What Is Enlightenment?


So, why aren’t you enlightened? You’ve read the books, you’ve gone to workshops, you’ve learned and practiced meditation. Let’s look at the standard answers to this question and show why they are non-answers. We will then look at how your barriers to enlightenment probably lie  in what your understanding of enlightenment is and is not. Finally, we will look at what it takes to become enlightened and how Integral Deep Listening (IDL) supports that process.

Why Most Explanations for Why You Stay Stuck Won’t Work for You

It is simple to look at the standard reasons we are given, or we give ourselves, for our lack of enlightenment, and then discover why they are inadequate. You may have been told or believe you are not enlightened because you either haven’t used the right approach or because you just haven’t done the sacred rites appropriately or enough. You are visualizing Avalokiteshvara when you need to be visualizing Manjusri. You are doing hatha yoga when you need to be doing kundalini. You are attempting to open the wrong chakra, or open them in the wrong order, or using agni yoga instead of bhakti yoga to open them. You are following channelings from the White Brotherhood instead of following Jesus. You are following Jesus instead of finding your totem animal and going on your vision quest. You are not doing Tarot enough or doing Tarot instead of I Ching or kabbala. You are wasting all your time in that spiritual mumbo-jumbo instead of becoming a rational scientist or secular humanist.  So if you’re not enlightened it’s all your fault.

The “right” approach always ends up being whatever I, the master, the authority, tell you to do; if you aren’t using my preferred method you are using the wrong approach and that is why you are not enlightened. However, because most, if not all approaches and teachers operate from this set of assumptions, the only reasonable conclusion is that searching for the right approach to enlightenment is a fool’s errand. There is no one “right” approach. If there were, it would consistently produce enlightened individuals. Where are such people? Where are such approaches? What we find when we look are people who are more or less awake, and none of them perfect. We find approaches that will help you wake up in different ways, depending on your own aptitudes, interests, and needs. Do they produce enlightened individuals? Go take a close look at those making such claims and draw your own conclusions.

This also means that no, it is not true that every approach is the “right” approach or that any and all roads lead to enlightenment. This is the bland, fuzzy thinking and excuse making of the egalitarian and pluralistic world view often associated with late personal levels of development. We are all one big, happy family, and who are we to say that Christ love is better than Wicca or that Scientology will not make you enlightened? All is in divine order, so whatever you do is right!

If you have practiced some approach like Transcendental Meditation for years and still cannot levitate (a claim it makes) and are not enlightened (another claim it makes), is it because you haven’t used TM enough or done it correctly? Such conclusions can easily be tested: certainly out of the hundreds of thousands of practitioners of TM you would find some who can levitate and who are enlightened in a way that stands out among humans, yes? If you do an investigation, you may find some TMer’s who can “hop” a bit when they are meditating, and you will find some who have high brain coherence and who experience states of bliss from time to time. These gains may indeed be impressive, and convince you that you can benefit from practicing TM, but are these people enlightened?

In order to know, you have to be able to look at the entirety of their lives, not just who they present themselves to be in public. When you do so, or when you talk to those who know them best, you will find that they are as human as you are, meaning they have plenty of characteristics that are imperfect and do not fit into your definition of what it means to be enlightened. You can in similar fashion test the claims made by Christianity, Tibetan Buddhism, Zen, and contemporary enlightened “masters.” Note that contemporary “masters,” like Andrew Cohen, are most easily shown to be unenlightened. The farther back in time the easier it is to construct a history around a person that conforms to your definition of enlightenment. For example, believers and invested scholars have been playing this game with Jesus for centuries. Buddha’s appeal rests on the idealism of the mythology surrounding him, mythology that grew up in the hundreds of years before an account of his life was ever written down.

Enlightenment claims are effective for those who want to believe and who therefore do not ask too many questions. In fact, a preliminary demand of most spiritual paths is that you suspend disbelief and doubt and have “faith.” You accept whatever you are told as true. You are asked to suspend your adult ability to think and reason and instead regress into simple childlike belief. Is regression a path to enlightenment?

