What Can Integration Mean For Me?
What Can Integration Mean For Me?

What Can Integration Mean For Me?

We could spend hours collecting all the best and most highly recommended grief resources in the world, but if we have never done the work to embody the wisdom they contain, then we are left right where we started, with a large pile of literature and a gaping hole in our understanding. Integration is an active practice of participating in our grief stories and today, we are going to explore what an integration practice could mean for you.

Integration is a big ol’ word that just means to fold one or more things into one another in a meaningful, purposeful, and effective way. If you’re a fan of the TV show Schitt’s Creek, the iconic cheese folding scene is coming to mind right now. What if Moira Rose had asked David to integrate the cheese? They would have been just as confused, and not for lack of intelligence. Integration is an act easily misunderstood when we mistake our intelligence for embodied wisdom, and that’s what we’re really going to talk about today.

When we encounter new information, we have the option of ignoring it, asking more questions about it, or making a decision to implement it in a way that leads to an embodied sense of understanding. Without a practical experiment, implementing the new information will be a purely cognitive exercise. That may work for some topics, like rote memorization of multiplication facts, but for more complex content like baking and grief, we have to put our bodies to work.

In truth, subjects like baking and cooking are actually a fantastic object lesson to understand how we can use our time spent with intentional grief work to recognize the lasting permeability of grief. While we may have different stories and grief experiences, we are all pursuing the ultimate value of learning how to carry our grief stories with us without letting them define us as a whole.

So let’s start with the Schitt’s Creek family enchiladas as an example.

In the scene, Moira Rose is attempting to teach and pass her mother’s enchilada recipe on to her son, David. While David is busily trying to follow directions, Moira is reading the recipe verbatim and offering critical feedback that doesn’t seem to help David understand any better. When she gets to the step of folding in the cheese, David’s understanding of what it means to fold collides with Moira’s lack of understanding and the result is a bubbling, burning mess of sauce after communication breaks down.

So how would embodiment and integration have helped these two communicate differently? At multiple points in the scene, David challenges Moira’s knowledge of the recipe because when he is confused, she simply repeats herself instead of admitting she also does not understand. Simply knowing the information or being able to read the recipe does not translate to understanding how to use the recipe well and in this case, it’s a simple vocabulary concern. But the greater impact of Moira’s lack of integration is that it does not appear she has ever successfully prepared this recipe. Integration for Moira would mean having the basic understanding of the recipe, but also having used the information in such a way that her approach is less anxious and more present. When receiving pushback on how she details each step, she would have responded with a better sense of patience and clarity about how folding as a practice changes the recipe.

And what about David, the student in this scene? He is doing what he can to keep up, and we as the audience can implicitly understand that he began the cooking session with trust and confidence in what Moira offered. The effort falls apart when he asks for clarity and Moira fails to help the confusing process simpler and more accessible.

Now we could continue harping on the mistakes Moira made in this scene, but David is just as responsible for his own part – including the way he leaves midway through the work. When we are intentionally approaching something new, it is our responsibility to become open, curious, and teachable. As with grief work, attempting a new recipe (even when we trust a teacher to guide us) means we are taking ownership over the outcome.

I run a lot of my business over the internet, so I often see social media comments about how certain coaches or strategies are useless, ineffective, or difficult to work with. And that may be entirely true – I’ve said it myself, I know I’m not the coach for everyone, nor would I like to be – I also recognize that when a person cannot take ownership over their own part in the work they want to do for themselves, then we have a clear case of a lack of integrative knowledge.

So what keeps us from integrating what we learn? It can be an intimidating process, especially if the teacher or coach you’re working with demonstrates a lack of their own embodiment. Going back to the enchilada scene, if Moira instructed David with an embodied sense of what they were doing, his response would likely have softened and resulted in a happier outcome instead of burnt almost-cheese sauce. So David leaving the scene makes sense – he was frustrated but also knew his own limitations to finishing the work without a stronger guide to support him.

But the primary way we prevent ourselves from integration is personal. We can only lay blame on the external source for so long. Integration in grief work is a steady process of identifying what new piece of information we want to not just learn, but demonstrate with ease. This means finding meaningful strategies that allow us to gently remove the castle walls of self-protection one brick at a time. Ultimately, this is only our choice if this happens or not.

When we are grieving, we tend to hold the both/and of grief really lightly, and I want to invite us to consider making that both/and our new bestie instead. In the back of our minds, we understand that plenty of humans through history have carried grief and lived a full, happy life right alongside their losses. That’s great for them, but we subtly believe the both/and is a thing for other people and our future is full of black-and-white dichotomies. Healing is a nice idea for other people. Some of us take the cynicism further, filling it with bitterness and “must be nice” statements that keep us locked safely behind the walls, free from the vulnerability required by healing.

But if we can notice those walls around us, we can begin to listen a little more closely. Think back to a time when you practiced the black-and-white bitterness of the “must be nice” variety. How did that younger you feel around others? How did that younger you feel when it was just you in the room? What do you notice happening in your emotions, thoughts, and even your body right now as you think about that younger you and the bitterness they lived with?

That way of existing served you really well for a season. It was deeply personal, and likely isolating, but it also kept you guarded against unwelcome questions or grief supporters who did not demonstrate that they could understand where you were at the time. But today, let’s offer the “both/and” perspective to that younger you for a moment.

The younger you deserves to experience what “both/and” can hold. Is healing possible for the younger you, who carries bitterness? Yes, it absolutely is. Which means it’s also possible for you. But where do we start?

The first step toward integrating a belief system of both/and in your conscious approach to grief work is inviting yourself to notice what happens in your whole self (heart, mind, body, spirit) when you practice believing that both/and could be true. You can stay with your younger self or you can bring your thoughts into your present moment for this exercise.

What do you sense happening within you when you hear and think the phrase, “I believe in a both/and reality of life and grief. It is possible to heal and carry my grief without minimizing my experiences.” Take a moment, and say your own version of that to yourself.

Sometimes we think integration actually requires minimizing. That if our grief becomes small enough, or we set it aside for long enough, we’ll naturally sustain that “feeling better” myth we expect to uncover. This is bypassing; sometimes we do it actively with spiritual practices, social engagements, and more. Sometimes we do it intellectually, just learning about grief but never practicing it for ourselves. Sometimes we go so far as to make our entire lives about someone else’s experiences and make our own needs and rich humanity as tiny as possible.

None of these strategies, however, lead to an embodied understanding of grief and healing.

Check back in with that younger self for a moment. What is possible for that part of you today (because that part of you is still with you) if they believed in the “both/and” and you began to practice the “both/and” radical acceptance of what is true today?

In my experience, what is possible is an embodied and ongoing expression of healing. This is integration; we take the knowledge of our stories, of grief itself, and of our humanity, and we explore the possibilities made available through the practices of reflection, application, and experimentation.

David could have chosen to take his embodied knowledge of folding (likely a knowledge limited to things like clothes and blankets) and applied it to the situation. It is entirely possible that in doing so, he may have noticed how a stirring motion changes direction, and can look a little bit like folding the arms of a shirt into the torso. Instead, in his frustration and lack of guidance, his brain jumped to shouting about “folding broken cheese” and when his requests for support were unmet, he left.

How many of us have felt stuck, trapped, or unsupported in our grief work because the people who show up for us just don’t know what an embodied grief support looks like? The number of Moira’s in the grief world, doing their best but also unable to support themselves is immeasurable. So this is what we do about that, friends. This is how we can shift the tide toward support for ourselves as individuals and of equal importance, for our communities and overall collective healing.

Grief work is never just about the individual, which becomes clearer the more we settle into the intentional habits of an embodied practice of integration. Just as your younger parts remain, your holistic parts – heart, mind, body, and spirit – need one another to experience embodied healing. This is the daily and unglamorous work of grief that feels like tension but ultimately, results in one of those deeply satisfying full body stretches we know we need more often.

Thank you for listening to episode 126 of Restorative Grief. If you’re not a fan of the show I referenced, I’ve included a link to the scene in the show notes. Out of context, you likely won’t find the scene as hysterical as I do, but hopefully you’ll find the grief allegory within like I did. Practicing this work can be an independent study project, but as you know, I’m a much bigger fan of grievers placing their trust in more than just themselves. It’s like putting words on the back of your sweatshirt. We can have a memory of the words, but when they’re spoken aloud by someone else, we are reminded in the present of what we carry and why it matters. Having a partner or a guide in the work means you no longer rely only on yourself.

If this is the first time you’ve listened to Restorative Grief, welcome! It’s such a gift to know you are here, and hopefully finding value in the interviews and essays shared. For more info about one-to-one coaching or my free online group coaching, visit the show notes or go to MandyCapehart.com/coaching and see what part of the Restorative Grief offerings would be a comfort for you as you heal. Please be sure to subscribe to the show so you’ll never miss an episode, if you liked what you heard, be sure to leave a review so other grievers can find us, too.

And as always, one last thing before we go. Please remember, the only solution for grief is to do the work of grieving. Thank you for listening. I’ll see you next week.

Links + Resources from this episode: