What is phenomenology?
Phenomenology, developed by the German philosopher Edmund Husserl in the early 1900’s, is the study of the structures of subjective experience and consciousness. It is the mind looking into itself and observing what is going on, based on the assumption that personal experience is the source of all knowledge. The goal of a phenomenological exploration is both awareness and a better understanding of what it is. Repeated observations by different people reduce the effects of bias and create a degree of objectivity regarding the nature of awareness. Like Husserl’s phenomenology, Integral Deep Listening is not interested in asking what connection to external reality the objects of consciousness may have. Like phenomenology, it wants to create conditions for the objective study of topics usually regarded as subjective: consciousness and the content of conscious experiences such as judgments, perceptions, and emotions.
Husserl’s phenomenological method comprises three steps, the Rule of Epoché, the Rule of Description, and the Rule of Horizontalization. Epoché is a term derived from the Greek skeptic’s notion of abstaining from belief. It is also called “the phenomenological reduction,” or “bracketing,” the act of suspending judgment about the natural world to instead focus on the analysis of mental experience. When you apply the Rule of Epoché you set aside your biases and prejudices in order to suspend expectations and assumptions. When you apply the Rule of Description you do not interpret or explain but instead objectively report what you witness. When you apply the Rule of Horizontalization you treat each item you describe as having equal value or significance. All three of these have relevance for Integral Deep Listening. The Eidetic Reduction is a definition of the purpose of these three steps, which is to remove what is perceived, leaving only what is required or essential to the object of your awareness, be it an emerging potential with which you are identified, all dream characters, your consciousness as a waking identity, your consciousness as a dreamer, either normally conscious or lucid, or the consciousness which creates dreams itself, called in Dream Sociometry “dream consciousness.” There are three steps to Eidetic variation. You first choose some specific example, such as a dream broomstick. You then vary the image imaginatively. The third step is figuring out which properties of the broomstick cannot be eliminated and still have a broomstick. That which cannot be eliminated is part of the broomstick’s essence.
You are using the Rule of Epoché when you set aside your theories and assumptions about dreaming, Integral Deep Listening, Integral Deep Listening interviews, and how you are supposed to act as a student of Integral Deep Listening. In particular, it is used when both teacher and student “table” their assumptions about what will be said during the interview and what its significance may be. You are using the Rule of Description when you simply report your experience as an interviewed dream character or personification of a life issue without adding your interpretations or explanations. You are using the Rule of Horizontalization when you do not make value distinctions between animate and inanimate, spiritual and secular, pure and impure, real and imaginary emerging potentials. You avoid making hierarchical assignments of importance. You are using the Eidetic variation when you ask individual emerging potentials if they wish to transform in some way, which is done several times in the course of the interview. This allows you to observe what, if any, characteristics of the emerging potential cannot be eliminated and for it to remain what it is in essence. This allows the personification and perspective to identify its core characteristics.
Advantages of taking a phenomenalistic perspective
What are the advantages of taking such a stance toward experience? Some are specific to dreamwork while others are profoundly supportive of the evolution of consciousness in general. For Integral Deep Listening, the phenomenological reduction disengages waking awareness from its customary attitude of assessing experiences, places, things, and people, as well as their attitudes, feelings, and behavior, based on how real they are or are not, and how meaningful they are or are not to you. Instead, your sense of who you are, now expanded through identification beyond previous waking awareness, is aware of the phenomenon itself – the experience of being the “other” and being its attitudes, feelings, behaviors, and perspectives. This qualitative richness is observed and described now by the emerging potential, not by your waking identity. It is more accurate to say that it is observed and described by both your waking identity and the emerging potential, fused as one. This act of observation and description occurs without the usual resort to waking concepts and categories of waking awareness. Such constructs as waking identity, Dream Self, and dream characters are based on some assumed reality status for both the perceiver and the perceived. However, with the Rule of Epoché, we do not know if waking identity is more or less real than emerging potentials, if your Dream Self is more or less real than emerging potentials, or if one emerging potential is more real than another. Instead, all such judgments are suspended so that all states of consciousness and sentient beings may be placed on the same ontological footing. Doing so automatically undercuts most, if not all metaphysical claims and entities. Neither exist in the reality experienced by most interviewed emerging potentials. The Eidetic Reduction reveals that oncologic claims or hierarchies are not part of the essence of interviewed emerging potentials.
While the phenomenological perspective is first learned and practiced during Integral Deep Listening interviewing, it is meant to be extended into dream and everyday waking perception. With the implementation of the phenomenological reduction, waking experience is no more or less real or illusory than dream experience. By loosening awareness away from the typical way that you describe things, the phenomenological reduction equalizes dream group phenomena, because they are no longer observed and described with an underlying motive of ranking them according to some hypothesized reality status. The consequence is a massive reduction of filtration of experience that normally goes on out of awareness. Reality is no longer automatically pigeonholed according to assumed categories of experience. The more this is done, the more the “doors of perception” are cleansed, to use William Blake’s famous phrase, “everything would appear to man as it is, infinite…”
The Phenomenological Reduction
Each emerging potential, whether a emerging potential or personification of a life issue, has its own distinct consciousness. This is not a theory or a hypothesis. It is a demonstrable fact that you are urged to explore until you yourself are convinced of its truth. The distinct consciousness of your emerging potentials are neither reducible to self-aspects, nor are they discarnate entities, extraterrestrials, gods, or devils. They are relatively autonomous internal perspectives of which you are aware, partially aware, or unaware. While they may personify parts of yourself, that does not mean that they are parts of you. Some are prepersonal or regressive, some are personal, adjusted, and rational, and some are transpersonal, incorporating both belief and reason, in their level of development. However all of them represent states of consciousness that are relatively more evolved than yours, even the prepersonal, regressive ones that score low in some or all of the six core qualities. This is because their perspective has the advantage of knowing yours. They are not dissociated “others” that are not connected to your thoughts, feelings, and personal history. They are aware of all that, based on their own comments over thousands of interviews. In that sense, your interviewed emerging potentials, whether derived from dreams or waking life experiences, are parts of you. However, because they include your sense of self it does not mean that they are themselves limited in their identity to yours. Instead, they complement your world view and identity with their own world view and identity, which means that in addition to including your identity, theirs also transcends your identity. This means that they know more than you do, even if they score themselves zero in Wisdom. It means that their outlook or perspective is inherently broader and more inclusive than yours.
