Apotheosis episode 35: Vitality through integration. The health of a system relies on effective integration between all of its components.

Episode 35: Vitality through integration

Ryan D Thompson Biology, Modern, Skills, Values, Vision

Key ideas

Nothing exists in isolation. Parts form groups, which then form systems. The health of the system relies on integration between all of its components. This is as true in organisms as in families, organizations, or societies.

  • We often take the health of our bodies for granted. Until we’re struck with illness or injury, we don’t appreciate the flawless symphony of cells, tissues, organs, and systems. We suffer greatly in body and mind when any part is not at its best.
  • Likewise, we can easily take the health of our families, relationships, organizations, or social institutions for granted. 
  • All of these complex systems rely on healthy integration to function. Each individual part plays a critical role in the larger system. 
  • While ideas like “work-life balance” are well-intentioned, we will rarely, if ever, achieve a proper balance between these parts. Instead, paying attention to integration can yield better results — giving each part the resources it needs to contribute to the whole.


The human body is a remarkable thing. Over 100 trillion individual cells all working together, creating a complex and beautiful symphony, all without a conductor. Cells serve various functions and join together to form tissues. Tissues combine to form organs. Organs serve distinct roles as part of systems. When each of these components does its part, the body is healthy, active, and capable of seeking energy to survive another rotation of the earth. When the parts function, the whole survives. The organism stays alive. 

In the case of humans, we have a unique opportunity to observe this masterful integration of cells, tissues, organs, and systems with a conscious mind. Yet, despite being aware of this nearly magical process, we don’t play much of an active role in its functioning. We can’t really improve on it. But we can certainly impair it.

For example, if we smoke two packs of cigarettes a day, our lungs will blacken and deteriorate. Eventually, our lungs will fail at their fundamental purpose: extracting oxygen from the air. The repeated damage to lung cells from inhaling toxic chemicals might cause a tumor to develop. Left unchecked, this malignant tumor might invade other parts of the body. This cancer spreads, its cells replicating without any regulation or control. 

Cancer provides a compelling example of a system far out of whack – going so far as to be lethal.

This episode is part of a series on values that have informed this podcast and my life and work. Our bodies serve as a powerful metaphor for the value of integration: various component parts working together to orchestrate a greater whole.

We tend to take our bodies’ health and proper functioning for granted. When the body is healthy, and all the parts are working in synchrony, we are capable of amazing things. When the body is beset with illnesses or injuries that impair our systems, we suffer in both body and mind. We are less capable of achieving our goals.

Likewise, we can take for granted healthy institutions like families, businesses, or democracies. When the parts of each of these systems do well, life can be happy and fruitful. When the parts suffer, so does the whole. The damages in our relationships or organizations might not be as apparent as blackened lungs and tumors. But toxic imbalances can be just as lethal.

These systems all rely on healthy integration: a value that has served me well for many years. We often speak of work-life balance or body-mind-soul balance. These are noble goals, for sure. But after aspiring to reach this ideal for a while, I realized that “balance” was not quite the right idea. We will never truly achieve a balance between our professional and personal lives. For example, we typically spend far more hours at work than any other activity. And emotions that are perfectly normal within the family are often totally inappropriate in the workplace. While many companies might claim their employees are like family, let’s get real; that is pretty much never the case.

Instead, it can be more helpful to focus on healthy integration between the parts of our various systems. Each aspect of our life can contribute something vital to our overall wellbeing and a more fulfilling life experience. For example, physical exercise helps maintain our health and mental clarity, which improves every aspect of our lives. Likewise, close relationships with friends and family contribute to mental wellbeing, which helps us to be our best at work.

Attention to integration in the workplace can look like the work “machine” that Ray Dalio describes in his book, Principles for Life and Work. The organization comprises individuals who specialize in different functions, which form departments. The departments integrate to create systems. When any part is not contributing, the machine does not produce as efficiently as it could. If any part of the machine stops receiving the resources it needs to succeed, the machine risks failure. 

We look after our bodies by paying attention to the food we eat, exercising, and listening to our body’s signals. Likewise, we look after our mental health, relationships, organizations, and societies through an intentional effort to look after the parts and provide necessary resources. We must be intentional about an equitable distribution of resources to each system and its components. We should be aware of imbalances or excesses that can derail the integration between parts and systems.

And it’s also essential to know when to exert influence over the integration between parts and when to let the systems do their thing – like the Taoist principle of Wu Wei, or non-doing. Clearly, finding the right balance and supporting healthy integration within the parts of your life and work is more art than science. It requires discernment, finding just the right amounts in any given context – as Aristotle’s Doctrine of the Mean teaches us. But it’s a worthy endeavor that can help us improve the health of our bodies, relationships, and organizations.

That’s all for now. I hope these insights on integration help you find the right balance between the many parts of your life and work. This wraps up the series on values. Join me again next week as I explore some more ideas from ancient wisdom and modern science. In the meantime, I have a favor to ask. If you can leave a review or a rating for this podcast on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, that would really help me reach more people with these ideas. Connect with me on LinkedIn or check the Project Indra website for more info. Until the next time, be well!

Podcast soundtrack credit:

Our Story Begins Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License