Getting to Know Your Iceberg Self


You are asleep means you are unaware of your true nature. If you compare yourself to an iceberg, you are mostly in touch with the ten percent of yourself that is above the water. If you awaken to the realization that you are both the above and below water portions of an iceberg, you remain unaware of yourself as the surrounding ocean. If you wake up to the realization that you are frozen water but water nevertheless, then you awaken to an identity with water but not with sky or earth. Each example is freedom in that it is a broader wakefulness than what went before; awareness of a self is more awake and aware than unconsciousness; awareness of a self that is more inclusive than before is more awake and aware than a more exclusive, restricted, and restricting definition of who you are.

Let us assume that the ten percent of the iceberg that is out of the water is who you think you are most of the time. Even when you dream you still think you are that same self that experiences life in your waking state. So the way you experience the sky, other icebergs, and the water is in that context – your experience as the ten percent of yourself that you think you are. This is the perspective humans generally take to understand the interiority of humanity. They are on the outside looking in; they are the ten percent observing itself, the ninety percent within, and all those things and people that are “not self.” There are important, built-in limitations to this perspective, and they create both suffering and pain.  Your lack of awareness of them can make you miserable. Here is a parable that attempts to clarify that point.

Imagine that your iceberg self is in the far north, surrounded by cold water, cold air, and plenty of other icebergs. You have just been calved off your mother glacier. There is a strong wind blowing from the south, assuring you that your future is an icy one, which is what an iceberg wants and  needs for a long life.  You are happy, comfortable, and your future looks bright. Days pass. You notice that the other icebergs have moved farther away. The air is warmer. The water is warmer. This is strange! What is happening? More days pass. Now no more icebergs are to be seen anywhere. You are alone and the water is warmer.  You are melting! You think, “How could this be happening?” “Why is this happening?” “Life is unfair!” “I am a victim!” You live out your iceberg life bitter and alone, feeling betrayed by life.

Do you ever feel like this iceberg, victimized by a reality that is unfair and out of control? This parable says that your misery and suffering is a function of your lack of awareness. Because they are unaware of broader definitions of yourself, you lack the information that is required for your life to make sense. When events do not make sense it is easy to feel that your life is out of control, pushed along by forces that you might term “fate,” “God’s will,” genes, your life script, “dharma,” “karma,” or the circumstances of your particular society and culture.

How do you avoid concluding not just that you are a victim of circumstances beyond your control, but that you are therefore helpless, hopeless, and powerless?  Integral Deep Listening works to move you from unawareness to awareness, from victimization to a healthy participation in the flow of life. It does so by showing you how to get in touch with broader, more sufficient, definitions of who you are. Returning to our analogy, if you were not only aware of the ten percent of the part of you that is above the surface of the water but were also aware of the ninety percent of yourself that lies below the surface of your awareness, what information might you have that you did not have before? As the ten percent above the surface of your awareness you experienced a strong wind blowing from the south. From this you concluded that you would be pushed to the north, remaining in very cold waters. But you did not stay north. You moved south. Your awareness as the ten percent of the iceberg is too limited. It is not sufficient to explain why and how you move south and melt.

It is not until you expand your awareness to include the ninety percent of yourself that is below the water you have the information you need to understand what is happening to you in your life. You are now aware of ocean currents that move slowly through the deep, pushing against your underwater mass. This force can be so gentle as to be almost imperceptible, but as long as it is steady and it impacts on your huge underwater surface that faces the current, it will be stronger than even hurricane winds blowing in an opposite direction on the upper ten percent. It is because these gentle but powerful currents are pushing you south that your life is the way it is, not because of the fierce excitement of storms on the surface. When you are out of touch with this awareness you are likely to experience yourself as a victim of fate; in touch with this awareness, you are much more likely to be at peace with your life and able to enjoy it to the fullest.  Once you get in touch with the ninety percent of your iceberg self and experience life from its perspective, life makes much more sense. You may not like it, but you can be at peace with the nature of things because you understand them and see how you are a part of a greater whole.

Now imagine that as the ten percent of the iceberg above the water you look down into yourself. What do you see? You see your reflection in the water. You dimly see yourself disappearing below the water as well, but what you make of that below the water self is based on your out-of water perspective.  It will be distorted by waves and refracted in illusory ways by the light. Your conclusions about your underwater self will inevitably be delusions. For example, you may conclude that you are only what you can see, which means you have no sense of just how massive this extended identity is. It contains all of your social roles that you are not in at the moment, all of the physiological and psychological routines and sub-routines that allow you to think, feel, and act in the ways that you do. Notice that there is normally no reason to be conscious of any of this; to do so is merely to interfere with processes that are best left to their own  sense of equilibrium, 99% of the time. However, immense freedom can come from knowing of their existence, and immense power from the ability to intervene in a healthy, productive way to restore balance when necessary.

