When or if (or whether or not) I write a memoir or autobiography, one of the chapters will/might/could be entitled: ‘Life is not a maths exam’.
That saying is borrowed from one of my closest life-writing companions, She was born in Chile, and has a degree in politics, philosophy and economics from St Hilda’s College, Oxford, where she studied in the 1960s.
It is one of many wisdoms that she’s shared with me, and arises from her memories (which are all too familiar for me too) of struggling with maths in the Sixth Form, While being able to pass the A-level exams perfectly competently – we were haunted by “maths exam” nightmares for decades following.
And – as the years have gone by – I find that I have deep anxieties dating back from the time I learned arithmetic at infant school, even though I appeared to excel at it in junior school and right through grammar school.
In my own case, I had to follow the Pure Maths syllabus (conceptual and process-based) rather than practical and physics-associated) because I had already fallen out with physics aged 14 (for reasons which I may relate another day, and don’t have to). This seemed to treat mathematical processes like Differential Calculus (one of Isaac Newton’s developments, independently described by Leibnitz) as elegant concepts in their own right, and as such they could appear abstract and otherworldly dances of number, gradient, and dimension, to dreamers like me.
Not the sort of thing to encounter in a time-limited, mark-allocated maths A-level exam, or a few months later (at Hallowe’en) in the Oxbridge Entrance exams, where the maths was beyond my ken, and spooked me beyond nightmare.
Incidentally my son – whom this parent had expected to end up as an applied mathematician/theoretical physicist, wandered instead into pure mathematics. He’s now gainfully employed writing Open Source (ethical, available, freely shared) software. His highest praise is when software code is written “elegantly” – as a work of art.
I rest my case.
I’m not getting to the point (as usual) which is that in maths, the reverse process to Differentiation is called Integration. It’s represented (in “differential equations”) by a symbol something like this only less curly in the middle: § … think cursive italic script for f with a curvy tail, and without the cross-bar.
Integration also means “act or process of making something whole, unified, complete“. That’s the sense in which I intend us to play with it today.
Using more of the prompteries with which you will have become familiar if you’ve followed writing our way whole at home since I started sharing, two years ago.
Write down and complete any or all of these, letting go and letting flow the words onto your waiting page:
To become a more integrated person, I might need to learn …
To become a more integrated person, I might choose to let go of …
To become a more integrated person, I might learn to take delight in …
To become a more integrated person, I might move towards …
A few years ago, I was on a Buddhist retreat in Cambridge, where we were exploring concepts such as Enlightenment and Liberation. I remember writing in my Thoughtbook: “For me the Holy Grail is not Enlightenment or Liberation, but Integration!”
What I most longed for was that the disparate strands of interest, involvement, skills-development, and learning in my life become plaited together into some central rope.
In my imagination I visualised this rope as a hand-rail to steady me as I crossed “the Bridge over the Abyss” (whatever that is, or might be… I have always thought in visual metaphors and up until recently I assumed everybody else did – do you?)
With this in mind, let’s play with gathering some words for Golden Threads of your own designing, for the next exercise.
Give yourself five or ten minutes to forage words formed from the letters of
integrating : that is (alphabetically) a e g g i n n r t t
NB This is not a competition! Neither is it a maths exam! The words can include names, languages other than English, and nonsense words.
Rather, it’s an opportunity for your imagination or subconscious to offer up some words that may be relevant for you to use in your Golden ThreadWork today.
Myself, I am already aware of the presence of these words: gate, age, Tintin, gritting.
Off you go!
Here are some prompts for more integrating writing, using random themes from today. You can integrate Threads of your own, derived from your own SoulSwarm words/phrases.
If you are working in a group, you may want to swap and share Threads, before you start.
Then go, write!
In any format: mini-essay, poem, song, reminiscence, email to a lover, cheeky text, sketch for radio, blockbuster novel…
If his life (up till then) was an exam, the subject would have been …
Her recurring nightmare used to be …
In their fondest dreams for the future …
Gritting my teeth, I …
One of the chapters in my memoir would be entitled: … because …
Outwardly he appeared to excel, but deep within he was afraid of …
The Holy Grail of my life’s journey now seems to be …
Tintin at the gate, with his dog Snowy, …
And all these strands became as one …
The Age of the Ring …
Now a personal note (and for me sharing this practice is often a deeply personal experience).
At the time of writing I have also been in an email dialogue about my options (very limited and expensive this far north in the UK) for “leaving my brain to science”. Especially since in 2019 I participated in GLAD, a genetic study of mental health, and more recently in another study of coping strategies during the COVID pandemic for people with mental health challenges.
Maybe that’s a story for another day, but today I am intrigued to see the subject line I’d chosen (a month ago) for the email thread:
‘Integrating results from COPING & GLAD studies with brain research after my death?’
Synchronicity at work again.
Appreciation practice (in the time honoured way)
Today I am grateful for: