ERP 348: Access Intraconnection For Well-Being — An Interview With Dr. Daniel Siegel

By Posted in - Podcast November 29th, 2022 0 Comments

The separate self is a lie.

Contrary to modern culture’s idea of the solo self or individualism, which emphasizes the need to look out for and take care of oneself above all else, indigenous people believe that everything is interconnected. There has always been a connection between us and the rest of the world.

Although it originated in Western culture, individualism is a global phenomenon that prevents us from living in greater balance and harmony.

In today’s society, self-reliance is highly stressed and valued, which gives the impression that we are on our own and leaves a lot of people experiencing feelings of worthlessness, loneliness, and desperation.

In this episode, Dr. Dan Siegel aims to shift that mindset into a more relational approach. He places a strong emphasis on how crucial it is to understand how connected we all are. He believes that by understanding and embracing this ancient message, we can find solutions to more significant problems like public health and planetary health, in addition to our relationships with other people. Let’s dive in.

In this Episode

5:38 The inspiration of the book: the deep desire to let go of the idea of the “solo self” and discover how to lead a more balanced, harmonious life.

17:33 The flimsy fantasy of certainty.

20:59 How our culture encourages us to see ourselves as separate, independent beings.

28:34 How the word “me” can be a limiting word and the origin of the word “MWe.”

36:08 The ineffective use of the word “self” in the field of mental health.

41:54 The solo self is a lie: a broader understanding of who we are and the realities of our entangled lives.

48:41 How the idea of intraconnectedness, or MWe, can change romantic relationships.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Accept the reality that we are all connected. Every action and decision has an impact on everyone.
  • Consider the planet and every individual as an extension of yourself that requires proper care.
  • Find ways to preserve and protect the environment. 
  • Become a part of creating a world where people coexist in harmony with nature.

Mentioned

IntraConnected: MWe (Me + We) as the Integration of Self, Identity, and Belonging (book)

Wheel of Awareness by Dr. Dan Siegel

Aware: The Science and Practice of Presence–The Groundbreaking Meditation Practice (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

Noosphere by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (*Wikipedia)

ERP 216: What to Know about Loneliness and Relationship

ERP 219: The Human Need for Belonging

ERP 215: How to Deal With Being “Alone Together”

ERP 208: How to Find Balance and Direction

Relationship Map To Happy, Lasting Love

Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication

Connect with Dr. Dan Siegel

Websites: DrDanSiegel.commindsightinstitute.com

Facebook: facebook.com/drdansiegel

Twitter: twitter.com/DrDanSiegel

YouTube: youtube.com/user/mindsightinstitute

Instagram: instagram.com/drdansiegel

Connect with Dr. Jessica Higgins

Facebook: facebook.com/EmpoweredRelationship 

Instagram: instagram.com/drjessicahiggins 

Podcast: drjessicahiggins.com/podcasts/

Pinterest: pinterest.com/EmpowerRelation 

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/drjessicahiggins 

Twitter: @DrJessHiggins 

Website: drjessicahiggins.com  

Email: [email protected]

About Today’s Show

Dr. Daniel Siegel, thank you so much for joining us.

Dr. Jessica Higgins, thanks for having me.

It is such an honor and a privilege to have such a distinguished guest on our show, and I’m just thrilled that you’re sharing your time with us. You have such a background, and we could spend the whole show just talking about your contributions to the field, as it relates to interpersonal neurobiology, development, and parenting, and also mindfulness. There’s so much that you do. 

You also have a book that’s coming out soon in like a month and a half-ish, two months. What’s the title of that book, if you’re willing to share?

Sure. Well, November 15th is the birthday for IntraConnected, and the subtitle is MWe (Me + We), as the integration of self, identity, and belonging.

I’m interested, do you want to share anything around what prompted this book and what you were hoping to contribute here?

Yeah. I mean, partly, it’s from being a therapist and seeing how much struggle people have with relationships, their close relationships; with romantic partners, with relationships in their family, whether it’s an adolescent relating to their parents, or a parent relating to their kids. And then relationships we have in general, in society. The relationship cross-divides that are really unnecessary. Racism is an outcome of the mental construction of the idea of race, which actually isn’t the biological entity. It’s not a biological thing or reality, but yet we construct it with our minds. 

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“The way the mind constructs a view of self as separate, I think, is also at the root of not only racism and social injustice, but things like the misinformation we’re experiencing now on the Internet, and the polarization we have.”

It’s also in many ways responsible for the difficulties we’ve had dealing with the pandemic of a virus. But there are other pandemics too, of loneliness and incredible disconnection before the pandemic hit. Then there’s a pandemic of, sadly, the way biodiversity is disappearing on the planet, and the climate issues that we’re experiencing. Climate crisis in many ways is also due, I think, to the construction of a self as separate, which you can simply use the phrase solo-cell for defining this thing called the self as only inside the body or bodies like yours, that look like yours, similar skin color as yours, similar beliefs as yours. So that’s like a plural solo-self. 

