Positive Psychology and Integral Deep Listening


Positive Psychology and Integral Deep Listening 

While positive psychology focuses on what makes life most worth living, Integral Deep Listening, a form of phenomenologically-based experiential multi-perspectivalism, defers that determination to interviewed emerging potentials. “Emerging potential” is a generic term used to designate interviewed dream and nightmare characters, elements from near death experiences, synchronicities, religion, mythology, fiction, and most importantly, the personifications of life issues, such as the tornado of “my house looks like a tornado hit it,” or the wolf of, “I always feel like the wolf is at the door.” After all, who determines what makes life most worth living? Who determines what will, in the end, be positive? There is an old Chinese story about this: 

Many years ago a wise peasant lived in China. He had a son who was the apple of his eye. He also was the proud owner of a fine white stallion which everyone admired. One day his horse escaped from his grounds and disappeared. The villagers came to him one by one and said: “You are such an unlucky man. It is such bad luck that your horse escaped.” The peasant responded: “ Who knows. Maybe it’s bad, maybe it’s good.” The next day the stallion returned followed by 12 wild horses. The neighbors visited him again and congratulated him on his luck. Again, he just said: “Who knows. Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad.”

As it happened, the next day his son was attempting to train one of the wild horses when he fell down and broke his leg. Once more everyone came with their condolences: “It’s terrible.” Again, he replied: “Who knows. Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad.” A few days passed and his poor son was limping around the village with his broken leg, when the emperor’s army entered the village announcing that a war was starting and they were enrolling all the young men of the village. However, they left the peasant’s son since he had a broken leg. Everyone was extremely jealous of the peasant. They talked about his sheer good luck, while the old man just muttered:  “Who knows. Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad.

While Integral Deep Listening does not view life in nearly such arbitrary terms, this story reminds us of the wisdom of suspending our assumptions about what makes life most worth living, at least until we have some confirmatory, objective evidence. This is what Integral Deep Listening (IDL) attempts to provide by consulting multiple “subjective sources of objectivity,” comparing their perspectives and recommendations with objective data and the perspectives of experts, and then integrating both those subjective and objective sources of objectivity with our own judgment. This process is called “triangulation” by IDL, and it is used to improve problem solving. Instead of relying on, and trusting in, a subjective determination of well-being, IDL encourages the use of triangulation to determine well-being.

While better well-being is an important priority for all of us, there are multiple definitions and experiences of well-being, and some of them can fool us. When we fall in love we can easily convince ourselves we have met our soul mate; when we get high or stoned we have feelings of better well-being. In fact, any and all addictions bring feelings of better well-being. The problem is that they are temporary and can easily leave us worse off than we were before. Mystical experiences of oneness with all bring intense, overwhelming feelings of well-being. However, they can also cause depression in living a life so devoid of that magnificence, as well as a ceaseless longing to return to that paradisiacal state. Clearly our ability to realistically assess just what is a reliable source of better well being for us can be problematic, and many people spend years committed to a path, relationship, or work that was intended to generate better well being but did not. 

In somewhat of a contrast, Integral Deep Listening does not focus on accumulating a sense of greater well-being so much as waking up. Waking up is not considered a destination, like nirvana, but an ongoing process involving the taking on of broader perspectives that at the same time thin the self and our identification with it. This priority for IDL is based on waking up as a consistently stated motive by interviewed emerging potentials. 

While Positive Psychology evolved as something of a reaction to focus on mental illness, maladaptive behavior, and negative thinking in mental health, IDL developed as a reaction to our natural focus on self-based interpretations of experience. It is not that our interpretations are inherently bad or wrong, but they are, without a doubt, partial, and what they leave out can kill us, or make our lives a miserable procession of dramas. This partiality of our normal waking perspective is what makes a multi-perspectival approach essential. 

I came to this awareness through a fascination with dreams. I learned at about the age of twelve, from the Edgar Cayce psychic readings, the belief that important events in our lives are first previewed in our dreams. Thinking that, if this were at all true, then I needed to start paying attention to my dreams, I learned the symbolic and interpretive approaches to dreaming found in the Edgar Cayce Readings and the writings of Carl Jung. I taught those approaches in dream workshops in my twenties. 

