Dream Yoga and the Phenomenological Perspective



Varieties of Approaches to Waking Up

Lucidity, awakening and enlightenment can be viewed from an immense variety of perspectives.  For example, the dream yoga tradition of Tibet uses dream lucidity to teach experiences of freedom and selflessness in the dream state with the goal of generalizing those experiences to waking as well. IDL approaches the matter exactly in reverse. Because the self we are when we are dreaming or lucid dreaming is the same identity that we have when we are awake, it is most important that we evolve our level of development while we are awake. That naturally leads to greater degrees of lucidity in all states. However, the inverse does not necessarily follow; if you become lucid in your dreams you have accessed temporary states of higher order awakening; States are not stages; dream lucidity does not automatic translate into waking lucidity.

Other approaches to dreamwork look at how dreams address physical health concerns, stress management, or problem solving.  Other perspectives focus on the nature of intersubjective communication: is dreaming metaphorical, symbolic, personal, or archetypal? Approaches may focus on individual psychodynamics, developmental processes, group dynamics, psychic phenomena, altered states of consciousness and state dependency, or stages of spiritual development.  Dreaming can be approached from such disciplines as psychoneurology, sociology, economics, religious studies, politics or literature.  In short, just about any area of human interest can be meaningfully projected onto dreams and dreaming.  Dream imagery is, after all, in part introjections of any and all realms of human endeavor.   Whatever we think, whatever we feel, whoever we are is the stuff of which dreams are made.  This is not to say that this is all that dream experience is.  As Marvin Minsky attempts to demonstrate in The Society of Mind, to a large extent just the opposite is equally true: our waking experience is an externalization and manifestation of our most intimate and numinous structures and processes.

Regardless of the perspective from which we approach dreaming, most framings end up being either 1) interpretive, 2) investigate objective measures (REM sleep, EEG patterns, indications of lucidity, arousal, incorporation of waking stimuli, etc.), 3) emphasize data collection for comparative purposes (content analysis), 4) categorize types of dreams or dream patterns, 5) study personality traits of groups of dreamers (pain tolerance, anxiety level, creativity, expectations, etc.), or 6) compare dream content with other areas of human experience (literature, mythology, daydreams, channeled dispensations, hypnotic phenomena, hallucinogenic experiences).  We find comparative methods, such as content analysis and pattern identification methods of various types, objective studies of brain chemistry, social studies of psychological characteristics of dreamers (recallers vs. non-recallers, creativity, physiological adaptation, cultural expectations, etc.), and subjective experiments which are phenomenologically based.   Clearly, dreaming may be approached from a broad number of research methodologies depending upon our purpose.  These approaches reflect the priorities of different quadrants of the human holon.  None of these are inherently better than any other, but each is indeed superior for particular tasks.

For example, objective methods are superior when social consensus is important and when waking problem solving and application is desirable.  Subjective methods, in particular phenomenologically based ones, are superior when self-exploration, which is largely independent of the input of others, is desired, yet one still desires the maintenance of some degree of objectivity.  Phenomenological methods are also superior when the researcher desires to suspend reality claims to the best of her ability and when description is emphasized.  While some approaches to dreamwork, such as that of Medard Boss, have been phenomenologically based dream experiences are  evaluated in terms of how these experiences appear to the dreamer herself. Integral Deep Listening (IDL), a phenomenologically-based form of dream yoga, notes that the dreamer is locked inside her own psychological geocentrism, based on her scripting, investment in drama and cognitive distortions. To minimize these IDL consults the characters in a dream directly. Similarly, to the extent that life is a dream in which we are awakening, or moving toward lucidity, we can interview the personifications of our life issues. In either case, IDL refers to these as “emerging potentials” because they evoke possibilities for an expanded, more integrated future self that personifies the priorities of life itself. This is a type of phenomenalism that sets aside our waking identity in favor of hearing from perspectives that embody characteristics of our life compass, in that they reflect priorities that include but transcend our own.

Researchers and interpreters inevitably read into dream accounts whatever it is that they are looking for. If we are looking for archetypes, we see archetypes.  If we are looking for repeating patterns we are likely to find them.  If we are Freudians, dreams are about libido and thanatos.  If we are Jungians, dreams are full of shadow, archetypes, and individuation.  If we are fundamentalist Christians, dreams tend to be either the hand of God or the work of the devil.   If we are scientific materialists, dreams are random epiphenomena.

This is to counteract the fact that much psychotherapeutic, physiological, or cultural dream research is approached from the world view and intrinsic cultural biases of waking consciousness, even if phenomenologically oriented. The result is that dream research becomes and echo chamber or mirror, reflecting back to us either what we are looking for or fear we will or won’t find. Instead of finding out about dreams, we reveal our own biases, assumptions and expectations. Similarly, because dreaming is a microcosm of our waking experience, much of science is stuck in the same rut. As Barrie Condon has demonstrated in Science for Heretics,  our theories of reality replace the deep listening that comes from actually immersing ourselves in the properties of materials, relationships, dream characters or our own psychological blind spots. Instead of becoming these things and letting them speak to us, through us, we project our interpretations, based on our theories, world view and groupthink, onto them.

Reading in our schemas, biases, and world views occurs not only when we look at someone else’s dream; we routinely do it to our own dream recollections.   Reading in our assumptions occurs not only when we look at or listen to others; we routinely do it with our own waking experience, such as how we view our attempts to exercise, work, deal with difficult people or meditate. It can even be argued that this process is unavoidable, because we have no choice but to view the dream (and life itself) as Kant would say, through the schemas of our own subjective experience. While projection may be unavoidable, awareness of projection and attempts to reduce it are both worthwhile and important goals.  Otherwise we will simply find in the dream of our life what we are looking for and little more.  We will simply go away from whatever we experience validated in our own delusions.

Who is best qualified to interpret dreams?