And when you look at this solo-self issue, you realize it’s kind of like the splinter of modern society that’s leading us to limp through life, even though we have all the capacity. We really have the abundance for everyone to live well, and to have food, to have water, to really make a clean environment, to respect other species. But we’re not, for sure we’re not. So I just was feeling this deep need to see if there was anything in the field of interpersonal neurobiology, that’s been what I’ve been working on for about 30 years, to say, is there anything we can offer to the larger discussion on where we as a human family might want to consider going that’s getting rid of that splinter of the solo-self perhaps, and learning how to walk through life with more balance and harmony?

No kidding! It occurs to me, even as you’re describing this, there’s so many impacts in this way of constructing reality. I’m sure there’s a lot of things that contribute to the tendency to construct in this way, and one of the things I’m thinking about is just self-protection, or the impulse or the desire to protect. But it’s in a limited way, it’s in this restricted way. That we actually have so much more capacity, and it’s through fear we might construct and insulate, and yet there’s so much more that you’re bringing our attention to. Is there anything you want to say around the tendency of why we tend to maybe have this solo-self construct?

Yeah, well, it’s really important to acknowledge that, like here, I’m in Santa Monica, the land of the Chumash and Tongva. I can deeply respect not only that I’m living on unseeded lands of the indigenous people that were here, but that the indigenous way of living was really more about a much larger sense of who we are as a people, that were fully a part of nature and a part of each other. It wasn’t like an idealistic way of living, but it was certainly a self that was much larger. 

In the book, what I begin with was a number of indigenous elders who had been interviewed on a documentary. So you’ll see from all around the planet, what an indigenous view is, which is a much larger self. Even in contemplative wisdom, also from thousands of years of teaching, there’s a view that the separate self is a lie. Sometimes it’s called no-self. But when you really talk to scholars, that it’s really not no-self, it’s really no separate self. So I just want to really say that for thousands of years, human beings and indigenous practices, and in wisdom traditions such as contemplative practices, have been saying this. So this isn’t new. So the question you’re asking is really important. Like, why didn’t modern culture? 

People will often say, isn’t it from the West? I once said this to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, who said: Don’t call that the West, it’s all over the planet. So I said, okay. So I don’t call it the West, but it’s derived from Western thinking and Western philosophy and Western ways of doing things. So let’s just call it modern. 

So the modern way, why would it be that way? There are a number of reasons that are possibilities. One is just like you’re saying, when things get tough, people get in a threat mode, and then they start shrinking back how they define the ingroup. So there’s studies that basically, under threat, we really say who’s in my ingroup, and I’ll treat you really nicely, and who’s in the outgroup, I’ll treat you like you’re just trash, or worse. So that’s one thing. But even when we’re not under threat, there’s lessons that are taught about the self being separate. 

It really parallels what’s called linear thinking. The way the human mind can think about things, it has lots of ways. But two ways to think about are linear thinking, versus systems thinking. So linear thinking, imagine A and B and C. You go A interacts with B, that leads to C. So it’s like a line, that’s why it’s called linear. You go okay, I can handle that. There’s a virus, I’m going to figure out its composition, and I’m going to make a vaccine, I’m going to save billions of lives. That is fantastic. There’s nothing wrong with linear thinking. However, if you don’t also embrace what’s called systems thinking, where A influences both B and C, and B influences both A and C, and C influences A and B. Then you go, Oh my God, it’s too complicated, it’s so complex. Yeah, sure, it’s complex. But it’s the way the world really works in these systems terms, and especially something called complex systems, which are capable of being chaotic and open influences from outside themselves, and they are nonlinear, meaning a small input leads to large results. 

I think when people want to simplify the world, they become linear thinkers. And one way of simplifying life is to say, I’m a solo-self. I’m an A, and I can interact with B. But that’s it, I am an entity like a noun. Versus systems thinking is more like, I’m a verb-like massively connected set of unfoldings. The entity identity has this illusion of certainty, whereas the verb-like way of existing is this open emergence that you don’t control. So that’s probably how modern culture got constructed on identity as entity for certainty. Then you started accumulating stuff and you said, that’s my stuff, not your stuff, and then you build a whole society around putting fences up and separating your stuff from their stuff. Oh my God, then there’s us versus them, and then how do we build military to protect our stuff from their stuff? Pretty soon, you can explain much of modern culture. 

It’s complex, but human beings are incredibly compassionate. It’s just that a separate self has huge implications for how we are living our life, not only in creating racism, where it’s ingroup versus outgroup, but also how we excessively differentiate from nature. So we see Earth as kind of like this big trash can surrounding us. And if we can just build our fences, have our stuff, build factories outside our fences, throw the extra stuff or the garbage out in the garbage can, the Earth, who cares? Because I’ve got my little thing. Well, that time is done. We are now cooking the planet with carbon emissions, and we can’t live like that anymore. 

This book IntraConnected, I’ll tell you where the term comes from in a moment, but it’s just to say, we are not just noun-like separate entities, we are massively connected within a whole. The word Intraconnected came from being on a retreat with some system scientists, and we went on a retreat, and we were three days by ourselves in the forest. And when we came out, everyone was saying what the experience was like, and they were using words like interconnected, interbeing, interlaced, interdependent. Then it was my turn to talk, and I’m kind of a stickler for words. I said, the feeling I had resonates with what you’re saying, but I really can’t use the word inter because that implies it’s between us, and there was like a wholeness of everything. I was the trees, and I was the creek, and I was the sky, and I was the body. I was all those things. So I don’t know what to say, except maybe, I guess I’ll say, and I said the word Intraconnected, and everyone was nodding and whatever. 

Then we went back to where we were staying, and I got out my computer and took some notes, and every time I typed out Intraconnected, it autocorrected back to interconnected. It turns out, there wasn’t a word Intraconnected. And I thought, how weird, we have a very intricate language called English, and there’s no word to describe the wholeness of a system. So that really is what initiated the idea that I’ve got to write something about that word, and another word, which is MWe, which is you’re both a Me in a body, and a We in your relationality. And the Intraconnected identity would be this Me + We as MWe. I actually wanted to call the book MWe, and my publisher said no one knows what that means. So I said, well, they’re not going to know what Intraconnected means anyway. So we went with putting one as the subtitle and one as the title.

It sounds as though what you’re really describing in this Intraconnection and the MWe, is calling into a larger capacity that we have, that we all are capable of, which I think you mentioned a moment ago. Yet, so much of our modern living is from this very linear foundation that keeps us in such narrow, constricted limitation, and separates us. And a lot of the long-term effects of that you’re describing, and the disconnect, and perhaps the harm and damage. So really switching and opening up the frame and the capacity for this MWe. Is that what I’m hearing?

I couldn’t say it better, that’s beautiful.

This is just incredibly profound as we look at it. I mean, I remember listening to you, I told you right before we started recording, that when I listened to you speak in Santa Barbara, and you were talking about the boundary between me and we and what you’re starting to describe here. I remember just being like, oh, the articulation of that! I have felt sense of it, but I don’t know that I hear it being described or even languaged. Like, even what you’re saying, the dictionary wasn’t supporting what you’re trying to write about. And what do you find for people that are encountering what you’re describing, what else would you like to say around that?

Yeah, it’s so interesting. It does relate to this larger issue of our planetary health, but also our public health, and also our professional work, and also our personal health. So it’s kind of wild. I was visiting my daughter once in Brooklyn, and at the Brooklyn Public Library, on the entryway, it is this quote from an artist named Rasheed that says something like, “Having discovered the flimsy fantasy of certainty, I decided to wander.” I was so inspired by that quote, because in a way, we get into business as usual, we keep on doing what we do, and we try to find our way in the world, and try to fit in and try to have some way of feeling safe and successful or accomplished, or do what we can do and just make it in the world somehow and feel okay. Let’s just call that business as usual. But within all that Is some longing for certainty. 

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“So when you realize all of life is filled with uncertainty, then you realize that drive for it is a flimsy fantasy of certainty.”

I thought she captured it so beautifully. 

So in a way, what the journey to identifying the splinter of the solo-self, this thing that’s making us limp on the planet, and this is why I wrote the book the way I did, it’s really kind of a lifelong journey. That when you look at the issues that create self, versus other, as a fundamental stance in the world, and what do we do to amplify that modern culture? I mean, I do this in the book, but I’ve never done this orally, so let me see if I could just depict it for you. 13 billion years ago, before the Big Bang, the idea is, it was just potentiality. It was just pure potential. Then when the Big Bang happened, all this potentiality was flowing as energy, and some of that energy condensed into matter, and became galaxies and stars and planets, and one of those little globs of matter was Earth. So now we’re 13 billion years in, flying through space, whatever that is. 

Then, at some point on Earth, some people say it was, I want to get these numbers, 800 million years ago, some long period, life sort of began in these complex ways, which was based on something called a cell. So that you had the membrane of the cell determine what was inside the cell and what was outside, and the cell could stay alive by making a big deal about: this is me and that’s not me, this is inside and that’s outside. So it’s understandable that for almost a billion years, we’ve had this distinction of inside and outside. If you didn’t, your whole living system called your body—whether it was the body of a plant, or fungi, or the body of an animal, those three kingdoms of living beings on Earth—you wouldn’t survive. So we have a long history, that there’s inner and outer. 