Over time, I began to feel that I was posing as an expert on dreams, massaging my ego, when all I had were at best some educated guesses. After all, I wasn’t the dreamer, and I had no real knowledge of where dreams came from, why we have them, or what this or that dream “means” specifically for this or that individual. Seeing the limitations of objective sources of dream interpretation, yet seeing that dreamers are stuck in their own reaction to a dream and their own assumptions about its meaning or lack thereof, like many people, I was becoming jaded on giving dreams any attention or credibility at all. 

However, when I was in graduate school I had the good fortune to study the sociometry of J.L. Moreno, MD., a contemporary of Freud’s and creator of psychodrama and many action methods in psychotherapy and group work. He had recognized that if the members of a class or group were asked, “Who would you most like to do (some study or work project) with?” that these preferences could be collected and displayed in a “sociogram” to depict who in the group was most preferred, who was least preferred, mutual preferences, and clusters of group members who chose each other. All this information could then be used to reconfigure the group in order to generate greater compatibility in task performance. 

When, in 1980, I applied Moreno’s sociometry to dreams, I found that different characters often had patterns of preference that varied greatly from my own and also from one another. How to account for this wide variety of previously unrecognized autonomy? What did it mean? If these patterns of preference were collected and portrayed in a diagram called a “Dream Sociogram,” what might it tell us about the etiology and nature of this or that dream group? If these dream characters were asked to explain their preferences, what might their answers tell us about why they were in the dream and about their relationships to other characters and to ourselves? 

Dream Sociometry, as I called it, was a way to access interpretations of experience from perspectives that were themselves embedded in the experience, just like the perspective of the dreamer (Dillard, 2018 a&b). However, the differences, or multi-perspectivalisms, of the approach meant that interpretations were being offered by perspectives that were privy to my own (since dream characters are self-aspects), yet added their own, and those perspectives could be quite autonomous and unexpected. I found that when these interpretations, not only of dreams, but of life events and issues, were consulted, that a much broader, yet often much more adequate understanding and interpretation of a dream, nightmare, or life issue was the result. Dream Sociometry is a multi-perspectival approach to dream interpretation that is fundamentally experiential, in that it involves a process of disidentification from our normal sense of self, as we do when we go to sleep, go into trance, or have a mystical experience, and identify with another perspective that is intrinsic to the dream or life issue at hand. It is also phenomenologically-based, in that it lays aside assumptions in favor of listening to the perspectives of interviewed emerging potentials in a deep and integral way. Therefore, while Positive Psychology focuses on the minimization of pathological thoughts, IDL focuses on the minimization of self-interpretations of experience, pathological or not, including our self-appraisals, our interpretations of the worth and usefulness of others, and our worldview in general. 

The “deep” in “Integral Deep Listening” essentially refers to the setting aside of waking assumptions and filters to the best of our ability, something we normally don’t do when we listen to others. We are always thinking about, “What does this mean?” “How shall I respond?” Deep Listening doesn’t do this. “Integral” essentially refers to the Integral AQAL cognitive multi-perspectival worldview developed by Ken Wilber. “AQAL” stands for “all quadrants, all levels, all lines, all states, and all styles.” To take an integral approach to deep listening is to consider what is heard from all these different perspectives. However, one does not do so during interviews. Rather, Integral AQAL informs the worldview and perspective that our waking identity brings to the interview, as a non-intervening, background objectivity, and later, after the interview, when we are attempting to make sense of what has been said and attempting to figure out how best to apply it in our life. 