Most approaches to dreamwork use the dreamer or some dream interpreting source, such as an authoritative book on dreaming or someone who specializes in dream interpretation. Sometimes groups get together and everyone chips in their interpretations, with the dreamer left to choose those ideas that best “fit” for them. This is reminiscent of going into a clothing store and trying on things that your friends or the salesperson think would look good on you until you find something you like. The result is that you may come away with something that fits and looks good on you, but doesn’t stand up over time. It goes out of fashion. Similarly, when you take such an approach to understanding a dream, you are likely to arrive at an interpretation of your dream that “fits” and that you like, yet is not helpful, is misguided, or plain dangerous. For instance, what if you interpret a dream to indicate that someone is your soul mate, you marry them, and it turns into a disaster? Are you going to distrust your dreams from then on? Are you going to distrust dream interpretation?  Most of the time dream interpretation is not so disastrous, only insipid and inconclusive, rather like reading your astrology forecast for the day. You can generally pick out something that fits, but how do you know if the information is in the planetary alignments or merely in the mind of the astrologer?

The same is true for our waking life. We set goals for ourselves based on our best intentions and in the belief that God, life, dharma or whatever approves and supports them. How do we know this? We will appeal to our intuition, but what is that? What about the research that shows that intuition does not function beyond chance? We may appeal to our “knowingness,” to a “still, small voice,” to God’s will, to a divine plan, to fate, luck or karma. Don’t all of these “explanations” boil down to justifications we give others and ourselves for doing what we want to do? Isn’t this conclusion validated by our reaction when someone questions whichever of these sources of direction we believe in? However, if we cannot trust in such things, who or what can you trust?

IDL begins with the assumption that others did not create your dream; therefore they are less likely than you to know what it means. True, they can provide helpful objectivity and perspectives about the dream you have not considered, but these should be viewed as their ideas, not the dream’s ideas. They are not intrinsically a part of the dream; they were not there when the dream was created. Similarly, you may have your own ideas about the meaning of a dream, but you did not create it. We know this, because if you did, you would know what it meant, wouldn’t you? If you cannot trust others or yourself to know the meaning of a dream, who or what can be a trustworthy source of information about it?

These conclusions can be extended to our understanding of our waking life dream as well. We were raised based on the interpretations of our parents and teachers as to what life is and is not and who we are and are not. Their interpretations so thoroughly scripted us that today their voices and injunctions are our voice and beliefs; we have so thoroughly internalized them that we can’t tell them apart. Consequently, we are living the dream of our parents, teachers and cultures, mistaking it for our own. And because culture wants your support and validation it provides no direction or encouragement for you finding your own life compass and following it.

This leads to a second assumption IDL makes not only about dream interpretation but about escaping our psychological geocentrism, that is, our script-based interpretations of our lives, whether awake or asleep. The characters, places, and objects in  your dreams and everyday life represent perspectives that are authentic, in that they are indigenous to the dream itself or to your waking experience. They are in a better position to interpret your dream and to act as wake up calls to correct your life path than you yourself are. They are going to be more effective in their interpretations than others and authorities because they know you better than anyone else possibly could.  Your dream characters and the personifications of your life issues, together called emerging potentials, are an expression of the consciousness that creates both your dreams and your everyday life experience.

Outline of a Phenomenological Approach to Waking Up

Phenomenological approaches to dreamwork have as an aim the minimization of the projection which is an unavoidable component of all interpretation.  Paradoxically, most do so by trusting the validity of highly individual and subjective personal dream reports.  What does it mean to rely fully and heavily on the dreamer’s own introspective reports of their dream experience?  What does a thoroughgoing phenomenological approach to dream research look like?

The fundamental purpose of phenomenology itself may at times be the same as that of dreamwork, or it may be very different.  Husserlian phenomenology (that is a picture of Husserl above) has the goal of being “a rigorous science,” which aims to identify the recurring or essential structures of the contents and processes of consciousness.  Phenomenological approaches to dream work share this methodological aim of carefully observing the contents and processes of consciousness.  The Dream Sociometric methodology can be used for this purpose, particularly when one tabulates preferences, reviews elaborations, and studies associated patterns of intrasocial organization.   Generally, however, dreamers will primarily use a phenomenological approach when they desire a method which helps them to suspend their waking biases when they investigate a dream.   They are not content to always discover what they suspected all along to be true.

It is important to remember that what is being studied phenomenologically is the state of consciousness of the dreamer at the time that he investigates the recalled dream narrative.  Inferences about dream consciousness are normally made, but they are only that — inferences.   We are not working on the dream itself but rather on our memory of the dream.  Consequently, dream phenomenology does not deal with dreaming in the strict sense unless a person is dreaming and practices the methodology within the dream state itself.  Otherwise, it deals with dream state residue, which may be similar or radically different from dream awareness itself.

The thoroughgoing phenomenological approach to dream research and to life in general taught by IDL gathers introspective reports from other interviewed perspectives. This in addition to the interpretations you make while dreaming and then later on after you wake up.  In this regard it differs from Husserlian phenomenology, which relies on the introspection of the subject, who is generally assumed to be the researcher.  The unitary nature of the researcher breaks down somewhat when altered states of consciousness are being explored.  Clearly, the “researcher” who is reporting on an acid trip is not the same as the researcher who is reporting on night blindness.  It also breaks down in Integral Deep Listening, when  emerging potentials are being asked to comment on life events. But then Integral Deep Listening makes no claim to a unitary observer, whether subjective or objective. In fact it wants to deconstruct the myth of a unitary observer and replace it with multi-perspectivalism, the ability to shift fluently from empathizing with multiple different points of view or world views.  The destructuralization of the researcher becomes pervasive with Dream Sociometry where there are many “subjects.”  There are as many potential “researchers” as there are discrete internal or external identities with which to identify.  In phenomenological dreamwork the monolith of identity is destructuralized and consciousness is observed from the perspectives of its relative components.

Take this approach to dreaming and apply it to your waking life. How might you look at your life, your challenges, your goals and your future if you were able to get outside yourself yet access perspectives that know you much better than any other person or external source possibly could? Might your sense of your life direction, as well as who you think you are, not only expand but become more integrated?