Integral Deep Listening (IDL), one of the options discussed on this site and explored in detail at IntegralDeepListening.Com, offers one path to greater wakefulness, but that is quite different from making claims that you will become enlightened if you use it. IDL assumes that life itself spent millions of years for good reason evolving creatures with frontal lobes and capable of reasoning. These developments represent a major evolutionary step toward greater wakefulness. Those who believe that enlightenment involves suspending thinking, questioning, and reasoning take on the burden of proof. It is they that need to show how regression to pre-rational, childlike states of awareness, belief and blind faith produce greater states of wakefulness or enlightenment than does belief combined with thinking, questioning, and reasoning.

Notice that IDL is not saying “reason is better than belief” or that “adulthood is better than childhood.” Instead, it is saying, “You need to combine and integrate the strengths of both childhood and adulthood, belief and reason if you want to transcend both.” You are thereby embracing rather than rejecting belief. Scientific humanism, skepticism and atheism are themselves systems of belief. Belief is not optional; only our ability to delude ourselves into thinking we do not have beliefs is optional.

We can also gain clarity by asking, “What are the psychological benefits of making claims that we are enlightened and can teach it to others?” Notice that those who make such claims invariably shift responsibility from the teacher, master, teaching, “path,” yoga, religion and themselves onto you, the student. Your lack of progress is never because of any limitations of the teacher or the approach; they are enlightened. You just haven’t said the right mantra, done the practices in the right order, or haven’t done enough of them. You lack dedication, devotion, patience, and perseverance. You need to redouble your efforts and have more faith.

I first encountered this sanctimonious groupthink in the psychology of enlightenment when I was about twenty-one. I traveled to Escondido, California, land of fruits and nuts, to become enlightened studying “Agni Yoga,” or “The Light Work” under one Russell Paul Schofeld, who had some impressive telepathic gifts. Ralph Metzner was my teacher. He was one of the psychedelic-testing trinity of ex-Harvard psychologists, including Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, later to become Ram Dass. I experienced Agni Yoga as brainwashing of an impressive sort. It gave me nightmares. Wavering, I was told by Schofeld in a “dream” that if I would only hold out to lesson number thirty-two all would become clear. By that time I would probably have become so enmeshed in the cultural groupthink of this cult that I would have not only been blind to its limitations but incapable of objective judgment or individual decision-making, both characteristics associated with enlightenment. Don’t we need more of them, not less? I had worked with dreams for years already at that stage in my life, and this “dream” felt like Schofeld himself, invading my dreams in an attempt to persuade me where I was most vulnerable, as he knew of my respect for my dreams. I concluded this was a case of psychic invasion.

Clearly, there are people and organizations out there that will take advantage of any misunderstanding of enlightenment that you have. Because no one is born with such an understanding, we have to learn what enlightenment is and is not. As Winston Churchill said, “men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.”

What Enlightenment Is Not

What is this clear state of consciousness that, in some ways, is the destination of transformation? Setting enlightenment as your goal ensures that you won’t get there! This is because the seeker is that which is being sought, and enlightenment transcends and includes all dualities, including that between the seeker and that which is being sought. Any positive statement of what being awake is will at some point be found to be limited, inadequate and outgrown. Any negative statement of what being awake is not will not adequately communicate the fullness of life. Any injunctive process, or yoga, risks confusing structure for the life that gives it meaning.

As a term, enlightenment is also inherently ambiguous. Is the speaker referring to a final destination, a path, a state of mind, or an evolving context?

While enlightenment is usually associated with the following characteristics, by themselves they are unreliable indicators of the enlightenment of the individual expressing them. Here’s why:

Psychic Ability: Great psychics can be, and often have proven to be, morally depraved.

Oneness with Nature: Mountains, dogs, and infants are one with nature. Are they enlightened?

Oneness with God: Lakes, cats, and infants are one with God; they are not enlightened.

Love: From the perspective of the moneylenders in the temple, was Jesus being loving? Love is a highly subjective measurement. Very loving people can still make huge mistakes or be very foolish. Love is one value among several, including fearless confidence, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing that need to be cultivated and balanced. To reduce any of these to the others, (for example to say that all these are varieties of love), is to impair your development.

Long Life: Historically, enlightened people don’t seem to live any longer than most other people.

Good Health: Enlightened people can and sometimes do suffer from physical health problems.

Resurrection from the Dead: Most enlightened masters live normal life spans. Few, if any, resurrect.

Ecstasy and Bliss: These are signs of spiritual opening. While they do maintain a state of mental clarity and purity, enlightened masters don’t walk around in a state of constant ecstasy or bliss. They have work to do.

