What I am going to do today for our Tele-class is pose a core question. Then I will give you some of the learnings that have been revealing themselves as a result of my asking this core question. Then we will take some time together to hear from you what has particularly touched you and inspired your thoughts and feelings during the lecture.
I have prepared a bibliography of the books and the research material that I looked at as I was preparing myself for today. All of it is leading to the one core idea, which is: “We are wired for connection. Connection changes our brain. And with these changes in our brain we are capable of connecting even more deeply.” I won’t be citing the literature today, but I will be sending you the bibliography.
I am talking to you today in a double capacity. What I am sharing with you today is at the intersection of the personal and the professional. I am sharing with you on the personal level as the wife of Yumi for 47 years, as well as the woman who recently celebrated 68 years of life experience. At the professional level I am sharing with you today as an avid student of the Relational Paradigm for the last twenty years, and as a teacher and mentor of Couples Therapists for the last thirty years.
The core question that I will share with you today has revealed itself to me as a result of delicate and challenging journey that Yumi and I are on at this time. In January Yumi made a profound request of me. His request was: “Be with me!” And we both decided that I would. We took an official medical leave. And as you know we have been on a roller coaster ride ever since. We have stayed very conscious throughout the ride, and the question I will share with you appeared from the journey itself.
I would like to start with a quote by E. E. Cummings about questions. And it goes like this: “Always a more beautiful answer that asks a more beautiful question”. I love this quote because it keeps encouraging me to ask the core questions and to be with the not knowing.
And here is my core question: “How can Yumi in the state that he is right now, not feeling well, physically, emotionally and intellectually, in a state of depression and anxiety, without appetite for food or life, how can he share so much wisdom with courage, clarity and integrity; and how come that in responding to his request: “Be with me!” and fully being with him, I feel an increasing sense of deep serenity, happiness and fulfillment?
I’d like to start with two stories. Both stories are about an SOS call from friends, and about the illuminated response from Yumi.
- A friend stopped by our home in total disarray and distress. She had found out her husband had been having an affair. After an hour of outpouring of raw emotion, she asked could she please stay the night at our home. My immediate response was “But of course”. But Yumi’s statement was: “NO! You shouldn’t stay here. You have a home. You must go back to your home. If you stay here, you are taking a step without thinking about it, that you might regret in the future. You can stay with us till you feel calmer. And then you must go home”. She hugged him and thanked him. She later called to say that Yumi’s statement is saving the situation.
- A friend called in utter distress about the danger she feels that her grandson is in, as he is losing more and more weight due to a worsening case of anorexia. She read me a letter she had written to her children that she was ambivalent about sending. It had the many core points she wanted the parents to be thinking about. It was a clear and wise letter.
Yumi’s statement was: “NO! This is not the letter to send. It will not be received. The letter to send has only two messages: We think about you with all our love in this time of challenge. And we are mobilized and prepared to do whatever it takes to assist you. Let us know what you need” She thanked Yumi. She had no ambivalence whatsoever to send this message of love and availability.
And so here is the core question: “What is the dynamic that allows for a man to reach into the rich inner landscape of his soul and speak the words that lift the other, and illuminates their path, while he himself is in the darkness? And what is the dynamic that gives a woman such a sense of happiness and fulfillment in the most difficult and uncertain time of her life’s journey?”
I have titled the lecture today the “neural duet”, because a part of the answer to this mystery has to do with the miraculous effects that an authentic long-term committed and fully dedicated connection has on the development of our neural circuitry. As Dianne Ackerman puts it “Wedded hearts change everything, even the brain”. Indeed, as lovers we hold keys to each other’s identities, and we write neuro-structural alterations in each other’s neural networks. As lovers we influence who we are, and who we become.
So what are these neuro-structural alterations that we write into each other? The answer is “integration”. We give one another a chance for integration. Integration is what I sense in Yumi and also what I sense in myself. Integration in a variety of ways. And so I went looking for the meaning of integration in the literature. And when I landed with Daniel Siegel and his pioneering development of interpersonal neurobiology literature, I found something that has blown my mind.
Daniel Siegel describes eight domains of integration. I had never understood integration in this linear fashion. Daniel Siegel is careful to point out that the process of integration is not linear. All the domains of integration occur in tandem with each other. However it has been amazingly helpful to me to see his linear description of all the aspects of human integration.
I am going to go through them one by one. And then I will take some time to speak about how they now apply to Yumi and myself.
Here are the eight domains of integration:
1. THE INTEGRATION OF CONSCIOUSNESS:
One of our vital tasks in life is to learn how to pay attention, how to develop mindful awareness in the present moment. That task is a life-long task. When we are well established in the “integration of consciousness”, we increasingly live in the “NOW”, because we can flexibly direct our attention to the thoughts, the feelings, and the actions of our own choosing. It is “presencing”.
2. VERTICAL INTEGRATION:
The nervous system is vertically distributed. It ascends from our body through the brains stem, to the limbic system, arriving at the cortex. It goes from head to toe, and back again from toe to head. And while traveling back and forth, our nervous system weaves all these differentiated areas of our body into one functional whole.
When we are well established in “vertical integration”, we are aware of our feelings through the awareness of our body sensations. We are in touch with the wisdom of our body. Our body talks to us. And we know how to listen.
3. HORIZONTAL INTEGRATION:
“Horizontal integration” is about the linkage of the right and the left hemisphere of our brain, which allows us to translate our ongoing experiences from the nonverbal realm into actual words. When we are well established in “horizontal integration”, our right brain and our left brain are in excellent communication with each other. Our Corpus Callosum, which is the highway between the left and the right hemispheres of our brain, is a well trafficked highway. And so in “horizontal integration” the realm of the right side which is imagery, holistic thinking, non-verbal language, and autobiographical memory, links wonderfully with the realm of the left side which is logic, spoken and written language, linearity, and literal thinking.
You can see how important the “vertical integration” is for achieving “horizontal integration”. It is from the input we receive from our bodies about the multi-layered landscape of our nonverbal world, that the left brain then weaves our life’s story into a logical, linear, coherent whole. When our body speaks, and we listen, we then have our inner translator how can tell the story. You can also see that the “integration of consciousness” is at the core of our integration, because we can listen better to our bodies when we know how to pay attention.
4. MEMORY AND NARRATIVE INTEGRATION:
“Memory and narrative integration” is about our increasing capacity to make what is implicit explicit. It is shining the light on the visceral puzzle pieces of our life’s journey. It is grabbing pictures, and bringing them to the surface. It is languaging experiences that are embedded in the fiber of our being.
When we are well established in “memory and narrative integration” much of what has been implicit at one time is now explicit. We have a coherently woven life history, that is balanced, that includes the good and the bad, and that makes complete sense.
You can see how “horizontal integration” and “memory and narrative integration” are progressing in tandem. We are creating stories that weave our left hemisphere’s narrator function with the autobiographical memory storage of the right hemisphere.
5. STATE INTEGRATION or THE INTEGRATION OF NEIGHBORHOODS:
What Daniel Siegel calls “state integration” we could call in our model the “integration of neighborhoods”. It is the process of integrating all of the neighborhoods of our world, creating linkages between seemingly mutually exclusive neighborhoods. We can think of neighborhoods as “neural nets” that have developed, and that have been reinforced by repeated experience. As the pioneering neuro-scientist Donald Hebb said in 1949 when he introduced the idea of the basic mechanism for synaptic plasticity: “Neurons that fire together, wire together”. When these “neural nets” are shaped around relational pain, they can become dissociated from the overall integrating flow of our mind, and it leave us vulnerable to hijacking. We are out of control. We are being taken from one neighborhood to another neighborhood without our consent. we are triggered. It eats us up before we know that it is hungry.
However, when we are well established in “state integration” or in the “integration of neighborhoods”, we have new flexible relational muscles to travel between neighborhoods in our world and in our partner’s world. We cannot be so easily triggered and hijacked. We move beyond past patterns of survival adaptations and our denial of our basic needs. We become connected again with our birthright to exist. We are open to our true needs and our partner’s true needs, and we are increasingly able to meet them creatively.
6. INTERPERSONAL INTEGRATION:
“Interpersonal integration” is fully living the “we” of our relationship. When we are well established in “interpersonal integration”, our attunement to others increases. We become viscerally aware of how our “resonance circuits” draw us deeper and deeper into each other. We palpably experience the Law of the Magnets.
The literature describes that this shared resonance between two people appears to create greater coherence in both minds. It suggests that “interpersonal integration” leads to a form of personal integration in both people. So “interpersonal integration” paves the way to self discovery. It creates the conditions for dissociated “neural nets” to join the mainstream of the integrating mind. We can love and be loved without giving ourselves up.
7. TEMPORAL INTEGRATION:
“Temporal integration” refers to the uncertainty and the impermanence of life. When we are well established in “temporal integration”, we know that human beings are mortal. Temporal integration invites us to gaze into the reality of death – our own death and the death of the ones we love. It enables us to live more at ease in the face of uncertainty. You can see how “temporal integration” and “interpersonal integration” go hand in hand. It is when we know that we are woven into the internal world of our loved ones, and that they are woven into ours that we know that we carry them with us even when we are not together. It is in the comfort of the sense of eternal connection that we can face the uncertainty of life.
8. TRANSPIRATIONAL INTEGRATION:
Daniel Siegel coined this term: “transpirational integration”. The literal translation is “to breathe across”. In essence, in this domain of integration, we “breathe across” the seven other domains. Daniel Siegel is describing a new dimension of interconnectedness which seems to emerge as a result of the all around neural integration of all the other domains.
When we are well established in “transpirational integration”, our very identity expands. We become part of an expanded identity, a “we” larger than our interpersonal relationships. We become aware that we are part of an interconnected whole. Thomas Merton has said that compassion in the end needs to be based on a “keen awareness of the interdependence of all living things, which are all part “of” one another, and all involved “in” one another”. Thomas Merton was describing transpirational integration. In the literature, much research exploration of happiness and wisdom points to this sense of interconnectedness as being at the heart of living a life of meaning and purpose.
And so at this juncture let me take a breath.
