How an Integral Approach to Spirituality Is Supported by
Integral Deep Listening
Did you know that you can become stable in the non-dual and still have nightmares and persecutors in your dreams? You can check this out for yourself by asking your favorite living master to tell you a cross-section of their typical night’s dreams. If they are good reporters of their dreams, you will find all the qualities and themes that you were sure you were going to transcend by evolving up the transpersonal ladder. How come?
While we develop more or less naturally from egocentric magical through ethnocentric mythic to worldcentric rational and pluralistic world views in our social and cultural evolution, this is not automatically paralleled by an internal, intrasocial and intracultural evolution. While the internal individual consciousness of the self evolves along with the other three quadrants of the human holon, these are all quadrants of waking identity, not dream consciousness. The dream holon evolves at its own pace, in response to dynamics that are at least partially independent of the waking self holon.
What this means is that evolving your dream holon involves much more than doing work on your shadow. You have to move beyond such waking projections onto your own intrasocial reality by practicing an ongoing phenomenological yoga of integral deep listening. That means you need to take on a daily discipline of interviewing and acting on the reasonable recommendations of your dream characters and the personifications of your waking life issues. The characters in your dreams typically do not view themselves as shadow. That is a projection by your waking identity upon them. It matters because their awakening, presence, and transformative effect on your daily life is conditioned by how you define them. Another example would be the view that dream consciousness and its development is a subset of the individual interior quadrant of the human holon. While this is indeed the case, it is true from the perspective of waking identity. When you become this or that dream character, you discover that waking identity and its “human holon” is a subset of the dream holon. Which perspective is correct? The one you are identified with at the moment, of course! Since you are chronically identified with your waking perspective, whether awake, meditating, or dreaming (as your “dream self”).
Your entire approach to the evolutionary-involutionary project is conditioned by the biases of your waking identity. That is how it is in the classical sacred texts, contemporary spiritual communities, and in the integral movement itself. We know this is the case because the viewpoints of dream characters are rarely consulted by any of these pathways to enlightenment. Everything we do is interpreted by our waking identity, whether we are talking about dreams, politics, classical mysticism, LSD experiences, art, or the items on our “to do” list. These are not monolithic interpretations because different subsets of our waking identity take on conflicting roles with different perspectives and world views. While there is not only nothing wrong with interpreting our world from our waking perspective(s), – there is an inevitability about it – few of these are intrasocial or intrapersonal perspectives. You can become as socially and culturally worldcentric, pluralistic, or even theocentric, and still not grasp, much less express, an intrasocial perspective on the world.
So what? Is one really necessary? Far more than simply disclosing the “shadow,” or repressed and then projected elements of your identity, a polycentric intracollective perspective is much more likely to speak for spirit. Why? Because it samples, on an ongoing basis, the opinions of a cross-section of a greater identity that transcends and includes both shadow and waking identity. You need this if you want to align your development with your own greater good. Otherwise, you will do what your waking identity is sure is divine will, such as believe that your latest lover is your soul mate, or that your dream is telling you to move to Boulder, or that you need to buy stock in Apple.
Integral Deep Listening is phenomenological in that such assumptions by your waking identity about the subjects of your interviews, whether dream characters or waking experiences, are minimized. It is a yoga in that it is an injunctive, empirically verifiable, psychospiritual methodology that is practiced daily. It is integral in that it embraces AQAL. It is listening in that it is primarily a questioning rather than an interpretive process. It is deep listening in that it seeks to hear the deepest intentionalities of the other, whether that other is an emanation of your sleeping or waking dream. This is not meant to imply that the external world is not real; it is only to say that what you know of the world is inescapably conditioned by your particular level of development.
IDL was developed by Joseph Dillard in 1981 out of the ingenious sociometric methods devised by J.L. Moreno, known best for psychodrama and all sorts of experiential approaches to personal development. Moreno’s work was a precursor to both Perl’s Gestalt and the T-group, sensitivity training, Esalen-type experiences of the 1970’s. IDL’s first incarnation was as Dream Sociometry, which is now a subtype of IDL, which is itself a form of Dream Yoga.
In Integral Deep Listening you either interview a character from a dream or take a waking life issue, such as financial worries, and allow those worries to take a color, such as blue. Mimicking the dream creation process, you fill the space around you with that color and let it congeal, condense, or solidify into some form. You don’t make this happen, you watch it happen. The resulting shape may be a cloud, a square, a toad, or a toilet brush. You then interview it, using a structured protocol which is designed to disclose alternative interpretations, values and world views, and support transformation. IDL does this in a number of ways. One is through character identification, which involves dissociation with waking identity and the cultivation of the witness. Another is through asking the character if it wants to change and if so, how. Another is through asking the character to score itself, zero to ten, in six core qualities that are associated with enlightenment: confidence (fearlessness), compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing.