Mystical Experiences: Saul on the road to Damascus, saw Jesus, was knocked off his horse and made blind by His Light. It so changed him he started a religion, called Christianity. Was Saul enlightened?

Near Death Experiences: Read any of the many accounts of near death experiences that are out there. Contact and get to know some near death experiencers. Draw your own conclusions.

Ability to Lucid Dream: Children and criminals have reported the ability to lucid dream. Are they enlightened?

Wakefulness in all States: If you are awake when you are deeply asleep does that mean you are enlightened, loving, or balanced? If you are awake in a dream does that mean that your decisions in your dream are wise? Are you awake right now? Just like when you are dreaming, might you merely think you are awake? How do you know if you are awake right now or not?

Trustworthiness: People are not alive to live up to your expectations. Because you will tend to put a Master on a pedestal, they will almost inevitably disappoint you.

The End of Pain: There is an important difference between pain and suffering. While misery is optional, heightened sensitivity, which is often experienced as pain, is a byproduct of evolution. The more you evolve the more sensitivity that you will have to both pleasure and pain. Ecclesiastes puts it like this: “In much wisdom is much grief; and he that increases knowledge increases sorrow.”

The End of Limitation: What is freedom but the end of limitation? But this is only one side of the coin of enlightenment. The other side is increasing responsibility. In Mahayana Buddhism this is expressed in the Bodhisattiva vow: “May I attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.”

The End of Evolution: Is enlightenment the perfect end of all growth or is it about learning a way to look at your life that keeps you from getting in the way of your future development?

One of the worst forms of grandiosity you can have is to think you’re enlightened and then to proceed to inflict your brilliance on others.

What ARE Characteristics of Enlightenment?

  • Ability to witness – to continually watch yourself go by.
  • Ability to stay out of drama in the three realms of interpersonal relationships, thinking, and dreaming.
  • Increasing perspectives that transcend and include your body, emotions, mind and others.
  • Becoming increasingly aware and awake in waking, dream sleep and deep sleep.
  • Constant awareness that waking life shares the reality and many of the characteristics of dreaming — without thereby discounting waking life.
  • Balance between doing and being, between affirming and letting go.
  • Constant thankfulness.
  • A sense of great, overflowing, constant abundance.
  • Cosmic humor: not taking so seriously the fact that you take things so seriously!
  • Not taking things personally, because there is no real or lasting self to get defensive.
  • Polyperspectival: able to look at life from a multitude of perspectives – and at the same time.
  • Knowing that life is not about you; it is about life waking up to itself in and through you
  • Balanced in core qualities such as confidence, empathy, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing.
  • Enjoyment of life.
  • Embracing the extraordinary nature of the ordinary, the sacred in the secular.
  • Has evolved to late personal or above on all major developmental lines (self, morality, cognitive and interpersonal).
  • This means that the enlightened are intelligent, morally worthy of respect, emotionally healthy and maintain mutually respectful relationships with all others, based on high order empathy. It does not mean that they are necessarily physically coordinated, charismatic or mathematical or musical prodigies.
  • A willingness to make mistakes, fail, accept responsibility for them, and move on.
  • High-order empathy: the ability to take the role of all others, in dreams and after death, and know your life from their perspective.
  • Thinks it’s ridiculous that people view them as enlightened!
  • Dedication to service to all sentient beings in all dimensions.
  • Outstanding patience, perseverance, and determination.
  • Good luck; life flows!
  • Extraordinary mental focus.
  • Challenging to be around. You would feel challenged to be more and do more. This could cause you to feel unaccepted and self-critical, but that would be your own projection.
  • Inspiring. Such a person will awaken the best in you, but that may also trigger your fears of failure, rejection, and abandonment!

While “enlightenment” is often used to refer to the pinnacle of development, it is clear that enlightened masters are not perfect in all lines of development. Upon closer examination we find that enlightenment often refers to the completion or fulfillment of one line of development, the self line, or your sense of who you are. When enlightened your self-sense becomes another tool, like your hand, a transparent concept that no longer defines your identity. Enlightenment then is no longer about “you” waking up. Instead, it is seen to be about life waking up, in and through its dreaming, of which you are one dream character.

Think of enlightenment as a never-ending process of waking up. Just as there are levels of dream lucidity, escape from life illusion, and suffering, so there are levels of enlightenment.