Applying the Phenomenological Method to Lucidity

If dream elements are the most reliable source of interpretation of dreams, then interviewing them by asking them questions about themselves and the dream is only common sense. However, there is a problem with this; we aren’t used to letting dream characters speak. All our lives we have been taught to learn to think, to problem solve, to be in control and, of course, to defer not only to authorities but to the internal authority of our conscience, karma and dharma. Letting dream roads, houses, ghosts, and dogs speak not only sounds crazy; it may appear as if we are being encouraged to lose our minds. But this is only a bias of our waking point of view, a strategy to keep us stuck in safe, secure psychological geocentrism. When you actually let your dream elements or the personifications of your life issues speak you find that you do not have to close your eyes, go into an altered state of consciousness, or stop being you. Instead of losing yourself, you find yourself; instead of contracting into a fragmented, chaotic primal self, you expand; you become more. 

In order to become an emerging potential you have to learn to get out of your own way so that it can speak and you can listen to what it has to say. This getting out of your own way is called “suspending your assumptions.” Any approach that asks you to do so is called phenomenological.  For Husserl, the practice of phenomenology involved something he called epoché, a term derived from the Greek skeptic’s notion of abstaining from belief. In Integral Deep Listening you consciously suspend as many of your assumptions as you can when you interview a dream element or the personification of a life issue. You pick those assumptions up later, but during the interview, your intention is to get out of your own way by basically having your normal waking sense of self with its incessant interpretations and analysis, sit in the corner, watching and listening.

All of these assumptions about dreams also apply to our conceptions about our waking lives. They apply to the characters, places, objects, and life issues that we confront in our day-to-day struggles to find and maintain balance as well as to grow. Therefore, Integral Deep Listening interviews the personifications of waking life issues, such as fears, depression, interpersonal conflicts, career decisions, and health issues just as easily as it does dreams.

What are some examples of some assumptions that you want to suspend in order to listen in a deep, phenomenological way, to your interviewed emerging potential? That the character…

exists or does not exist;

is alive or dead;

is meaningful or meaningless;

has something to tell you;

is important or unimportant;

is a symbol and represents something or someone;

is from God;

is from the devil;

represents another dimension, such as life after death or a shamanic journey;

is produced by your unconscious;

is or is not an archetype;

depicts reality;

is illusory;

is or is not a byproduct of random neurological brain events;


you are capable of interpreting it or understanding it;

you should or should not view it through your belief system

(God, soul, reincarnation, mysticism, integral AQAL, epistemology, quantum physics, etc.)

Laying aside as many assumptions as possible not only helps you to get out of the way so that you can listen deeply and clearly, instead of the usual way — hearing through the mental, emotional, cultural, and social filters that are mostly out of your awareness and which distort and condition every perception and interpretation you make. It also creates a methodology that carries as little baggage as possible, reducing the need to either adopt a foreign ideology while making it easier for everyone to adapt it to their own contexts. This is very important, because Integral Deep Listening is intrinsic and innate, that is, it is something that does not belong to any one person or cultural orientation.

IDL proposes that the validity of your interview does not lie primarily in the power of the experience or the meaningfulness of what is said. It is not about insight or knowledge gained. Instead, its core usefulness lies in your internalization of an experience that broadens and thins your definition of yourself while moving you into greater lucidity. The usefulness of such experiences is then validated through application in your daily life. This is what makes it a yoga, a discipline that leads to higher order integration. Basing its validity on measurable changes in the quality of your everyday life is a pragmatic definition of truth, which looks to the consequences of an idea, belief, or recommendation, when it is applied in your life. A pragmatic theory of truth differentiates IDL dream yoga from many other approaches to enlightenment. There are plenty of experiences provided by other approaches that are powerful but do not last and cannot be duplicated. They may involve catharsis, hypnosis, ecstasy, hallucinogenically-derived openings, psychical experiences or orgasm. These experiences can be as mind-expanding as they are addictive, but the problem is that they neither last nor do they typically leave measurable improvements in the quality of everyday life. They may be enormously meaningful but cannot be easily translated into concrete life changes. Religious, mystical and near death experiences generally fit this description. They may be highly transformative, but they are also notoriously difficult to translate into a transformed life.

However, when these same experiences are approached using the phenomenological methods of IDL one or more of their elements are interviewed. When this happens we not only expand our understanding of the experience by getting outside of our psychological geocentrism but gain recommendations that we can put to the test in our waking lives. The result is that we take fire from heaven and ground it in a lasting way in our daily lives while gaining confidence in the method.

By taking a phenomenological approach to a dream or a life issue you are suspending your assumptions about truth and reality in order to listen to your interviewed element’s assumptions about truth and reality. Are they the same as yours? What does it mean if they are different? You are encouraged to pick up your beliefs, biases, preferences, prejudices, assumptions, and interpretations again after the interview. IDL encourages Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Moslems, pagans, atheists, agnostics, scientific humanists, capitalists, socialists, libertarians, new agers — everyone — to frame IDL in terms of their own conceptual, social, and cultural contexts. You can’t do anything else, anyway.

Because IDL uses a phenomenological method in a pragmatic context, it teaches a trans-rational epistemology, in that it asks you to suspend both your beliefs and your rationality, within the context of a rational method, in order to access perspectives that transcend yet include both belief and reason. This means that IDL is a tool for accessing trans-contextual perspectives, regardless of what your current perspective is. You can be Buddha and do IDL dream yoga and access perspectives that transcend and include your present ones.

This approach resonates with the Buddhist idea of finding and following a middle way; Husserl’s epoché, the suspension of assumptions, can be extended to Nagarjuna’s tetralemma:

“It is.” (“It exists.”)

“It is not.” (“It does not exist.”)

“It is both existing and not existing”

“It is neither existing and not existing.”

When you suspend all four of these assumptions you find yourself outside Aristotelian logic; you effectively move your cognitive processes into neutral. What you get is that everything and everyone, including yourself, the universe, and God

neither is

nor is it not.

neither is it both existing and not existing.

neither is it neither existing and not existing.

When you apply this process to anything, as is ideally done in meditation, and to everything, as is done in IDL interviewing, you no longer interpret, analyze, or reason about the object of your awareness, or that character with which you are presently identified. It becomes ineffable. You move into an open, but fully conscious and present space in the here and now in relationship to that thing. IDL interviewing cultivates this state, which is essentially formless, existing outside of time and space, yet encompassing both. The practical advantage of cultivating the ability to be present in such a space is that it is free of drama. You are in the world but not of it. Bad things still happen, but they will not happen to the you that is free, that is at complete peace, and which witnesses all of the dimensions of human experience without judgment.

The Phenomenological Reduction

Each emerging potential, whether a dream character or personification of a life issue, has its own distinct consciousness.  This is not a theory  or a hypothesis.  It is a demonstrable fact that you are urged to explore until you yourself are convinced of its truth.  The distinct consciousness of your emerging potentials are nonetheless partially self-aspects.  They are, by their own testimony, aspects of yourself at the same time that they present themselves as autonomous and real discarnate entities, extraterrestrials, gods, and demons.  They are relatively autonomous perspectives of which emerging into your awareness. You are getting to know them; You are internalizing them; you are becoming them as they become you. Some are prepersonal or regressive. Based on their own testimony and that of other emerging potentials, some are very healthy while others are either stuck, sick, or both.  Some are personal, adjusted, and rational, and some are transpersonal, incorporating both belief and reason, in their level of development.  However, the nature of the IDL interviewing protocol is designed to evoke their capacities as way showers, as transformative potentials that have the ability to show you your next step forward in a practical, applicable, rational way.

The “cause,” origin, or “meaning” of a particular emerging potential is an entirely different issue from the nature of its individual consciousness. Interpretive and more projective approaches look for meaning and find it in what the character is assumed to symbolize.  Phenomenological approaches, on the other hand, emphasize the consciousness of dream characters themselves, not symbolic meanings.  The distinction between the consciousness of a particular emerging potential and where it may have come from basically distinguishes phenomenological approaches to dreamwork and life from most other descriptive approaches.   This step is called by Husserl the phenomenological reduction (epoché).  It is a methodological step of stripping introspective data, such as dream characters and the personifications of your life issues, of their status as mental facts occurring within a real world.  For dreamwork, the “real world” is the real world of dream experience. For your waking life, the “real world” is the ontological status you give your family, work, friends and your present surroundings as objective and real. To question this immediately implies idealism, that is, that they are subjective and imaginary. However, these are ontological assumptions just as surely as their opposites, and a thoroughgoing phenomenological approach such as that offered by IDL suspends them as well.

Interpretive approaches tend to view this “real world” as a type of epiphenomena dependent for meaning and relevancy on the broader, more rational, more relevant, and more meaningful domain of waking consciousness.   This puts us squarely back in the grandiose and narcissistic realm of psychological geocentrism. Such approaches search for what a dream and its contents, the dream of life and its experiences, mean to the dreamer and his waking reality.  The dreamer approaches the dream narrative with his own set of biases.  These form a set of assumptions, an inchoate set of hypotheses, if you will, that direct attention while both limiting and determining what we will and will not see in the dream narrative.  So the mental facts occurring in the real world of dreaming are explored to see what relevance they have for the real mental (and physical) facts of waking life.  My psychologically geocentric self is attempting to organize dream experience in such a way that it validates and supports its psychological geocentrism. This has been the case since before Joseph interpreted dreams for Pharoah.  Phenomenology, on the other hand, suspends the presumed correlation between introspective data and a real world.  Introspective data are not treated as reports coming from an internal world.  Instead, the data is examined and described in their own terms, regardless of “where they might have come from” or what they may indicate about reality. Both etiology and ontology are assumptions that separate us from direct, immediate and sacred experience in the here and now.

Phenomenologically oriented dream yoga, then, does not attempt to base dreaming on its meaning for waking consciousness or experience on its worth for our waking sense of who we are. It does not require dream accounts to say something real about dreaming itself or for our perceptions of life to provide meaning or validate our goals.  The consciousness of each emerging potential is taken at face value.  Relevancy is based on its subjective reports, not on what expectations, assumptions and intersubjective meanings we want or need to read into the perspective of each interviewed character.

By suspending belief in any real world that the phenomenon “may have come from,” such as a real, shamanistic dreamworld we enter when we dream, or a real, non-dreamlike reality that we are encountering right now as we share this common experience, the phenomenological reduction removes from consideration both the (presumed) reality status of the phenomenon and any possible causal link between the phenomenon and something else.   We are no longer assuming the interviewed character is more or less real than we are.   We are no longer assuming its elaborations are more or less true than those of our own.  We are no longer assuming, at that moment, that they are aspects of ourselves, guidance from God, random biochemical epiphenomenon, or any other particular pet theory.  We suspend all such assumptions and then draw our conclusions from their self-reports.  We then look for patterns within those self-reports.  Those patterns and the correlations among self-reports give us a phenomenological foundation for understanding not only a dream and its contents, but for creating a life plan that is more in harmony with our life compass.

Once engaged in phenomenological reduction, you can neither attribute a reality status to the emerging potential and its elaborations nor infer the existence of something else as either a cause or effect of the emerging potential.  Inferred relationships to dreaming,  waking life issues, the universal unconscious, relevancy to life processes such as individuation, biochemistry or day residue, are all suspended. As a dreamworking phenomenologist, if you are to be consistent, cannot even attribute reality or non-reality to yourself.  Such assumptions are simply suspended. Neither the content that is experienced through character identification nor the subjective processes of experiencing the identification are regarded as either real or unreal; they are not regarded as clues to something real “beyond” them.   This approach is radically at variance with most objective methodologies as well as interpretive approaches to dreamwork.  It most closely resembles the four-fold negation of the brilliant Madhyamika sage Nagarjuna, which overthrows Aristotelian logic, by not accepting as a foundational premise the Law of the Excluded Middle.