The results are often experientially profound, revealing not so much that which was not already known but clarifying how and why you are stuck and what you need to do to get unstuck. Neither the process nor the subsequent recommendations are prepersonal, because neither depend on belief. You don’t have to believe in something or somebody to get results; instead you follow a repeatable methodology and draw your own conclusions. However, the results are not primarily rational, but experiential. They transcend and include the rational and the prerational. You awaken one on a core level in a way from that evoked by the Big Mind process of Genpo Roshi based on the Voice Dialogue of the Stones, in that it transcends and includes a rational interviewing protocol. Such voices elicited through IDL prove to be strongly autonomous without being dissociative. The process leads to concrete recommendations regarding the healing, balancing, and transformation of three life issues that you initially choose. This anchors the entire process to practical, daily matters that are of utmost concern to you. You are both invited and supported in putting the process to the test in your daily life by following those recommendations that seem practical and worthwhile to you. While everyone is free to draw their own conclusions, those who suspend their disbelief and learn to trust themselves describe results that are sometimes translational (balancing within a level of development) sometimes transformational, and often both. Consequently, IDL is a genuine transpersonal practice which, when practiced daily, will direct and enhance your integral life practice. When it is combined with meditation the results of both are synergistically accelerated.
Are dreams anything more than repressed shadow that is then projected as dream characters? Wilber deals with dream images primarily as projections, as its, that are third person externalizations of oneself. The problem with such projections, as he makes clear, is a fragmentation of self and a loss of the life energy necessary for growth and eventual enlightenment. Integral Deep Listening views the concept of dream images as projections as a very helpful worldview. Nevertheless, as one more projective interpretation, it needs to be suspended in favor of the phenomenological neutrality of integral deep listening. What matters most is not how we interpret our projections but how this or that piece of experience, for example a dream character, describes itself. When we do succeed in suspending our assumptions we find that both dream characters and personifications of life issues usually describe themselves as self-aspects. However, they do not describe themselves as aspects of a projecting self but as aspects of a larger collective identity of which waking identity is one more self-aspect, itself comprised of any number of satellite self-aspects.
While there exist many roles that are entrained to support waking identity, there are many, many that are not. We discover that many dream characters and life issue personifications are not broken off projections at all. Instead, they are unrecognized or undiscovered potential self-definitions, qualities, or characteristics that we have not yet grown into. There is also the occasional character who states that it is actually deceased Aunt Sally, Christ, or Buddha. However, even Aunt Sally, Christ, or Buddha will usually say that she or he also personifies certain aspects of the dreamer. So even “objective” and “external” dream characters generally are to some extent self-aspects just as “objective” and “external” people in our waking world are to some extent aspects of ourselves. In summary, our reality consists of three domains: the objectively real, known only through our interpretations of our experiences, projections, and potentials that have never been a part of our identity and so are not and cannot be projections. The first world consists of the external contexts that keep us bumping up against limits, propelling growth. The second world is to be reincorporated. The third world is to grow into.
Our world view remains self-centric all the way up through the experience of Atman, or self as God: sat cit, ananda (being, consciousness, bliss). Just because our identification with self is extinguished in healthy causal structures (“nirvana” means “to extinguish) does not mean that we have evolved a polycentric, or intrasocial, collective identity. Why should it? There is little reason to believe that any spiritual tradition to date has evolved a practice of consistently identifying with internal, or intrasocial self-aspects, a step that seems to be required to develop a polycentric identity. That is not the same as experiencing ourselves as interdependently co-originated with every sentient being. In such a scenario a waking self remains the evolving, organizing center of that experience. This does not represent the end of evolution because development is driven by an exchange of identity between the experienced self and the experienced other. We need both and it seems highly unlikely that we will ever outgrow this need, regardless of how much non-dual witnessing we do, because we will hopefully never outgrow our need to grow, to expand and transcend. This explains why Zen masters still have monsut? (monsters) in their dreams. So the solution is not the abolishment of the self in the context of the other, nor is it to reincorporate all other selves into an ever expanding waking identity. Both of these “solutions,” if they were indeed possible, would stop evolution.
IDL demonstrates that becoming potential self-aspects moves adults, as well as children, vertically through the various structures of consciousness – from archaic to magic to mythic to rational to pluralistic to vision logic, and on up into the transpersonal energic, subtle, and causal stages. It doesn’t just help you translate, or stabilize and balance, on your present level more adequately; it creates structural transformation. It does this by outgrowing contexts, by outgrowing experiential self-definitions, by outgrowing toxic patterns of interaction, and by outgrowing behaviors that keep one stuck. It is a four-quadrant, psychotherapeutic yoga. How does this happen? Every time you do an interview you are taking a subject of your awareness and turning it into an object of your awareness. You are disidentifying with your present identity. You are transcending it. When you become self-aspects that score higher than you do in six core qualities associated with enlightenment, you are at least moving to the next higher structure. You start to see yourself from there. This is a transformational state; many, many approaches claim to provide state transformations. IDL is different because with ongoing, daily identification with high-scoring potentials you become them; they become your waking identity. You grow into your transpersonal potentials, and that’s real, lasting, genuine, verifiable transformation.
A reasonable question is, “Meditation has centuries of practice and experience behind it. Integral Deep Listening does not. Why should I believe that something that claims to be new and is relatively untested, reliably delivers structural (stage) evolution instead of exciting, sexy, blissful, addictive states?” The answer is the same as the one Buddha gave: don’t believe it. Instead, test it here or here in your own life and only keep what works for you. If you do, you will see for yourself. If you don’t make an effort to personally evaluate it, you aren’t in a position to objectively evaluate IDL.