What Does It Take to Become Enlightened?

Enlightenment is an ongoing, never-ending process of awakening. Life evolves, and as it does broader contexts into which you can awaken are created. The context of the enlightenment of Buddha or Jesus was limited by the social, cultural, psychological, and behavioral assumptions of the times in which they lived. A butterfly has capabilities for enlightenment that did not exist for it as a caterpillar because its context has been radically expanded. Because you live in a subsequent time with broader contexts, you have the potential of becoming enlightened in ways that Buddha and Jesus could not, because current possibilities had not yet emerged.

Consequently, approach enlightenment as an integral, ongoing process. It is more important that you balance several fundamental competencies than it is for you to be outstanding in any one. For example, is it better for you to become an outstanding lucid dreamer or for you to be balanced on your self, moral, cognitive, and empathetic lines? Which is better, for you to become balanced among confidence, empathy, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing, or for you to be the most loving person around? If you have deficits in any one of those six core qualities of awakening, aren’t your efforts at being loving going to be limited? This is the purpose of developing an integral life practice, or a yoga that is made out of several yogas designed to develop key physical, emotional, interpersonal, psychological, and spiritual competencies. IDL recommends that you do not trust your own judgment or those of others in choosing these practices. Instead, it recommends that you choose as best you can and then interview various dream characters and personifications of life issues, using IDL interviewing, in order to benefit from internal sources of objectivity regarding your goals and practices. Then choose as best as you can! Use IDL interviewing to monitor your progress and stay in touch with what emerging potentials are trying to be born within you. Use it to access recommendations about how to best nurture their development, and so speed up your entire process of awakening.

Such a path is not dependent on your blind faith and belief in the path others think is best for you. Instead, you learn from others while aligning your priorities with those of life, priorities that are attempting to emerge into expression through you. This way, your path partakes of, but transcends your belief systems, mythologies and practices, while directed by a yoga of listening to yourself, others, and life itself in an integral way.

Reducing Resistance to Clarity

Think of enlightenment as a two-fold process of moving away and moving toward. You are moving away from, or thinning, your identification with physical, mental, cultural, and social filters that are delusional and distort your ability to awaken. Mystical and near death states are examples of relatively non-filtered states of greater clarity. Both moving away from filtering and toward clarity are equally important. Filters are necessary to do work in the world; it is identification with the filters, or believing that your filters are real and accurately describe life, that is not necessary or helpful past personal stages of development. IDL has specific and powerful processes designed to thin your identification with your filters. The first involves recognition of your familial and cultural life scripting, a necessary step if you are ever going to be free to choose another path for yourself. Rebelling against scripting is not freedom from it. The second approach IDL teaches to freeing you from the filters that keep you caught in your delusions involves recognition and reduction of drama in the three realms of waking relationships, cognition, and dreaming. Drama is karma, dukkha, and samsara; it is self-created misery, and misery, unlike pain, is optional. The third process involves eliminating your emotional, rational, and perceptual cognitive distortions. The first, emotional cognitive distortions, is an approach associated with cognitive behavioral therapy and is based on the assumption that how you think determines how you feel. IDL expands on that by pointing out that how you perceive determines how you think and your world view. In addition, IDL teaches communication skills. These processes are explained in detail in Waking Up. Together, these are the major strategies that IDL uses to reduce major barriers to clarity.

Generating Clarity

The processes that IDL uses to actively generate wakefulness, clarity, and enlightenment are IDL interviewing, acting on recommendations provided by the interviewing process, incubation, meditation, pranayama and triangulation. A fun introduction to the interviewing process is provided by the free App for Android and Apple phones and tablets, End Nightmares Forever! Those learning to be IDL coaches, practitioners, or teachers learn to interview others as well as themselves using the IDL interviewing protocol. Empowering others, particularly children, by teaching them how to find and follow their life compass speeds awakening. Because others represent aspects of ourselves, the act of interviewing others integrates those aspects more completely into an expanded sense of who we are. In the process, we learn not only from their interviewed emerging potentials but increase our ability to deeply listen. All of this powerfully supports enlightenment.

Acting on recommendations from interviews strengthens our confidence in the method and in ourselves. Because these recommendations represent priorities of emerging potentials, they represent shortcuts into the enlightened reality of our future selves.