What are the advantages of taking such a stance toward experience, whether waking, dream or mystical?  There are advantages that are specific to dreamwork and other advantages that are profoundly supportive of the evolution of consciousness. The phenomenological reduction disengages waking awareness from its customary attitude of assessing others, including interviewed characters, their attitudes, feelings, and behavior, based on how real they are or are not, how meaningful they are or are not to them.  Instead, identity, now expanded through identification beyond previous waking awareness, is aware of the phenomenon itself – the experience of being the emerging potential and possessing those attitudes, feelings and behaviors.   This qualitative richness is observed and described now by the character with whom you are identified, not by yourself.   It is even more accurate to say that it is observed and described by both yourself and the perspective of the character fused as one.   This act of observation and description occurs without the usual resort to waking concepts and categories of waking awareness.  Such constructs as waking identity, Dream Self, and dream characters are based on some assumed reality status for both the perceiver and the perceived.  We do  not know if waking identity is more or less real than emerging potentials, if you in your dreams are more or less real than the characters you encounter in them, or if one emerging potential is more real than another.  Instead, all such judgments are suspended so that all states of consciousness and sentient beings may be placed on the same ontological footing.  With the implementation of the phenomenological reduction, waking experience is no more or less real or illusory than dream experience.   By loosening awareness away from the typical way that we describe things, the phenomenological reduction equalizes dream and fantasy phenomena, because they are no longer observed and described with an underlying motive of ranking them according to some hypothesized reality status.  The phenomenological stance, when applied to both dreams and waking experience by IDL, allows us to receive all emerging potentials and their attendant experience equally and in their fullness.   The result is powerful in its spontaneity and numinousness.  Undefined, mundane, secular life whether awake or dreaming is more likely to be experienced as a sacred succession of  kratophanies and epiphanies that are experienced in life-transformative immediacy.   Interpretive approaches feel safer because they are just that – interpretations; protective mental screens are raised between the overwhelming immediacy of blinding light, overpowering energy, and humbling majesty.   Fear and habit keep this door closed for most of us most of the time.

The result of the utilization of the phenomenological reduction with life deprives its contents of  independent reality, what Buddhists call bhava, or “own-being”  without thereby turning it into a self-generated delusion. The more that we practice suspending our assumptions and empathetically taking the perspective of others in an act of respectful deep listening, the more we deconstruct our own reality.  The more we experience the absence of beingness wherever we look, both within ourselves and outward, at others.  Beingness is replaced with sunyata, formless emptiness, devoid of either being or non-being.  IDL dream yoga thereby becomes a causal level transpersonal psychospiritual discipline when approached from a through going phenomenalistic perspective.

The Eidetic Reduction

As we have seen, the suspension of dream reality claims is quite similar to what Husserl termed “the eidetic reduction” in phenomenological method.  “With the eidetic reduction, the phenomenologist attempts to identify the essential structures of human consciousness, rather than the ephemeral content or the purely personal features of individual’s consciousness.  The eidetic reduction is therefore a method of imagining possible variations of the phenomenon under study, whether it is a dream character, another person or the personification of some life issue.    In IDL, the possible variations are imagined not by you, the experimenting dreamworker, but by the contents of consciousness themselves.  Dream characters and the personifications of life issues imagine the possible variations in response to the questions asked them in the IDL interviewing protocols. The gathering of subjective reports from various emerging potentials results in sometimes similar, sometimes radically different introspective reports into the nature of experience in a dream or life circumstances.    Such variations in accounts, called by IDL “multi-perspectivalism,” are exactly what the phenomenologist is looking for.  The Lamp Post disagrees with the Sofa, which disagrees with the Shitsu, and all of them disagree in their patterns of preferences with you.

For example, you recall a dream of a burning building.  You think, “Ah, this is about that argument I had yesterday!”  This is a hypothesis formed by your waking identity.  It represents one of many possible perspectives.  If you blithely assumes that your assumption is true, your investigation will stop.  You have focused on the etiology and meaning of the dream of a burning building rather than its consciousness itself.  If, however, you were to interview various emerging potentials such as the fire and the building, you would probably experience a considerable amplification of your consciousness, not to mention your understanding.  You might even discover that the argument of yesterday was only incidental to the concerns of your emerging potentials.  You may come away wondering if your waking agenda is both uninformed and narrow, even disrespectful of the agendas of other emerging, legitimate perspectives.

Understanding of a dream, which is often the goal of our dreamwork, is merely insight, and insight will only take you so far.  The amplification of consciousness itself, the transformation of limited world views, is an entirely different matter.  Even if these other perspectives, fire and the building, basically confirm your hypothesis, that the dream is about the argument yesterday, if you follow the IDL interviewing protocol, you will find that the interviewed characters are likely to go on to elaborate how and why you lose your temper and make concrete suggestions about what you can do differently to resolve this internal conflict as it manifests in your relationships.  In addition, it may suggest a dreamage, a consensus reorganization of the dream group, as a personal myth of higher order psychic integration.   We all tell ourselves stories to explain and justify our existence and choices. Why not tell ourselves stories that are in alignment with our life compass?

All of this is secondary to the potential that exists in the opportunity to acknowledge, own and integrate the perspectives of building and fire into an expanded definition of who we are.  The consciousness of “fireness” is rich, fierce, and empowering.  When it is totally integrated, your sense of who you are is fundamentally expanded.  The experience of being the building awakens new possibilities of who you are.  These experiences far transcend both understanding and insight. That is because they involve identification, becoming rather than preferring the objectification of analysis.  That will come later in the process.

If Fire and Building express opinions that are totally at odds from your own assumptions regarding what they are about, your waking hypothesis about why you had the dream is not only disproven; you will probably approach it with amazement and new respect.  Perhaps Building will say, “I need to burn down.  I have to die in order to be reborn.  Your anger is your attempt to avoid looking at your fear of letting go.”   The argument of the day before is then perhaps viewed as a catalyst for the addressing of a much more fundamental issue for the dreamer.  Perhaps Fire elaborates on the nature of that issue.  It might say, “I purify in my uncontrollable aliveness and spontaneity.  Because you cannot control me you are frightened of me.  And so I come out in a perverted form, as an argument.”

Is this the “meaning” of the dream?  Is this the “true interpretation” of the dream?  Such questions miss the point.  Phenomenologists do not seek to limit reality by forcing it into some box, no matter how beautiful and desirable it may be.  Does a diamond have one “true” facet?  Does a diamond have one “real” meaning?  Do you have one “true” self?  Does your life have one “real” meaning?  The sad truth is that many people waste years trying to find both and therefore experience needless anxiety if they have neither.  An even worse outcome is if we become convinced that we have found our true self and that we know our life’s true meaning.  At that point we stop searching, because we have managed to repress the innate ambiguity and polyvalence of both self and life.  True Believers, we have drunk the cool aid and now want everybody else to drink it too, to validate our complacency and self-assurance that we know who we are and what life is about.

IDL makes these forms of self-abuse much less likely. Permissive and open-ended ongoing feedback from your emerging potentials provides a both/and approach to life rather than the either/or approach of normal dualistic thinking.  It first demonstrates that dreams and life are polyvalent, that many forms personify varying purposes and norms, each valid within its particular context.   There is no one correct meaning but many pragmatically expedient attitudes, feelings, and behaviors which are internally consistent but which may violently clash with other perspectives.   From this experience we gradually draw the experiential conclusion that life itself is dreamlike and both created and experienced in very much the same way that we do our dreams.  We open to it; we relax into it. We withdraw our projections onto others and ourselves; we smile at our Atman project, our need for constant assurance that we are someone, that life matters, and that anything exists that has lasting value.

These words are not a negation of life or of purposive action within it. What you do matters; who you are matters more than you know; life needs you to contribute your uniqueness so that it may benefit from the extraordinary expression of itself that you are.  However, when you take yourself too seriously, when you attempt to grasp and hold life, you experience life as suffering.  Misery is optional.  IDL is designed to provide you experiences of legitimate, authentic internal perspectives that are not based on either suffering or misery.

We begin to see how the phenomenological method helps to unknot long-tangled waking assumptions and biases.  They come to be viewed as presenting one alternative, one variation, of many possible introspective reports about life.  We come to see waking identity for what it is: a habitual adaptive structure of thought and feeling which is developed to get out of our family alive, to pass classes in school, to make friends, to get a job, to get people to put up with us and maybe even love us.  We begin to see that we have mistaken this arbitrary adaptive response to our particular environment for the immediacy of an open, fully present, flowing life.  Instead of growing beyond these interpretations, instead of deconstructing our identification with them, we build the walls of our prison higher and deeper until we are the living dead.  When you interview your emerging potentials you will find that many challenge or contradict the convenient myths constructed by your waking sense of self.   Your sense of who you are will expand as a result.  Important information and relevant perspectives will still be left out, valuable perspectives and recommendations for your integral life practice  that are available from other emerging potentials.  This endless wealth of consciousness can be overwhelming; at some point we have to break away just to digest what we have grown into.

Two different levels of eidetic variation in phenomenological dreamwork

There are at least two different levels of eidetic variation in a phenomenological dream yoga.  The first regards the dream narrative. While the dream narrative provides both the phenomena, in the form of each dream character, and its interactional context, it does not provide the consciousness of the emerging potential itself.    The same can be said about your waking life. While your life experience provides both fellow humans and your experiences with them, it does not provide you with the perspective of these others. They may inform you themselves, but are they lying? How well do they know themselves? The perspectives of other people, as well as the cars, dirt, buildings and common household objects surround you exist quite independently of the story line that you project onto them or that they tell you about themselves.  Like a remembered dream, the narrative given to you by life is a dead letter.  Dreamwork that focuses on interpreting dream narratives is dream pathology; it is in the business of performing psychic autopsies.

Phenomenological approaches feel more like the return to health after a long illness.  You feel life that courses in its richness through your being; aliveness itself is electric, no longer taken for granted.  Each emerging potential that you interview has its own insights about who you are, about your waking life issues, and what to do about them.  This information may have little to do with your assumptions about a dream or a life experience.  It will transcend and include them just as it transcends and include your waking sense of who you are.  Your emerging potentials exist independently of your stories about who and what they are, whether they be dreams or your waking associations and memories.  Emerging potentials have needs and opinions that transcend the context of any dream account, which is, after all, the dream told from your perspective, as remembered when you awaken, not the perspectives of other invested perspectives.  Each emerging potential has its own hypotheses about the purpose of whatever life issue you are dealing with at the moment.  It has its own story, which for it is as legitimate as the story you tell yourself. As such, each emerging potential has relevance as an object of phenomenological study in its own right, completely separate from the dream narrative waking stories or personal mythologies.

The second level of eidetic variation in phenomenological dreamwork deals not with the dream narrative but with variations and similarities in the perspectives of emerging potentials.  Regarding the dream narrative there are at least three sub-levels of eidetic variation.  First, we have the account offered by your waking self, which remembers the dream.  We generally mistake the narrative for the dream itself, as if it were the one true and accurate account, since, after all, it is what we experienced!  Second, we have the accounts offered by the various characters in the dream.  These are unknown unless interviewed.  We are limited to the first dimension of the second level of eidetic variation in phenomenological dreamwork if we do not interview at least one of the characters in the dream.  Third, we have the account which is a compilation of the perspectives of interviewed emerging potentials and waking identity.   This third dimension does not follow automatically from the second; it must be understood and made a priority.

Note that the same applies to any phenomenological investigation of a waking experience. First you have your own psychologically geocentric experience, story or account of events as they unfold for you and you interpret them. We generally mistake our perception of events for the events themselves. Second, there are the accounts available from interviewing and experiencing the perspectives of other invested perspectives. Third, if we go to the trouble of interviewing two or more of the perspectives in the life situation, as we do in Dream Sociometry, we have a compilation of these perspectives combined with our own.