So what I tried to do in the book is show that our ancestry of all living beings, even before that of potentiality, into matter, into living forms, into vertebrates, and then into primates, after we became mammals, 220 million years ago, primates about 50 million years ago, and then we became our unique species only 300,000 years ago, roughly. So that’s a teeny little time, but we’ve inherited as long history of keeping cells together and bodies together. So as the nervous system developed and could start to construct the experience of self, it looks like it was based on three things that spell the word SPA: a sensation that you had, perspective, and agency. So you could act in the world with agency, you could have points of view with perspective, and sensation is subjective experience of what was going on. 

So then you can say, well, then there’s a self, like of an amoeba. And you go, yeah, there’s a subjective experience perspective and agency of an amoeba, absolutely. Then you go, okay, well, then humans have got it too. And you go, oh sure, that’s the way it is. So then, as the culture is evolving, you start, especially in human beings, to have this thing called allo-parenting, which other primates don’t have. It means that we give birth to our babies, and we give the babies to non-parental adults usually. And those allo-parents—allo means other—we have to make sure we read their minds. And pretty soon, the mind becomes something we see with this thing you can call mindset or reflective function or theory of mind. And that becomes a big deal. Because at that moment, then you start constructing a sense of self, that you realize that the people caring for your baby are actually extensions of what you might call you. 

So this idea of a separate self in mental life is different from just the inner and the outer, defining self versus other. But I tried to talk about this in the book in a way which really leaves it open to saying, well, what happens in modern culture? So in modern culture, your parents called you Jessica. Maybe they called you Jesse, I don’t know what was your nickname when you were younger. So they had all these names for you. But when they used the name, you knew it was this body that you’re in. 

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“The body, in modern culture, becomes the fundamental center of subjective experience, perspective, and agency.”

And they say, Jesse, do this, do that, or whatever. Danny, do this, do that. And pretty soon, you become to believe that, and you think this must be who you are. Because they’re telling you, you’re Jessica, I’m Dan. And you get this thing that is, in the beginning, you can call it… 

And basically, what I do in the book is, because the book actually started as a 300-page rhyme. You follow this journey of a person into emergence from nothingness, and then to the end of this person’s life named Sam. And it was like this 300-page rhyming thing that my publisher, I sent it to her and she said, what’s this? I said, well, I don’t know. It’s not a poem, but it rhymes, and it’s about the self-identity and belonging and Intraconnection, and I guess this is the book that was meant to be. And she said, no, it’s not going to be at our publishing house. So anyway, I went back and translated that into a large book, and then I condensed the large book into a smaller book. That’s this book, which I’m really happy with, and I still have the rhyming book. 

But the bottom line is, I learned from Sam that there are all these key moments across the lifespan when subjective experience, perspective, and agency can get the message of separation embedded in it. So there’s a core self that develops in the first year of life that has this sense of affectivity, agency, continuity, and coherence. So you kind of learn about that. You learn about what the narrative self is. Now this narrative self is kind of in between the relational self and this core self. And then how culture tells you, this is now you’re on two, how culture is telling you what this narrative self is can be the solo-self, or it can be the larger I am all of nature. And literally, what your parents tell you makes a difference. So the reason I write all these parenting books, and I say, your kid is not a Me, your kid is a MWe (Me + We), that’s when it starts, and then they get into preschool. I just came out with a preschool book, which kind of talks about this NowMaps Jr. 

So all across the lifespan, there are moments of opportunity to realize modern culture is selling you a lie. And then you go through preschool, and then you go through elementary school or primary school, then you go into adolescence. I think, at least when I’ve worked with kids and adolescents, when I talk to them about MWe as their identity, there’s this incredible liberation. Because they said, I thought I was just a Me. I go, no, you are not just a Me. They maybe told you that. So you’re receiving the message accurately, and the message is a lie. Not only is it a lie, it’s a lethal lie. And it’s what makes people feel totally isolated and lonely, and it makes them feel like there’s no meaning in life because they’re told this lie. It’s called a violation of epistemic trust. Epistemic trust is a research term. Epistemology is how you know what you know. So when authority figures tell you lies, and you try to believe them as truths, it gives you this violation, and it just feels really unsettling. Anyway, so that can happen from parents, it can happen from teachers, it could happen from heads of companies, heads of countries, and it just makes you feel like something is really wrong. 

