In this blog post, I want to talk about something a little different. I want to talk about one of the most fundamental challenges which adults face. I want to talk about how this challenge, I believe, underpins difficulties we face in how we view ourselves, the people around us and the responsibilities we have in our daily work and personal life. This challenge is the concept of integration
What do I mean by integration? Integration is accepting the notion that all things in life are deeply connected, no much how deeply disconnected somethings might appear. Joy and suffering are polar opposites, and yet they are inherenitaly linked as one cannot exist without the other. Life and death are deeply integrated through the nutrient cycle. Dark and light are deeply connected, for without night and dark we cannot comprehend day and light.
I would argue that the human identity is deeply integrated. We cannot have the conscientiousness without concern/worry, passion without anger, openness without risk. Traits or ways of being which we admire (the light) and enjoy also come with a supposed ‘dark’ side – a pattern of behaviour or way of being that modern society perhaps considers less admirable, a downside, weakness or Achilles heal. My main thrust of my blog post will focus on this very topic.
(I do need to say from the outset that I have struggled with finding a word for dark – it could undermine what I’m trying to say. It’s a heads up that when I say dark, I don’t mean it as bad but as a metaphor for opposite.)
There are two steps to recognising integration. The first is accepting the surface level concept. Most people do not have a problem accepting that one cannot exisit without the other, such as joy and sadness, is one quite a few would happily accept. It sounds sophisticated and maybe we’ve listened to a few Buddah tapes and realised this sounds good. In summary, very few would deny the reality of integration at the surface. People who worry tend to also be very detailed. People who are care free tend not to think about details etc and etc. People readily accept my argument on the surface level.
But the second step is far harder. That is accepting the consequence and reality that integration brings. That is there cannot be one without the other – that the elemental factors making up one side are the same factors which make up the other.
What does this mean? For a start, it means that the trait you admire in someone and with yourself will come with an expression that might be less admirable. It very much resembles a coin with heads and tails – the sides are different, but they are of the same coin. They are not two separate parts glued together. It is one unified entity, made of of the same element, but with the potential to expressed in totally different ways. Flip heads; you have a completley different impression of the coin than if you flip tails.
Some concrete examples. That conscientious person who you adore for thinking through the details and will always goes out their way for you, might also drive you crazy as they demonstrate worry about making the right impression or how they express their organisation. The person who expressed intensity of joy and wonder will likely express the same intensity of worry and frustration. The person who you enjoy for their spontaneous nature will frustrate you for not showing up on time. The ability to live in the moment and be right there with you and only with you…will also leave you blindsided when they are in another moment and you’re not in their thoughts.
Again, my premise is not that people aren’t ready to accept the concept that these different aspects are integrated. It’s accepting of the consequences that such a a philosophy has on how and who we like and love those around us that most people struggle with. It’s accepting that the person you like or love and things you love and like about them will come with another side – and the more extreme the expression, the more extreme the opposite is true.
This leads me to question: Do we really accept people for who they are? Do we really accept ourselves for who we are? Yes, we can say “everyone has flaws” but that still implies a separation as they are not flaws separate to the self – they are part of the self which, in other contexts and situations, are the aspects which will most admire and love. The consequence of integration is when we show like and love, we might have to love the whole – the light and dark, the conscientious and the worry, the eclectic and the quirky, the relaxed and the laxed. This isn’t to say we should accept all – but perhaps should reflect hard on what this means for ourselves and the connection we have to others and its meaning.
It will mean releasing expectation – expectation that people around us, and indeed ourselves, can just shine on the “light” and scrub away the “dark”. Releasing the expectation that we should scrub away at our own Yang’s, but not acknowledging that will comprimise the ‘Ying’. That we should expect people to love in spite of supposed flaws, and actuall We release ourselves of the expectation to only be in the light by not feeling compelled to justify expressions of fear and sadness or or or quirks and coping strategies as something far greater than just being part of you – to embrace and accept, and to do that for all
People could say “Well, fine, but what about extremes? Extreme anger, aggression etc”. There is of course room for temperance. Extreme worry, extreme aggression, sadness are not good for anyone and that’s when they become clinically relevant. Indeed, we should recognise that extreme happiness is not good for anyone either – we take far greater risks and put ourselves in danger. We talk about balance but balance means of both, not of excluding the other as it just isnt possible to exclude one without costing the other. It means accepting balance to be both.
A phrase a very wise man told me a long time ago was “come as you are”. And I think that’s far easier to say than in practice and this blog post has been about unlocking why that sentence is hard to live by. In my own reflection on writing this,I have two questions:1) How much is this driven by the expectation we have of others and self
And 2) that this isn’t the whole story of understanding ourselves and others. What happens when we are met with trying to comprehend two seemingly polar opposites expressions in ourselves and others – when the Yang doesn’t necessarily align with the Ying. When the extremely calm expressed extreme worry, when the loud and social also seeks quiet and solitude. In essence, when we are met with the eclectic and the, seemingly, irrreconsible opposites. My next post will explore the concept of the eclectic and why it’s so hard for ourselves and others to both manage, comprehend and live by.