All three of these levels are relevant; all three of them are legitimate.  What we usually do with the recalled dream is create a waking myth.  What we can do with the accounts offered by the emerging potentials themselves is expand and transform our consciousness through identification.  What we find with the compilation of all three aspects of the eidetic variation is a view of the intrasocial culture and intersubjective consciousness of those perspectives which manifest in a particular dream group or waking life situation.  The third is most likely to present an accurate phenomenological rendering of the dream narrative because it encompasses the first two categories.  The creation of the Dream Sociogram is designed to provide a window into this level of eidetic variation.

Imagining Eidetic Variations

When we apply the phenomenological eidetic reduction to dreamwork we have a method of identifying the essential structures of intrasocial awareness.  “Intrasocial” refers to collective consciousness revealed by empathizing with multiple perspectives. It is not revealed by direct evaluation, which science does; it is revealed by other perspectives telling you what they think. But these are non-human perspectives that we normally cannot or do not access. So intrasocial is not accessible without character identification.

The eidetic reduction is a method of imagining possible variations of the phenomenon under study.  In Dream Sociometry, this imagination takes two forms: 1) hypotheses, created by waking identity, as to a) the life issues of concern to the dream group or collection of perspectives invested in a life issue and b) regarding their patterns of preference; and 2) character identification itself.

Based on the testimony of at least some interviewed emerging potentials, specific perspectives are brought together by a common investment in one or more life issues.  Notice that this statement is based on the phenomenological methodology, not on projection by waking identity.  Because it is based on phenomenological data rather than waking assumptions, it is neither projective nor interpretive in the usual sense of these terms.  That is, it does not reflect projections or interpretations by waking identity.  It does reflect majority or consensus projections and interpretations by interviewed emerging potentials. Therefore the phenomenological method does not eliminate the perils of subjectivity, it merely kicks the can down the developmental road, so to speak. The delusions of waking identity are infused, and thereby watered down, by the perspectives of interviewed characters which are themselves always partial.  Because English, grammar, and its associated network of meanings are creations of waking identity, interpretation and projection can never be dismissed entirely.  Each emerging potential is invested in some specific way in a particular issue or agenda which is shared by other invested perspectives.  Because of this common investment, the fate of each of these interviewed characters is inevitably bound up in what happens to the others and to the fate of the life issue.   This is a state of interdependent co-origination.

Waking perspective is only one of a number of world views that are equally valid in understanding the genesis of a dream group, its shared life issue(s), and their resolution. The eidetic reduction involves phenomenologically imagining variations on this perspective offered by other invested aspects of self.  These variations are derived from elaborations elicited from emerging potentials by character identification.  They are of two basic types:

1) Variations that no longer appear to be the phenomenon under study – counterexamples and limiting studies.  This kind of variation helps identify the limits of the phenomenon’s essence.  In IDL this involves interviewing previously interviewed characters that have no investment in the current issue. They are not members of the collective that manifests as a particular dream or life issue.

2) Variations that still seem to be examples of the original phenomenon, even though they include different features.  This second kind of variation helps reveal the phenomenon’s essence. When we interview characters that have no investment in the current issue they often, nevertheless, provide important objectivity regarding it, pointing toward priorities of life itself, or the essence of any emerging potential.

The essence or eidetic structure of any phenomenon includes all of its features that cannot be eliminated by imaginatively varying the phenomenon.  Such features remain evident throughout the imaginative variation process despite attempts to imagine examples of the phenomenon that would lack these features.  The essence is arrived at through the method of eidetic reduction.  It is an accomplishment rather than a pre-given fact.

In IDL, variations reveal no essence. There is no characteristic or quality that remains permanent. For example, every interviewed character is asked how it scores itself in the six core qualities, confidence, empathy, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace and witnessing. If these characteristics were aspects of the essence of intrasocial phenomena they would always be present. However, any of them may be totally absent in character responses. Therefore, the conclusion is that none of these qualities describe any consistent, irreducible essence and we know of no others that do.

For example, if you are taking a phenomenological approach to studying dream group conflict, you will perform an eidetic reduction by first having an actual experience of dream group conflict, such as a nightmare.  Perhaps you have the hypothesis that dream groups gather for conflict resolution.  You then imagine a series of conflicts which are variations of that first experience.  In other words, you would recall a dream in which conflict was either experienced within yourself, such as not knowing whether to stay or run, or between you and other dream characters, as in running from a monster, or between two or more other characters, as in two characters fighting.  You might experience a nightmare, a dream fight with one or more dream characters, or between other characters in the dream.  Another alternative would be for other characters to experience conflict within themselves not shared by you.   In any of these cases, you would then imagine a series of conflicts which are variations of that first experience by identifying with characters and noting their preferences and elaborations.    Let’s say the conflict deals with flying a plane and crashing it.  Some characters want to fly.  Other characters don’t.  Some characters blame other group members for the crash.

Emerging Potentials which do not experience conflict by the plane flying or crashing or which express no opinion about the conflict shared by other emerging potentials would be examples of the first type of variation.   Perhaps the sky and the ground either do not experience the conflict or have no opinion about it.  Their elaborations and patterns of preference help identify the limits of intrasocial conflict for the particular dream group.  Their presence and elaborations may establish counterexamples and alternative ways of dealing with life issues that are non-conflictual.  Such characters generally provide, through identification, a metaphorical model of life without attachment to the conflict.  If the variations become so dissimilar that they no longer seem to be examples of dream group conflict at all, then they are counter-examples or limiting cases.  Characters who do experience conflict also limit the phenomenon’s essence by clarifying when, where, and why specific instances of conflict arise.  Perhaps they indicate that this particular conflict only arises when autonomous, impulsive decisions are made by you that nevertheless have disastrous consequences for other invested perspectives.   Such a pattern could be associated with intoxication, impulsive sex, and other types of behavior that emerging potentials themselves associate with flying.  The features that are not shared are not part of the essence of dream group conflict since they can be eliminated by the perspective of one or another character which lacks those features.   This is a further example of the first type of eidetic reduction variation.   These variations may force you to alter your original hypothesis that dream groups gather for conflict resolution.  They may go so far as to disprove the hypothesis itself.