Anyway, so I try to go through in the book, all these things into early adulthood, and then look at this thing called the Immunity to Change that Robert Keegan talks about, about what keeps adults fixed in their way of believing this self as separate. Because, sure, we have to help kids and adolescents. But we adults are the ones carrying out this message-giving, and also running companies that are spewing out carbon. So it’s going to have to happen at all these layers of development, to have this conversation that the self is not just in the body. Even though when you ask people, where are you, they go, here! They point to their body. Well, actually, you are bigger than your body; your mind is broader than your brain, and you are bigger than your body.

Oh my gosh, I’m in such gratitude to your wisdom and all that you’ve studied to be able to distill this and put this together in such distillation. I want to say, as I was listening, I had a remembrance of just the earlier stages in development of categorizing. That it’s a way of which we’re learning and being efficient in our brain to categorize, but it’s not the whole picture. So when you describe this linear A plus B plus C, the influence of that, or how that equation works. There can be truth in it, but it’s not the whole picture. 

So as you’re inviting more into the perspective and the consideration here, I’ll just say one other thing too. That while there might be a place of that, and that that’s a certain developmental perspective that’s important, but it’s not the whole thing, that I feel some level of anxiety when you talk about the solo-self, and how to maintain that and how to protect that. And when you talk about the MWe, I feel a felt sense of connectedness that I can just be more present and hold space and be in connection to, versus this solo-self. And I don’t know if that is something you have found, or if there’s any neurobiology of just even being able to name this and give space for this and invite more dialogue around this, and call into consciousness and development in our collective evolution, if you will, as you’re describing. Can you speak to that at all?

Oh, you just said it all, Jessica. So I would just build on what you’re saying and say, yes. Big yes! The funny thing about words is they can be limiting, for sure, and they can be liberating. So we have to recognize they have these two features to them. So the limiting part is, if you think you only have the word me, or I guess I can give up, even have we, the origin of the word MWe was, I was giving a talk called Me to We, and one of my students would get really angry with me. She said, you’re a hypocrite! I said, why am I hypocrite? She goes, look at the name of your talk, Me to We? I said, yeah. She goes, well, aren’t I supposed to be aware of the sensations in my body? I said, absolutely. She goes, well, that’s Me. I said, yeah. She goes, aren’t I supposed to be aware of my immediate history, my attachment experiences? I said, yeah. She goes, that’s Me. I said, yeah. She said, shouldn’t I be sleeping my body well and feeding my body well and exercising my body well. I said, absolutely. She said, that’s all Me. I said, yeah. She goes, look at the name of your talk! I go, Me to We. She goes, it sounds good, but it’s a lie. You’re saying give up Me to become We. That’s what Me to We means. I said, you know something, you’re absolutely right. 

She goes, well, come up with another title. So I said, okay. If integration is well-being, then you need to differentiate things, but maintain their differentiated nature as you link them, so they don’t lose the integrity of each differentiated part. It’s not like blending. So if you integrate Me and We, I know, not only Me, but also, We. She goes, that is so clunky! I said, okay. So if you integrate Me and We, I guess you come up with Me + We is MWe. She said, that’s it! So that’s how it was born, because she was so mad, appropriately mad. So that’s also an example of the collective mind. So I just thought Me to We sounded so cute and fun, blah, blah, blah. But it was wrong, she was absolutely right. So that was the idea of MWe. 

And then as I mentioned, in the forest, we only had words in English for interconnected and inter this and inter that. And inter implies, one thing here, one thing there, and there’s a between this, which is cool. But it isn’t also embedding the wholeness of the We. So that’s where the word Intraconnected comes from. I know it’s not good to make up words, but sometimes to wake up, you have to make up new languaging. And people have described exactly what you’re saying. So like in the Wheel of Awareness meditation we do, I was once presenting it to Richie Davidson’s lab, and they say, put these loving kindness terms in, and I hadn’t had them in. Because that time there was research that shows it’s helpful, and they showed it’s very integrative in the brain. So I said, okay, I’ll put it in. That’s where I got to be able to put the word MWe in the Wheel of Awareness practice. I couldn’t figure out how to put it in there. So then you hear this kindness given to all living beings, and then you say the word I. May I this, may I that? But then you do the MWe, and people have said exactly what you said. They cry, they laugh, and they go, I am so liberated, because I didn’t have to choose between Me and We, I am both! 

Then you see where words liberate. Because in a funny little word MWe, and we’re trying to get this from all over the planet, whatever language it is, you have this invitation for a larger cultural conversation on the planet. To say, look, if the human mind created all these disasters of social injustice, all the way to climate disasters and climate crisis, the good news about that is, the human mind can course-correct. Identify the splinter, remove the splinter, and then we can start integrating in this kind of Intraconnected way. So I find myself so filled with energy that this book could finally articulate it. 

