This principle (the 17th out of 18!) relates directly to a tagline I’ve seen used for Rubenfeld Synergy Method: “A dynamic system for the integration of body, mind, emotions and spirit.” Okay, that’s all very well, but what does it mean?
Integration, to me, refers to two subtly different concepts. One is the simple idea that whatever insights you’ve gained in sessions, they have permeated your being: i.e., they’re not just ideas in your head, but feelings in your heart, sensations in your body, convictions in your spirit. It’s fairly easy, for example, to know that you shouldn’t drink so much. But when the triggers to drink happen – social events, evenings after work, or whatever – does your body still automatically reach for the bottle and the glass? Does your desire for a drink outweigh your reason? Or when you, a shy person, acutely desire to connect with someone, do you let your rational mind talk you out of it? It’s likely that you haven’t integrated whatever lessons you gained from therapy – and therefore, the results of that therapy cannot be lasting.
The other way I tend to use “integration” is as a synonym for “alignment;” that is, an ongoing, cultivated state of moving in the world from your whole self. Often, when I’m making a decision, reacting to something, or just moving through my day, I ask myself if I’m doing it from an aligned place. Am I taking my body, mind, emotions and spirit into account, or am I moving from just one of those? Am I acting, to put it more simply, with integrity?
Integrity, after all, is another form of the same root: when we are integrated, when we are aligned, we can move in the world with integrity. Integrity is not about a particular moral or ethical code. It is about operating from a place of wholeness. It is being able to listen to ourselves: to notice our body’s response, our emotional truth, our spiritual beliefs and our reasoning minds, and, to the degree possible, getting them all to face in the same direction. This is not always entirely possible, of course, and is in fact the work of a lifetime. Neither is it about suppressing feelings in the service of doing the right thing, even when the decision you have to make is the one that breaks your own heart. But being able to feel that breaking, to acknowledge that truth even as you move forward with the right action: that is the way of integrity.
In Synergy, we also talk about another form of the word: integral. We seek to notice and acknowledge when something is or has been integral to the system of a person – even if that something is now doing them harm. Chris Hammer, physical therapist, childhood development expert and one of my favorite faculty members in the training, talked frequently about the fact that our bodies always organize for safety and efficiency. When you see someone with a terrible limp, for example, it may not strike you that that person’s body is particularly efficient. However, that body is working with its own limitations, and has developed the best practices for what is going to keep them safe, and be most efficient for movement within those limitations. When I was repeatedly injuring my shoulder and neck in part because I was habitually tensing and curling them around myself, my body was reacting to an old and long-standing situation, and keeping me safe. In the present context, that habitual position was no longer serving me. But in order for it to change, we had to acknowledge that it had been integral: it was a part of me that needed honoring and thanking before I could let it go. The integrity of our bodies needs to be preserved.
This is a truth for many trauma survivors as well: frequently, their integrity has been compromised. People talk about feeling violated: their boundaries have been disrespected, and their wholeness shattered. The body’s response is often to seek re-integration: patterns develop that are defenses against further violation. It is essential that we recognize that these patterns are integral, even if they seem pathological or nonsensical. They are the body’s response to its integrity having been broken. When we can honor, listen to, and soothe these responses, then we can begin to offer alternatives, and begin on the path back to wholeness.
The path to integrity, then, begins with integration: laying down new, healthy patterns that can become internalized. This requires work, but if we start from acknowledging that the change must begin with the body, the rest can often more easily follow.