Last week, we explored six of the Nine Pathways of Neural Integration offered up by Bonnie Badenoch in her well-crafted guidebook, Being a Brain-wise Therapist. This week let’s explore two of the last three pathways and find out why they might be important for purposeful living.

Interpersonal Integration

Your brain and mine are relational organs constantly trying to predict the future. Success in this endeavor insures your and my survival. Our brains grow and integrate best when the future looks bright and it’s in the company of more organized brains, i.e. brains with better neural integration. Thus the value of healthy, parents, teachers, clergy, therapists, mentors and even peers for children (Recall Bruce Perry’s account:The Kindness of Children). People don’t necessarily judge you by the company you keep, but your brain is significantly impacted by that company. And whether we know it or are aware of it or not, we are constantly scoping out the intentions and feeling states of the company we keep every day. And as we develop increasing Interpersonal Integration, this capacity becomes more and more conscious – we know what we think and how we feel about different people, and most importantly – why.

Integrating Compassion

Gene Knudsen Hoffman, who travels the world doing conflict resolution in places like Israel and Palestine and Azerbaijan and Armenia, is the founder of The Compassionate Listening Project. Her experience is summed up in this statement which probably represents a pinnacle of Interpersonal Integration: “An enemy is someone whose story we have not heard.” A natural, empathic outcome of Interpersonal Integration, I think, is a deep, embodied understanding of Buddha’s First Noble Truth: “Life contains great suffering.” We only need turn on the nightly news, or better yet, look into our own personal histories to find evidence for the truth of this declaration. With this understanding, and the awareness of the “brain damage” that mostly accompanies unskillful actions in the world, compassion and forgiveness become the natural, inevitable response to people. So, for example, when we see someone blow up the Pakistan Marriott and themselves along with it, we don’t ask “How could someone do something like that?” An Integrated Interpersonal brain instead might ask: “What might it take for me to fully commit to a course of destruction like that?” For most of us, it is most likely unimaginable. And yet, there are many people living in countries the world over who think America – you, me and our elected representatives – already is committed to such destruction. Those are people we typically think of as our enemies – in other words, people whose story we haven’t fully heard. And in addition to Interpersonal Integration, it might require more than a little Transpirational neural integration before we can actually be even a little bit willing to hear their stories.

Transpirational Integration

Transpiration means “to breathe across.” In the sense of brains integrating, it essentially refers to a developing awareness that the body boundary we all walk through the world carrying, is an artificial one.  As Transpirational Integration unfolds it moves us away from Martin Buber’s I-It interactions to more and more authentic I-Thou relationship, one in which there is little separation between me and a terrorist bomber. Not that I would do what a terrorist bomber does, but I can understand his conditioned mind and his sense of powerlessness and hopelessness. Some of us may be feeling that way in America today!

Einstein probably described Transpirational Integration best when he wrote:

A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty …. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive.

I’m sure that many of us have seen or heard these words of Einstein’s before. But things are different now. Now we know what’s required for his words to possess deep, embodied meaning for us. It is a level of heart-brain-mind-body integration that does NOT currently appear to be on the scene in overwhelming abundance. Without the development of Transpirational Integration and the Right Action that flows from such integrated coherence, Planet Earth’s survival might truly hang in the balance. Next week we’ll explore the critical role that the last pathway – Temporal Integration – very likely plays in this unfolding neural drama.