And we went through a long journey of the rhyming thing, and this long, long scientific tome. And then I realized that these days, people don’t want to read a 600-page book. So I had to really say, what’s the essence of the message? And with help from people from the publisher, I was able to say, this needs to be reordered and put together. So initially, it totally matched the rhyming story, that was really fun. Every little one-page rhyme, it was a 300-page rhyming thing, had like a two or three-page science discussion of what was happening in the rhyme. So I thought that was fun, and my publisher thought that was nuts and too long. I’m really glad I stuck with her pushing back. But it was hard over three and a half years to write two complete books, and this is basically the third one. 

This one, I just did the audiobook for it, and I’m super excited about it. And the audio engineer, when we started it, he stopped being able to engineer it. He was entering this trance state, and we had to stop. I said, what’s going on? He goes, I know you’re just talking about the self, but my whole feeling of the self is now changing, just as you talk. I said, okay, well, let me tell you the whole picture of the book. Because I need somebody to be doing the engineering, and so he was able to pull out of it. But I’m really excited to see if a book format, whether it’s audio or written, can not just bring the idea of these important issues into our discussion, but actually, the experience of reading it will have this kind of deep… In Greek, there’s noesis for conceptual knowledge, but then there’s gnosis for experiential knowledge. So you’ll get this experiential wisdom, because there are practices that I invite people to do if they want, to really take in this material and just sit with it, and just see how it can allow them to experience with their in modern culture going from Me to We, basically.

I wonder if this connects back to what you were referring to in the lie, that there is so much more that we are. I mean, this is connection and the way that we are relating to Earth, to other, to self, and our surroundings. That giving language to it can invite us to be in more connection with it, both in a mindset, and then mental framing and construct, but also in the experiences you’re describing. But that it’s something that we can actually feel and resonate in truth in. Because do you know what I mean? Like, if we hear somebody and it feels like we don’t actually know all the facts, we’re not attuned to it, it doesn’t resonate. It feels like a lie, or it feels like just a partial truth. So it feels like what you’re bringing light to in this book is being able to expand our awareness to what is a real felt experience. I don’t know if I’m articulating that well.

No, I hope it does exactly what you’re saying, Jessica. The challenge is, language become so automatic. So if I can just roll back what you said in a moment, and just look at it in terms of languaging. So you beautifully said, it’s kind of how we relate to the Earth, to others, and the self, which on one level feels like exactly what we need to do. Then on the other level, I’m going to ask you, and I don’t want you to edit it in the recording, but I want you to look at this. I have dear colleagues who work in the area of self-compassion, and I said, please change the name. You are perpetuating the lethal lie of the separate self by the word self-compassion. Now, they won’t change the name. But I find every time I hear the word self-compassion, it really hits me in my heart. I go, that’s exactly the problem! Or my colleagues in research, they talk about self-regulation, or in the whole field of mental health, talk about self-awareness and self-actualization. No, no, no, no, no.

I know, it’s so embedded!

It’s embedded, right? So let’s talk about how we would look at this Intraconnected notion of self, and then how to go about it? Now it’s hard, but if you do a spatial arrangement for it, it’s very helpful.

Well, I get what you’re saying, and I don’t know that I have the language. And I love the experiment of this right now.

Are you okay with me pushing you? 

Yes, I love it! Because even as you started talking, I’m like, this is the thing I was saying I got from your talk of just the paradigm shift of it’s not me. Like, the very thing you’re saying, that it’s not me and you, and this We that we’re exchanging our shared space together. It’s the We that we are inhabiting or embodying, and that it’s something we don’t acknowledge. I know often even in my language just there, you’re saying I totally missed that.

I do it too sometimes, so it’s really about looking at our modern languaging and seeing this, and it’s hard. I mean, even as I was writing the book, writing was one thing, and then editing it, and then going it over again and again and again. And then I was happy when I did the audio reading that there was never an error where I said self or other or self-regulation or self-understanding or something like that. Unless you’re talking about the understanding of the interconnected wholes. 

So the idea is, if self is subjective experience, perspective, and agency, and it gets clunky, but if you say, for compassion let’s say, inner compassion, you get all the wonderful work of the research “self-compassion,” without the destructive use of the word self as this separate self. So to me, this is more than just like, oh, you’re quibbling with words. No, it’s not at all. Or like, in my field of attachment research, people talk about the development of the self. I go, yeah. So you can say the development of the inner self, or they have phrases like core self, fine. But your self is also a relational self. To put it simply, you can say, there’s the self-experience within another body. So you can say that. There’s the self-experience within this body that’s the Me, that’s your Me and my Me. And then you go, cool. 