The “cause,” origin, or “meaning” of a particular emerging potential is an entirely different issue from the nature of its individual consciousness. Interpretive and projective approaches look for meaning and find it in what the character is assumed to symbolize. Phenomenological approaches, on the other hand, emphasize the consciousness of interviewed characters themselves, not symbolic meanings. The distinction between the consciousness of a particular emerging potential and where it may have come from basically distinguishes phenomenological approaches to dreamwork from most other descriptive approaches. This step is called the phenomenological reduction (epoché). It is a methodological step of stripping introspective data, such as dream characters, of their status as mental facts occurring within a real world. For Integral Deep Listening dreamwork, the “real world” is the real world of dream experience; for Integral Deep Listening work with waking life issues, the “real world” is the reality for whatever perspective is taken at the moment. Interpretive approaches to dreaming tend to view its “real world” as a type of epiphenomena dependent for meaning and relevancy on the broader, more rational, more relevant, and more meaningful domain of waking consciousness or, alternatively, some extra-dimensional reality, such as astral planes or parallel universes. Such dreamworkers search for what a dream and its contents mean to the dreamer and his waking reality. The dreamer approaches the dream narrative with his own set of biases, whether they be scientific humanists, new agers, psychic healers, traditional religionists, shamanic practitioners, or energy worshippers. These perspectival biases, whatever they are, form a set of assumptions, an inchoate set of hypotheses, if you will, that direct attention while both limiting and determining what the believer will and will not see in the dream narrative. So the mental facts occurring in the real world of dreaming are explored to see what relevance they have for the real mental (and physical) facts of some particular interpretation of the meaning of waking life. This has been the case since before Joseph interpreted dreams for Pharaoh and extends right up through dreaming as an expression of quantum everything. Phenomenology, on the other hand, suspends the presumed correlation between introspective data and a real world. Introspective data are not treated as reports coming from an internal world. Instead, the data is examined and described in its own terms by those perspectives that own the experience, regardless of “where they might have come from” or what they may indicate about some hypothesized reality.
Phenomenologically oriented dreamwork, then, does not attempt to base dreaming on its meaning for waking consciousness or to require that dream accounts say something real about dreaming itself. The consciousness of each interviewed emerging potential is taken at face value. Relevancy is based on individual subjective reports in those interviews, not on what expectations, assumptions and intersubjective meanings waking identity wants or needs to read into each unique emerging potential consciousness.
By suspending belief in any real world that the phenomenon “may have come from,” the phenomenological reduction removes from consideration both the (presumed) reality status of the phenomenon and any possible causal link between the phenomenon and something else. Dreams and dreamwork is the perfect place to learn this skill because we generally do not ask these questions about a dream porcupine or trash compactor. However, the default position is to assume that they are less real than waking events because they are dream characters. This assumption is also tabled. The same is true when you take your fear of public speaking, give it a color, like black, and allow that color to congeal into whatever form it likes, say a cobra. The phenomenological reduction does not assume the cobra is more or less real than you are. You no longer assume that the comments, feelings, and perspectives of the cobra are more or less true or legitimate than yours are. You do not assume that the cobra is an aspect of yourself, guidance from God, a random biochemical epiphenomenon, day residue, a creature from another dimension, a shamanic totem animal, a personal archetype, symbol of power, sex, or danger, or any other particular pet theory. You suspend all such assumptions and then draw your conclusions from the self-reports you hear. You then look for patterns within those self-reports. Those patterns and the correlations among self-reports give you a phenomenological foundation for understanding a dream and its contents or a life issue from a perspective that transcends, yet includes, your own.
Once engaged in phenomenological reduction, an Integral Deep Listening Practitioner can neither attribute a reality status to the emerging potential, whether an angel or a pothole, and its elaborations nor infer the existence of something else as either a cause or effect of the emerging potential. Inferred relationships to dreaming, waking life issues, the universal unconscious, relevancy to life processes such as individuation, biochemistry, or day residue, are all suspended. The Integral Deep Listening Practitioner, teacher, interviewer, or student, if she is to be consistent, cannot even attribute reality to herself. Such assumptions are simply suspended for the duration of the interview. Neither the content that is experienced through character identification nor the subjective processes of experiencing the identification are regarded as either real or unreal; they are not regarded as clues to something real “beyond” them. This approach is radically at variance with most objective methodologies as well as interpretive approaches to dreamwork. As we shall see, it most closely resembles the four-fold negation of the brilliant Madhyamika sage Nagarjuna, which overthrew Aristotelian logic by not accepting as a foundational premise the Law of the Excluded Middle.
