Waking Up Out of Drama

What is the relationship between the three basic states of consciousness, waking, dreaming, and deep sleep? All sorts of world views are based on them. We think of sickness or a calamity like the 2008 market crash or global warming as “wake-up calls.” The implication is that we were asleep or dreaming. We wake up into romance, only in retrospect to often view it as a dream-like delusion. What were we thinking? We were asleep – unconscious! These three states of consciousness form the foundation of most ideas of spirituality throughout the history of the world. Heaven in the West and moksha/nirvana/Tao in the East are often thought of as states of higher wakefulness or enlightenment brought on either by salvation or discipline (yoga). The normal state of human consciousness is then commonly compared either to deep sleep (we are dead to spirit), or to a dream: delusional, an illusion, maya. But then other formulations compare enlightenment to the high causal level of development and beyond – formless consciousness which is at the core of deep sleep.  Becoming really awake is about learning how to be awake first while dreaming and then while deeply asleep.  We find this in some types of yoga and also in the writings of Ken Wilber. The implication of this train of thought is that you need to learn how to do lucid dreaming and then lucid deep sleep.

My interest has been different, which is part of the reason the people interested in dream yoga aren’t particularly interested in my work, Integral Deep Listening, even though it is a form of dream yoga. Learning to do lucid dreaming and then lucid deep sleep can be beneficial, as we will see. However, focusing on it can lead to a downplaying of a much higher, more important priority: sanctifying the secular, becoming lucid in our waking dream. Which is more important, to wake up in our dreams and deep sleep or to live our waking life in an awakened state? We can do the former without the latter; doing the latter tends to naturally evoke the former. When waking up in our waking life becomes our priority, rather than seeking other, more glorious states of consciousness, the question becomes, “How do I wake up out of my normal sleep-like, dream-like state of existence in a sustainable way?” There are plenty of ways to wake up and experience states of greater wakefulness, but most are either not sustainable or are outright toxic. These include drugs, caffein, nicotine, conversion experiences, altar calls, romance, winning the lottery, exercise, movies, good books, demonic foods (like chocolate!), traveling, surfing, and various yogas (like kundalini and tantric). In other words, “How do I become lucid here and now, in my mundane, secular, ho-hum reality in a developmentally solid, authentic way?” “How do I sanctify the secular?” This is the million-dollar question. This is the core of spirituality, happiness, an inner peace.

This central issue tends to be overlooked or minimized by both religion and spiritual paths, East and West, because it’s a hard sell. It tends to reflect the feminine path, which is gradual, gestative, and developmental, when compared to the more intense, ejaculative, and state-focused nature of the masculine path. Of course the goal is androgeny – the integration of the two. Just as there is nothing sexy about androgeny for those who are gender-obsessed, here’s nothing really sexy about sanctifying the secular. It’s more exciting to just go straight for the Holy by inducing a mystical experience of some sort, not only by finding sat, cit, and ananda (being, consciousness, bliss) ourselves, but by groking it vicariously by learning about other people near death experiences and mystical experiences. In contrast, watching the grass of normal development grow is never going to become a major spectator sport. Kids don’t get off on watching themselves learn to walk and talk. They don’t say, “Gee, today I have a little more balance than I did yesterday!” “Gee, today I learned to ask for what I want!” Developmental growth is by nature gradual and hence not nearly as exciting as are state changes, which get much more attention than they deserve. Why? Because by nature and definition they do not last. They generate a roller coaster approach to life – highs and lows; addiction to highs, avoidance of lows. Drama. Let’s have mystical experiences. Let’s have sacred orgasms. And, of courtse, sacred orgasms are delightful! But in the context of – what? Addiction to the drama of state experiences is a sign of prepersonal through personal levels of development, the childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood of human consciousness. How you frame what you are looking for in life says more than you know about your level of development.

If we want to wake up we need to break our addiction to drama. When I use that word I mean the three roles of the Drama Triangle, Rescuer, Victim, and Persecutor, not drama per se.  Drama is the normal predicament of life. We get victimized. We need rescuing sometimes. Persecution is real. However, just because we get victimized that does not mean we are forced to play the unhealthy role of victim. That’s our choice. Because we sometimes need rescuing from disease, fires, floods, and bad governments, that doesn’t mean that we are wise to get into the role of rescuer. We aren’t, because the role of rescuer is sick and when we are in it we get sick. It makes us sick. Because persecution is real it does not follow that it is healthy to persecute either others or ourselves. That is abusive, and abuse is dysfunctional. Drama is a fact of life; the Drama Triangle is a choice. You don’t have to go there, and you won’t if you are wise. Waking up out of the Drama Triangle is a core definition of what it means to wake up. This is because the Drama Triangle is a functional definition of karma, dukkha, illusion, maya, and the suffering that delusion creates. The distinction between drama and Drama has to be made before we can learn to surf through the dramas of life without having them overwhelm us and drown us.

