And that this honoring differences and promoting linkages within molecules, which we call integration, seemed to be identical to the process that happened in relationships.
At that time, what I wanted to know was: if this honoring of differences and promoting linkages was the basis of health, and the word we use for that is integration, what could science tell us? What could everyday living tell us? What could jokes tell us? What could creativity tell us? What could art tell us about the centrality of integration?
So it turns out that when you look at the mathematics of integration, an amazing thing happens. Have you ever walked along the bank of a river? Any of you ever do that?
Yeah. You noticed how the river flows in a certain way, and it has one bank on one side, and then you have the other side. And you can go on either side of the river, or go down the river.
Well, it turns out that the integration is like a river. Integration is where there’s a sense of harmony that’s flexible, and adaptive, and full of vitality.
But when you don’t link differentiated parts, when you don’t have integration, it turns out that the science of integration from mathematics says, “You’re going to go on one of two banks,” as if you’re leaving the river of harmony.
And one bank is the bank of chaos, where things are out of control, unpredictable, flooding you, and the other bank is the bank of rigidity.
When I read that, it blew my mind because every patient, every person I was seeing for psychotherapy, in my experience, was coming in from either chaos, or rigidity, or both.
If someone had been traumatized, for example, they’d be rigidly avoiding the experiences that they had had. Or in contrast, the same person would also be flooded with feelings, and flooded with images, and flooded with memories of the traumatic event.
That would be an example of chaos or rigidity.
Or if someone had a difficulty not related to a trauma, but related perhaps to their genes, and they had a disorder like, for example, manic-depressive illness, also called bipolar disorder, they could be shut down in depression, which would be the rigidity part, or they’d be flooded with mania — thoughts intruding, behaviors intruding, emotions intruding.
And then I turned to the psychiatric Bible. It was called “The diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders”, that we’ve now been using for a third of a century.
And it turns out that every symptom of every single syndrome in that entire book can be understood as either chaos or rigidity.
So then the question came up: could it be that well-being is integration, and impairments to mental well-being — we call that mental health — when you have an impairment, it’s impairments to integration, and so you become either chaotic or rigid.
And so what happened in the last 12 years is we now have evidence to support that perspective. Then, in fact, the major psychiatric disorders, whether they’re caused by genes, or toxins, or other elements in the environment, not from experience, these disorders, like manic depressive illness, or schizophrenia, or autism, they all are examples in the brain where you aren’t differentiating areas, or you’re not linking those areas that are differentiating. So, it’s an impairment to integration.
And even in the disorder of people who are abused, you’ve got this situation. An incredible opportunity then became: could we take a science that you may have heard about, called neuroplasticity, the division of neuroscience that says you can actually change your brain throughout your entire lifetime? Not just during the early years, during childhood and beyond, but throughout your lifetime.
And if that were true, could you actually create an approach that helped people integrate their brains? Could you actually change the structure of the brain?
And it turns out that we’re now getting evidence that you can do that. And there are number of approaches to show that you can stream energy and information, the physical aspect of life, where you actually think a certain thought, or focus your attention. What you’re basically doing is streaming energy and information through your brain. It’s basically a part of what neuroscience tells us the brain does.
And if you can do this in a way to actually get the brain to differentiate its parts, like the left side and the right side, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard Iain McGilchrist’s beautiful work on left-right brain differences that he’s summarized in his writings — but what you can find is you can actually find a way to differentiate the left from the right, and then link them.
So, you can take the linguistic and language-based logical ways of being that the left creates in tearing things down, and the way the right kind of pulls things together, seeing the context and the whole of everything. When you bring them together: creativity emerges.
And when we think about all of the different talks that you’ve heard before, that you’ll hear in this set, you can think about how does the creativity that comes from a person pursuing a passion, or an individual finding an artistic expression, or someone dealing with something as overwhelming as you’ll hear about, as the Holocaust.
How do you actually find a creative way of living that brings vitality and well-being?
What I’m going to suggest to you is that each of those are examples of creating integration in your life. One way we can approach this is in our individual work. And there are all sorts of studies now to show you can integrate the brain by doing something called mindfulness training.