So there’s kind of a differentiated inner thing that we call Jessica and Dan, whatever. And then you say, well, there’s our relationship. Okay, there’s a way they’re communicating with each other. And then you go, well, there’s the wholeness of the Me and the We, and that’s where the MWe becomes the interconnected wholeness of it all. And you haven’t said the individual self word at all. It’s all the self, you see. So then you go meet with indigenous elders, and they go, yes, that’s what we’ve been saying for thousands of years. You talk to contemplative practitioners, they go, yes, that’s what we mean by there’s no self. And it gets a little weird, because they say there’s no individual self. I said, actually, there is an individual self. So this is actually where I’m in conflict with some of the contemplative views. But whatever. Since we do have bodies, you have an inner aspect of subjective experience, perspective, and agency. So when I engage with my contemplative brothers and sisters, I’ll say, there is an inner self because you have a body. So when people say that’s an illusion, I go that’s not an illusion. That’s a reality that you have a body. They go, oh, but it’s temporary. I say, yeah, it’s temporary. So okay, it’s temporary. 

So this is where the spatial can sometimes help you with the languaging. Just to locate it, the inner experience of Me, the relational experience of We, and the intra experience of Me. And then you can see where it’s inner, inter, and intra. Especially as a writer, I said, how am I going to actually word this so the reader is going on this journey of how we’re going to make these new words work? Because MWe is new, Intraconnected is new, and talking about an Intraconnected self, like what is that? That’s the Me and We. So it actually spatially becomes somewhat simple, in a really cool way. You go, okay, so now I’m going to edit myself as I talk, and I hope you really are okay with me saying, let’s go back and see. Because people use that word self that way, even our whole field of mental health. 

Free Portrait of Two Women in Old-Fashioned Clothing Standing in Park Stock Photo

“The reason we really haven’t created more mental health is because I think we got the self wrong.”

I’m grateful, and I am feeling the importance and the quality of the description. Because I think when we say self, but it’s overly-identified perhaps with self, and it’s also maybe isolating, or it’s not honoring the whole, as you’re describing. And when we can speak from that and honor it, it’s so much more inviting and holds so much more space. I just think it’s an incredibly important, and I so appreciate you calling it out. It’s such a learning.

Great! Well, thanks for being open to it. This Rasheed quote from the Brooklyn Public Library, let’s wander together. Because even as indigenous teachings have taught for thousands of years and contemplative teachings have taught for thousands of years, I think it’s going to help modern culture to not go totally collectivistic, where you lose the individuality. We have the middle ground, which is this MWe idea, which I think is in some indigenous teachings and some contemplative teaching. So it’s an incredible moment, because there’s a kind of new urgency to this. It may not be a new message, although the science is new. But the message and the invitation to broaden the self is an old message. 

So how do we do it? Well, there’s an identity lens that I talked about in the book, where you can do simple practices to feel into the subjective experience, perspective, and agency within the body. And not to ignore that, not to deny it, not to say there’s no self. So this is not like that at all. It’s saying you have an interiority to that’s super important to be aware of. Then you start feeling the relationality with another person you care about next to you, with maybe a larger circle of family and friends, maybe a larger circle of your community, maybe a larger circle of the city you live in, or a bigger town or state. And then in the Wheel of Awareness, you do these consecutive openings of that connectivity, and you feel into all that. So it’s subjective experience: the sensation of living: perspective: the point of view, and agency. So just with that simple SPA of self, you start to realize: Wow, I can walk in a forest, and I could feel the forest. I can walk in the forest; I could take the perspective of the whole of the forest. I can even act on behalf of the forest. I pick up trash, I do things to preserve the forest. So my self is now the forest. 

The reason why we have to take self away from being a synonym for the body, is because the solo-self has incredible outcomes that are bad. People feel lonely. They feel despairing. They feel like becoming meaningless. Because actually, they’re living a lie. And then relationally, we start us versus them. And there’s no reason for us to do that. Then for the climate of course, we just are mistreating other species. So in all these ways, the win-win-win of it all is, we can deal with social injustice and racism, we can deal with the climate crisis, and we can also deal with the personal suffering that people are experiencing. 

Teilhard de Chardin was a philosopher who had this great term called noosphere. 

Free A Sad Couple Wearing White Shirts Stock Photo

“The atmosphere is like a living, breathing world. But the noosphere means it’s an atmosphere of knowledge. And the noosphere of the self in modern times is of separation and disconnection and isolation. And that noosphere, we can switch.”

You can start doing it, and this is why I wrote the book. You read the book, you feel empowered. I have this thing called pervasive leadership. You go out, you start looking at someone differently in your neighborhood, down the street, outside your neighborhood, then in then larger world. You start feeling into the subjective experience, perspective, and agency, that we are all a part of this interconnected whole, and everything starts to shift. And that can happen really relatively fast. 