If you play one role in the Drama Triangle you will end up playing them all. If you become a professional rescuer (doctor, cop, social worker, etc.) and give more than you get, you burn out sooner or later. If you persecute others (always for their own good) you are persecuting those parts of yourself that they represent. If you play the victim you are saying you are powerless. You are giving your power to people and circumstances that you do not like or respect. Is it wise to do that?

Another problem is that these roles are states. We get temporary relief by blasting someone else with the sword of righteous indignation and knowing that we are telling them the truth. We are more interested in being right than being loving. We get temporary relief from the abuses and abusers of the world by going passive, hunkering down, retreating into hopelessness, helplessness, and powerlessness, playing the victim. We get to experience the power of whining and blaming. Wonderful! Perhipas we get a sense of usefulness and meaningfulness out of rescuing others. The definition of a rescuer is important to know, because rescuers are not helpers. Rescuers don’t wait for a request for help, don’t check to see if their “help” is genuinely helpful, and don’t stop “helping.” – they keep on keeping on. Helpers, on the other hand, wait for a request for help, check to see if what they are doing is helping, and stop when the job is done. Helpers also ask questions. Rescuers don’t need to ask; they already know what needs to be done. They may ask questions, use the answers to validate their preconceptions, and interpose their formulaic diagnosis and treatment: (“You’re bipolar; you need meds;” “Your economy is sick, you need privatization, elimination of trade barriers, reduction of government services, and austerity.” “You need to behave.” “You need to make good grades.”) Incidentally, the role of cop or fireman is not inherently a rescuer, because they function under a social contract that gives them permission to break down your door and hose the interior of your home, or put you in jail. Of course that doesn’t mean that what they do and how they do it doesn’t typically reek of Drama. It does.

Most of the literature on the Drama Triangle focuses on eliminating it in social circumstances – relationships. This is certainly the original intent of the concept as it grew out of Berne’s Transactional Analysis. IDL points out that this is not enough. The Drama Triangle must also be recognized and neutralized in our thoughts and dreams. We have three realms where we get into the Drama Triangle. The first realm is our relationship to our external reality, to others, to our environment, to our society and culture. The second realm is the interior world of our thoughts and emotions. The third is the realm of our night-time dreams. Clearly these three worlds overlap, but they are distinguishable enough.

It is not enough to break our addiction to the Drama Triangle in our relationships. When you “hurt my feelings” I am putting you in the role of persecutor and myself in the role of victim. Typically I respond within the context of the Drama Triangle. I go passive and feel hurt by playing the victim, or counter-attack by playing the persecutor, or attempt to rescue you, me, or our relationship by explaining or changing the subject. For instance I might attempt to rescue you by returning injury with love, like good Christians, Moslems, Jews, and Hindus are taught to do, or I might attempt to rescue you by explaining to you how you are either mistaken or don’t see the entire picture. I might attempt to rescue myself by avoiding you, by calling a friend and having a sob fest, by losing myself in a book or good movie, by getting something to eat (always a great option), or by simply going to sleep.  I might attempt to rescue the relationship by changing the subject or refocusing on areas of mutual agreement. None of these strategies stop the Drama because the “solutions” are all substitutions of one role for another. You stay in the Drama Triangle; you’ve just changed roles. However of the three realms of the Drama Triangle, working on stopping dysfunctional drama in relationships is relatively easy and highly productive. It will carve out peace in your life where there was none before and set the context for success at tackling the other two realms.

If I do manage to not fall into any of those three roles with you, does that mean that I am staying out of them in my own head? Not necessarily. I may still be persecuting myself with all sorts of obviously true statements of how incompetent, inefficient, unloving, I am. If I am persecuting myself with such thoughts and feelings, then I will also be in the role of victim, since I will be making myself feel helpless and hopeless. At the same time I may be constantly figuring out what to do or think to rescue myself from this self-persecution. Most people spend most of their waking  hours in all three of these roles. They live their lives in the context of the Drama Triangle. Indeed, they can’t even imagine what life would be like outside it. Can you? Do you have an inner life outside of the Drama Triangle? If you closely examine your thoughts and feelings,  you will probably conclude, as I have, that for the most part, you do not.

In time your interior Drama Triangle made up of thoughts and feelings of persecution, victimization, and self-rescuing, will poison your love relationships. You’ll mess up your relationships with your kids. You’ll blow it with those you are trying to help. This is how true love and soul mates turn into true disaster and soul hates. How does one keep this from happening?  You may become a good student of cognitive-behavioral therapy and learn to recognize and stop cognitive distortions, because you know that how you think determines how you feel. If you are a good meditator you will learn to observe your thoughts, and therefore disassociate from your mental tendency to persecute, victimize, or rescue  yourself. The result is that you will be less anxious and less depressed. You won’t jump into the Drama Triangle so much or so easily. This is a major improvement! You cannot have peace of mind and be in the Drama Triangle at the same time. When you get it out of your relationships and your thoughts you are much more likely to experience peace of mind.

