TNH: How did you become involved in scientific research on meditation?
Siegel: I actually knew nothing about meditation before about five years ago. I made the serendipitous move to use the word "mindfulness" in a parenting book, meaning how parents can be intentional and conscientious and caring…The parents we taught asked us when we were going to teach them to mediate! I wasn't a meditator, never meditated; I didn't know what they were referring to. So I would ask them why they were asking me this interesting question.
They said "You said meditation is your main principle."
I said, "Where does it say that?"
They would point to the word "mindfulness" and they would say "meditation" …"mindfulness meditation." I actually didn't know what that was. Right after that, I got put on a panel—I guess coincidentally, if there is anything like that in the world—with a guy named Jon Kabat-Zinn who is one of those careful scientists who has taken mindfulness meditation from a Buddhist tradition and put it into a secular approach and then demonstrated with Richie Davidson the incredible changes that have happened in the brain from even just eight weeks of what they call Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR). It uses yoga and meditation and group processes of discussing about life and stuff, so it has a lot of components to it, but the main ones focus on mindfulness. That's how I heard about it…For me it's opened up a whole new world because I don't have training in any particular religious tradition and I don't subscribe to a particular meditative tradition. My background is as a psychiatrist and attachment researcher.