With IDL you never get to pure subjectivity. This is because you never stop dreaming, nor do you ever stop experiencing an exterior world of “otherness,” at least not as long as you are alive. You never stop having subjects of awareness in the real world or in the internal world except for periods of clarity in meditation when you become pure subjectivity and pure witnessing awareness. At those moments you still remain the object of the conditioning contexts which predicate both waking and dreaming experience. There is always a larger holon. Traditionally, the goal of meditative traditions has been to turn those periods of non-dual awareness into stable perceptual structures. However, that is a stance of waking identity. It is not a stance of your larger, collective identity. This is not the stance of the contextual holons that condition your enlightenment. We know this because dream images continue for advanced meditators. There is something intrinsically important and essential about the generation of dream forms that does not get outgrown, although it can be stopped for shorter or longer periods of time.
Ken would probably say that the potentials in our dreams are expressions of higher structures that we are yet to grow into. When we introspect these potentials we are not objectifying our present self because we are not yet identified with those unrecognized potentials. Something else is happening. To use Ken’s terminology, it is the objectification of our proximal identity by our overall self, rather than by our proximal identity itself. What would Ken’s approach to drama, tragedy, and the mundane in his own dreams? He might take the traditional approach, which would be that it is proof he is not stabilized at the non-dual or at some higher sub-level of the non-dual. Ken has always been the first to state that he’s got more growth to do. However, he might also see that this answer would put him on an endless squirrel wheel of always trying harder but never quite making it to non-duality while dreaming. If he did so, he might conclude instead that perhaps the manufacturing of dualistic forms is intrinsic to life, whether asleep or waking; it is not something that can or should be outgrown, even though the ability to stop it or disidentify with it is a sign of freedom, transcendence, and enlightenment. Another sign of enlightenment is the ability to address samsara as sunyata – illusion as emptiness. In addition to the many other ways that he already practices this high art form, Ken would do this when he becomes the non-dual core of a dream lamp post or cockroach or critic, whether awake or while dreaming. At stable non-dual awareness no subjects of consciousness any longer define your identity but they continue to define the context of your enlightenment. As you continue to address them, the context of your enlightenment will expand. You won’t have to wait for society to evolve more supportive contexts. You won’t have to wait for your internal, social-cultural scripted context to evolve, because it will no longer define you.
Objective social-cultural contexts will forever continue to condition your identity, as will internal, dream contexts. That’s because both are holons, and there’s never a whole that isn’t a part of another whole. Dream contexts will never stop defining your dream identity and therefore incubating your waking moods, preferences, attitudes, and worldview. Nor should they. You need dream contexts to challenge your waking context, even after you are stabilized at the non-dual. A common theme in the testimony of both interviewed dream characters and the personifications of life issues is that they exist to wake you up. Is there ever going to be a time when you are fully awake? Relatively speaking, definitely. Absolutely? Probably not.
What makes IDL different from other psychotherapeutic practices that promise transformation but deliver temporary advancement in state awareness?
It is a daily practice. Daily practice is required for any approach to enter the qualifying rounds for genuine structural transformation.
It transcends and includes shadow work, the realm of most psychotherapeutic procedures. It not only deals with reincorporating projections; it deals with growing into unrecognized potentials that have never been recognized or owned.
It does not diagnose, interpret, or treat; the healer within does that.
It mimics meditation in that it objectifies subjects of awareness and cultivates the witness through disidentification with waking identity
It creates multiple I-Thou “we” relationships. Wilber states that this is often the missing piece in spiritual development. We work on ourselves or work on spiritualizing life in general, but have difficulty with finding, forming, and maintaining sacred relationships. IDL builds multiple sacred intrapersonal, intrasocial relationships.
It replaces phony compassion with real compassion. It does this by first identifying and slapping down phony compassion. We often see this in high scoring self-aspects that demand that they have a low score in compassion. This is because a high score in compassion would be interpreted by us as a grasping of real compassion when in fact we are practicing some version of social conscience.
Any integral life practice will benefit from including IDL for a number of reasons. Who decides what integral life practice to undertake? Clearly, it is waking identity, informed by the recommendations of authoritative others, such as Wilber and his texts: “Do the basic four daily; optionally, add one of the other five, either in short or long forms.” Which ones you choose will also be determined by your waking preferences, preferences that you assume are aligned with your core, with your spiritual destiny, and hopefully with divine will. But what if you are mistaken? What if there is a different combination of integral life practices that will shorten your journey? What if there is some other focus entirely that you need to take on as preliminary groundwork? How would you know? With IDL you rely on three sources of input for decision making. You get the opinions of others that you respect and trust, such as Ken. You rely on your common sense. You consult self-aspects that score high in core qualities associated with enlightenment. This process is called triangulation. It increases the likelihood that your integral life practice will reflect your collective wisdom instead of simply being a product of your waking preferences. Such sources of “subjective objectivity” are critical for setting and updating your daily integral life practice.