Coherence is living in alignment with the intelligence of our body, mind and soul
What is Coherence?
A Day in the Life of Ravi
Ravi woke up to the sound of the alarm clock and realized it was Monday, again. Monday—the worst day of the week. He grabbed his mobile phone, quickly checked his mail, and browsed through Facebook and Instagram—one of his classmates had posted honeymoon photos from Bali, and a former colleague was moving into a nice house in one of the poshest neighborhoods in town. Ravi immediately felt a twinge of envy. Others always have so much fun, while I am stuck in this boringMonday-to-Monday rut, in which only the weekends count as fun, he thought.
He managed to get ready for office in less than 30 minutes, grabbed a bite, and searched for the keys. He couldn’t find them. He stormed through the living room, checked the bedroom, and eventually found them in the kitchen—lying on top of the refrigerator. He quickly grabbed them and left. He pressed the elevator button, but both the elevators were stuck somewhere up. It must be those schoolchildren, again, he thought. They are always slow. And always late.When the elevator finally reached, he angrily stepped in, barely looking at the people inside. Somebody said good morning but he was angry, and so he dismissed the greeting with a quick nod.
And then his car wouldn’t start. The tank was full. He did car servicing last month, so he didn’t know what the problem was. He felt frustrated. Those cheaters, he thought, I should never have trusted them. Is the battery dead? Finally the car started, and he heaved a sigh of relief. He somehow reached office just in time, in spite of cursing the traffic all the way.
As soon as he sat on his desk and opened the laptop, a message popped up on the screen. His boss was asking him to come for a quick briefing. Oh no, not again, he thought. This man is never happy with anything I do. And Ravi was right—as it turned out, his boss expressed a couple of concerns. He warned Ravi that he was behind the project schedule, and pointed out to several inconsistencies in the latest report. He gave clear instructions and suggestions on how to improve the work.
An hour later,Ravi’s teammates—five of them—were making plans to have lunch together, to beat the Monday Blues, they said. He, too, was invited to join. He declined. It was not even noon, and he was already feeling a throbbing headache. His team mate Dev tried to cheer him up, by complimenting him on the outfit, “Mate, that blue shirt is awesome,” he said. But Ravi was in no mood for small talk.
He got a cold sandwich from the cafeteria and a soda from the vending machine, and ate alone at his desk. He had much work to do. But he felt no energy or will to work. He scrolled through the Excel sheets and pivot tables, cross-checked data, and updated one or two slides in his PPT. All the projects look the same, he thought. This boring work never changes. And all Mondays feel alike.
This small snippet from a day in the life of Ravi illustrates what happens when things get misbalanced and misaligned. Ravi has entered a vicious cycle of discontent, and each act and event pulls him further down into a state of dissatisfaction and frustration. From the moment he wakes up in the morning, he steps into a negative routine of repeated negativity. He engages in negative thinking and allows negative emotions to deplete his energy and enthusiasm. The course of his day is predetermined by his habit of doing the same mistakes.
The first thing he does in the morning is to check Facebook and Instagram, even though the content always ruins his mood. He gets up late, and has very little time to get ready for work. He is always is a hurry. He takes his breakfast while standing, and lacks focus (displaces his keys). And then he blames other people (his neighbors) and things (his car) for being late. He puts forth no effort to change. His subconscious, too, keeps perpetuating the “Monday Blues”syndrome—on a Monday, he chooses exactly a blue-colored shirt to wear to the office.
Ravi is in capable of recognizing small acts of kindness which he encounters throughout his day, whether they come from strangers or colleagues/friends. He does not appreciate his boss’ constructive remarks and guidance, and only focuses on criticism. His professional relationships are compromized. His physical health is also at stake—he has unhealthy eating habits, and his body signals that something is wrong, which he mindlessly ignores. He lacks inspiration, and experiences deep satisfaction with his work. Ravi’s is in a state of physical, mental and emotional incoherence.
What, then, is coherence? How is it important? What can a state of coherence do for Ravi and for millions of other people like him?
Coherence — A High Degree of Orderliness and Stability
Dictionaries define the word “coherence” as the quality of being integrated, consistent and congruent. Being in coherence means being systematic; fitting together in a natural or reasonable way; and making sense as a whole. In essence, coherence is a high degree of orderliness— it is a is state of connectedness, unity/oneness, integration and harmony.
Coherence is “a state of maximum efficiency and super effectiveness, where body and mind are one.”Modern psychology uses the term “flow state” (or “being in the zone”) to describe the state of coherence. To be in a flow means to be completely immersed in a particular activity to a point of total disconnect from all else. When in flow, the activity has tremendous intensity, yet one feels as if is done almost effortlessly. Top performing athletes, artists, scientists, businessmen and professionals of all walks of life are capable of entering and remaining in the flow, in a state of high coherence.
