Integration December 20, 2012

I learned compartmentalization as a small child.

I was an “A” student who loved books and learning and I attended a small fundamentalist church where the preacher was a high school dropout and no one in the congregation had been to college. I lived on a small farm and I attended suburban public schools with the children of middle class professionals. I loved sports but I wasn’t very good at them. I liked cooking and needlework and other things boys weren’t supposed to like. I had an opinion on everything and my father thought children shouldn’t argue with adults.

I think I was still in kindergarten when I realized – at some level, anyway – that if I wanted to avoid ridicule or worse, I had to be careful how much of myself I revealed. I developed one filter for school, one for church, and another for home. Over the years the filters and the boxes were expanded and refined – this one for work, that one for one group of friends, another for another group.

There is some value in filters. We quickly lose patience with the neighbor who preaches her religion non-stop and the relative who tells you all about his health problems. If you’re at work you need to focus on work. And it’s just rude to obsess over bacon with your Jewish and Muslim friends. Everybody doesn’t need to know everything about you.

But play a game long enough and it eventually becomes real. Play a role long enough and it eventually becomes who you are. Compartmentalize your life and you may wake up at 50 with the realization you aren’t one person, you’re many.

In abstract terms I understand this. I’ve written on this blog about the need to align our conscious will with our unconscious will and with the will of the Divine. I’ve written about my uneasiness with leaning on the “UU” label when the “Pagan” and “Druid” labels would be more accurate, and about how the truth coming out can be a positive experience. Understanding it in abstract terms is one thing – applying it to my own life is quite another.

In the main ritual at Between the Worlds, we were asked what we need to leave behind as we enter the new aeon. And we were warned not to walk through “The Gates of Yesterday and Tomorrow” unless we were truly ready to move on. I didn’t have to think about what I should leave behind – it was staring me right in the face.


If I’m going to be a Druid I have to bring my Druidry into all my life. If I’m going to be a priest I have to incorporate my priesthood into all my life. Not with the kind of silly braggadocio that gives some Pagans a bad name (and some Christians and atheists too), but by breaking down the compartment walls and letting all parts of my being serve my True Will.

Integration must replace compartmentalization.

This will not be simple or easy and it will certainly not be fast – no weekend conference is going to wipe away a coping skill that’s worked well for 50 years.

But we are entering a new aeon that requires new ways of living and being. Our species needs to learn sustainability. Our society needs to learn cooperation. Our religions need to learn compassion.

And I need to learn integration.

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  • Really great post, John. As a transfer of learning researcher, I think the research on how people learn, and integrate their learning (or fail to integrate their learning) into the various aspects of their lives might be of use here (and is parallel to some of your own insights). I do research specifically on how people transfer knowledge and skills about writing, so bear with my examples and explanations :P.

    What we find in learning research is that often, when people learn something, they over-contextualize it. This means that if you learn how to write a business proposal, you only use that knowledge for a business proposal, and then if you are faced with another kind of proposal, you might fail to transfer your learning and recognize that you do, in fact, have experience and know something about writing a proposal. This happens in so many areas in the world, where people are taught things and then fail to integrate them in meaningful ways. Its why after 4 years of higher education and potentially 100's of written papers in a variety of genres, students go into their first job and seem like they've never learned to write. I've seen this in my own research quite a bit, and its frustrating.

    The most successful learners are those that are able to get in what some researchers call "the spirit of transfer" and engage in "mindful abstraction." What these concepts mean, is that its not the knowledge that changes, but rather, how you view your relationship to that knowledge and what your mindset is. So in the end, you learn about the business proposal either way, but in the first circumstance (where you fail to transfer), the business proposal is put in a small box and only used for that one purpose. Or worse, a learner fails to see it as useful to future circumstances and chooses to consciously forget it entirely (yes, this does happen). But in an integrated view, the business proposal knowledge is initially generalized as it is learned so that it can be applied broadly, expanded, and the learner actively seeks out other connections to other kinds of writing and other areas where the knowledge is useful. Now when that person goes out into the world, that knowledge is at their fingertips rather than buried in a box in a dark corner with too many cobwebs. In the end, successful learning is all about integration.

    How do we get people to make these shifts in thinking? Well, its not easy, but one of the things we use that works pretty well is extensive reflection and meta-awareness about themselves as learners, learning situations, tools to evaluate and compare new situations, etc.

    So, I think that this research on transfer of learning, that I do in my mundane academic life, has much to teach us about integration in the druid tradition.

    Integration is about a mindset; its about seeing everything as connected to the whole, its about being about to integrate those experiences and beliefs and actions into a single, unified world view rather than a set of disparate boxes. Its about active monitoring of our experiences, thinking about how the pieces fit, and deeply reflecting on those experiences. I hope this helps!

  • Thanks, Dana. This is helpful. I didn't see this as a "skill problem", but focusing on skills is an action that is likely to help integrate my spiritual life into my mundane life.

  • Well, transfer doesn't just apply to skills. It applies to mindsets, ways of thinking, processes, etc. So writing is a skill, yes, but the understanding and application of rhetorical principles is more of a philosophy. 🙂

    Glad it was helpful!