Take a moment to review in your own mind the magnificent tapestry of the human design towards integration. We are wired to achieve full integration in all the domains. We are born wired for connection. Our neural architecture places relationship at the crux of our life. And so step by step, as we walk hand in hand in our “neural duet”, our system balances out and integrates. And when our system is integrated in all the domains, we are in coherence: we are connected, open, harmonious, receptive, compassionate and empathic…naturally. It is our human essence liberated. Just like Michelangelo said that his great challenge is to liberate the figure from the stone, it is our challenge to liberate ourselves in connection from all of the impediments and blockages to the 8 domains of integration, so that we reclaim our natural, balanced coherent human essence.
And so now I am coming back to my initial question:
“How can Yumi be illuminating the path of others when he is in darkness himself? And how can I feel happy and fulfilled in the face of so much uncertainty?”.
For the first time ever, I can see the actual, palpable live results of our being linked in a 47 year “neural duet”. I can see that Yumi, even though captured right now by the “dragon of the night”, is a man in full integration. He is deeply receptive to others, filled with compassion and empathy, connected to their highest truth. And that I, sitting with him daily, in true communion, am for the first time able to face our death, and as a result also the full meaning of our life. I feel centered and resilient.
I know now that we have over the years given to each other an increasingly “secure base” from which to blossom into full integration. We have given each other what Sue Johnson calls A.R.E: capital A, capital R, capital E. The “A” stands for accessibility. It answers the question: “Can I reach you?”. ‘R” stands for responsiveness. It answers the question: “Can I rely on you to respond to me emotionally?”. The “E” stand for engagement. It answers the question: “Do I know that you will value me and stay close?” It is clear to me now that with the continuous practice of A.R.E. we actually change for the better. Robert Karen tells us in his book – Becoming Attached – that “to have a strong and lasting love, that helps us thrive as people, we do not need to be rich, smart or funny. We just have to “be there” in all the sense of the phrase.”
I would like to share with you another important realization that Yumi and I have had in the last eight months. We have asked ourselves: “How can “the dragon of the night” capture Yumi when he and I are so connected inside of a secure base?” Looking at the literature, we have come to see that what is called Major Depression has the same features as the despair we feel when we have lost a loved one. It is beautifully described by Lewis, Amini and Lannon in their book – A general Theory of Love. Here are the five main elements that they describe are present in the despair of the loss of a loved one: “the leaden inertia of the body, the global indifference to everything but the loss, the urge to closet oneself away, the inability to sleep, the relentless grayness of the world”. And so the despair of grief can give some us insight into what it is like to have a major depression. But Lewis, Amini and Lannon also say that how the neural adaptations to loss are being unleashed inside the brain, absent of the usual trigger of that kind of loss, remains an unknown.
And so Yumi and I have made the decision not to ask “Why? “Why is it so”? but only to ask “How?” How do we focus on the embrace of the mystery of what is here right now?”. It is exactly what we did 15 years ago, when I received the diagnosis of breast cancer. As we travelled the adventure of the cellular challenge, we were disciplined ourselves not to ask “Why”, but only “How”. “How” refers to the embrace of mystery. What Parker Palmer has to say about embracing the mysteries of our life is very informative. “Our culture wants to turn mysteries into problems to be solved, or breakdowns to be fixed. Maintaining the illusion that we can “straighten things out” makes us feel powerful.” he says. “Yet mysteries never yield to solution and fixes – and when we pretend that they do, life not only becomes more banal, but more hopeless, because the fixes never work”. When he faced depression himself, Parker Palmer said: “Embracing the mystery of depression does not mean passivity or resignation. It means entering into a field of forces that seem alien, but in fact are our deepest self”. Embracing the mystery also means to “befriend” the dark side of the moon.
The “how” continues to be something we know well. It means honoring the relational space between us, crossing the bridge to each other’s worlds, and making room for the encounter. It means the embrace of the “three invisible connectors”. It means living in “the shelter of each other” as the old Celtic saying goes. This relational shelter is based on five core attachment questions:
1- Can I count on you?
2- Are you there for me?
3- Will you respond to me when I need you?
4- Do I matter to you?
5- Am I valued and accepted by you?
To these questions we answer an unconditional YES! YES! YES! YES! and YES!
One of the biggest learnings over the last eight months has been for me to sense how our minds drive us to want to put our heads comfortably on the soft pillow of certainty and permanence. And we make plans. One of our plans was how we would celebrate my 68th birthday when Yumi would be feeling 100% stable and well. I am noticing again and again and again that the path is not the plan. Again and again and again we are being asked to refocus our attention, and to walk a different order of things.
I will end today with a quote from psychiatrist Jonathan Shay. His specialty is the trauma of combat. And he reminds us of the following. He says: “There are two momentous universals: That we are born helpless and dependent, and that we are all mortal, and we know it”. And so I will end my lecture today with these two universals: we are born helpless and dependent, and we are mortal and we know it. However what is now known is that we are not alone in the journey. We are wired into each other in a web of connection.
Now, I would like to take some time together to hear from you what has particularly touched you today. What is your most important learning. What is the word that most describes where you are right now.