Saturday, May 03, 2008
What Is Integration?
Learning Without Trauma
The foundation of an integrated structure provides stability, and is an even, regular pattern that is solid and pleasing to the eye...
I have just come back from a long ride in the desert. As the miles fly by, the pieces of my life seem to fall into place of their own volition. But it has been a long time coming. That's one of the characteristics of integration. It happens in due course, when the time is right and not before. It happens as a result of work that has been done in advance, like the percolation of yeast that sometimes must be kneaded heavily and then left to rest before it can later rise in the oven of a willing consciousness.
The brain is like a topographical map with areas designated to provide sensory and motor function for specific skills, yet it's living, ever changing according to what we spend our time doing. If we do the same things over and over again, we tend to have less change in the way our brains function and some activities tend to fall away over time if not pursued. We all know that stimulus is what generates intelligence in babies. We have yet to realize the implications of the new research that proves the same is true for adults...FELDENKRAIS works with this principle of the extreme adaptability of the brain to experience.*
Any FELDENKRAIS lesson also works with the fact that it's often in silence, or in rest that the pieces fall into place. It's a concrete way of feeling the difference between not integrated and integrated. Not integrated feels vague, unsure, chaotic, sometimes frustrating. In movement, it looks disjointed to the outside viewer, like the uncoordinated walk of the toddler. Once integrated, it looks like a smooth, even pattern. It feels delicious, comforting, pleasurable.
There are many aspects of human experience, some seem at times to conflict. This is a lack of integration. Integration happens at a different pace for different kinds of intelligence (emotional, numerical, spatial, linguistic or survival skills just to name a few). Ideally, as we grow from child to adult, our ability to manage our emotions becomes more coordinated even as our ability to move in space or to survive in the world becomes more effective. Often, however, these different intelligences grow at different rates. Hence the experience we have all had of meeting people who seem old beyond their years, or others who seem incredibly immature, considering their age.
For myself, I have my own difficulties with being congruent: in Europe I feel very American, it oozes out of my pores. In America, sometimes people wonder if I am European, there's just something slightly different about me. It's not necessarily a problem, just a place where I am rough around the edges. A slight conflict that is more at odds with my well-being is that sometimes the workaholic in me takes over, sometimes the sloth, although I have not seen much of the sloth in recent years...
Yet, thankfully, being alive is more complex than how we behave, there's the little detail of what motivates us to behave that way. Having spent most of the beginning of my life as the sloth, there may be a part of me that is overcompensating. This is a problem for me, knowing what I do about how the brain works, and how all systems of the body require rhythms of rest and action in equal proportions. Yet, the drive to keep going is strong, it's motives unconscious.
These are the pieces that must fall into place. When I am not clear about what I am doing, the result is bound to be failure. When I am not clear about why I am doing it, I loose momentum like a car running out of gas. Often the deeper layers of why are hidden in subconscious decisions made long ago in moments of emotional upheaval. The stories I tell myself about what my life has been about are clues to these hidden motives. Often these stories, when laid out in the light of day are tinged with judgment.
In rolling on the floor, doing FELDENKRAIS lessons in AWARENESS THROUGH MOVEMENT, I learn to practice the art of non-judgment. I learn to give myself a helping hand, to be the silent witness. This skill is transferable from observing movement of the physical, to observing behavior, thought processes and motivations. It's one of the most gentle, non-intrusive ways to allow integration to happen of it's own volition. It allows self-correction motivated by awareness of incongruity. It allows me to streamline my convoluted consciousness without force or trauma.
These lessons are a place to practice the skills that feed me inside and out. They are a place to practice integration in a very real setting: I can feel the changes almost immediately when things fall into place. I have time to notice it and I have created the opportunity to grow from it. This is worth taking the time for. In the rest of my life, it allows me to move along what I consider to be the culmination of a life well-lived: to move in the direction of integrating all the various intelligences I possess in varying degrees. As a practitioner, I am good at the movement part of the equation, but I still have plenty of areas to transfer these skills to. I am happy to make it a lifelong journey; it makes life entertaining, juicy, plenty interesting without tragedy, thank you.
I change as a result of being present rather than being pummeled by experiences that prove my lack of coordination. I gracefully lay down the baseball bat. I have learned from the drama. I have learned the greatest of all lessons: that the drama is not necessary. I can learn without it.
* See The Brain That Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge, M.D. (Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science)