By analogy, mankind, religion, and psychology has not only been ignorant of the 90% but has largely chosen to do so because to do otherwise is to center self-centeredness, narcissism, control, power, and security.  Therefore, mankind has largely remained content to look at life from the outside in. to view greater human consciousness from the perspective of waking identity, the ten percent above the surface, that it is aware of. Consequently, waking, dream, psychic, and mystical experiences are distorted, misperceived, and misunderstood. Everything and everyone else is inherently and inevitably misperceived and misunderstood. All is experienced in terms of the warped meanings, assumptions, values, and perceptions of your isolated and limited ten percent waking identity.  Interior experiences, such as your feelings, thoughts, and night time dreams often seem distorted because they are distorted by you. Even your sense of certainty is a distortion. You can easily verify that by remembering how you looked at life and the choices you made when you were younger. Pretty embarrassing, yes? Why is it that in five or ten years we will not look back on our assumptions, beliefs, and decisions today with a similar degree of chagrin?

Things that look scary and people that act in threatening ways really are threatening to you, just as dream fires and monsters can really be scary. Life problems that won’t go away really won’t budge for you. This is because the context in which you perceive “reality” is itself heavily distorted. We recognize this about dreams, usually when we wake up, but fight like mad to avoid applying the same conclusion to right now, to our everyday mind. Forming beliefs based on illusory experiences, you live in a delusional world.

Notice that the ten percent is only a rough approximation of the relationship of your waking identity to a broader sense of personal identity. When you incorporate the equivalent of the ocean, your waking sense of who you are becomes a tiny fragment of your overall identity. When you incorporate earth, sky, and space the centrality and significance of your sense of self is comparable to that of an atom of nitrogen in the earth’s atmosphere.  You don’t need to constantly maintain that awareness; in fact to do so abstracts you from the here and now in an unhealthy way. You only to have the ability to do so when it is useful or necessary. However, it becomes highly useful to take a broader, witnessing perspective when your waking ten percent is unable to make the stuck parts of yourself in the other ninety percent of yourself budge.

The top part of your iceberg is in the minority. It does not have the ability to control or direct the destiny of its greater identity. It is the tail wagging the dog, the flea thinking it is in charge of its host. However, life is overflowing with alternative perspectives that aren’t stuck like you.  your iceberg self, below the surface, that aren’t stuck. You can access perspectives that may be able to make the stuck parts of yourself budge, if you only were able to access them. There are other perspectives that are in harmony with the parts of yourself and of life that are not to your liking. When you take their perspective you may discover new ways to get stuck parts moving or to move into greater acceptance of other things being the way they are.

When you look down into the water or through the ice you see more water, either as the sea or as the frozen fresh water of your iceberg self. The frozen fresh water below the surface is one part of your greater identity that lies outside your normal awareness; the ocean itself is another, far more vast part of your greater identity that lies outside your normal awareness. These perspectives are so vast and impersonal that it makes little sense to think of them as “self-aspects.” Aspects of what self? Certainly not our waking identity! The water in an iceberg essentially belongs to no self. Because of this it makes better sense to refer to these expansive, witnessing perspectives, whether they are within “your” iceberg or in the ocean, or in other icebergs, as “emerging potentials” rather than as self-aspects. Each perspective is emerging into your awareness. It has the potential to be part of your awareness. It also has the potential, when it does, to make a difference in your life.

How can you access perspectives that know how you are stuck and what you need to do to get unstuck? Returning to our analogy, it would be as if you took ice cores of your ninety percent below the surface and, beyond that, explored the sea itself. If you took enough such samples, you would gain a pretty good sense of the unlimited and undefined nature of your “identity” really was. You wouldn’t have to constantly take ice cores, nor would you have to explore all of the sea all the time in order to gain a broad overview of a much more accurate map of life.

In Integral Deep Listening you do so when you interview and become various emerging potentials. By doing so you discover that your life looks and feels a lot different. Things inside you that looked scary aren’t any longer. When you become the monster in your dreams you find out he was chasing you to give you a message or to scare you into paying attention to some danger. You come to view surprises and life events as wake-up calls. When you become the personification of some waking fear, such as frustration, abandonment, or poverty you find that your fear diminishes greatly. Your experience of yourself is now broader and more inclusive. Looking out into the water or up through the water or even into yourself is a lot different when you are this or that part of the iceberg that is under water, or become the ocean or air. What you find is that all perspectives are different, in that they are in different locations and see life from different biases, prejudices, and belief structures. Yet they are all the same in that they are all life. There is nothing “shadowy,” illusory, or stuck about any of this, only the reflections seen by the ten percent may seem shadowy, illusory, or stuck. There is nothing that is stuck, there is nothing that won’t budge, there is nothing that is in conflict or that takes an adversarial stance.