Pre-sleep incubation sets intention for dreaming, deep sleep, and tomorrow, shifting dream scenarios away from drama and needless filtering toward the six core qualities of confidence, empathy, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing. Less reactive and regressive dreaming means that we awaken with better mood and greater clarity, which in turn supports waking choices away from addiction to habitual patterns and toward greater awakening.

Meditation: Because meditation is focused practice in strengthening intentionality and expanding clarity, it accelerates the entire process of awakening. IDL encourages both sitting and active meditation, for instance while one is driving, working, or even when arguing with others. It teaches the naming of the contents of awareness to interrupt train of thought and teach non-judgment. It also uses observation of breath to build the six core qualities in a balanced way.

Triangulation increases clarity by improving decision-making. It does so through the consultation of others, interviewed emerging potentials, and your own common sense. If we can’t make good decisions or effectively solve the problems that arise on our path, how can we expect to become enlightened?

Balanced Development of Core Lines

Enlightenment requires balanced development over a number of important areas, particularly cognition, self, morality, and empathy.  Here is some of what it means to become enlightened in each of these four critical areas.

Expanding Cognitive Development

Learning to reason, question, and recognize logical errors is a necessary prerequisite for any type of lasting enlightenment because how you think determines not only what you see but what sense you make of what you see. Therefore, the conclusions you draw about who you are, how to relate to others and the purpose of your life are determined by how you think. The clearer and more objective your thinking becomes, the healthier and beneficial the spontaneous expression of your emotions becomes. This is why Wilber’s integral AQAL states that the cognitive line leads the development of the other lines. That does not mean thinking is more important than feeling but only that how you think generates the world view, contexts, and framing of reality in which other aspects of your consciousness evolve.

For example, if you have a near death or mystical experience, it is likely to be awe-inspiring and overwhelmingly emotional. Your level of cognitive development will determine what you perceive during the experience and therefore what you remember and are able to integrate into your life from it. This is made more obvious by looking at your responses in your dreams as well as comparing how children, adults, and people from different religions and cultures view the same experience. IDL presupposes an integral model or world view as a jumping off space for understanding life, what interviewed characters say, and how to apply their recommendations. This is Wilber’s AQAL, or “all quadrant, all levels, all lines, all states, and all types” as well as his “integral life practice.” IDL does not assume that this integral model is final or all-inclusive, but only that it provides a well-thought through, multiple-perspectival lens on development.

IDL strongly supports the development of cognition past personal levels into a broader, trans-rational world view. It does so notably by identification with apparently absurd and irrational dream characters and imaginary personifications of life issues such as toilet brushes and kangaroos. This is practice in multiperspectivalism, a core characteristic of transpersonal anything. Seemingly meaningless, silly, absurd and imaginary characters are recognized as not being irrational at all and in fact, in the context of IDL interviewing, reflecting broader perspectives than our own. A small, undeveloped sense of self is associated with selfishness, narcissism, fear, defensiveness, and reactivity. The more inclusive your sense of self becomes the less you personalize what others say and what happens to you. You slowly realize that life is not about you; life is about life, and you are an instrument for it to awaken to itself.

IDL also supports development of the cognitive line by noting that both integration and transcendence are important. Integration creates the stable and balanced launch pad you require if you are to get launched into a higher, broader reality. Transcendence or transformation is important if you want to grow in your experience of what it means to be enlightened. These two styles of development can also be called hierarchy and heterarchy. Hierarchy says “Yes, Christ love is a more adequate expression of enlightenment than Scientology or Wicca.” Heterarchy says, “What matters is caring about everyone and everything without exception.” Both of these approaches are required; you don’t have to reject one, but rather learn which to use based on what is required at the time. Together they create a growth dialectic that propel you toward enlightenment.

Expanding Your Sense of Self

Who you think you are and are not determines how you relate to others and the world. For example, if you think you are a member of a family, professional group, religion, or nation, you will identify with those perspectives and tend to exclude or come into conflict with those individuals and ideas that lie outside your self-definition. The broader and more inclusive your self-definition the less likely you are to come into conflict with others and with life. Self-definitions are stories we tell ourselves to validate our world view. They are arbitrary, like dreams, and have no basis in fact. Consequently, any story that we tell ourselves about who we are needs to be approached with a fair amount of humor. The more serious and “important” the story is, the more humor is in order. IDL powerfully expands your sense of who you are by teaching you to regularly set aside your habitual self-definitions in order to experience the expansion, freedom, relaxation, openness, receptivity, and clarity that results. You discover that the more you thin and broaden your sense of who you are the easier life gets because you get out of your own way.