Let’s say you work hard at getting out of the Drama Triangle in your relationships. Let’s say you recognize that you will always fall back into it if you don’t get out of it in your thinking as well, so you work hard at that. But what about your dreams? What about that two and a half hours every night, spread out over the eight hours that you are sleeping, when you relapse into drama? This is the reason why most therapy doesn’t stick. You go home and regress into replaying old home videos on youe internal DVD player all night in your dreams. It starts with the dream incubation that you do as you are falling asleep, as you go to sleep worried or numbing yourself our, lost in some TV show or video. Then in your dreams the soap operas start. Your old home videos produce dramas that validate why you should continue to feel the way you did when you were six and why you should continue to function with the world view you had Way Back When.  The work you did at that therapy session gets undone. The accomplishments and successes of the day get reframed in terms of your childhood insecurity and your innate narcissism. Take a look at a cross-section of your dreams, focusing on the emotions you feel during your dreams and the conclusions that you end up drawing within them. Notice that you tend to regress into the drama of your childhood cultural scripting when you are dreaming.

This is why dreams are generally regressive when seen from our normal waking perspective. As you read that last sentence, remember it is coming from someone that has spent their life believing and knowing that dreaming is supportive, important, and anything but regressive. The key to understanding this seeming contradiction is the phrase, when seen from our normal waking perspective. Unless there is some process of reframing what is going on in dreams, the Drama Triangle is reinforced while your are dreaming. It then has undesirable effects on your waking emotions, thinking, and relationships. Dreams don’t stop having an effect just because you forget them. They reverberate throughout your consciousness by setting an emotional tone, a perceptual reality, and an approach to cognitive problem solving that limits you in what you see and experience in your waking life. The drama in your dreams keeps you dreaming and asleep in your waking life. Therapy is undone; you wake up feeling not so super without knowing why; reactivity is reinforced; a bias toward seeing the world in the same old not-so-creative-way is reinforced. This is because of how our waking identity normally interprets dream events and the emotional and cognitive conclusions it draws from them while we are dreaming. It is not because dreams are inherently regressive. They are not. We know this when we take the perspective of other characters in the dream. Most of them are not supportive of our regressive perceptions and conclusions. On the contrary, most personify emerging potentials – they are more awake, alive, balanced, detached, free, and clear than we are. Consequently, they serve as good role models, and their advice is not to be dismissed out of hand.

So why not just pray? Why not just meditate? Why not just think happy thoughts? Why not just keep doing what you do – work at being a good, helpful person who takes care of the responsibilities on your plate today? Use whatever tools work for you.  Emphasize tools that incrementally, developmentally, wake you up in an authentic way from within, that avoid the roller coaster and speed up the development of your selectivity regarding drama. That is the major criteria to consider which tool to use: how effective is it at waking me up out of the Drama Triangle in the three realms today?

It is both important and extremely effective to surround yourself with perspectives that are relatively out of the Drama Triangle. This is a major reason why people join monasteries and form spiritually-based groups. While it is both important and necessary to surround ourselves with those who are relatively out of Drama in our waking world, it is insufficient. We need to surround ourselves with such perspectives in our internal spaces as well, or we will project our interior confusion and misperceptions onto the people and events of the external world. How do we keep from doing so? When you interview the personifications of your life issues and your dream characters you will generally find you are dealing with authentic perspectives that are relatively out of Drama. The key here is authentic. The dream characters you interview are intrinsic to your own inner compass and express your own emerging potentials, regardless of where you are on your developmental path.  No one has to convince you of this; you will feel it when you do IDL interviewing.

Waking life is by nature like a dramatic dream in which you are attempting to awaken. The goal is not to stop dreaming, but to be lucid in that life dream. It is not enough to just wake up within it, because that means to colonize the dreaming state with the stunted level of your current waking development. When you become lucid in dreams and change or manipulate the dream, instead of waking up by listening to and learning from the dream drama, you merely export your waking biases and misperceptions into the dreamscape, conquering it and manipulating it. This is the basic problem with most approaches to lucid dreaming. With lucid dreaming we infuse the dream with greater self-awareness, which is good if our self-awareness is evolved enough to listen rather than merely control. However, this is generally not the case.  For most of us, the self that wakes up in a dream is itself sleepwalking through life. That “awake” self is itself developmentally arrested. It’s like putting a drunk behind the steering wheel of a car. There are legitimate uses for dream lucidity, such as using them to develop confidence in dealing with fears, in practicing life skills in the fail-safe circumstance of a death-free dream reality, and in creating healing possibilities that do not exist in waking life. All of these are good; still more important is to learn to interview other characters in your dreams while you are dreaming in order to benefit from their perspective. More important than lucid dreaming is to learn to meditate in your dreams.