The normal view of life taken by your waking sense of who you are is “egocentric,” or “geocentric” and “Ptolemaic.” That is, it is centered on the perspective of the ten percent of your iceberg self that is out of the water. IDL refers to this as pychological geocentrism. To take sample cores of your iceberg self or to become the ocean is not to move into a “heliocentric” or “theocentric” perspective, that is, centered on something outside of yourself. Instead, it is “polycentric” or “aperspectival,” like a hologram, in that whatever point you are identified with is experienced as central and as the whole of life.

The perspective of the ten percent of yourself that is out of the water is the perspective of common sense. We all need that.  Common sense is absolutely legitimate and necessary. When viewed from the perspective of this or that emerging potential, your waking perspective is experienced as only one of an infinite variety of legitimate perspectives, most of which are totally unknown to you, yet immediately accessible.  Because these perspectives are generally rational, yet make more sense than waking awareness generally does, they offer “uncommon” sense. If that ten percent is to broaden its understanding of who and what it is, it needs to view itself from both multiple external and internal perspectives. It needs to view itself from the perspective of other icebergs, the sky, the clouds, and the ocean. It also needs to view itself from different ice cores taken from within itself.

While both Freud’s iceberg analogy and that of IDL see the conscious mind as above the water, Freud saw the remainder of the iceberg as the unconscious mind.  IDL does not set up this dualism between conscious and unconscious. It sees awareness as a spotlight that shines light from wherever it is at the time, awake, dreaming, deeply asleep, or in some other state. The ninety percent of the iceberg that is underwater, as well as the ocean and sky are misperceived by waking identity as unconscious.  It is much more helpful to view them as ground for extraordinary, innate, and authentic potentials. When you become this or that aspect of the iceberg or its environment, what was ground becomes figure and what was figure, the ten percent of yourself that was above the water, becomes another part of the ground.


Which is ground and which is figure?

When you experience shifting out of the “figure” of your waking identity into the “ground” of this or that interviewed emerging potential you have first hand, personal experiences that there is nothing unconscious or shadowy about either your inner world or other perspectives, no matter how imaginary they may be. It is your waking unawareness that is unconscious. The “unconsciousness” of the other ninety percent is a projection of the unconsciousness of your waking identity, which is deeply asleep and dreaming. That ten percent projects its perspectives, biases, prejudices, interpretations, and fears onto the remainder of your iceberg self, and beyond it, out onto the world, as is easily observed in dream interpretation. What you learn when you take ice cores is that it is your own waking unawareness and fear-based addiction to drama that is shadowy.  You have met the enemy and found that it is not some manufactured unconscious. It is yourself, your own scripted, comfortable, everyday waking sense of who you are.

The good news is that the help and growth you seek and need is closer and easier to access than you may realize. You have a diamond mine in your back yard, but you have to be willing to climb down and bring up a lot of rock that is heavy, dirty, and looks useless. Then you have to clean it up.  That’s all.  It’s amazing how many people are still not willing to mine those precious gems, even after they are taken down into their mine to pull out the diamonds and other gems for themselves. They will then tell you that what they have found are indeed diamonds and precious gems.  Still, they revert into the delusions of their waking belief system. They give themselves endless reasons why not to go down and get it – that is, to do IDL interviews with their dreams and life issues.

The parts of yourself that are stuck, the ones Christians, psychologists, and Wilber refer to as evil or “shadow,” are not part of the ninety percent of yourself that is underwater.  Your stuck parts are primarily thoughts, feelings, and other roles taken by the ten percent of yourself that is above the water. These are the scripted roles from your childhood and culture that agree with and validate your waking perspective when you become them. They are the roles you have internalized from years of groupthink. They are the voices that say, among other things, “Yes, you are right to think you’re a failure.” “Yes, you are right to feel victimized.”  “Only the ten percent of yourself is real.” “The ten percent must be in control to be happy.” Such voices, as well as the drama of your addictions, are part of the ten percent of your iceberg that is above the water. It is made up of a constellation of roles or selves, and together they validate whomever your iceberg thinks it is.  They conspire to maintain your illusion of separateness from your other ninety percent as well as from ocean, sky, and other icebergs.  These interdependent culturally induced roles in the ten percent of yourself that is out of the water work together to keep you in the Drama Triangle, alternately taking the roles of victim, rescuer, and persecutor. They keep you looking for God, Jesus, Buddha, Angels, the White Brotherhood, or your favorite guru to rescue you. The greater part of yourself that is underwater doesn’t do any of this.

Misery is optional, but it means taking the time to question your suppositions as to who you are as the ten percent of the iceberg.  Freud didn’t do this. His model assumes that the interpretations of the ten percent of Freud that is above the water line are correct. Wilber’s model still looks at reality mostly from the perspective of the evolving ten percent. Although his Vision-Logic developmental doorway to the transpersonal is aperspectival, that model is drawn by multiple waking perspectives, waking selves such as mystics and psychologists reporting back on what they observed of other states of consciousness. The combined map of the self reflects a collective ten percent  map of consciousness.


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