Acting Ethically 

IDL views morality with skepticism and asks a number of questions about it. Why is morality important? Is morality something life does or something humans need in order to get along with each other? Is the transcendence of morality a state of immorality, amorality, or simply a justification for not playing by the rules? Lawrence Kohlberg and others have done important work that demonstrate that there are developmental stages of morality and that these are both necessary and non-reversible. That is, once you awaken into a higher definition of morality there does not appear to be a regression to earlier, more limited definitions of what it means to be an ethical person.

As children it is important to learn and internalize the ethical guidelines of society. These basically involve developing a conscience and following rules, such as the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments. At this level of morality you have internalized parental voices; you act morally because you should, not because it makes sense. That is the next step. You develop the ability to question the rules and follow those that are rational and make sense to you while discarding the rest. For example, you act morally because you experience that how you treat others is how you are treating those aspects of yourself that you represent. Because you do not want to damage yourself, or throw yourself into unnecessary conflict, you act ethically. This definition expands until it includes everything and everybody. Beyond this understanding lies ethical freedom, which is not to be confused with license. IDL deals with this delusion with triangulation. Both internal and external, subjective (dream characters and the personifications of life issues) and objective (authorities you respect) sources of objectivity are consulted when ethical challenges arise. The result is that your decision-making is informed but not controlled by public or social norms but neither is it controlled by your preferences or those by consensus recommendations of interviewed emerging potentials. However, each serves as a safeguard against self-delusion, with the goal being that a more balanced decision is the result, although it still is unlikely to please everybody.

IDL also supports the evolution of the moral line by providing repeated concrete experiences that confirm that how you treat all others is how you treat those aspects of yourself that they represent. It also provides repeated practice at high level empathy, a competency that reflects a high degree of moral development.

Evolving Empathy

The importance of empathy lies in its ability to expand and clarify your definition of who you are. While the self-line involves who you think you are, cognition how you think and reason, morality why you do what you do, empathy involves the evolution of your capacity to expand your sense of who you are. As a young child, you have empathy with physical sensations, then with your emotions. These are all self-centered forms of empathy, but they do involve an evolution of awareness toward greater objectivity. It is important to note that some people never evolve in empathy beyond these early stages, although they may be highly intelligent, charismatic, and successful. Empathy is not a requirement for success in school, bedding attractive partners, or making a lot of money. Successful people can appear to be highly empathetic but merely learn to appear so because it is a highly effective way to get people to do what they want. Non-empathetic people are often troubled and even criminal, because an inability or unwillingness to empathize is self-centered, exploitative, and remorseless. Consequently, psychiatry is likely to label adults who are fixated in the development of empathy at early to mid prepersonal levels as personality disordered, demonstrating sociopathy or narcissistic personality disorder.

Taking the roles of others is the next normal step in the development of empathy in childhood. It is a mechanical identification with the appearance and observable behavior of desirable roles, such as sports or military figures, super heroes, or helping professionals like teachers or doctors. This is an important step in the formulation in identity for children, but it involves little insight, reflection, or what is normally considered to be empathy. There is little to no awareness of the motivations of others, but more the parroting of things they say when they are performing exciting or interesting behaviors. This is all that is expected of good actors, although a good actor will also possess genuine empathy. Most people never develop empathy beyond this point; they call sympathy empathy and believe they are being empathetic when they are sure they know how other people feel.

However, the only way to know how another person feels is to ask them. People who have evolved to the next level of empathy have learned to do so by checking out their assumptions of what others are feeling, thinking, or suppose by doing something radical: they ask them. This is the skill for enlightenment that is taught in IDL interviewing; you develop empathy by asking questions about what the interviewed character is experiencing. This involves the ability to suspend your assumptions about what others feel in order to hear from them what they are actually feeling. This radical idea involves not only listening to the motivations, intentions and feelings of others, but not interpreting them so that they fit into your world view. How many people can do that? How many people recognize this as a core characteristic of enlightenment? Even most trained therapists are certain they are empathetic when in fact what they do is reframe their client’s experience in ways that are comfortable to themselves. This is manipulative, and is a form of “empathy” that projects interpretations once the clinician believes they have established empathy and know not only what the client is thinking and feeling, but what they need.