These variations alter certain features of the first experience (the recalled dream) of the phenomenon under study, in this case dream group conflict.  Characters may remember aspects of the conflict forgotten or unimportant to you.  For example, they may remember that the plane is full of criminals. They may approach it from perspectives not shared by you; the plane may want to crash.  When those imaginative variations that are similar enough to the recalled dream (your recollection of the dream) to be experienced as examples of dream group conflict, then the features they share will be potentially part of the essence of dream group conflict for this dream group because these features have not yet been eliminated through the method of eidetic reduction.  They remain shared aspects of dream group conflict for you and for all interviewed perspectives.

Eidetic reduction is an experimental methodology in the sense that you must actually identify with many different perspectives in order to imagine a large number of variations of the phenomenon under study.  You do so without knowing ahead of time how the phenomenon will appear to all these different characters interviewed or what their patterns of preference will be.   You do not know in advance which of these identifications will prove resistant to variation and which will not.   Creating hypotheses about such findings is both important to the direction of questioning and humbling in its consistent exposure of the chronic myopia of waking identity.

Summarization of the Purpose of the Phenomenological Method

Dream phenomenology as approached by IDL aims at 1) observing our own intrasocial consciousness in order to identify and describe the basic structures of the processes occurring in it, as well as 2) directly experiencing the basic structures of the interviewed characters, their attitudes, purposes, feelings, behaviors and interactions that we become aware of through these processes.  The first aim is subjective and is known as noetic analysis; the second aim focuses on the objects or contents of consciousness and is known as noematic analysis.

This sort of phenomenology does not have to focus on examining the consciousness of many different dreamers in order to arrive at statistical data or empirical generalizations about dream reports, and the same is true for waking events. Instead, you may observe your own dream or waking experience and then imaginatively vary it by taking the roles of as many different invested perspectives as you desire.  You are searching for structural patterns that seem constant across groups or sub-groups of interviewed perspectives.  A further step is reporting any discovered patterns to others, who also undertake the method of imaginative variation in order to test and corroborate the reported essence.  Of course, this method is to be extended to the phenomenological investigation of the waking dream, particularly through the interviewing of the personification of life issues.

A thorough-going phenomenological description of a dream would be a three-fold description of

1) the conscious processes that occur as the recalled dream is imaginatively identified with by its component characters, including any essential structures inherent in these processes (noetic analysis). The waking version of this is to identify objects as well as people in some life issue and become them, asking them the questions in the IDL interviewing protocol for life issues in an attempt to identify themes that are consistent and therefore imply essential structures or processes are are part of the group’s essence;

2) the emerging potentials themselves, including the essential features of each: attitudes, purposes, feelings, behaviors and interactions (noematic analysis); the waking version involves the identification of the unique or individual characteristics that are essential for any and all interviewed perspectives associated with a life issue;

3) the correlations between noetic and noematic properties. That is, you compare the collective and individual essential features, or the essence of the group with the essence of the characters to see if you can discover underlying, foundational factors.

This description, to be considered phenomenological, would also have to maintain the phenomenological reduction throughout, thereby eliminating presumptions and inferences about the relative reality of 1) waking awareness, dream self awareness, other emerging potential awareness and 2), the objects of these awarenesses when they are each successively identified with.

• Phenomenological methodology foregoes explanation in favor of description while suspending judgments concerning the reality or illusoriness of either conscious processes or the objects of consciousness.

• IDL phenomenology is primarily a practice rather than a substantive theory.  It emphasizes attentiveness to the processes and contents of recalled dream awareness.  Through lucidity training combined with interviewing dream characters while dreaming, this can be expanded into a study of the processes and contents of dream awareness itself.  It dispenses with attitudes that allow waking awareness and its concerns, assumptions, and biases to dominate reflexive awareness.

• IDL phenomenology brings to dreamwork an emphasis on observing multiple perspectives closely, from a myriad of equally relevant perspectives.    This is a paradox, because to be in role requires subjective immersion while observation requires detachment. In IDL this is largely done through the subjective answering of questions and then afterward applying an objective evaluation and interpretation of what has been said by a character. IDL phenomenology supports the suspension of waking expectations and its associated reality judgments.  The experimental procedure of eidetic variation clarifies the fundamental attributes of any and all possible perspectives.

To date these fundamental attributes of emerging potential experience have been found to include such qualities and foci as:

• emphasis on self-acceptance, although not all will have it, and this is true for all of the following tendencies:

• emphasis on autonomy and inherent self-worth;

• desire for the fulfillment of their own needs and wants;

• an interest in being heard and respected;

• movement toward integration, consensus, and greater cohesion;

• disidentification with identity, meaning that these perspectives are neither alive nor dead and therefore have few of the needs that you and I have;

• the transitoriness and therefore relativity of fear and death;

• preoccupation with the expression or resolution of one or more specific life issues;

• predictability, based on the assumptions and expectations of each character;

Each of the above statements remain hypotheses based on IDL Interviewing and Dream Sociometric use of phenomenological eidetic reduction.   They are not statements of fact and in themselves have no reality.  This is the essence of the phenomenological reduction as applied to IDL dream yoga.  As it is experienced, first the autonomy of multiple perspectives is overwhelming, yet benign.  Next comes an extraordinary growth in self-acceptance, followed by an increasing awareness of the dreamlike nature of life.  As this experience ripens, the self-sense thins and core transpersonal qualities become normal fixtures of everyday awareness.  These in turn thin into a growing awareness of innate abundance, cosmic humor and luminosity.  Life is sacred. These are not experiences of transpersonal states; these are adaptations to and awakenings into, the transpersonal as everyday consciousness.


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