Integration is Health, Pt I

Dr. Siegel 1Sometimes, an idea finds its way to you … and suddenly things get clear. Your dirty windshield is clean. A window opens in a hot, stuffy room. All at once, things make sense. It hasn’t happened often to me, but when it does? DANG, it rocks.

Eleven months ago, I’d just begun my 4-month Radical Sabbatical. I didn’t know what the future held for my teaching or my practice. After 12 years of leading body~mind movement and mindfulness experiences, I felt confused and uninspired.

One sunny spring morning, I was at the gym working out while listening to a talk by Dr. Daniel Siegel. He’s a psychiatrist and neuroscientist whose interdisciplinary approach to the brain, mind, and mental health has led to scientific breakthroughs as well as a greater overall understanding of brain science. The talk I was listening to was the 2010 Keynote address The Mind, Brain, and Relationships: Integration as a Key to Mental Health (you can download it for free here). In that talk, he said, just as simple as can be:

Integration is health.

It stopped me. I said to myself, “Yes. Yes, of course.”

Since then, I’ve listened to dozens of Dr. Siegel’s talks and read his book, Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation. He is a gifted writer and speaker and his approach to mental health and well-being are revolutionary. But this definition of health as integration is what really inspires me. It is an idea worth building – or rebuilding – a career around.

In Mindsight, Dr. Siegel defines integration as “a process by which separate elements are linked together into a working whole” and as a state essential to well-being in the brain, the mind and in relationships or any system. An integrated system is flexible, adaptive, coherent, energized and stable. Without integration, systems move out of healthy balance and into either rigidity or chaos. Integration is about allowing separate parts to be both differentiated and linked.

Think about any system in your experience: a relationship, your family, a company, your body. That system will be integrated when the parts are clearly differentiated while retaining connection between the parts. So whether it is your feet and hands, your mind and emotions, you and your child, your boss and your colleague, a senator and her constituent, if two things are integrated, they are separate with full, open connection. Without both differentiation and linkage, the system will seize up into rigidity (e.g., compulsive or habitual behavior, incommunicative relationships, panic) or fly apart into chaos (e.g., intrusive thoughts, emotional fights, lashing out in anger).

This week, notice how integration creates harmonious, balanced, healthy systems of all kinds. In your body, mind, emotions, or in your family, friendships, or work life: if things don’t feel balanced and integrated, ask yourself, “Has this system diverged into rigidity or chaos? Are the parts both linked and connected? And how can I open up the flow of energy and information to bring it back into harmony?”

Tomorrow, I’ll share about how this inspiration wove itself into a new routine that I’ll be launching this week. Until then, may all your systems be integrated!

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