… but when I lost weight, my 401K actually increased in value, and I began joyfully walking through the world as if living a Zen Story, they began to sit up and take notice. But first of all they wanted to know, “What the heck does ‘integrate your brain’ actually mean?”

Well, it turns out integration means something quite un-special, but very specific. Integration is what brains would do naturally and automatically, were it not for the fact that all of us have had to make it through birth, childhood and adolescence – dangerous and disruptive enterprises at best – painfully disorganizing and dementia-inducing at worst.

So, what is integration and why am I saying things both terrible and commendable about it? In her recently published (and very readable) book, Being a Brain-Wise Therapist, Bonnie Badenoch does an outstanding job of describing the nine ways our brains are constantly orienting in the direction of optimal integration. Freud, who started out as a neurologist, thought of integration as a kind of striving for mastery (which formed the basis of his “repetition compulsion”- we attempt things over and over until we get them right). I tend to think of integration as “healing constantly trying to happen.” And recent studies attempting to facilitate integration using Deep Brain Electrical Stimulation seem to support my premise. The same way that a cut finger will try to heal and restore itself to full integration, the brain too, is constantly attempting similar efforts, only on the most complex structure in the known universe. Selectively stimulating under-performing areas, often disorganized by early life experiences, seems to provide healing relief for a number of conditions. This results, in theory at least, in greater neural organization and integration.

So, to help bring some clarity to this complexity, first I’ll list the nine pathways that Bonnie identifies, and then I’ll explore what fully integrating of few of them might mean for you, me and the children of the world. Think about how they might apply in your own life.

The Nine Pathways of Integration

First is Vertical Integration; next Bilateral – the integration of the right and left hemispheres; then Narrative, Memory and State Integration; after that, Consciousness; then Interpersonal Integration; then, my favorite, and one I’ve been diligently working on for nearly 40 years – Temporal Integration; and finally, there’s Transpirational Integration.

Vertical Integration

Vertical integration simply means that the body, limbic structures and prefrontal areas are wired together optimally with lots of connections. This allows for a strong body-awareness putting me easily in touch with feelings. Strong vertical integration allows me to tolerate a broad range of emotion without becoming either frozen or overwhelmed and reactive. Differences in vertical integration are responsible for one man’s ceiling ending up being another man’s floor.

Bilateral Integration

Like a house with a solid foundation, bilateral integration is built upon strong vertical integration and simply refers to numerous connections crossing both sides of the brain. This allows me to easily put words to feelings and to translate and make meaning from the images and sensations arising in my complex inner world which result primarily from right brain firing.

Narrative, Memory and State Integration

Narrative, memory and state integration is the natural outcome of either secure attachment in childhood or earned secure adult attachment later on – I’ve come to terms with my personal history and can talk about it in a coherent, emotionally engaged manner. It’s also responsible for what Dan Siegel calls Mindsight – being able to readily think about and observe my own and others’ thought processes. For those of us who can do this easily, it often comes as a revelation that many people – children and adolescents especially – do not possess sufficient neural integration to be able to readily thinkabout their own thoughts. In other words, they don’t ever realize that “a mind is a terrible thing to trust.”

Consciousness Integration

Consciousness integration is the ability to easily move back and forth between my inner world and the outside world – endo-awareness and exo-awareness. Integration allows me to do this with the calm curiosity of a caring observer. Accomplishing this integration allows me to “be here now” – fully focused in the present moment more often than not, without a preponderance of negative judgments or excessive reactivity. This is a very useful integration to possess in politics and in negotiations with teenagers.

So, those are the first six pathways. Integration is not something that is “won and done,” but as your own experience might suggest, develops on sort of a recursive, upward-spiraling continuum. Next week we’ll explore the last three pathways and the implications they might have for promoting and fostering a life of rich complexity, flexibility, compassion, peace and service.

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