Together with the Middle Way itself, integration is the other central metaphor that shapes Middle Way Philosophy. Whilst the Middle Way is mainly a question of finding a way between extremes to be avoided, integration offers a more definitely positive and constructive model for how to develop objectivity and address conditions in our lives.
What I basically mean by integration is the way in which previously opposed desires or beliefs can become unified when the assumptions that are used to represent their context are reconfigured. The process can be represented by the famous picture of the two mules here. The energies of the two mules are opposed to start with because of the way they are conceiving their goals in relation to the situation, but if they reflect and reconceive those goals then they can both fulfil their desires more effectively. The two desires of the mules, then, together with their associated beliefs, are now integrated.
This model of moral progress is a dialectical one: the two opposed energies are known in the language of dialectic as the thesis and the antithesis, which are brought together in the synthesis. However, it shouldn’t be assumed from my use of a dialectical model here that I subscribe to models of dialectic used by Hegel, Marx, or other dialectical philosophers. One can apply this dialectic within the individual in considering conflicting desires and beliefs, as well as in relation to social and political conflict between people.
The inspiration for the concept of integration has come partly from Jung (who calls it ‘individuation’) and partly from the Buddhist teacher Sangharakshita. The concept is also already used by theorists at a social and political level. However, I have developed the concept of integration in various ways, not all of which can be fully explained on this page. However, I will mention them as danglers – I relate integration to the concept of incremental objectivity; I distinguish three interrelated types of integration (integration of desire, of meaning, and of belief); and also relate integration within the individual to integration at the social and political level. (To follow any of these up, click on the linked words, which will take you to relevant pages on the main Middle Way Philosophy site.) Unlike empirical psychology, I think that integration is the basis of moral objectivity, rather than just a psychological phenomenon to be scientifically noted. Unlike traditional Buddhism, I think that integration is the key to solving political problems as well as a working ground in inner experience, for example in meditation.
Integration of all kinds links the avoidance of metaphysical dogmas in the Middle Way to specific helpful practices. I argue that the fixed beliefs of metaphysics are the main impediment to the process of integration, because they prevent those beliefs being reconfigured so that desires can be united. Just imagine those two mules arguing: “The voice of God tells me to eat this pile of hay, not that pile of hay!” “Your revelations from God are a load of rubbish – there are only my desires to go on and I want to eat this pile of hay!”. To overcome their attachment to fixed beliefs, the mules need to do some critical thinking, or some art, or some meditation, or maybe undergo mediation.