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C
AN INTERPERSONAL
NEUROBIOLOGY VIEW
OF SUPERVISION
School for Spiritual Direction: Spiritual Direction Supervision
What is IPNB?
Interpersonal Neurobiology: Developed by child psychiatrist Dan
Siegel, MD
Defined as: A consilient approach to studying and understanding how brain
shapes the mind and how the mind shapes the brain through relationship
with self and other, drawing from and forming a common language for
similar phenomena across the fields of neuroscience, psychology/
psychiatry, sociology, mathematics, physics, anthropology, genetics,
biology, etc.
Consilient: Different fields of study unifying their bodies of knowledge in the
area of how relationship with self and others, including God, influences
development (and healing) of the mind which then shapes the brain and
how the brain influences the mind that influences relationships.
Why an Understanding of IPNB for
Supervision?
Speaks to how relationships can not only heal relational wounds, but can
facilitate growth.
Provides a way of understanding how an accepting, loving, gentle,
compassionate and contemplative approach to supervision actually fosters a
greater sense of wholeness in the director, thus, supervision becomes a means
God uses to move the director into greater interior freedom.
Allows for an explanation of how Focusing and other means of being able to
“stay with” a feeling, a body sensation, etc. may work.
Understanding how the brain works in relating with others can foster greater
self-compassion in times of struggle, resistance and challenge.
Intro to the Brain:
Brain in the Palm of Your Hand
Brain isn’t just in your skull
There’s a “heart-brain” and a “gut-
brain” also – the “front line of
perceiving input from the
environment
Info-laden energy (nerve impulses) from
heart and gut and other parts of the
body make way to brain via the spinal
cord through the brainstem.
Brainstem=mechanism of basic arousal
and alertness of the body and brain;
regulates states of the
body(temperature, respiration, heart
rate, etc.) and activates fight-flight-
freeze survival response.
Intro to the Brain:
Brain in the Palm of Your Hand
Limbic System: Processes a number of fundamental
experiences, such as emotions, motivations, various forms of
memory, appraisal of meaning, attachment relationships
Amygdala: Emotion center that scans the environment
for danger, assesses the situation, and motivates the
body for action; key in fight-flight-freeze, as well as
attachment relationships
Hippocampus: time and date stamper of experiences
that encodes memory
Anterior Cingulate: top of limbic, bottom of prefrontal
cortex; focuses attention, links thinking with feeling;
regulates bodily pain and social representations of
interactions, such as rejection (social rejection is
experienced similarly as physical pain neurologically)
Intro to the Brain:
Brain in the Palm of Your Hand
Prefrontal Cortex: links differentiated lower
areas to one another, as well as regulates
them
Makes maps of time, connecting past,
present and future = “mental time travel”
Middle Prefrontal Cortex: Coordinates
and balances input from the cortex,
limbic system, brain stem, and bodily
regions and integrates them into a
functional whole
Integrative region that processes the
signals, especially nonverbal, from
other people to create a neural map
of their mental states – and even of
our own internal image of our mental
life
Intro to the Brain:
Resonance Circuits & Mirror Neurons
Resonance Circuits:
connect the body (the heart-brain and gut-brain), brainstem, limbic areas, up to the middle
prefrontal cortex;
help us “resonate” with another
Mirror Neurons
Located in the motor cortex of the brain that fire with intentional or goal-directed, sequential
activity
Along with the resonance circuits create the pathway that connects us to one another – allows
us to “feel felt” by another.
We resonate not only emotionally (i.e., empathy), but also physiologically – respiration, blood
pressure, heart rate can all synchronize with another’s state.
Intro to the Brain:
Resonance Circuits & Mirror Neurons
Our awareness of another’s state of mind, however, depends upon
how well we know our own.
We feel what others are feeling by feeling our own feelings
“When we can sense our own internal state, the fundamental pathway for
resonance with others is open as well.” (D. Siegel)
BUT losing ourselves in the other’s experience isn’t resonance
Resonance requires we stay differentiated (i.e., we know who we are) while being
linked
Two “Mind Lessons” from this:
Becoming open to our body states is a powerful source of knowledge
“Relationships are woven into the fabric of our interior world.: (D. Siegel)
What is “Mind?”
Refers to our inner subjective experience and the process of being conscious or
aware.
Definition of Mind:
An emergent, self-organizing, embodied and relational process that regulates the flow of
energy and information that gives rise to our mental activities
Emergent: An ongoing process in which the interactions of the parts of a system make the whole
greater than the sum of its parts, like a choir singing in perfect 4-part harmony or the process of
spiritual direction or supervision
Self-Organizing: It emerges from the interactions of the elements of the system and then influences
the subsequent functioning of those same elements; An unfolding, unpredictable process
For example, relational interactions give rise to the mental experience that then shapes those
very interactions
Embodied: It is both in our skull-encased brain and in our body with which our brain is connected
Relational: Mind is that which emerges from relationships, which emerge from the patterns of
interaction (flow, sharing or exchange of energy and information) between two or more people or
entities.
Relationship with Self=way of developing our inner “caring observer” (B. Badenoch) – a persistent
gentleness toward self
Relationship with Other=beholding and being beheld – the Ultimate Other=God
Both relationship with Self and with Other affect changes in mind and changes in mind create
changes in brain
What is “Mind?”
Definition of Mind:
An emergent, self-organizing, embodied and relational process that regulates the flow of
energy and information that gives rise to our mental activities
Regulates:
Regulation involves Monitoring (seeing how something moves, tracking it, sensing a process) and
Modulating (shaping, modifying or transforming the process over time; moving energy
intentionally)
Can include affect and emotion, physiology and motor movement, or communication and
interactions with others
We can teach ourselves to monitor with more stability so that we can see with increased depth,
clarity, and detail which then allows for choice leading to being able to modulate or modify
what we have been monitoring
When we move energy and information flow toward integration, we move toward health
Energy: capacity to do something
Information: a pattern of energy that carries meaning and symbolizes something other than the
energy itself (e.g., language)
Flow: the movement of change of something across time
Mental Activities: the dynamic processes that are part of the fundamental descriptions of our lives
and shape how information is transformed (e.g., emotions, thinking, memory, beliefs, hopes, etc.)
Mind in Supervision
Supervision is the sharing of mind between supervisor,
director, God and the absent other (i.e., directee).
The whole of that sharing has the potential to be
greater than the sum of their parts – emergent
expression of the movements of the Holy Spirit
“Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I
am in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:20
Mindsight
A kind of focused attention that enables us to see and respect the internal workings of
our own minds and that of others’ minds.
Benefits:
Helps us be aware of our mental processes without being swept away by them
Enables us to get ourselves off the autopilot of ingrained behaviors and habitual responses
Moves us beyond the reactive emotional hooks we get trapped or caught up in
Increases the capacity to perceive the mind with greater clarity
We are better able to balance our emotions
Can improve our relationships – including with ourselves
Three Principles:
1) Mindsight can be cultivated through very practical steps
2) When we develop the skill of mindsight, we change the physical structure of the brain
3) Well-being emerges when we create connections in our lives – when we learn to use
mindsight to help our brain achieve and maintain integration
Mindsight:
The Triangle of Well-Being
Relationship
s
Mind
Brain
hurtful
incoherent
disintegrated
Integrated
Empathic
Coherent
Metaphor for the idea that
mind, brain and relationships
are each one part of the
one whole – One reality with
three facets (A “trinity” of
sorts)
Represents the process by
which energy and
information flow changes
over time
Mind, brain, and
relationships all influence
each other.
White: The “high road”
Red: The “low road”
Mindsight:
The River of Integration
Hebb’s Law: “Neurons that fire together wire together.” – how
differentiated parts of a system link into a working whole
Two steps:
Differentiation: Found in the ability to simply observe (to “notice) our minds
that allows us to experience ourselves as separate from the moment-to-
moment events (and from others) arising in our embodied brains and minds
Linkage (Integration): Kindness links our observing mind to these flows of
energy and information through the gentle touch of comfort and
understanding (so, the gentle, compassionate, contemplative approach to
supervision actually fosters differentiation and linkage – helps us to develop
mindsight!)
Chaos
River of
Integration
Rigidity
Mindsight:
The River of Integration
The River of Integration is bordered by Chaos on one bank
and Rigidity on the other
The middle of the river (integration/linkage) enables us to
be flexible, adaptive, coherent, energized and stable
(FACES), i.e., harmonious, in freedom
The middle also represents the “Window of Tolerance”: The
degree of affective experience we can tolerate without
becoming dysregulated
Outside the “Window” we are in a state of chaos or
rigidity – unable to stay with experience (our own or
other’s) or becoming too immersed in it
The task: to widen the “Window”
“The presence of a caring trusted other person, one who is attuned to our inner world, is often the initial key
to widening our windows of tolerance.” (D. Siegel)
In reference to the appearance of the Risen Christ to Mary Magdalene: “By calling her name, Jesus
manifests his knowledge of everything in her life and his total acceptance of all that she is. This is the
moment in which Mary realizes that Jesus loved her. This is the first step in her transformation.” (T. Keating)
Awareness and Attention
Awareness: The subjective sense of knowing or being conscious of something
Makes choice and change possible
The fundamental nature of our relationships is shaped by awareness: when we share
something in awareness with another, it changes the nature of that experience; it alters the
flow of information processing and creates the closeness we feel with another person.
Attention: The process by which energy and information are focused through the
circuits of the brain
Recurring patterns of this focused flow can alter the way we connect with each other, how
we experience our subjective inner lives and even how we come to shape the
architecture of our own brains.
“…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there
is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Philippians 4:8
The Wheel of Awareness
A metaphor of the mind as a wheel:
Central “hub” of the “caring observer” – a place of
peaceful awareness and acceptance – inviting God
into that place and to rest there with God…to
observe with God
Rim of individual experiences: 5 senses, body
sensations, mental activity, attuned relationships
(coinciding with the Dimensions of Human Person
and the Arenas of Experience)
When we exercise our attentional capacity
sufficiently to reside in the hub at will, that state of
mind of focused attention has moved in the
direction of becoming a trait and can support our
ability to direct our awareness to any point on the
rim without getting caught up and riding on the
rim.
The Wheel of Awareness
With further development, we can also choose to
sit in the hub as a caring observer, noticing with
kindness whatever arises internally or comes to us
from the outside.
We become anchored internally so that newly
arising events don’t pull us as easily to the rim
Connecting with the “caring observer” in the hub:
Develops capacity for focusing the mind on a single
experience as the foundation for being able to relax
into receptivity while maintaining attentiveness to the
present moment – through any contemplative prayer
practice, as well as the Examen and Practicing the
Presence of God
Accurately describing the feeling (by “sending out
spokes from the hub to the rim) rather than
explaining the reason for it calms the amygdala
May be used with the Examen and to complete
the CRF
Conclusion
Supervision as a contemplative, compassionate presence for and with the
director, in the service of the absent other, can serve as a means of helping us
to simply “notice” and to be with our experiences and with God in our
experiences.
In this way supervision can help us grow our minds and change our brains to
bring us into greater interior freedom through awareness, attention, and
acceptance.
Having experienced this through relationship with our supervisor and through
our relationship with God, we develop greater capacity to be this presence
with and for our directees.