MWP 1.3.j The Middle Way as Integration

Full text level

The concept of integration, which will be explored more fully in section 6, means that previously opposed energies in the psyche begin to work together. If you accept the theory of the unconscious, this can be seen in terms of different unconscious energies (or unconscious and conscious energies) harmonising. If, on the other hand, you are not happy to accept a theory that assumes the unconscious, you can think of the concept of integration phenomenologically, only in terms of the increasing consistency and adequacy of energies that we experience at different times. If you would rather use the brain hemisphere model, you can think of integration as the integration of the time-fragmented left hemisphere at different times by the time-unified right hemisphere.

In accordance with the account of desire, meaning and belief that has been emerging so far, integration can be understood as occurring at all three of these levels. Desires are directly-experienced emotional energies, but these desires also express themselves in terms of meanings, and assume a framework of belief in which their objects can be conceptualised. Conflicting desires can also create conflicting meanings, because the signs used to represent conflicting desires may not be mutually meaningful: for example, we might find theological language meaningful in one mood but not another. Conflicting desires also create conflicting beliefs both about the way the universe is represented and about justified goals of action within it, whether these are explicit philosophical beliefs or (more commonly) implicit beliefs about the absolute value of certain actions or the complete absence of such value. For example, a would-be murderer with a strong desire to kill someone also has a belief in the value of killing them – perhaps as a belief in the justification of revenge or just in the absolute importance of his own desires being fulfilled – at the same time as a belief in society’s disapproval of these desires being enacted and a desire to be accepted by others. He will only be able to address his murderous desires in the long-term if those contradictory desires and beliefs work together, rather than the murderous desires temporarily overcoming the social constraint, or the social constraint temporarily holding the murderous desires in check. To re-channel his murderous desires, his belief in the value of the fulfilment of those desires will need to be questioned in the light of his understanding of social condemnation.

One way to understand the Middle Way, then, is as a method of integration. The key point of linkage here is that opposed energies are best able to maintain their opposition through association with metaphysical beliefs. A metaphysical belief serves the interests of an unintegrated desire by representing a universe where that desire is constantly justified, where the beliefs that support it are unassailable, and where opposing beliefs are wholly rather than partially mistaken.

In this view of the universe, the desire perpetuates itself, and creates a sense of security where it feels it can easily defend itself. It may also perpetuate the divide using meaning, by presenting the opposing view as either cognitively or affectively meaningless (or both). However, the division between this desire and ‘opposing’ desires is a false one. They are both actually desires of the same individual (or at the social level, of the same society) – an individual that would be best served in the long-term by addressing conditions as fully as possible. Yet an unintegrated desire maladaptively creates and maintains conflict where none need exist.

Let’s take an example of a fairly clear lack of integration. I used to know a smoker who regularly decided to give up the habit: she would throw her cigarettes in the bin and vow not to smoke any more. At that point she would genuinely desire not to smoke, would really mean it and believe that she could give up in that way. However, the next day she would often fish the cigarettes back out of the bin, and meaningfully believe that she really couldn’t manage it – the nicotine addiction was too strong to break. Here, the practice of the Middle Way over time might help her because it would get her to address more of the conditions and integrate her approach. The metaphysical poles involved are freewill and determinism: on one occasion she would believe that she could give up smoking just by deciding to do so – an absolute freewill – whilst on another occasion she would believe the opposite, that she had no choice. The starting point in addressing this situation would be agnosticism about the absolute beliefs involved: she is not able to give up smoking just by deciding to do so, without addressing all the conditions involved, nor is she helpless in the face of inevitable nicotine addiction. Instead, she could investigate different theories about the best way to give up (nicotine patches, gradually phasing out, hypnotism etc) and try them out in a provisional way. These theories would need to address the question of how to get all her desires together working on the same side. The addicted set of desires might need to be channelled into some other sort of pleasure. Awareness and compassion for herself at the two different times might also be needed, in order to find herself at each time affectively meaningful for the other.

Not all lack of integration is as extreme or obvious as this. Some is just a source of distraction, anxiety, or conflicting emotions on the one hand, or arrogance on the other as we fail to acknowledge our other voices. All such inner conflicts, however, can be understood in terms of metaphysical beliefs, very often about opposing values that we take to be absolute at the times we identify with them. Exactly the same model can be applied at a social level to identify conflicts between people or groups. For every piece of injustice, for example, there is a potential doubting voice in the oppressor: a set of desires, meanings and beliefs that might undermine the justifications given for injustice, which are also suppressed. The solution to social and political conflict, then, may be possible at a social or political level, but can also occur at a psychological level. The Middle Way can be applied at either level, beginning with agnosticism about the conflicting metaphysical beliefs within individuals, between individuals or between groups, and proceeding to justifiable provisional beliefs that can then assist with the integration of desire and meaning. A wide range of potential issues about integration have been raised here, all of which will be tackled much more fully later, initially in section 6 and subsequently in more depth in volumes 2, 3 and 4. The main point to be appreciated for the moment is just generally how the Middle Way supports integration.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.