While Positive Psychology studies sources of positivity, happiness, and well-being, IDL focuses on reframing experience in ways that include, yet transcend, current waking worldviews. I may think that my failure to achieve my life goals is due to my naïveté, gullibility, and willingness to follow the recommendations of charismatic leaders or people who will pay me to do what they want. However, interviewed emerging potentials may point to other causal factors: my fear of rejection, my lack of trust in myself, or my lack of a method to get in touch with my own unique life compass. It is not that such interpretations are alternatives to my own; they take my own into account, because after all, they are the perspectives of subjective self-elements. However, because they add their own viewpoints and worldviews to our own, they can provide surprising objectivity. This is why they are referred to as “subjective sources of objectivity.” It is also why emerging potentials are not reducible to self-aspects or “parts” by IDL. To be sure, their subjective embeddedness is an aspect of their intrinsic subjective identity; however, their autonomy is creative and not limited to identification with ego, self, Self, unconscious, personal unconscious, universal unconscious, or super-consciousness. Neither are they reducible to transpersonal aspects of self. They are potentials that may or may not come into manifestation. They are therefore emerging into our awareness and into our lives. They are intrinsically creative, free of life and death, time and space, and perhaps most importantly, relatively independent from our childhood and life-long familial and socio-cultural scripting. 

For Positive Psychology, the self determines authentic happiness and abundant gratification. After all, who else is in a position to do so? IDL, as well as phenomenologically-based experiential multi-perspectivalisms (PEMs) in general, demonstrate that interviewed subjective sources of objectivity are in a position to see what determines authentic happiness and abundant gratification in ways we miss. They are also in a position to see and comment on blind spots or barriers to authentic happiness that we do not see. When these are combined with the feedback of objective others, such as data and experts, we are in a much better position to determine what is and what is not authentic happiness and abundant gratification. 

While Positive Psychology supports a positive self-image and self-esteem, IDL focuses on the perspectives of interviewed emerging potentials, because they generally have higher self-esteem and a more positive self-image than does the subject. This is a movement from a “self” centered conception of image and esteem, called “psychological geocentrism,” to a multi-perspectival, polycentric foundation for esteem and image.

Both Positive Psychology and IDL support and encourage service to others. For Positive Psychology, this is because relationship is a fundamental factor in the generation of happiness and well-being; for IDL it is because as we support and serve others we are supporting and serving those aspects of ourselves that they represent or personify. Altruism is beneficial to the self. In our waking life dream/drama, others are aspects of ourselves, just as are the monsters, villains, trees, and houses in our dreams. 

While Positive Psychology focuses on acceptance of our past, excitement and optimism about the future, and contentment and well-being in the present, IDL focuses on identification with helpful perspectives in the present, not only during interviews, but later, during waking life or in our dreams, as interviewed characters will often make suggestions regarding in what life situations it would be helpful to become them and respond to the circumstances as if we were them, from their perspective, not ours.

While Positive Psychology focuses on positive emotions, traits, and institutions, IDL focuses on worldcentric emotions, traits, and institutions. While Positive Psychology emphasizes improvement and excellence in self-development, IDL focuses on balance, in the realization that society often rewards excellence, causing imbalances leading to collapse when important and fundamental developmental lines, like morality, that are necessary to build a broad foundation to support high vertical development, are ignored or neglected. 

Usually, we can rely on our own common sense and the input of objective others to solve our problems at work, at home, and in our own personal development. However, if we have nightmares, recurring nightmarish life dramas, get stuck, don’t know what to do next, have an intractable problem, or find no solutions within ourselves or from others, then a structured interviewing of multiple emerging potentials, such as is provided by the IDL interviewing protocols can be invaluable. Interviews have been shown to eliminate nightmares in one session, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, and general anxiety disorder  in about six sessions. Children are normally pulled between the wishes. demands, and expectations of parents, teachers, and peers, and can very easily be out of touch with their yet unsolidified life compass and therefore lacking an authentic interior perspective from which to determine who to listen to and what to do. For such children, IDL interviews can be priceless in terms of saving years of blind alleys, false starts, broken dreams, and regret. This is why IDL provides a structure called “Dreaming Healthy Families,” designed to help people break out of generational familial and socio-cultural scripts that rob us of the freedom to find ourselves and follow our own unique life compass. 

Flow, a state of well-being associated with the thought of Mihaly Csikszentmihaly (Mihai  Tjicksentmihaiee), is usually associated with states of unconscious competence, such as that demonstrated by accomplished musicians or athletes. Flow is accessed, reinforced, and integrated by IDL through the interviewing of emerging potentials because their perspectives are generally experienced as being more in flow than our own. As we do regular interviewing and practice identifying with perspectives that more closely approximate states of flow, we move our identity, or sense of who we are, more into flow. 

