The Pandemic of the Separate Self – PART 1
Heartfulness eMagazine|July 2021
DAN SIEGEL is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and executive director of the Mindsight Institute. Here he speaks to UDAY KUMAR about creating a kinder, more compassionate world, the lyrics of Leonard Cohen, and the other pandemics that are worthy of our attention right now during Covid times.
UDAY KUMAR
Q: Hi Dan. For the longest time I have wanted to reach out to you. Especially in the current times in which we are living, people are seeking so much help. If you could talk a little bit about your work, I think that would be a good place to get started.

You know, the notion of bringing science into how we live our individual lives, how we live as families and communities, how we live as nations, and how we live as a human family on Earth, offers the opportunity to think deeply across many different disciplines of science, and then ask the questions: Why are we here at all on the planet? While we’re here, what can we do to try and create a kinder, more compassionate world?

I think everything I’ve been doing professionally has been to take my background as a scientist, who’s also trained as a physician, and then think deeply in my particular field of psychiatry – how the mind develops – so as to ask questions like, “How has the human mind been shaped by modern culture?” and “How might that be affecting our relationships with each other, and also our relationships with the broader world of living beings, which you can simply call nature?”

So, if I have to summarize all that scientific exploration, it resonates with ancient spiritual teachings, even though that’s not my background. It would be that the human mind constructs categories and concepts, and then uses words and symbols to say things like, “Who are you?” “Who am I?” “What’s the Self ?” Our modern culture has created an atmosphere of knowledge that’s probably very different from how we originally evolved to live in community. In many ways, it has us living in isolation from one another – not just because we’re in a viral pandemic, but because there is a pandemic of misunderstanding of what the Self is.

If you ask almost anyone, anywhere in the world (I had the chance to do this in the olden days when we could travel), “Where is your Self ?”, they will point to their body. Sometimes they point to their heart, sometimes they point to their head, but they’re pointing to their body. What I always find fascinating about that is that the “Self ” is the center of gravity of your identity, of your experience, and it also shapes your experience of belonging. If you think that the Self is only in your body, then you’re going to be very vulnerable to feeling disconnected, like an entity that can be separated from everything else.

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