Coherence — A State of Synchrony and Resonance
In the language of science, coherence is a state characterized by waves which are in synchrony with each other. This synchrony results in constructive interference (formation of a bigger wave with higher amplitude). The power of coherence is often illustrated using the metaphor or simile of the laser.
Coherence can be compared to the incredible intensity of a laser beam. While the light waves of an ordinary flashlight are spread out or scattered, laser beams are highly organized. They are directional(narrow, parallel, with minimal divergence), and “in step” (frequency and waveform are identical). As a result of this directionality, the energy or power in the laser beam is amplified.
Another way to understand the power of coherence is by looking at resonance. The phenomenon of resonance occurs when an external force has a matching frequency with that of a target object.The object then absorbs more energy and starts vibrating with higher amplitude.Resonance is what explains the ability of a human voice to break a crystal glass; the speed of cooking in a microwave oven; and the breaking of gallstones using ultrasound. The most famous example, however, is the marching steps resonance disaster.
In 1831, the Broughton Suspension Bridge over the River Irwell in England was crossed over by soldiers who marched instep. As a result of the mechanical resonance induced by the soldiers’ rhythmically synchronized marching, the bridge collapsed, throwing some of the men into the water. In 1850, a similar incident took place at the Angers Bridge over the Maine River in France, when the bridge collapsed and 200 soldiers from the French battalion lost their lives. Soon after these incidents, a new military order was sent — soldiers were to “break step” or “break stride” i.e.break unison, each time they crossed a bridge. Such is the power of resonance.
Types of Coherence
Scientists use their discipline - specific jargon to define and elucidate the concept of coherence. From psychology to neurophysiology to behavioral science, coherence has become a buzzword and a focus of exciting interdisciplinary research. To better understand the relevance of coherence to our own lives, it is useful to look at its different aspects of facets.
• Physiological coherence — This is the biological bedrock of coherent living. “Physiological coherence is the platform on which complete coherence is built.” Physiological coherence is achieved through brain coherence and heart (cardiac) coherence. Physiological coherence means that all our body systems and functions are attuned and working in unison. Physiological coherence ensures that we are in control of our energy, can recuperate/regenerate fast, and can perform efficiently.
• Brain coherence — In neuroscience, brain coherence is achieved when different areas of the brain are in synchrony, and the corresponding groups of neurons fire together. The state of brain coherence is a state of high focus, clarity, harmony and peak efficiency. Coherent mind produces coherent thoughts, and coherent thoughts are capable of problem solving and creative imagination.
• Heart coherence — Cultivation of elevated emotions stabilizes the heart rhythm and makes it more coherent. It a state of heart coherence, the heart rate variability trace shows a smooth, wave-like pattern. When the heart generates coherent signals, it positively affects all other physiological organ systems in the body. Our energy increases, our emotions stabilize, and we are more in control of our words, decisions and actions.
• Emotional coherence —This aspect of coherence assumes that, rather than being reactive to external triggers, we respond to them. Such a mastery over our own emotions can happen once we start paying attention to how our emotions are stimulated, internalized and reinforced. Emotional coherence is a “harmonious state of sustained, self-modulated positive emotion.” When the brain and the heart are in coherence, emotional coherence follows automatically.
• Cognitive coherence — When our thoughts are clear, sharp and insightful, we possess cognitive coherence. We no longer suffer from brain fog, clouded judgment or brain shut-down. Instead, we become capable of cognitive breakthroughs, and demonstrate superior problem-solving skills. Brain coherence directly leads to a state of cognitive coherence.
• Behavioural coherence —This is the outcome of a complete internal or psychophysiological coherence (physiological, emotional and cognitive coherence). Brain and heart coherence lead to an alignment of thoughts, feelings and actions. The shift from chaotic to structured mode of being brings numerous benefits and mastery of one’s life. Randomness and disorder get replaced by synergies which strengthen and empower the individual.Our speech, interactions and actions also become coherent. Our performance improves, we become more successful in dealing with people and situations, we become better at influencing and negotiating with others. Put simply, we are in full control of how we present ourselves to the external world and how we interact with it. Individuals with high degree of behavioural coherence are not only healthy, happy and successful, but also capable of positively affecting other people, groups and communities.
- Dr. Watkins, Alan. “Coherence”. Kogan Page Limited. U.K. (2013)
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. “Flow and the Foundations of Positive Psychology”. Springer. 2014
- Dr. Watkins, Alan. “Coherence”. Kogan Page Limited. U.K. (2013)
- Rollin McCraty et al. “The Coherent Heart: Heart–Brain Interactions, Psychophysiological Coherence, and the Emergence of System-Wide Order”. Integral Review. December 2009 Vol. 5, No. 2