IDL also avoids some of the criticisms that have been directed at Positive Psychology. For example, it counteracts positive delusions and reality distortions. While our waking identity, supported by multiple cognitive biases, emotional cognitive distortions, and defense mechanisms, such as rationalization, adjusts perception to conform to its worldview, preferences, and sense of self, in order to reduce cognitive dissonance and maintain relationships and behaviors that are pleasurable, whether or not they are conducive to overall positive well-being, interviewed waking potentials typically have no such investments. The result are answers to questions in the interviewing protocols, recommendations, and identification with perspectives that do not have any investment in our positive delusions and reality distortions. In addition, input from interviewed emerging potentials provides negative feedback and supports uncomfortable emotions. Your interviewed characters may disagree with you about your “soul mate” or choice of careers; they may encourage a degree of assertiveness that feels aggressive to you. Incidentally, all this explains why many people are not attracted to IDL: they don’t want to hear authentic perspectives that challenge their own positive delusions, reality distortions, and addictions. It raises too much cognitive dissonance. 

While self-control of our bodies, emotions, speech, and behavior is perhaps the most important lesson we learn in the first two decades of our lives, IDL supplements that teaching with lessons in disidentification from the controlling self. It recommends that this start with early childhood interviews, as soon as a child starts remembering dreams. This is a challenging idea for some therapists, who have been taught that disidentification is associated with a destructive loss of control, decompensation, and dissociation. I have never seen that consequence from IDL interviews, even when interviewing schizophrenics or people with personality disorders.

Both our dreams and waking life issues possess characteristics of drama, in that there is generally a protagonist and antagonist, a plot, and a game-like “switch” or “payoff” in which some worldview or fear is validated. Dream Sociometry, Integral Deep Listening, and phenomenologically-based experiential multi-perspectivalisms in general reduce our subjective immersion in drama while affirming its relevance and value. It is Positive Psychology in the sense that it honors, listens to, and respects all experience, including pain, suffering, fear, and dysfunctional drama. In this regard, it represents a potent expansion of the field of Positive Psychology, and psychology in general, into the realms of dreaming and imagination. 

Positive Psychology Integral Deep Listening
Focuses on what makes life most worth living Defers that determination to interviewed emerging potentials
Better well-being Waking up
Reaction to focus on mental illness a maladaptive behavior and negative thinking Reaction to focus on self-based interpretations of experience
Focus on “eudaimonia,” the “good life” Focus on “elenchus,” questioning
Roots in Maslow, May, Rogers, Seligman Roots in Moreno, Wilber
Studies sources of positivity, happiness, and well-being Focuses on reframing experience in ways that include, yet transcend, current waking worldviews
Amplifies positivity Amplifies creativity by accessing emerging potentials
the self determines authentic happiness and abundant gratification Multiple perspectives, both objective and subjective, determine authentic happiness, abundant gratification, and set priorities
Focuses on self-esteem and self-image Focuses on the perspectives of interviewed emerging potentials
Emphasizes other-centered purpose Emphasizes other-centered purpose
Minimization of pathological thoughts Minimization of self interpretations
Acceptance of one’s past Identification with helpful perspectives in the present
Excitement, optimism about future Identification with helpful perspectives in the present
Contentment, well-being in present Identification with helpful perspectives in the present
Positive emotions, traits, institutions Worldcentric emotions, traits, institutions
Improvement, excellence Balance
Subjective well-being Well-being determined by triangulation
Flow Flow accessed and learned via interviewing
Counteracts positive delusions and reality distortion
Supports negative feedback, uncomfortable emotions
Supports the development of self-control while supplementing it with disidentification
Supports health and growth Integrates waking and dream states

Dreaming: Its role in Positive Psychology

It is difficult to have a life worth living if one has PTSD, flashbacks, or recurrent nightmares. Dream fear evokes Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome and Walter Cannon’s fight or flight response just as surely as does watching the twin towers of the New York Trade Center Collapse on 9/11. This is because when you react with fear, sadness, or anger in a dream your body responds as if you were awake: the sympathetic branch of your autonomic nervous system springs into action, pouring adrenaline, norepinephrine, and other arousal hormones and neurotransmitters into your system to redirect blood from your internal organs to your muscles, dilating your pupils so you can see better, focusing your attention, speeding up your breathing and heart rate, all to put your body into a defensive, protective stance. 