Awareness is the core of consciousness as opposed to unconsciousness. Consciousness, as wakefulness, is awareness aware of itself. Unconsciousness, as deep sleep, is awareness unaware of itself. Anything that cultivates the witness, where you develop objectivity, learning to watch yourself immersed in the drama of your relationships, your life, your thoughts, your feelings, and your dreams – is good. Meditation and the assimilation of perspectives of those people and interviewed emerging potentials that are relatively objective are all important in this respect.

What you will also accomplish, at the same time, is infuse your life dream with greater luminosity. Luminosity is the core of deep sleep, of unconsciousness. It is formless, high causal and non-dual empty, open, all-inclusive pure awareness. Metaphorically, it is interstellar space, where there is no language, space, or time, because there are no dualities by which to generate such distinctions. People usually associate all-inclusive pure awareness with beingness, God, consciousness, or pure consciousness. This is a mistake, muddy thinking that results in a misperception of the real potential of what it means to wake up into luminosity. This is why Buddhism makes consciousness itself, or pure beingness, one of the five interdependent conditions that create identity. The other four are senses, feelings, thoughts, and images. In Buddhism, apart from the interaction of these five, there is no self. There is no identity. This deep sleep like, deep space like luminosity is the plenum out of which all consciousness, beingness, and divinity arises. It is the source of creativity, not creativity itself. It is the source of the organizational matrices that generated the Big Bang. It is the nothingness beyond the oppositions of something and nothing. Luminosity is an excellent word for a space that is brimming with emerging potentials, wanting, waiting to be born. That is what negentropy, life, and evolution is all about. It isn’t about us any more than we are about our hands or our feet or our words. These are mere tools for the manifestation of whatever that is wanting to come into expression.

You want to infuse the dream of waking life with this luminosity at the same time that you are infusing it with greater self-awareness. This integrates both heightened wakefulness and heighted “deep sleep” into the dream state of normal life. When you do so, you developmentally awaken in a balanced way. The dream of life becomes gradually a game, not to be taken seriously, but handled with compassion, wisdom, confidence, acceptance, inner peace, and objectivity, core qualities that can be associated with the round of every breath. Life becomes humorous, not in a trivial way, but in your own tendency to take yourself, others, and the drama of life seriously. You see that and instead of reacting, you smile about it. It’s a humor that is cosmic, because it laughs at itself.  This sets you up to be naturally innoculated against Drama on all levels while enjoying the preciousness of the slow, gradual developmental pace of natural unfolding, rather than always trying to push the river out of some deep down fear that you may be wrong – that there really might not be a God, a soul, a life after death, cosmic justice or a cosmic plan. When you can live happily without rescuing yourself with such comfortable metaphysical assumptions that have little to do with reality, you are moving beyond your fear of death, of non-existence, and the frantic search for a savior, god, or spiritual practice to rescue you.

All of us are trying to become more awake. However, we are our own worst enemies, primarily because of the way we generate Drama in our relationships, thoughts, feelings, and dreams. We enjoy life more, find inner peace, and wake up more when we identify when we are in Drama in any of these realms and opt out. Simply choosing not to play is good enough. How others respond to that (generally with discomfort because they have to adjust to a different you), is, in all compassion, not your concern. Just tell them that you are trying to learn to stay out of the Drama Triangle and ask for their help. Explain to them what it is and ask them to tell you when they see you playing the rescuer, victim, or persecutor. This will educate them and encourage them to buy into the radical shift in culture that you are attempting to bring about for yourself in your world.

You are asleep, dreaming, sleepwalking, 

lost in the drama of your life script,

trapped in identification with the perceptual matrices of your physical, emotional, and mental realities.

You wake up as you ask, 

“Is this a dream?” 

see everything as a wake-up call, 

and act on your priorities today – 

moving you from delusion and mental fuzziness to clarity and thence to luminosity.


You are addicted to the past and future.

You move into the here and now as you 

name the contents of your mind, 

stop monkeying around in the five trees (thoughts, feelings, imagery, sensations, and states),  

and become the core processes and qualities of the round of your breath,

moving you from personalization to cosmic humor.


You have lost your way.

You find and follow your inner compass as you

remember, become, and follow the recommendations of your emerging potentials

and act on their recommendations today, 

integrating your inner and outer worlds 

and moving you from fear-based scarcity 

to trust-based abundance.



Cosmic Humor



Three qualities that point you toward the sacred.

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