Embodying Three Dimensions

In the previous post we explored the micro-cosmic orbit as a means to refine our focal attention (samadhi) through bringing our attention to specific points along the orbit and linking these points into lines, arcs and circles. As we work more deeply this way, we may discover that we can find these points at three levels. The first is out beyond the confines of the skin, in an ‘orbit’ in the energy field around the body. The second is directly on the skin, where an acupuncturist or shiatsu practitioner would apply needles or pressure. The third is in the interior of the body along the planes of fascia interwoven through the organs, blood vessels and nerves. When we can feel all three of these levels simultaneously, we are inhabiting our spherical energy field and can begin to fully realize the possibilities of having three dimensional/spatial sensitivity, perception and consciousness.

images-5The girdle vessel (Dai Mai,) the fourth vessel we use, is a latitude line and is essential in finding our three dimensional perceptual field. This yang vessel pairs with the yin ‘thrusting vessel, the vertical center axis, creating horizontal stability, and allowing us to rotate/twist. Rotation inherently builds the third dimension of depth ( A circle has length and width. To create a sphere you add depth. ) and is the gateway to cosmic awareness as well as a more vibrant embodied presence.

Rotation drives the whole manifest universe. In our solar system, the planets spiral around milky_waythe sun. In our Milky Way galaxy, the stars, including our sun, spiral around a center (probably a giant black hole! If you can find Sagittarius in the night sky, and you will probably have to wait until next summer, look through and imagine 26,000 light years off in the distance.) The earth rotates on its own axis creating weather patterns as well as a sense of day and night.

The spinning top (one of the oldest toys known to humans, found in archeological sites all over the world) demonstrates the cosmic principle in physics we are embodying. The faster it rotates, the more stable the vertical line. When the top slows down it starts to wobble and when it stops spinning, it falls over. To keep the rotation, you need to keep feeding it with energy. The bicycle uses this same principle, flipped 90 degrees. Another aspect we explore is the radius of the horizontal circle. Rotation pushes from the center outward (yang) in what is called centrifugal force. As this is counterbalanced by theGM2434B-1 yin centripetal (center seeking) force, we can change the volume of the energy field by playing with this ‘expanding – condensing’, yang – yin relationship.

In this top, the widest circle with the most outward thrust, the purple one, is below the center of the vertical axis. Lowering the center of gravity adds even more stability, which is why we emphasize the lower dantien in our breathing, movement and meditation practice. When we discover how to work with this principle in the energy field, our twisting poses can actually help expand the body. If we work muscularly, you will feel constricting in twisting poses.

SBK_1711254-24Traditionally the ‘dai mai’ girdle vessel surrounds the body at the level of the pelvis in the lower dantien. but we can move our attention to awaken other ‘latitudes’ of the body. To begin in the feet, stand with the right foot forward, the left foot back, as if you are about to move into a standing twist (without the forward bend), but haven’t yet begun. Before you move any further, imagine a spiraling coil of energy beginning below the floor (the Antarctic Circle) and traveling up the center. Notice how this mimics the girdle vessel. Now imagine the coils widening as they rise up from the base ( moving toward the equator), as the yang energy expands outward. The girdle vessel is very yang so this is quite natural. Feel the energetic volume expanding and condensing with the breath, but slowly expanding in overall volume

To awaken the front body-yin energy field, we can take the hoop forward to fully engage the arms and shoulders. Now imagine the hoops extends through the back body, receiving the rising spiral and expanding as the action of twisting. SBK_1711254-2SBK_1711254-9Most students eventually leave half of the body behind and end up contracting rather than expanding, especially along the spine column. Imagine the center of the spinal canal opening outward in an expanding circle/spiral, melting the tissue, feeling spaciousness, transcending the limitations of structure.SBK_1711254-4 (My front foot turns out much more than average to release the inner groin. Don’t feel you have to imitate this, but find out for yourself where openness and balance meet.) The hoop is moved to the front to expand the yin/organ/front body qi field and expand the ‘wings’ of the body, but also feel the back body softening and opening. This feeling can be evoked in sitting, lying and inverted twists as well. If you do not have a hula hoop handy, you can also use a thera-ball to find the volume.SBK_1711254-8


Another key component awakened here is the Pericardium 8 point, PC-8 (or P-8) in the center of the palms. Analagous to the K-1 points on the feet, P-8 is a gateway between the inner and outer qi fields. The SBK_1711254-11Pericardium, the fascial connective tissue membrane surrounding the heart, arises embryologically from the same cells and tissues that create the diaphragm and liver. The ‘heart protector’ literally does this, on many levels. As someone with a well-armored heart, I am finding that opening and nurturing the heart protector so that is does its job with over doing it is awakening a level of sweet vulnerability that is both precious and scary.

SBK_1711254-12In acupuncture, the pericardium meridian is part of the JueYin channel and connects all the way through the femoral canal to the legs. For those of you who have been practicing ‘climbing the wall’ for the last few years, you can actually trace the whole fascial continuity of the Jue Yin. (Use imagination to fill in the blanks.) Rise up from K-1 (not the heels, even though they do rise on their own) (DFL for those of you who know Tom Myers’ ‘Anatomy Trains’ system) to P-8, passing through liver, diaphragm and pericardium.

You can also track the qi from P-8 back into the body horizontally, again using the wall.SBK_1711254-14 Using the tip of the  middle finger of your other hand (PC-9) to feel the connections, trace the qi from the the wall and P-8 into the area around the pec minor muscle and then go inside the body to the pericardiam itself, along with the liver and diaphragm. Use the breath and your imagination. Then go back and try the twistings shown above with these new perceptions.

SBK_1711254-20To continue our building of a three dimensional perceptual qi field, we can return to the thera-ball to provide sensation and visualization. I like the feel of my third chakra having organ support, so I find placing the ball there and using a wall creates a powerful presence on the inside. Embryologically speaking, this is the extemely yin yolk sac which becomes the entire gut body. The conception vessel points on the micro-cosmic orbit are stimulated by the ball, bringing sensation and perception here. The liver comes from the yolk sac, so I can use this position to also find the Jue Yin channel we explored above. Lying SBK_1711254-19over the ball in a forward bend creates a similar feeling, with even more yielding and softening to the yang back body erector muscles. By moving the ball to the sternum, I can activate a new set of points on the conception vessel and engage the inner tissues surrounding the 4th chakra

If I want to build up my back field perception, I use the ball from behind and awaken sensation on the yang Governing Vessel.SBK_1711254-16 Here I have dropped it a bit lower to find the sacral-lumbar junction and here I can feel the possibility of both lumbar flexion and extension, from S curve to C curve and back.  The very important GV-4 Qi gong Image‘gate of vitality’ is here The inner abdominal space also opens and the front back and center plane begin to become conscious. This becomes trickier as you move upwards towards the liver. You can place the ball anywhere and feel different points coming alive. Feel their inner as well as outer presence. Back support can also help open the front. I haveSBK_1711254-17been trying to open my throat more for my sax sound and using the ball (or any elastic support) helps soften and melt tight tissue.

SBK_1711254-21Fish body support, opening some Gall Bladder Meridian points is another way to use the ball. I am using the wall, but this can be done on the floor as well, with slightly different effects. All of these ways of playing with the three dimensional field are ways of awakening and establishing a dynamic energetic field, centered in your heart, and radiating out throughout the whole of the cosmos. When you are out in Nature, feel this. When you are out and about in the human sphere, feel how you respond. It is fascinating to see what happens.

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