IDL is practice in empathy that minimizes interpretation. It does so by requiring the suspension of interpretations and personal filtering of information from the subject as best as possible, in addition to listening to their thoughts and feelings. The result is an authentic taking on of the perspective of the other and supporting them in evolving their own further integration. Because you are empathetic you support the enlightenment of the other; because you support the enlightenment of the other the part of yourself that they represent becomes more enlightened.

The next level of empathy is spontaneous and ongoing multi-perspectivalism, in which shifts of perspective naturally occur. Every interview that you do, whether for yourself or for another, strengthens your capacity for empathy. When you do an interview on yourself, or someone leads you through an interview, the requirement to stay in a novel role for an extended period of time in order to answer the various questions means that you expose yourself to an expanded state of empathy to a degree and extent that you are not otherwise likely to do in your waking life. When you interview someone else the development of empathy is supported in a somewhat different way. In order to keep them in role you have to recognize the difference between “their” voice, perspective, or world view and that of the interviewed character. This is an evolving competency. Non-empathetic or novice interviewers will not do a very good job at this, although the interview structure attempts to ensure that in most cases the results are at least adequate.

So Why Are You Not Enlightened?

IDL assumes that enlightenment is a never-ending developmental process that is supported by an integral model and a competent methodology to guide your integral life practice or yoga. If you think you are already enlightened because you had a mystical experience or have met the True Guru, or believe in your religious tradition or current yoga, you will disagree with this conclusion, because you already have The Answer. Because you are already a True Believer you have chosen to limit your possibilities for further enlightenment to those conclusions already drawn by some pre-packaged answer, thereby considerably reducing your ability to find and follow your life compass. You will continue to wake up, just slower.

IDL also assumes that enlightenment is a product of a process of triangulation, in which both external and internal sources of objectivity are consulted and compared, using your own common sense. If your framework or context for making these comparisons is limited to some historical revelation or pre-cooked model of reality, such as one you derived from a mystical experience, your future journey to enlightenment will occur within those parameters or guidelines. The story you tell yourself about it and its meaning is like a repetitive dream; you keep dreaming it. IDL assumes that you are more likely to grow in enlightenment much more rapidly if you adopt an evolving set of guidelines, which is what occurs when you take on the yoga of interviewing emerging potentials on a regular basis and applying their recommendations in a way to test the method and develop trust in it. This is because the guidelines of IDL say that there is no one true story to tell yourself, just as there is no one right or true dream to dream all your life. If you practice deep listening to whatever dreams you are dreaming you will wake up out of them. This is called enlightenment, of a developmental sort.

IDL encourages you to embrace the traditions, teachings, paths, practices and yogas that you are currently using and that you have found valuable. IDL is meant to help you get the most out of being a Buddhist, Christian, shaman, mystic, near death experiencer, atheist, humanist, demon worshipper, capitalist or addict. It says, “Do not give up what you are currently doing!” Instead, use it and build on it! This is how children learn to walk and talk. They don’t give up crawling and baby talk; they outgrow them. If you look back at your life you will probably see things you fervently believed were true that are embarrassments to you now. Maybe it was that cult you joined, or those years you wasted in a dead end relationship or the unethical, soul-destroying work that you did for all those years. Maybe it was how you treated those you love the most. We all have had such experiences and we can either hold on to our regrets and embarrassment and beat ourselves up about them, or we can ignore, repress and forget them, or we can learn from them. When we choose to learn from them we place them in larger contexts, we outgrow them while respecting that what we were so sure was true, ultimate or real could be and should be outgrown. And so it is with your present reality. IDL is designed to provide you with your own unique way forward into ever-expanding enlightenment.

For more information about IDL, see IntegralDeepListening.Com, DreamYoga.Com. Introductory texts on IDL include Dream Yoga: Accessing Your Inner Compass, and Waking Up. A free app for Android and Apple phones and tablets, “End Nightmares Forever!” You can connect with other students of IDL at “Friends of IDL” on Facebook. You can learn how to become an IDL coach here.


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Need help healing relationships, solving problems, making decisions, discovering your life purpose? Want to learn how to use Integral Deep Listening to change your life -- and/or the lives of others? Your first session is FREE! Dr. Joseph Dillard is available via Skype.
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