Saturday, March 10, 2012


This morning in the mind freeing space between sleep and wakefulness, I experienced one of those aha moments when everything falls beautifully into place. A connection formed between the frustrations of my week and a book I've been reading by Daniel J. Siegel titled Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation.

This is no ordinary self-help book. A friend suggested Mindsight to me because it links the latest discoveries in brain science to theories about mental health. Dr. Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine and co-director of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, knows his stuff. Even though some of his technical explanations of the brain make my eyes roll back, the book is fascinating and has the power to transform.

Siegal's theory about integration or the "the harmony of health" in chapter four resonated with me. He starts out by using a choir to illustrate integration - the linkage of differentiated elements of a system. If choir members hum the same note with no variation, the result is rigidity and there is no song. If the singers cover their ears and each one launches out on their own, the result is chaos and there is no song. To achieve harmony the singers have to agree on a song they all know and listen to each other - only then can each one contribute their own unique voice to make a beautiful sound.

Dr. Siegal goes on to use a complexity theory from mathematics to explain how to balance rigidity and chaos to create harmony in our minds. He calls his model "The River of Integration." Rigidity forms one bank of the river and chaos the other. The qualities required to navigate the river can be remembered by using the acronym FACES:
F = Flexible
A = Adaptive
C = Coherent
E = Energized
S = Stable
Here is Siegal's diagram of how all this works together:

Diagram from Mindsight by Daniel Siegel
This quote from the book sums up Siegal's thinking:
Sometimes we move toward the bank of rigidity - we feel stuck. Other days we lean toward chaos - life feels unpredictable and out of control. But in general, when we are well and at ease, we move along this winding path of harmony, the integrated flow of a flexible system. We sense the familiar but are not trapped by it. We live at the threshold of the unknown and have the courage to move into new and uncharted waters. This is living a life as it unfolds, moment by moment, in a flowing journey between rigidity and chaos.
It is easy to see that the theories presented in Mindsight can be applied to my inner work, but what does this have to do with a frustrating week and the aha moment this morning?

As an Arts Integration Facilitator with the Right Brain Initiative, it is my responsibility to bring artists, administrators, and teachers together at four schools to plan meaningful arts residencies that combine classroom curriculum with the arts in an effort to connect left and right brain learning for students. In theory this connection gives students opportunities to use creativity and critical thinking; to learn new methods for communication; to work together collaboratively, and to build citizenship skills. These are referred to as 21st century skills.

Sometimes arts integration works and sometimes it doesn't. Last week one residency soared, this week four residencies threatened to nose dive into an abyss. I've spent hours sorting out the reasons why. This morning everything fell beautifully into place - success is all about achieving harmony through THE RIVER OF INTEGRATION. Wow!

Every problem I encountered this week could be explained using Siegal's metaphor. The teachers, artists, and facilitator spent the week bouncing between the river banks of rigidity and chaos. The river can also explain the reasons behind last week's success. The teachers, artist, and facilitator dove into the river using FACES to create a harmonious arts integration experience for the students.

On a broader scale the river of integration might explain our polarized political environment. If we could only see both the pitfalls of getting stuck in rigidity/chaos and the world changing benefits of harmony. As Siegal suggests, "integration might be the principle underlying health at all levels of our experience, from the microcosm of our inner world to our interpersonal relationships and life in our communities."

1 comment:

  1. Oh yes. This makes so much sense to me. Blockage = marooned on the bank of rigidity (yeah I know that one). Chaos - yes I recognize that too. In yoga asana practice and my meditation teacher's instructions for life, the counsel is always to find balance. This equates with harmony. In yoga and in the balanced life FACES work. Aha! Thank you for posting.