Aground or Afloat?

JoAnna Bennett

JoAnna Bennett, O’Brien Communications Group

May 12, 2022

Listening to Brené Brown read her book, Atlas of the Heart, got me hooked on audio books. I enjoy listening to her podcasts, but this was more. It was hours of her reading something she poured her heart into. I liked the experience so much, I’ve listened to a few more audio books since then. The latest is A Man Called Ove, a novel by Fredrik Backman. And listening to it reminded me much of Dr. Dan Siegel’s concept of The River of Integration.

The River of Integration

I’ve written about this river before. And if you’ve had a conversation with me in the last few months, I’m sure you’ve heard me refer to this river as well. I’m fascinated by the easily understandable concept. By knowing about the river, I’m able to understand it. And by understanding it, I’m able to apply it to my daily life. Am I floating down the river? Or am I on the bank of rigidity or the bank of chaos? And if one of the latter is true, I can adjust. As Brené Brown said in her aforementioned book, “The entire premise of this book is that language has the power to define our experience.” She also said, “Without understanding how our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors work together, it’s almost impossible to find our way back to ourselves and each other.” By learning about the River of Integration, I’m able to notice the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors for myself and to notice how the concept plays out in others.


A Man Called Ove is about – you guessed it – a man named Ove. Ove is a gentleman living his life on the bank of rigidity. He wakes up and does the same thing every day. His life is rigid. His thoughts are rigid. And his behaviors are rigid … until his life is completely interrupted. Two very big changes occurred in Ove’s life: He was forced to retire, and his wife passed away. As the story unfolds, we see how his community comes together and helps him dip his toe into the river of integration. As Ove finally admits, “It is difficult to admit that one is wrong. Particularly when one has been wrong for a very long time.”

Let’s Float

Why live a rigid life when you don’t have to? Why live a chaotic life when you don’t have to? I’ve lived on both banks and let me tell you, the river of integration is the place to be. There will always be external events that try to push you out of the river, but you must understand your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors so you can catch yourself before your life’s boat runs aground. And I’ve found out that I much prefer being afloat to being aground.