concepts section: copyright Robert Ellis 2011

Temporary integration  

This article deals only with the specifics of temporary integration, rather than the concept of integration in general. For the latter, please see integration article.

Temporary integration is the type of integration that is highly dependent on fragile conditions and thus is highly likely to be reversed. Strictly speaking, all integration is temporary because it is incremental and reversible (see partial integration article for a discussion of this point). The temporariness of temporary integration is thus a matter of degree and a matter of emphasis rather than an absolute distinction in contrast to 'permanent' integration. We are likely to talk about temporary integration to describe experiences of integration that last perhaps seconds, minutes, or at most hours.

What we are talking about here is otherwise referred to in Christian circles as 'religious experience' or 'mystical experience', in Buddhist meditation as dhyana (jhana) or samadhi, in the arts as 'purple patches', in drug-using circles as a 'high', and perhaps more widely as 'moments of inspiration or uplift'. I am not claiming here that all these kinds of experience in different contexts are exactly the same, but only that they have something in common. What they have in common is the uniting of desires, meanings and/or beliefs that were previously in conflict with each other. The temporary unification of desires results in a purely aesthetic experience, whilst the unification of meaning results in a stronger sense of meaningfulness, and the unification of belief in a stronger sense of insight or wisdom.

A range of different kinds of conditions can cause this temporary integration: a reasonably relaxed body and mind seems essential in all cases, but beyond this, meditation can induce more strongly concentrated and relaxed states of mind where temporary integration occurs spontaneously in response to this relaxation and concentration. At other points a reasonably relaxed and concentrated mind is stimulated by an external stimulus - for example, the soaring roofs of a cathedral, a poem, music, an insightful idea, or (of course) certain drugs. Drugs are likely to differ from the others in terms of the body's physiological response, which will create an opposite reaction after a temporary chemical stimulus to the brain (a reaction that is less likely with other modes of temporary integration) - but nevertheless a temporary integration can take place.

For a very interesting collection of accounts of temporary integration experiences, try

One important approach to avoid at the beginning is to avoid any kind of metaphysical explanation of temporary integration experiences. They neither are nor are not experiences of God, or of the ultimate unity of the universe, or any other supernatural agency. Nor are they "just" the result of changes in brain chemistry. They are experiences. Attaching a positive or negative metaphysical label to them is unhelpful because it distracts us from investigating the conditions and nature of the experience, and it also harnesses the power of temporary integrations to support metaphysical belief, rather than the moral progress within experience offered by the Middle Way.

Temporary integration can occur in degrees of strength. The Buddhist tradition offers a detailed analysis of this spectrum in terms of levels of dhyana and types of insight (see, for example However, the Buddhist tradition also rightly stresses that too much significance should not be attached to these experiences. It may feel as though you've penetrated to the deepest secrets of the universe, or found God, but looked at in a wider perspective, this experience may seem of more limited significance, because it is dependent on temporary conditions. The most objective approach to it is to recognise this temporariness, but also use the experience as a means to support longer-term integration with more stable conditions. For example, a temporary integration may provide a moral recognition of a way that you need to change your life, or the energy to put into effect changes that you already believed were needed. Temporary integration provides an access of responsibility for our lives that we need to take hold of.

Links to related discussion

Meditation (introductory page)

The meditation bazaar (from 'The Trouble with Buddhism')

Temporary integrations (from thesis - scroll down to f.i)


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