So it is a conversation, which “con” is with and “verse” is to turn; a con-versation is how we turn together. And my deepest hope is that with people hearing us, Jessica, and with taking in the ideas of the book, or maybe reading the book, or whatever, that the message is, let’s take something, and it seems so basic, as the word self. And the things related to it is, how you identify what your self is? That’s identity. And then, how that identification of self means you belong or don’t belong to larger spheres of membership? 

So these three things are related: self, identity, and belonging. The acronym there is a SIB; you’re a sibling of all of reality, of all living beings. Then when you embrace that, life becomes very, very different. Even when you come to realize that you are part of this journey, as we started, from actuality, which I think is where consciousness comes from. And in the back of the book, it reminds you how to do the Wheel of Awareness throughout the book. But if you move from this plane of possibility, this sea of potential, where it looks like consciousness arises from, and you tap into that. Then you realize that, okay, so the body is the Me that’s only part of myself. So even though this body just gets like a hundred years to live if I’m lucky, when the body goes away, the self does not disappear. It stays within this larger, living world. So then even your relationship with death, at least for me and people who are beginning to get this stuff inside them, it starts to switch. Because then you realize you’re much bigger than just a separate self. 

Well, I definitely can tell that there’s some habit in me that I really want to work with this languaging. And I also recognize, even in a very simple way that maybe isn’t fully described like a conversation we’re having here. But to be able to hold this language, the resonance of that has an impact. That we hear that and there’s something in that that’s honoring, that does foster this sense of belonging and this reverence for the connectedness, that does light something or it sparks something in us that we can begin to have some change in that. I also know that we are winding down our time. Is there anything you want to say about romantic connection? Anything that we’re talking about here that you wanted to spell out, how this can really benefit couplehood?

Yeah. Intraconnection is basically being in love with life. And when you allow that expansion of self to include your romantic partner—someone that you’re sexually connected with in intimate ways, someone that you’re connected with as you move along life, as a life partner—everything we’ve talked about is the MWe of your relationship with your romantic partner. So you absolutely can apply this in the romantic world of coupleness. 

And what’s really beautiful about it, and it’s hard to say this just without a context. But in the Wheel of Awareness practice, which is in other books like Becoming Aware, but it’s in the back of this book IntraConnected, you learn to tap into the hub of this Wheel. And I’ve done it with 50,000 people in-person before the pandemic. And when people take the microphone, one of the most common things they say, besides this is incredibly joyful and there’s this spaciousness, is they talk about love. 

Free Selective Focus Photography of Two Smiling Men Facing Each Other Stock Photo

“In many ways, the love that you tap into is almost like this fundamental thread of the fabric of the universe. It’s this life force that when you access that hub of the Wheel, that’d be one way to do it, or when you’re in states of awe, you just release this natural force of love that I think is the foundation for a really incredibly rewarding and thrilling romance.”

Thank you for naming that. I do hear you and how what we’ve discussed here today applies to our romantic partnerships. That if we’re in that solo-self and that singular frame, that it’s limiting in being able to hold space for the experience of the person that we’re in relationship with, and also the MWe in the couplehood. And that when we’re in those conflictual states, it’s easy to retract and be really positioned in the solo-self, like the lie of the self, and that there’s such a bigger frame. And that if we can really be in service of the MWe of the relationship, that there’s a bigger MWe that we’re talking about here too that’s in context. But that that changes so, so much.

Yeah, exactly. That’s the win-win of it all is that you walk through life and romance, and in your public life, and in your contribution to the world, where this is the conversation. So this is what we together can do in the world. Thank you so much for bringing me into your conversation, Jessica. Appreciate it. 

Lovely. Well, I’ll make sure to put the link to this book, both audio and the paperback. I know it’s going to go live on November 15th. I’ll make sure to put your website. Is there anything else that you want to invite people to and connect with you and your work? I know you’ve written several books, and I’m curious about anything else you want people to know.

I mean, this conversation I think is great to catalyze how we can move forward. Interpersonal Neurobiology is where we bring all the different disciplines of knowing into one framework. So we have lots of interpersonal neurobiology stuff; you can get involved in books, you could read little videos, you can watch courses, you can take community, we have a whole community of interpersonal neurobiology folks you can join with. So whether it’s for your professional work, or your personal life, or public contribution, or you’re really trying to help the planet, Interpersonal Neurobiology has all these ways of applying it. It’s not a way of doing something. It’s not a form of therapy or education or anything like that. But it informs all those things in a way that I hope was of a good resource for everybody. 

Is that at MindsightInstitute.com

Mindsight Institute is where the courses are, and it’s linked to my website, DrDanSiegel.com.

Well, thank you again, it’s been a great privilege.

Privilege is mine, Jessica. Thank you so much for all you do.

Signing Off

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Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching