Integral Deep Listening, a form of Dream Yoga first developed by Joseph Dillard in 1980, accesses the source of not only your dreams but of the waking dream of your scripted life. It asks, “If there exist parts of yourself that are already enlightened and can tell you how to become so, shouldn’t you listen to them?” It views all dreams, asleep or awake, as “wake-up calls.” If we do not listen to them they get louder, first as nightmares and then as somatic complaints, interpersonal and career conflicts, accidents, and “bad luck.” Integral Deep Listening is integral because it approaches consciousness from the “all quadrant, all levels, all lines” model which is elaborated in the writings of Ken Wilber, the most influential integral thinker of our time. It involves deep listening because it suspends waking assumptions in favor of listening to other parts of ourselves. It is deep because it focuses on listening to those aspects of ourselves that normally are not heard because they represent perspectives that are unassimilated into the world view of waking identity. These parts are much more than “shadow.” Some are the incarnations of light, personifying our highest potentials. Integral Deep Listening is a form of dream yoga because it sees experience as dependent upon our perception, which is a dream-like self creation, whether we are awake or asleep. It is a yoga because it is a spiritual discipline whose purpose is oneness with the divine. It is different from Tibetan Dream Yoga because it is not a religious practice It is different from lucid dreaming in that it emphasizes lucid living, which means waking up within life, regardless of one’s state of consciousness.
IDL uses a structured interviewing protocol to interview dream characters, life issues, waking life conflicts, historical events, and mythological themes from history or literature. This non-interpretive structure has been to be very useful for helping with creative problem solving of all kinds, from physical health problems like migraines and cancer to mental health problems like depression and fear. Hanna had so much anxiety that she was unable to go outside. “I’m afraid of everything and everyone. Even my breathing and heartbeat scare me. When they become faster, I think I’m dying!” I asked Hanna what color her fear would be and what shape it would take. She said, “A little green frog that is sitting on a lilly pad in a river.” I then asked Hanna to imagine that she was this little green frog. It said, “I personify Hanna’s anxiety. I just need more space – more lilly pads and a bigger river.” When the frog imagined it had what it wanted it felt free and had no anxiety or worries. It said that if Hanna imagined that she were it she would not have anxiety or worries either. It recommended that Hanna deal with her fears by facing them. She started to do so, first by getting a job, then starting to exercise, and then to go to airports. The more that she practiced listening to the frog and other personifications of healthy parts of herself, the less afraid she became.
When people get a diagnosis from a doctor they often go to another to get a second opinion. Hanna was getting a second opinion from a source that knows her better than any doctor: herself. Why should she listen to an imaginary frog? This frog scored very high in confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing. It was not filled with self-doubt or worry like Hanna was. It had complete self-acceptance, unlike Hanna. According to Integral Deep Listening, creative problem solving requires three sources of input, the approach Hanna was learning. The first comes from the recommendations of trusted professionals or peers. The second comes from using one’s own common sense. The third, which is rarely accessed, comes from practicing integral deep listening to self-aspects. Doing so provides a form of “subjective objectivity” from parts of ourselves that have different perspectives on how and why we are stuck and what we need to do to get unstuck. When these three approaches to problem solving are combined, they tend to balance and compensate for each other. When all three agree, there is a sense of a clear and solid direction forward in our lives.
How IDL Differs From Other Approaches
There are several problems with traditional approaches to working with dreams. First, they are interpretive. This means that the dreamer or some other person projects assumptions about what they mean onto the dream. The problem with this is that such interpretations say much more about the mindset and level of development of the interpreter than they do about the dream itself. Second, they bias one particular perspective, that of waking identity. Dreams are not primarily representative of the perspectives of waking selves. They are largely comprised of the perspectives of non-waking self-aspects. Another problem is that many interpretive schemas are symbolic. Just as you do not primarily see yourself as a symbol of anything, neither do your dream characters experience themselves a symbols. To say Hanna’s frog is a symbol is to say that its meaning is derivative rather than intrinsic. We might assume a sun in a dream is a symbol of light and warmth. How do we know if light and warmth are the characteristics that the sun emphasizes? We ask the sun. When we do so we may find that it emphasizes other characteristics, such as power, acceptance, or death. Hanna’s frog said that while it may represent certain qualities Hanna possesses, its essence is separate from and deeper than those qualities.
Waking identity, both during waking life and as the experiencer of dreams, is disqualified as a reliable interpreter of dreams for at least two good reasons. While dreaming, we think we are awake when we are not, thereby causing our assessments during the dream of what we experience to be based on a fundamental delusion. Our waking identity interprets dream events, reacting to them according to the frames of reference, culture, biases, and prejudices that every waking identity has. It compounds this problem by assuming that the people and objects it experiences while dreaming are real and external to itself. This is a second delusion, since dream images are, for the most part, self-creations. This conclusion is based on the testimony of self-aspects when they are interviewed. Consequently, Dream Self experiences and responds to dream events, both while dreaming and later, when awake, in ways that consistently misinterpret dream intent. Because it takes these misinterpretations into waking as facts about the reality of the dream, it draws completely incorrect conclusions about dreams.
The most profound and common example of this involves nightmares. Dreamers commonly misperceive nightmare characters and events as threatening, such as a monster or a fire or a fear of failure. We usually react to such perceived threats by running, fighting, or waking up. But these responses are based on the two delusions just mentioned. We think we are awake when we are not and we think that the scene in the dream is objective when it is self-created. Our ability to problem solve in our dreams is impaired by these self-created delusions. We discover that our conclusions about such nightmare characters and events are delusional when we interview characters from the dream. In most cases the fire or monster states either that its purpose was to be helpful or to get the dreamer’s attention so he or she would respond more positively to a life issue. Such intentions are commonly misperceived by our waking self that is doing the interpreting in a chronic, massive, common, and avoidable failure in problem solving. A sort of waking totalitarianism insists that it knows the truth and proceeds to repress all other possible internal perspectives.
What makes your recollection of dream events the correct one or the best one? What if it disagrees with the recollection of events by other dream characters? Which perspective is right? Which one is best? Might it not be a situation similar to the story of the Blind Men and the Elephant, in which each one was partially right, but all were wrong, because their conclusions did not take into account the perspectives of the others?
Integral Deep Listening minimizes these problems by suspending waking biases in favor of interviewing dream characters in a methodical and precise way that is designed to relate to practical, everyday life issues that call out for healing, balancing, and transformation. Instead of listening first to gurus, dream interpreters, therapists, and other external sources of direction, why not go to the source? There are parts of you that know why you are stuck, how you are stuck, and what you need to do to get unstuck. These parts were not turned into scripted bonzais the way you were by the social enculturation of your youth. The family and social scripting that you were subjected to as a child was all very well intentioned but had nothing to do with your own unique developmental path. It had nothing to do with the wisdom that speaks to you in your dreams.
The Six Core Qualities
What self-aspects value can be summarized as six core qualities that are associated with the round of breath, of a day, of a life, and of the seasons of the year. These six core qualities are confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing. Because self-aspects cannot die, those that recognize this fact about themselves are fearless. Because they are fearless, they tend to be more confident than you are. Because the level of awareness of self-aspects is dependent upon that of their fellows, they tend to be more compassionate than you are. Compassion transcends and includes love and its opposites, fear and hate. Because self-aspects express intuitive knowing which tends to place them in the right place at the right time to say and do that which will awaken the highest within others, they tend to be wiser than you. Because self-aspects unconditionally accept both others and themselves for who they are they tend to be more accepting than you. Because self-aspects tend not to react to stress they tend to have more inner peace than you do. Because self-aspects objectively observe the drama of life without becoming immersed in it, they tend to witness more than you do.
These six core qualities are attributes of that part of your identity that does not die, usually referred to as your soul. To cultivate them means to put your growth in a transpersonal, or soul-based, context. This is what Integral Deep Listening does. By cultivating these six core qualities your life evolves in a transpersonal context while minimizing the two extremes of reductionism and idealization. Your ability to problem solve improves because you are making decisions from a transpersonal context that transcends and includes that of your normal, waking identity.
What are three fundamental life issues that you are dealing with now in your life?
Tell me a dream you remember. It can be an old one, a repetitive dream, a nightmare, or one that you’re sure you understand.
Why do you think that you had this dream?
If it were playing at a theater, what name would be on the marquee?
These are the characters in the dream…
If one character had something especially important to tell you, which would it be?
Now remember how as a child you liked to pretend you were a teacher or a doctor? It’s easy and fun for you to imagine that you are the shape that took form from your color and answer some questions I ask, saying the first thing that comes to your mind. If you wait too long to answer, that’s not the character answering – that’s YOU trying to figure out the right thing to say!
(Character,) would you please tell me about yourself and what you are doing?
What do you like most about yourself? What are your strengths?
What do you dislike most about yourself? Do you have weaknesses? What are they?
(Character), you are in this person’s life experience, correct? They created you, right?_____ (Character), what aspect of this person do you represent or most closely personify?
(Character,) if you could be anywhere you wanted to be and take any form you desired, would you change? If so, how?
(Continue, answering as the transformed object, if it chose to change.)
(Character), how would you score yourself 0-10, in confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, peace of mind, and witnessing? Why?
(Character,) if you scored tens in all six of these qualities, would you be different? If so, how?
How would the life of the person who created you be different if he/she naturally scored high in all six of these qualities all the time?
If you could live the life of the person who created you for him/her, how would you live it differently?
If you could live this person’s waking life for him/her today, would you handle his/her three life issues differently? If so, how?
What three life issues would you focus on if you were in charge of his/her life?
In what life situations would it be most beneficial for this person to imagine that they are you and act as you would?
Why do you think that you are in this person’s life?
How is this person most likely to ignore what you are saying to them?
What would you recommend that they do about that?
I think this person had this dream because
I think (this dream event happened or this character was in the dream) because…
What have you heard yourself say?
If this experience were a wake-up call from your soul, what do you think it would be saying to you?