This is a positive physiological and psychological response if we are dealing with a real threat, but in dreams, we aren’t. As in waking life, where most of the threats we see are badly over-rated, dream threats reinforce largely non-positive psychological responses while causing toxic chemicals to accumulate in our bodily tissues. In dreams we can neither fight nor flee physically, since the body is physiologically paralyzed when we are in Stage 5 dream sleep so that we don’t run into a wall or fall off our balcony. The result is that these potent chemicals sit in our tissues, like battery acid, destroying functionality, and only slowly being metabolized over hours. 

So what? Like raindrops eroding mountains, over a lifetime, in which we spend some five years in the dream state, erosion of physiological resilience occurs, with our weakest system being affected most. For one person it will be the cardiovascular; for another the immune; for still another, neurological processes.

If your client leaves your office in a positive frame of mind and then spends the night reviewing their fears, self-doubts, and life dramas, how are they likely to feel in the morning? How are those dreams of confusion, anxiety, or failure likely to color their waking mood and decision-making the next day? How are those dreams, even if not remembered, likely to affect their ability to maintain the work that they did with you just yesterday? I suspect dream regression is a major and powerful factor explaining why progress is so slow for so many clients.

If the above scenario is to any extent correct, positive psychology needs to do a much better job of not only working with the dreams of clients but addressing them in ways that are much more effective than is provided by traditional dreamwork. Most dreamwork is a projective guessing game. Your client tells you a dream and you either evoke associations, in the tradition of Freud and Jung, or provide your own, which are no more than guesses. Dream interpretation is mostly a fishing expedition for an “aha!” moment of insight, as if insight was somehow correlated with either accuracy or usefulness. 

The truth is that none of us, including people like me who have been studying dream theories, techniques, modalities, science, and therapeutic interventions for over fifty years, know what much about the dream state and much less about how to work with it. That’s the truth, and those that tell you otherwise are to be regarded with some degree of skepticism. However, there now exist methodologies, based on the work of JL Moreno, creator of psychodrama, most experiential methods in psychodrama, and coiner of the term, “group psychotherapy,” that use interviewing perspectives embedded in dreams – dream characters, like monsters or animals, such as buzzards, as well as dream objects, such as a mechanical bull one is getting thrown off of in a dream bar, in order to access dream interpretations that arise out of the dream itself. After all, who is more likely to have a better sense of a dream and its relationship to the life and issues of a dreamer, a character or object that is part of it or me, a supposed “expert” who at best has a very limited understanding of both dreams and the interior processes of my clients?

I developed a process to interview dream characters in 1980, a form of phenomenologically-based experiential multi-perspectivalism, called Dream Sociometry, which is itself a form of dream yoga and an aspect of a larger psychotherapeutic approach called Integral Deep Listening. It emphasizes “Dreaming Healthy Families” as an approach to freeing ourselves from our familial and socio-cultural scripting through parents and children, friends, therapists and clients, mutually interviewing each other’s dreams as well as the personifications of the life issues most important to them. Because life is a waking dream, in that waking and dream dramas evoke similar emotional responses, waking life issues personified as dream-like elements, can be interviewed just like dream characters. For instance, the “vice” of a “vice-like migraine” or the “pit” of a “pit of despair” can be interviewed using Integral Deep Listening interviewing protocols. Such interviews have been shown effective in eliminating nightmares and Identification with helpful perspectives in the present dreams in just one session, PTSD and phobias in some six sessions, and to be largely effective in reducing a broad spectrum of anxiety disorders, by far the most common clinical diagnoses. 

Positive psychology means learning to escape dysfunctional, self-created drama not only in our waking lives, but in our dreams as well. Focusing on one without the other ignores a powerful feedback loop that must be taken into account. More information is available at IntegralDeepListening.Com and DreamYoga.Com or by contacting the author at Joseph.Dillard@gmail.com.