The River of Integration

“When we are integrated, a system such as a relationship or a nervous system with its brain and whole body moves into a flexible and harmonious flow. Integration becomes harmony. Integration is created as parts of a system are allowed to be unique and specialized, like you and me in a relationship or like members of a choir singing in harmony. The differentiated parts retain their unique aspects and they also become linked. The left and right sides of the brain work in a coordinated and balanced manner, and the communication between you and me honors differences and promotes compassionate connection so our relationship flourishes.

If either differentiation or linkage does not occur, then something very specific happens. When integration is blocked, a system moves toward one or both of two possible extremes: chaos on the one hand, and rigidity on the other.

I think of this like a river. The central flow is one of integration and the harmony is creates. One bank outside this central harmonious flow is chaos; the other is the bank of rigidity. When things are chaotic, they are out of control, wild, overwhelming, completely unpredictable. And when things are rigid, they are stuck, unchanging, boring, and completely predictable. Life has a natural movement toward, rather than getting stuck on, the banks of chaos and ridigidity as we wind our way down the river of life, the river of integration.”

~ Daniel J. Siegel M.D., Brainstorm


In reading Siegal’s book, I have been reflecting a lot about the concept of integration. As a person who lives with anxiety, I definitely lean tends towards rigidity. Routines, control and structure provide me with a false sense of security but they can also be very limiting and stifling. It is so important to know when to hold on and when to let go.

A good friend of mine once gave me a good piece of advice. If it is 80% right, it is good enough. Forget the rest. I have been working to bring this approach into my own life by asking myself what is essential (e.g. must do) and what can I drop (e.g. nice to do). The reality is everything does not need to be perfect and I will die with an unfinished ‘to do’ list.

In working towards integration, I need to prioritize time for spontaneous fun and play, as much as chores and routine (rigidity). It is important to enjoy silly experiences with my friends and family, like rock n’ glow bowling, dancing and roller disco, that bring joy. This is just as essential as completing the shopping, cooking and cleaning. The reality is that our time together on this planet is finite and precious. We cannot take anything for granted and we should not fill it up with work and obligations. Valuing the role of love, connection and laughter is at the heart of it all.