fountain of youth
By Dr. Jesse Yoder, Flow Research, Inc.
Feel like you're 20 again!
towards personal integration
When Bill Clinton was president, people used to say that he
is good at “compartmentalizing” his life.
What that meant is that he could take experiences like his
relationship with Monica Lewinsky and somehow separate it from daily
conduct of his life. Compartmentalizing
means separating the different aspects of your life into compartments in
such a way that the “boxes” don’t affect each other.
While this idea seems to have helped Mr. Clinton hold onto his
presidency, it may not be the ideal way to be.
I have felt similarly compartmentalized for many years.
As someone who works both in academic and business circles, I have
found it difficult at times to connect these areas of my life.
My family seems to have little to no grasp of either my work or
academic pursuits. My friends have some understanding of my worklife, but little
of my academic life. As a
result, I felt fragmented. I
moved in many different but seemingly unrelated circles.
Fragmentation is the opposite of integration.
Someone who has integrated his life has found a way to connect
different circles (like work and school), and also has found a way to
connect different experiences so that they are connected together in some
way. If you have ever felt
“at loose ends,” or have wondered how to connect some of your past
experiences with the present, then you will find this discussion of
This essay begins be talking about fragmentation, and then
discusses some steps to take to begin to integrate different areas of your
life. It then gives ten steps
you can take to integrate your life.
The key idea is in writing descriptions of your past experiences. It concludes by giving four practical steps you can take to
get started on the path towards integration.
I will begin by discussing some of my own experiences with
graduating from college, I spent a number of years pursuing my PhD in
philosophy. During that time,
I made a number of friends and acquaintances in this field.
Even while writing my dissertation, I was working as a technical
writer for several companies in the Boston, Massachusetts area.
After receiving my degree, I started my own company, Idea Network,
but I continued doing the technical writing.
I also began teaching philosophy part-time.
During the time that I was teaching philosophy part-time
and doing technical writing, I experienced a feeling of fragmentation
because these two areas were completely unrelated to one another. There was very little commonality between my technical
writing job and my philosophy teaching job.
After several years of this, I decided to try market research,
thinking that this would enable me to use more of my philosophical
training, including my background in analysis.
As I had hoped, I was able to use my philosophical training
more in market research than in technical writing. However, because this was a new profession for me, it took a
number of years to become successful in it.
Market research is a business that relies heavily on networking and
word-of-mouth, and it takes time to become established in the field.
As time went along, I was able to integrate more philosophy into my
practice of market research. As a result, these two areas of my life, philosophy and work,
have become more integrated.
A Step Towards Integration
Since fragmentation can occur when
two areas of experience are completed unrelated to each other, the
solution to this is to try to draw some type of connection between them.
If you feel that your work life is too divorced from your family
life, try inviting your spouse to a get-together at work.
It is very common, and even healthy, for a husband or wife to have
hobbies and interests they pursue on their own.
However, if you want to avoid fragmentation, try to get your spouse
or partner interested in one or more of your hobbies.
At the same time, try taking an interest in their hobbies or
interests. These steps will make yours a more integrated life.
Connecting the Dots
Another approach to integration is to find ways to
integrate past experiences into your present life.
For example, how well do you remember where you went to high
school? Do you still stay in
touch with old friends from high school or college, or from previous work
experiences? No doubt there
are some of these experiences, and even people, that you would just as
soon forget. However, you
might find by renewing some of these memories and revisiting some of these
experiences that you will gain added insights and perspectives into your
One way to integrate past experiences into your present
life is simply to visit places where important things happened to you in
the past. Revisiting the
community where you grew up, or driving by your old high school, can
reawaken memories of past experiences and help you better appreciate where
you are today. I call this
“connecting the dots” because it resembles the idea of forming a
pattern out of a group of isolated points by drawing lines between them.
Once you visit these places from your past, they are no longer
isolated points of past experience, but instead are integrated into
Some New Perspectives on Integration
While the above discussion points in the direction of
integration, I recently discovered how to approach the issue of
integration at a much more fundamental level.
It all started when I got my record player fixed.
When I was in college and graduate school, I listened to
many record albums, mostly rock ‘n roll.
These albums became closely identified with certain periods of my
life, and evoke many memories when I listen to them.
Sometime in the early 1980s, cassette tapes became all the rage,
and people stopped listening to record albums as much. Then in the 1990s, CDs came into style. As a result, most people stopped listening to or buying
record albums altogether, preferring the cleaner sound of CDs.
It is unusual for music to be released on record albums today.
Sometime in the mid-1990s, my record player quit working.
I bought another one in 2000, but I could never get a good amount
of sound out of it. Meanwhile,
I still had almost all of my records from the 1960s through the 1980s, but
I couldn’t listen to it because my record player wasn’t working.
I had a CD player, but I had nowhere near the selection of CDs that
I had of record albums.
Finally in March 2002 I took the record player to be fixed.
After about a month, I got it back with the message that there was
nothing wrong with it. I
finally discovered, by talking to a salesman, that one of the hidden
settings was wrong, and this is why I couldn’t get any volume out of it.
I returned home to find that it worked perfectly.
I started listening to my old records from college and graduate
school. In fact, I spent most
of a weekend listening to these records. I hadn’t heard some of this music in years, including Joan
Jett, Moon Martin, the Rolling Stones, the Motels, the Go-Gos, and many
As I listened to all these records, a very interesting
thing happened to me. First
of all, I started remembering many experiences from my earlier life. I had so many experiences in college and graduate school, and
I had forgotten about many of them. These
songs brought the experiences back to me with a significant amount of
Secondly, as these experiences came back to me, I had a
desire to write them down. College
and graduate school covers 15 years of my life, which is a little less
than one-third of life. Besides
wanting to write these experiences down, I wanted to write down the
experiences that are linked to my college and graduate school years. In
fact, I ended up wanting to write my entire autobiography.
Writing an autobiography can seem like a very large task.
It is natural to think of a book that contains a descriptive
account of somebody’s life, perhaps with a few pictures thrown in for
good measure. And who has
time for that?
Instead of trying to write a narrative autobiography, I
decided to simply write out short descriptions of some of the highlights
of my life. I rediscovered
something I already knew: that my life has followed certain patterns.
In fact, I found that I seem to go along extremely well for several
years or more. Then, perhaps
because I can’t deal with success, something happens that sabotages my
success, and forces me to start over again.
In addition to the narrative account of my life, I wrote
out my life in verse. I
discovered that there were many times in life when I faced dire
consequences unless I performed in a certain way.
As a result, I called my autobiography “Sink
or Swim.” (available at http://www.flowresearch.com/life/welcome.htm).
The Key to Integration: Writing Descriptions of Your Past Experiences
An amazing thing happened to me as I wrote out my past
experiences. Not only was I
remembering them, I was drawing connections among them.
Instead of all my past experiences being hidden away in my memory,
they suddenly came to life in the present.
My memories actually begin before I started grade school and
continue through grade school, high school, college, graduate school,
through several different jobs, and right up to the present.
As I remembered my past experiences, I also had a desire to
clarify my relationships with everyone I know.
This may seem like a tall order, and it is, but it is one worth
undertaking for your own peace of mind.
I found that my relationships with certain people were based on
pretence, or false ideas, and I realized that I had never achieved closure
in my relationship with my wife (I was recently divorced).
So I began dealing with people on an individual basis, trying to
clarify the relationship.
Another important component of this entire process is that
I have hundreds of photographs covering most periods of my life.
In addition to describing my experiences, going back and looking at
old photos really helps in bringing back memories.
For example, I discovered that I have one photo of my college
girlfriend. Sadly, I have almost no photos from college, but I have many
more from the 1980s and 1990s. These
photos are extremely helpful in reconstructing my experiences.
Where It All Leads
This may sound like nothing more than an elaborately
conducted nostalgia trip. But
it is far more than that. What
I discovered as I went through this experience is that now somehow my past
experiences are present to me in a way they weren’t before.
In the past, I had more or less tried to forget about the past in
order to focus more fully on the present.
Now I look through the prism of 52 years of experience. Suddenly my life has become much richer than before.
Not only are my past experiences present to me, they are becoming
connected through a complex network of associations that I am still
In addition to resolving issues that were left hanging with
other people, I am going through all my papers at work and at home in an
attempt to integrate them or throw them out.
I am the worst person when it comes to having things sit around in
boxes. No more!
I am going through all my boxes and bringing everything into the
present. I even took out the
12 pairs of old jeans from a bag on my closet floor and put them up on a
shelf. Even though I can’t
fit into them now, they are there to inspire to me lose weight so that
someday perhaps I can. I now
have 31 pairs of jeans, of which I can wear 10 pairs.
If I can ever manage to wear them all, I figure I’ll have a
different pair for every day of the month.
Old feelings and experiences are a lot like papers sitting
around in boxes in a closet or on the bedroom floor. You may have old experiences and feelings about someone or
something that you haven’t been able to resolve. Maybe a personal friendship ended in an unsatisfactory way.
Or maybe you have a hobby or even a potential profession that
you’ve never had time to pursue. These feelings take up space in your
soul, and they may prevent you from freely expressing your feelings today.
If you can resolve these issues, it will free up your energy to
channel it into your important goals and feelings.
So call up that person, or write them a letter, and try to bring
the matter to resolution. And
give that favorite hobby a try – who knows where it will lead?
The Ultimate Payoff: Self-Expression
What I found as I went through all these different attempts
to integrate my life was an amazing thing: I had discovered at last how to
freely express myself. Self-expression
is a perfectly natural ability that many people lose around the age of 20.
It seems that the burden of society’s rules and all the barriers
that society places on people to prevent them from expressing themselves
freely takes its toll for many people about the age of 20.
This is when teens become adults, and is also about the age that
many people have to start earning a living.
Over the past 17 years, I have developed the idea that our language is not adequate to describe our experience. I say that, just as there are many different shades of color in our experience than we have names for, so many other aspects of experience have “shades” that are not adequately reflecting in our language. About a year ago, I put many of these ideas together in a book called Shades of Experience (available online at www.viewpointpluralism.com). In Chapter Seven of Shades of Experience, I produce the following diagram of the relation between self, mind, soul, spirit, and body:
Each of the components of a person: mind, body, soul,
spirit, and core self (point of view) has an essential or defining
element. The above diagram
shows the defining element of each component.
For example, the power of expression is the defining element of
spirit. The core self or
point of view serves as the integrator that decides which of the four
components to identify with. The
real key to becoming an integrated person is to root out inconsistencies
and integrate the core self, then use this newly integrated self to root
out any inconsistencies within or among mind, body, soul, and spirit.
In Shades of Experience, I go on to define self-expression as follows:
An act of self-expression is a conscious act that is an external representation of a thought, feeling, or emotion that is an element of a person. This is truly an exercise in self-discovery, since it is often not at all obvious what our desires really are. Someone who really wants to discover what they want to do in terms of a career, for example, may need to try a number of different things before discovering what makes them happy. We often have a very difficult time figuring out our feelings for other people. These mental and emotional phenomena are often difficult to comprehend, but it is clear that there are often powerful forces within us. John Stuart Mill refers to this as the “raw material of human nature.”
The concept of “being yourself” is very close to the concept of self-expression. The idea of “being yourself” could also be described as acting in a way that represents an element of the person. It might seem as if we could not help but be ourselves; after all, we can’t be somebody else! However, the idea of being yourself involves the idea of expressing feelings, desires, and emotions that are truly your own. This is to be contrasted with the idea of trying to behave in some expected way, or doing what you think someone else expects or wants to do. It is in reality very hard to be yourself in today’s society, because there are so many situations in which we are expected to act a certain way or to do certain things.
Unresolved feelings and emotions act like weights on our
soul and spirit, and drag us down. If you feel conflicted about someone,
you may be unable to deal with them honestly because your conflicted
feelings get in the way whenever you talk to them.
Likewise, if you feel ambivalent about your profession or your job,
you may find it difficult to throw yourself into your work with much
enthusiasm. Even if you
can’t fully resolve these issues, simply being aware of them will help
you deal with them, and may lead to a resolution at a later time.
Of course, there are those people you may feel you can’t
be completely honest with. For
me there are certain people I deal with that I pretty much shut down
emotionally when I talk to them because I don’t feel that I can be
honest with them (for example, my mother and certain other family
members). Well, how do I deal
with these people? I am
striving for honesty in most relationships, but where this is not
achievable, I resort to dealing with them in a less-than-straightforward
way. Some people may find
that they deal with their boss in this way.
Self-expression is the ideal in all situations, but realistically
it has some limits.
Despite those few cases where I find there are still
limitations on my ability to express myself freely, I have found both a
new joy and a new freedom in the philosophy of self-expression.
The “old me” would get angry about something, bottle it up
inside, and then let it out later with some type of sarcastic or negative
comment. The “new me”
simply lets it out now by saying almost anything I feel like saying.
This is much healthier than letting anger build up inside. Of
course, there are limits here as well.
I find that with my newly integrated self I am happier than
I’ve ever been. The
“newly integrated self” is the core self, which is the central circle
in the above diagram. While I
recognize that there are still issues to resolve, I for the most part feel
completely free to be myself at all times.
And since I have resolved many of the personal dilemmas I have
faced in the past, these unresolved issues no longer hold me back.
I can say with complete conviction that becoming an integrated
self, with the resulting power of self-expression, is the key to
happiness. The concept of
happiness refers to the internal harmony and absence of conflict within
and among mind, body, soul, spirit, and core self.
Self-integration brings about this harmony and absence of conflict,
which is why it leads to happiness.
Feel Like You’re Twenty Again
Why does this work? Because
when you strip away all those negative forces in the form of unresolved
dilemmas and fragmented feelings, you free up your emotional energy to be
channeled fully towards your internal goals. This might mean telling someone you love them, going
full-throttle towards achieving your professional goals, or spending the
weekend in personal exploration on a road trip.
Whatever your innermost goals and feelings, you now can be free to
Your soul and spirit will return to the free state they
were in before society came in with all its rules and regulations.
You will feel like you’re twenty again!
And you’ll have the inner strength to carry this out because
you have removed the barriers to self-expression that have weighed you
How to Get There
If you’ve read this far, obviously you’re interested.
You can get started on the path to integration, self-expression,
and happiness today, by following these ten steps.
1. Sit down and write out an account of any one or more of
your childhood experiences.
2. Now write out descriptions of one or more experiences
from college or young adulthood.
3. Now write out descriptions of some of your recent
4. See if you can find any links in any of these
experiences. If so, write
them out. For example perhaps
you can see the roots of your pursuit of science or computers in college
in a love for math that you exhibited in grade school.
5. Write out any more experiences from your past that you
feel inspired to describe.
6. If you have photos from your past, spend some time going
through them and recalling the experiences they are connected with.
7. Write out the names of any persons that you feel you
have unresolved relationships with. Take
some action with respect to each person.
For example, you might call them, write them a letter, send them an
email, etc. Whatever it is,
take one step, however small, towards resolving your relationship with
8. Think of unresolved dilemmas or conflicts that are not
directly related to one person. For
example, perhaps you would like to try an alternative profession, want to
buy a new car, would like to become gay or lesbian, want to eat a
different kind of food, are sick of someone telling you what to do, want
to buy a fishtank, etc. Whatever
it is, if it presents a conflict, write it down.
Now, these are hard, so I won’t just say “And take a step
towards resolving the conflict.” What
I will say is “Either take a step towards resolving the conflict or
understand in your own mind why you can’t.”
9. Start telling people how you feel in every possible
situation, except when there are stronger reasons not to do this.
Bad service? Let them have it! Is someone making snide remarks
about you? Call them on it!
Don’t come to blows, but don’t let people push you around
either. Some people are so
internally conflicted that they wouldn’t recognize a genuine feeling if
they had it. You are doing
the healthy thing because instead of letting anger build up, you are
letting it out now. If
someone can’t deal with that, it’s their problem, not yours.
Of course, be careful to stay within the limits of the law.
Also, be aware that you may need to restrain your power of
self-expression at work in order to keep your job.
10. By writing out your experiences from different parts of
your life and finding links to connect them, you are building a new self
– a newly integrated self with points of experience that are connected
to each other with links you have discovered.
By resolving conflicts and dilemmas with other people, you have
freed yourself from the negative forces that hold you back from expressing
yourself freely with them. By
resolving other dilemmas, as much as possible, you are eliminating those
forces that prevent you from moving ahead in a positive way to achieve
your goals. You can now
express yourself freely, and focus your energies on achieving your main
goals. If you reach this state, you will know it, because you will
feel a surge of energy and happiness that you’ve never known before.
How to Get Started
The above is a ten-step process towards personal
integration. But how do you
get started? What can you do
to put yourself in a position to integrate?
Everyone has to find their own path to integration, but here are
1. Listen to music from the past. Whether you listen to albums, tapes, or CDs, music from the past can be an important way to get in touch with past feelings. This is what started me on the path to integration.
2. Look at photographs from the past. Whether or not a picture is worth exactly 1,000 words, pictures and photos can stir up many feelings and emotions from earlier experiences. If you have a lot of photos, you might try to organize them chronologically, or according to theme.
3. Go retro: Wear old clothes. I find that wearing old jeans and t-shirts can be very liberating – especially if it is the result of a hard-won battle to lose weight. If you still have old clothes from college or from other earlier periods of your life, try them on! You might find the experience to be a very rewarding one.
4. Read through any diaries or notebooks you kept as a
record of your life at earlier times.
Again, if you are fortunate enough to have them, these can be an
excellent way to connect with early feelings and emotions.
Again, this is not just a nostalgia trip.
The purpose of doing these things is to find a way to integrate
your past experiences into the present, instead of hiding them away in a
“feeling box” where they just get in the way and create a weight on
your powers of self-expression.
Once you’ve integrated your past feelings and experiences into the present, you can go back to them at any time – or simply allow them to serve as background for your current experiences. But try not to put them back in the “feeling box;” once they’re out, throw the box away! You won’t need those feeling boxes any more. Once you’ve become an integrated person, you won’t want to go back to the old days of fragmentation anymore.
Copyright © 2002 - 2008 by Flow Research, Inc.
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