Epoché in Integral Deep Listening
In Integral Deep Listening, your waking interpretations are best suspended in favor of the interpretations of various interviewed potentials. You are constantly talking to yourself, analyzing words and situations and coming up with interpretations. If your interpretations and assumptions worked, would you be stuck where you are in your life? We can see this principle rather easily in others; it is much more difficult to apply it to ourselves, because each assumption you carry was learned because it had some adaptive value. Therefore it is a source of security, a transitional object. It is not that your interpretations and assumptions are not useful, only that they are partial. You need other tools. But to pick up another tool, say a screwdriver, you first have to stop using the hammer for the moment. In order to develop confidence that you have internalized your teddy bear or binky, you have to experience life without it. In order to benefit from Integral Deep Listening you have to lay down the hammer of your waking identity so you can pick up the screwdriver of getting fully into role and staying there for the duration of the interview.
In Integral Deep Listening you consciously suspend as many of your assumptions as you can when you interview a dream element or the personification of a life issue. You pick those assumptions up later, but during the interview, your intention is to get out of your own way by basically having your normal waking sense of self with its incessant interpretations and analysis, be fully present, but fully observant, which means no talking to oneself about what is happening. All your assumptions about dreams also apply to your conceptions about your waking life. They apply to the characters, places, objects, and life issues that you confront in your day-to-day struggles to find and maintain balance as well as to grow. Therefore, Integral Deep Listening interviews the personifications of waking life issues, such as fears, depression, physical pains and illnesses, interpersonal conflicts, career decisions, and health issues just as easily as it does dreams.
Assumptions that you want to suspend in order to listen in a deep, phenomenological way, to your interviewed character include presuppositions that the element exists or does not exist; is alive or dead; is meaningful or meaningless; has something to tell you; is important or unimportant; is a symbol and represents something or someone; is from God or devil; represents another dimension, such as life after death or a shamanic journey; is produced by your unconscious; is or is not an archetype; depicts reality; is illusory; or that it is or is not a byproduct of random neurological brain events. You consciously decide to suspend your disbelief as well as your assumptions regarding your capability to interpret or understand what you hear. You decide not to filter what you experience through your belief system by thinking about it in such terms as shamanic journeying, astral experiences, other dimensions, chakras and energies, symbols, mysticism, quantum physics, God, soul, or reincarnation, You choose to table such assumptions as, “This won’t work;” “This is wonderful!” “This is stupid;” “This makes so much sense!” “I don’t understand!;” “I know what this means already.” “Dreams aren’t real;” “Dreams are real.” “Taking the color of a feeling associated with a life issue and allowing it to take a form and interviewing that form is silly; it couldn’t possibly tell me anything useful,” “I’m not going to hear anything new or that will help…”
Think of your assumptions as the roadmap you usually use to navigate your life. In some situations, they work and help. However, assumptions tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies. You find what you are looking for and validate your hopes and fears, validating your stuckness. As a phenomenological methodology, Integral Deep Listening requires the suspension of assumptions, preferences, and perspectives. This is not normal or natural for most people. They have taught that success and happiness in life involve continuous, habitual reliance upon their assumptions, preferences, and perspectives. Breaking this underlying assumption takes time and patience. In Integral Deep Listening interviewing, your assumptions are a roadmap of a territory that does not exist. The rule of Epoché asks you to suspend such normal operating procedures and trust. This is a radical, existential, and highly therapeutic initial expectation. Most people’s lives are built on fear; that is why they clutch their road map and won’t let it go. To ask them to do so is not only to request a radical act of trust but to go directly against years of conditioning, scripting, and cognitive habit. Therefore, expect your clients and students to have difficulty following this rule until they have done a number of interviews and have developed their confidence that they will not only survive without their road maps; they will see the territory more clearly and therefore be more likely to make good decisions about which way to go and what to do.
By taking a phenomenological approach to a dream or a life issue you are suspending your assumptions about truth and reality in order to listen to your interviewed element’s assumptions about truth and reality. Are they the same as yours? What does it mean if they are different? You are encouraged to pick up your beliefs, biases, preferences, prejudices, assumptions, and interpretations again after the interview. Integral Deep Listening encourages Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Moslems, pagans, atheists, agnostics, scientific humanists, capitalists, socialists, libertarians, new agers — everyone — to frame Integral Deep Listening in terms of their own conceptual, social, and cultural contexts. You can’t do anything else, anyway.
The rule of description
When, as a student, you learn to suspend your interpretations, analyses, and evaluations while you are in role and instead report what you experience as this or that dream character or personified life issue, you are practicing the rule of description. In a departure from traditional phenomenology, you, the observer, don’t describe anything. This descriptive move occurs, but it is not undertaken by a unitary researcher. That identity is also an assumption, and like all other assumptions, it is tabled, or laid aside. In this regard, Integral Deep Listening claims to be a more thoroughgoing phenomenology than Husserl’s. There are important reasons for this difference. In order to become a dream element or personification of a life experience you have to learn to get out of your own way so that it can speak and you can listen to what it has to say. This getting out of your own way is a radical expression of epoché so that radically objective descriptions can be expressed. The paradox is that this unusual objectivity is accessed through the most subjective of methodologies. Laying aside as many assumptions as possible not only helps you to get out of the way so that you can listen deeply and clearly, instead of the usual way — hearing through the mental, emotional, cultural, and social filters that are mostly out of your awareness and which distort and condition every perception and interpretation you make. It also creates a methodology that carries as little baggage as possible, reducing the need to adopt a foreign ideology while making it easier for each person to adapt it to their own contexts. This is very important, because Integral Deep Listening is integral deep listening, that is, it is something that does not belong to any one person or cultural orientation. The Rule of Description is also found in Integral Deep Listening “naming” meditation, in which whatever comes to mind is named. This uncouples the habitual train of thought that normally runs consciousness by providing pre-recorded newsreels and soap operas. Naming meditation is simple noting; it is used to find and amplify clarity and objectivity in meditation.
Horizontalization in Integral Deep Listening
Horizontalization is found in Integral Deep Listening’s lack of preference in talking to spoons or gods, goats or avatars. It is also found in its lack of preference for transformation, with low-scoring elements assumed to be as important and useful as high-scoring ones. It does not experience spirituality as something distinct from scratching your ass or pouring ketchup on fries. Horizontalization does not generate hierarchies of quality or quantity. The phenomenological stance, when applied to dream groups, allows the dreamer to receive all emerging potentials and their attendant experience equally and in their fullness. The result is powerful in its spontaneity and numinousness. Both kratophanies and epiphanies are experienced in life-transformative immediacy. Interpretive approaches feel safer because they are just that – interpretations; protective mental screens that you raise between the overwhelming immediacy of blinding light, overpowering energy, and humbling majesty. Fear keeps this door closed for most of us most of the time.
The Rule of Horizontalization in Integral Deep Listening phenomenology is not made in disregard of the reality and importance of hierarchy. Developmental gradations are genuine and important expressions of what integral calls agency; it comes into play when interviews are assimilated and integrated through interpretation by the student and the teacher.
Outline of a Phenomenological Approach to Experience
What does it mean to rely fully and heavily on your own introspective reports of your experience? Phenomenological approaches to life have as an aim the minimization of the projection which is an unavoidable component of all interpretation. Even when you are interpreting your own experiences, dreams, or motivations, you are projecting onto them your thoughts, feelings, expectations, preferences, and world view. This is unavoidable and inevitable, but it can be minimized. The solution is not to trust the validity of your highly individual and subjective personal experiments with phenomenological investigation. While this would be a definition of traditional phenomenological approaches to dream and life research, it is not the approach of Integral Deep Listening.
The fundamental purpose of phenomenology itself may at times be the same as that of a dream yoga, such as Integral Deep Listening, or it may be very different. Husserlian phenomenology has the goal of being “a rigorous science,” which, as we have seen, aims to identify the recurring or essential structures of the contents and processes of consciousness. Phenomenological approaches to dream yoga share this methodological aim of carefully observing the contents and processes of consciousness. The Dream Sociometric methodology can be used for this purpose, particularly when one tabulates preferences, reviews elaborations, and studies associated patterns of intrasocial organization. Generally, however, dreamers of the dream of life will primarily use phenomenological methods when they desire a method which helps them to suspend their waking bias when they approach their delusions. They are not content to always discover what they suspected all along to be true.
The problem is that suspending waking bias is a tricky thing. You’re going to come up with an interpretation of your experience, regardless of which assumptions or how many of them you let go of. Whatever interpretation you prefer, where did it come from? Whose conclusion is that? It is important to remember that what is being studied phenomenologically is your state of consciousness at the time that you investigate a particular life experience, life issue, or some recalled dream narrative. Inferences about dream consciousness are normally made, but they are only that — inferences. You are not working on the dream itself but rather on your memory of the dream. The same is true for an Integral Deep Listening interview or a phenomenological assessment of a life issue or experience. Consequently, dream phenomenology does not deal with dreaming in the strict sense unless a person is dreaming and practices the methodology within the dream state itself. Otherwise, it deals with dream state residue, which may be similar or radically different from dream awareness itself.
Integral Deep Listening provides a thoroughgoing phenomenological approach to human experience in that it gathers introspective reports from an unlimited variety of interviewed emerging potentials. These may be dream characters or the personifications of waking experiences, whether they are physical pains, emotions, synchronicities, near death experiences, characters from literature, such as Tolkein, Shakespeare, or Homer, or religious, historical, or mythological figures. Such characters, or personifications from such experiences, all personify perspectives that are subjective, in that they exist within your life dream, yet objective in relation to both your own perspective and related interpretations, as well as those of others. In this regard Integral Deep Listening differs from Husserlian phenomenology, which relies on the introspection of the subject, who is generally assumed to be the researcher, who is a unitary observing identity. The unitary nature of the researcher breaks down somewhat when investigating altered states of consciousness. Clearly, the “researcher” who is reporting on an acid trip is not the same as the researcher who is reporting on night blindness. This implies that unitary consciousness is not only state dependent but perspectivally dependent; it changes based on the perspective you are taking at the moment. Therefore, how can you have a truly objective and “scientific” phenomenology if there is no unitary researcher? If you are looking to reduce bias and gain validity by duplication of results, how do you do so if there is no unitary researcher?
Integral Deep Listening avoids this problem by not assuming the existence of a unitary researcher or perspective. You allow yourself to take the perspective of this or that emerging potential, knowing that it is entirely subjective and that what you will hear is conditioned by all sorts of temporal, emotional, and preferential factors. Integral Deep Listening makes no claim to a unitary observer, whether subjective or objective. The destructuralization of the researcher is pervasive with Dream Sociometry, where there are many “subjects,” and in regular Integral Deep Listening interviewing when you approach the same theme from the perspective of a number of different emerging potentials. There are as many potential “researchers” as there are discrete internal or external identities with which to identify. In phenomenological dreamwork the monolith of identity is destructuralized and consciousness is observed from the perspectives of its relative components.
The Eidetic Reduction
The suspension of reality claims about dreams and waking experience by Integral Deep Listening is quite similar to what Husserl termed “the eidetic reduction” in his phenomenological method. “With the eidetic reduction, the phenomenologist attempts to identify the essential structures of human consciousness, rather than the ephemeral content or the purely personal features of individual’s consciousness. In brief, the eidetic reduction is a method of imagining possible variations of the phenomenon under study.” In Integral Deep Listening, the possible variations are imagined not by the Integral Deep Listening Practitioner or the interview subject, but by the contents of consciousness themselves. Dream characters and the personifications of life issues imagine the possible variations. The gathering of differing subjective reports from various emerging potentials results in sometimes similar, sometimes radically varying introspective reports into the nature of experience in the recalled dream or life issue interview. Such variations in accounts are exactly what the phenomenologist is looking for. The Lamp Post disagrees with the Sofa, which disagrees with the Shitsu, and all of them disagree in their patterns of preferences with Dream Self.
For example, a dreamer recalls a dream of a burning building. She thinks, “Ah, this is about that argument I had yesterday!” This is a hypothesis formed by waking identity. It represents one of many possible perspectives. If she blithely assumes that her assumption speaks for the entirety of her identity, her investigation will stop. She has focused on the etiology and meaning of the experience rather than its consciousness itself. If, however, she were to interview various emerging potentials such as the fire and the building, she would probably experience a considerable amplification of both her consciousness and her understanding. She might even discover that the argument of yesterday is only incidental to the concerns of her emerging potentials. She may come away wondering if her waking agenda is both uninformed and narrow, even disrespectful of the agendas of other invested perspectives.
Understanding of a dream, which is often the goal of dreamwork, is merely insight, and insight will only take us so far. The amplification of consciousness itself, the expansion of limited world views, is an entirely different matter. While both insight and multiperspectivalism occur at any and every stage of development, when multiperspectivalism is consciously cultivated it promotes evolution in the core developmental lines of cognition, self, morality, and empathy. Even if interviewed perspectives confirm her hypothesis that the dream of fire is about her argument, if she follows the Integral Deep Listening interviewing structure, interviewed emerging potentials are likely to elaborate how and why she loses her temper and then make concrete suggestions about what she can do differently to resolve these internal conflicts as they manifest in her relationships. In addition, interviewed perspectives may suggest a dreamage, a consensus reorganization of the dream group, as a personal myth of higher order psychic integration. This is routinely done in Dream Sociometry. All of this is secondary to the potential to own and reintegrate one’s beingness as building and fire. The consciousness of “fireness” is rich, fierce, and empowering. When it is “owned,” consciousness expands. The experience of being the building also awakens new possibilities of who she is. These direct, I-Thou experiences far transcend both understanding and insight. That is because they involve identification, becoming rather than preferring the objectification of analysis. That will come later in the process.
If Fire and Building express opinions that are totally at odds with her own assumptions regarding what they are about, then her waking hypothesis about why she had the dream is not only disproven; she will probably approach it with amazement and new respect. Perhaps Building will say, “I need to burn down. I have to die in order to be reborn. Your anger is your attempt to avoid looking at your fear of letting go.” The argument of the day before may then be viewed as a catalyst for the addressing of a much more fundamental issue for the dreamer. Perhaps Fire elaborates on the nature of that issue. It might say, “I purify in my uncontrollable aliveness and spontaneity. Because you cannot control me you are frightened of me. And so I come out in a perverted form, as an argument.”
Is this the “meaning” of the dream? Is this the “true interpretation” of the dream? Are we getting at the “real” or the “true” issues of the dreamer? Such questions miss the point. Phenomenologists do not seek to limit reality by forcing it into some box, no matter how beautiful and desirable it may be. Does a diamond have one “true” facet? Does a diamond have one “real” meaning? Do you have one “true” self? Does your life have one “real” meaning? This is a type of epistemological reductionism and monism. The sad truth is that many people waste years trying to find Love or Truth in the form of their soul mate or their one true life passion, when life itself cannot be and is not so limited. They thereby experience needless anxiety if they lack either Love or Truth. An even worse outcome is if they become convinced that they have found their true self and that they know their life’s true meaning. At that point they stop searching, because they have managed to repress the innate ambiguity and polyvalence of both themselves and life itself. True Believers, they have drunk the cool aid and now want everybody else to drink it too.
Permissive and open-ended, ongoing feedback from your emerging potentials provides a both/and, multiperspectival approach to life rather than an either/or exclusivism that celebrates the delusion of exceptionalism. Integral Deep Listening demonstrates that both dream groups and life itself are polyvalent, with many forms personifying varying purposes and norms, each valid within its particular context. There is no one correct meaning but many pragmatically expedient attitudes, feelings, behaviors, and perspectives which are internally consistent but which may violently clash with other perspectives. From this experience we gradually draw the experiential conclusion that life itself is a dream that is created and experienced in very much the same way. We open to it; we relax into it. We withdraw all of our projections onto others and ourselves; we smile at our Atman project, our need for constant assurance that we are someone, that life matters, and that anything exists that has lasting value.
These words are not a negation of life or of purposive action within it. What you do matters; who you are matters more than you know; we need you to contribute your uniqueness so that we all may benefit from the extraordinary expression of spirit that you are. However, when you take yourself too seriously, when you attempt to grasp and hold life, you experience life as the suffering of drama and the drama of suffering. Misery is optional. Integral Deep Listening is designed to provide you experiences of legitimate, authentic perspectives that do not do drama, suffer, or die.
We begin to see how the phenomenological method helps to unknot long-tangled waking assumptions and biases. We come to view our assumptions as presenting one alternative, one variation, of many possible introspective reports about life. Together, they comprise our current waking world view. We come to see waking identity for what it is: a habitual adaptive structure of thought and feeling which is developed to get out of our family alive, to pass classes in school, to make friends, to get a job, to get people to put up with us and maybe even love us. We begin to see that we have mistaken this arbitrary adaptive response to our particular environment for the entirety of ourselves. Instead of growing beyond identification with layers of cognitive, emotional, and perceptual filtering, instead of deconstructing our identification with it, we build the walls of our prison higher and deeper until we are the living dead. Clearly, evolution beyond a certain point, that is the personal levels of development, requires disidentification from all of this. Integral Deep Listening provides ongoing identification with perspectives that are phenomenologically much more neutral than you are. When you interview your emerging potentials you will find that many challenge or contradict the convenient myths constructed by your waking sense of self to reassure you that you know who you are. As you do so, your sense of who you think you are will expand and thin.
Levels of eidetic variation in Integral Deep Listening phenomenology
There are at least three levels of eidetic variation that can be applied to the stories you tell yourself while you are dreaming or awake. First, you have the account you experience and report from your dream or waking experience. Second, you have the accounts offered by the various perspectives that are intrinsic to the story. Third, you have your revised, expanded story or narrative, which is a compilation of the perspectives of interviewed emerging potentials and your waking identity. Notice how different this procedure is from what you usually do. Most of your stories you accept without question and then forget about them, moving on to the next story. You do this with dreams; you experience the story, then quickly forget it, moving on to the next one either while remaining asleep or when you wake up. On the rare instances when you remember a dream, it is rare for anyone to carry that story with them for long before moving on to the next, waking story. If you do remember a dream, what you are most likely to do is create a waking myth. The monster in the dream means that the world is a dark and threatening place; that you can’t trust others; that there exist within you wild libidinal forces ready to attack you at any time. Such stories have validation, in that they reinforce whatever life story you are telling yourself, but they very likely have nothing to do with the story the monster himself would tell if you gave him the opportunity.
The first regards the narrative or story that you tell yourself about a dream, a break up, a job, your health, or your life story. We generally mistake the narrative for the experience itself, as if our story were the one true and accurate account, since, after all, it is what we experienced!
The second type of eidetic variation involves the accounts offered by the various perspectives that are intrinsic to the story. It does not deal with the stories you tell yourself while you are asleep and dreaming or awake, about who you are and what the meaning of your life is, but with variations and similarities in the consciousness of emerging potentials that you interview about the story. In waking life, other perspectives remain unknown and merely inferred unless we ask them or they offer their own perspectives. Even then, many perspectives within any life event remain unknown. For example, if you are ill you have a story that you tell yourself about it: it hurts; it’s scary; you may or may not get well again. In addition, you can ask doctors to tell you their stories about the illness. These stories are called “diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment recommendations.” But there are other invested, legitimate, and important stories to be told by other invested perspectives, such as that of the illness itself. If it is not interviewed, its perspective remains unknown; its story is not heard. Is that wise? You are limited to the first dimension of eidetic variation if you do not interview at least one of the characters in your story, whether it is a dream or waking narrative.
In dreams, these are unknown unless interviewed; we merely infer their perspectives from their actions, such as the inference that a scary monster in a dream is a threat. This may or may not be the case; we do not know unless we interview the monster. While your narrative provides both the phenomena, in the form of the characters in your dream or waking story, and its interactional context, in the form of the plot or action of the drama of your story, it does not provide the consciousness of emerging potentials themselves. This exists quite independently of the stories you tell yourself about your life, whether you are awake or asleep. This is critical, because your narratives are dead letters. Dreamwork that focuses on interpreting dream narratives is dream pathology; it is in the business of performing psychic autopsies. Therapy that focuses on interpreting life stories that people tell themselves is pathological because it validates lies by liars. The assumption is that pathological delusions and needless, self-inflicted dramas are real and important because that’s what the stuck client believes is real and important. Living your life focused on understanding the dramas of your daily existence is life pathology; it’s like learning to live with the measles instead of taking steps to get over it.
The third type of eidetic variation involves the new story you tell yourself after you have consulted one or more autonomous perspective that is invested in the story. This is the narrative which is a compilation of the perspectives of interviewed emerging potentials and your waking identity. Clearly, this third level does not even exist until and unless you take the second step and interview some other person or object in your story. Even then, this third dimension does not follow automatically from the second; it must be understood and made a priority. You have to listen to what the illness said in its interview and then triangulate by comparing its story with that of the doctor and your own. Taking all these perspectives into account to the best of your ability, you arrive at a broader, more inclusive, and therefore more adequate story about your illness.
Phenomenological approaches that use all three levels of eidetic variation feel like a return to health after a long illness. You feel life that courses in its richness through your being; aliveness itself is electric, no longer taken for granted. This is because when you become an emerging potential you are identifying with a definition of life that transcends and includes your own. Its perception of life is therefore more meaningful and richer than yours. Its perspective is not as stuck in drama as you are. Each emerging potential that you interview will have its own insights about who you are, about your waking life issues, and what to do about them. Like Cathy’s Swimming Pool and its comments about shame, this information may have little to do with the dream narrative. It will transcend and include the dream just as it will transcend and include your waking sense of who you are.
In this regard, your emerging potentials exist independently of the stories you tell yourself about who you are and why you do what you do. They have needs and opinions that transcend the context of your dream account, which is, after all, the dream of your life told from your perspective, not the world views of other invested perspectives. It is not their story or stories; it is your own. Each emerging potential has its own hypotheses about the purpose of your life dream. It has its own story, which for it is as legitimate as the story you tell yourself. As such, each emerging potential has relevance as an object of phenomenological study in its own right, completely separate from your waking or dream stories about the nature and purpose of your life. How would your life change if you made your life story a reflection of their priorities? Integral Deep Listening is an experiment you can run to find out for yourself.
All three of these levels of eidetic variation are relevant, legitimate, and important. What you can do with the accounts offered by your monsters, interviewed illnesses, or the personifications of your hopes, fears, and depression, is expand and transform your consciousness through identification. What you will find with the compilation of all three aspects of the eidetic variation is a broader view of some aspect of your life story than the version you were telling yourself before. The third step is likely to present a more adequate phenomenological rendering of the life story you are telling yourself because it encompasses the first two categories. In Dream Sociometry, the creation of the Dream Sociogram is designed to provide a window into this level of eidetic variation.
Imagining Eidetic Variations
When you apply the phenomenological eidetic reduction to your life dreams, both from your waking and dream lives, you have a method of identifying the essential structures of both waking/social and dream/intrasocial group culture and consciousness. The eidetic reduction is a method of imagining possible variations of the phenomenon under study. In Integral Deep Listening interviewing, this imagination takes two forms: 1) hypotheses you make as to a) the life issues that are of concern to you that you desire to subject to the opinions of this or that interviewed character; and b) their responses to questions in the interview; and 2) your identification with this or that character.
Based on the testimony of at least some interviewed emerging potentials, both waking and dream story elements are brought together by a common investment in one or more life issue. Notice that this statement is based on the phenomenological methodology, not on projection by waking identity. Because it is based on phenomenological data rather than waking assumptions, it is neither projective nor interpretive in the usual sense of these terms. That is, it does not reflect projections or interpretations by you. It does reflect majority or consensus projections and interpretations by interviewed emerging potentials. Therefore the phenomenological method does not eliminate the perils of subjectivity, it merely kicks the can down the developmental road, so to speak, to a broader and more inclusive perspective that you will hopefully grow into. The delusions of the stories you tell yourself are infused, and thereby watered down, by the stories interviewed emerging potentials tell. Because English, grammar, and its associated network of meanings are your creations, and they are taken up by your interviewed emerging potentials, interpretation, projection, and waking contamination is always present to a greater or lesser degree. To imagine that there is some state in which it does not filter or color perception is naive. Each emerging potential is invested in some specific way in a particular issue or agenda which is shared by other characters in the waking drama or dream narrative. Because of this common investment, the fate of each of these emerging potentials is inevitably bound up in what happens to the others and to the fate of the life issue. This is a state of interdependent co-origination and interdependent existence. For an illness, its prognosis and outcome is tied up with you and the story the doctor tells; your future is tied up with the stories the illness and doctor tell; your doctor’s story is tied up with the stories you and your illness tell, although those stories are likely not central to the dreams he is dreaming in his life drama.
Waking perspective is only one of a number of world views that are equally valid in understanding the genesis of any story you tell yourself, its shared life issues, and their resolution. The eidetic reduction involves phenomenologically imagining variations on this perspective offered by other invested story elements. Following Husserl’s phenomenology, in Integral Deep Listening, these variations are derived from elaborations elicited from emerging potentials by character identification. They are of two basic types:
1) Variations that no longer appear to be the phenomenon under study – counterexamples and limiting studies. This kind of variation helps identify the limits of the phenomenon’s essence. An example would be a dream that turns lucid. Because of the radical break in consciousness, from a relatively unconscious to a relatively aware state, dream experiences while lucid offer perspectives on the dream story that would not otherwise exist. Lucidity is a variation that does not exist within a non-lucid dream. Another example would be the interview of an emerging potential that has no interest whatsoever in any of your life issues. What this does is either make their comments irrelevant or make your life issues irrelevant, depending on which perspective you take.
2) Variations that still seem to be examples of the original phenomenon, even though they include different features. This second kind of variation helps reveal the phenomenon’s essence. The essence or eidetic structure of any phenomenon includes all of its features that cannot be eliminated by imaginatively varying the phenomenon. Such features remain evident throughout the imaginative variation process despite attempts to imagine examples of the phenomenon that would lack these features.
It is not unusual to have dreams in which you wake up out of drama but do not become lucid. You therefore experience a form of dream lucidity without becoming fully lucid in the dream, in the traditional meaning of that term. However, upon examination, waking up out of drama in a dream, whether or not lucid and whether or not the dream is remembered, may in fact be more important than either dream lucidity or dream recall. This is because you are no longer rehearsing drama in your dreams and therefore reinforcing life patterns of drama: needless anxiety, depression, confusion, self-persecution, and self-rescuing. All of this are profound forms of waking up. Another example is supplied by those interviewed emerging potentials who have some investment in your life issues but approach them in ways that are different from your own preferences. What is the “essence” of each issue? Such variations help to clarify what be a lowest common denominator, which focuses time, resources, and attention where they can do the most good.
If an Integral Deep Listening Practitioner is studying conflict, he or she would perform an eidetic reduction by first having an actual experience of conflict, such as a nightmare. Perhaps she has the hypothesis that nightmares occur to resolve conflict. She then looks at a number of nightmares which are variations of her first nightmare. Perhaps in the first nightmare, the threat was a fire. In other ones she is acting in nightmarish ways – attacking other people, forgetting everything when she sits down to take a test, or getting lost and wandering around interminably. In other dreams she experiences threats from men with guns, attacking wolves, and her mother’s complaints. She recalls dreams in which conflict is either internal, or self-generated within the dream, or occurs between herself and other characters, or between two or more other characters. For example, she experiences a nightmare, a dream fight, with one or more dream characters, or between other characters in the dream. Another alternative would be for dream characters to experience conflict within themselves not shared by her. In any of these cases, she would then imagine a series of conflicts which are variations of that first nightmare of the fire by identifying with one or more dream character in an Integral Deep Listening interview and noting its responses to questioning. Let’s say the conflict deals with flying a plane and crashing it. Some interviewed potentials, such as the plane, want to fly. Other characters, such as broken parts of the plane, either don’t want to fly or can’t. Some characters blame other characters for the crash. Maybe the plane blames the pilot; perhaps the pilot blames the landing gear; perhaps the landing gear blames the dreamer!
Those interviewed characters which do not experience conflict by the plane flying or crashing or which express no opinion about the conflict shared by other emerging potentials would be examples of the first type of variation. Perhaps the sky and the ground either do not experience the conflict or have no opinion about it. Their elaborations and patterns of preference help identify the limits of intrapsychic conflict for the particular cast of characters in this life drama. Their presence and elaborations may establish counterexamples and alternative ways of dealing with life issues that are both conflictual and non-conflictual. Such characters generally provide, through identification, a metaphorical model of life without attachment to the conflict. If the variations become so dissimilar that they no longer seem to be examples of conflict at all, then they are counter-examples or limiting cases. The sun, outer space, or bugs on the ground may be so disinterested and objective that they have no relationship whatsoever to the conflict.
Emerging Potentials who do experience conflict also limit the phenomenon’s essence by clarifying when, where, and why specific instances of conflict arise. Perhaps they indicate that this particular conflict only arises when autonomous, impulsive decisions are made by you that nevertheless have disastrous consequences for other aspects of yourself. Such a pattern could be associated with intoxication, impulsive sex, and other types of self-rescuing, addictive behavior that some interviewed emerging potentials themselves may metaphorically associate with flying and crashing. The features that are not shared are not part of the essence of conflict since they can be eliminated by the perspective of one or another character which lacks those features, like the sky or bugs on the ground. This is a further example of the first type of eidetic reduction variation. These variations may force you to alter your original hypothesis that nightmares occur to resolve conflicts for conflicts. They may go so far as to disprove the hypothesis itself, instead indicating that nightmares occur to amplify conflict as a form of wake-up call.
These variations alter certain features of the recalled dream, in this case conflict. Emerging potentials often report aspects of the conflict forgotten or unimportant to you. For example, they may remember that the crashing plane is full of criminals. They may approach it from a perspective not shared by you at all; for example the plane may say it wants to crash. When those imaginative variations are similar enough to the story you have told yourself to be examples of conflict, then the features they share will be potentially part of the essence of conflict for all the characters in the story, not just your narrative, because these features or examples of conflict have not yet been eliminated through the method of eidetic reduction. They remain shared aspects of conflict for everyone and everything connected with the story. These are all eidetic variations which allow the dreamer to ask, “Is there an essence that continues to exist throughout all these variations?” If so, what is it?
There seems to always be some perspective in any nightmare that does not experience the experience as a nightmare. However, the reverse is not the case. If you interview characters in a very pleasant dream or life story, you will not always find one that experiences it as a nightmare. While conflict always seems optional, the alternative, absence of conflict, is not necessarily contradicted. The story Integral Deep Listening tells about that experience is that life seems to evolve toward harmony and away from conflict, although conflict is woven into the dialectic of life as an intrinsic and necessary component. This is another example of a working hypothesis that can be tested phenomenologically.
Eidetic reduction encourages students and practitioners of Integral Deep Listening to identify with many different emerging potentials in order to imagine a large number of variations of the phenomenon under study. They do so without knowing ahead of time how the phenomenon will appear to all these different interviewed emerging potentials or what their patterns of preference will be. They do not know in advance which of these identifications will prove resistant to variation and which will not. Creating hypotheses about such findings is both important to the direction of questioning and humbling in its consistent exposure of the chronic myopia of waking identity. It reminds us again and again how narrow, limited, and biased our waking assumptions are.
How does a phenomenological approach work in practice with Integral Deep Listening? Here is an example of one application, a dream interview. Other applications would be to life issues and with meditation. A student, Cathy, told the following dream:
I accidentally called Cody on my cell phone. I thought I would get a voice mail but he picked up the phone. I started making excuses. He said, no, let me call you back. He did call me back. He said he was out in LA by a pool. I could see a beautiful pool in my mind. He said he was getting ready to do a gig with his colleagues. He was very reassuring that he wanted to hear from me. I woke up feeling very good.
One way that Integral Deep Listening works with the rule of epoché that is different from that of traditional phenomenology, is that it first has the person look at their assumptions, in the form of their interpretations, in order to bring them to awareness and help get them out of the way so that instead of analyzing what they hear, they can stay in role during the interview. When Cathy was asked why she thought she had this dream she said, “I have been obsessing over Cody, wondering when and if he would call, feeling I am justified in demanding the truth – if he doesn’t want to date me he should just be honest and tell me.”
This is a very good example of how, when a person looks to their dreams for confirmation or validation, they may hear what they want to hear, not what is reality. For example, if Cathy wants to believe that Cody is her soul mate, she could take this dream as proof. However, Cathy has already done a number of Integral Deep Listening interviews, and so she said instead, “I think this dream was a fantasy wish fulfillment of my hopes.”
Normally, if Cathy were a client in psychotherapy, the therapist would probably ask Cathy to elaborate in one way or another, to explain what she meant, discuss the first time she felt this way, why she thinks she needs to have wish fulfilling fantasies, and so forth. Then the therapist would pick out of that those points that he thinks are most important and add his own interpretations, that is, his own projections onto the dreamer and her dream based on his own training and personal experience. This is where classical counter-transference raises its ugly head. If the therapist uses Gestalt or some phenomenological approach, he will suspend his own assumptions and continue to ask questions, either of Cathy or some character in the dream. If he is trained in psychodrama, constellation therapy, or some other “action” related therapy, he may ask Cathy to enact this or that role in the dream. Integral Deep Listening shares this approach, viewing it as a continuation of the rule of epoché and the preference of description, from the perspective of this or that character, to interpretation. However, Integral Deep Listening believes that interpretation is inevitable. Every description is in fact an interpretation. It matters whether that interpretation comes from the subject, the interviewer, or the personification of some invested emerging potential. Integral Deep Listening emphasizes the suspension of both assumptions and interpretations by both the interviewer and the subject until a thorough response has been provided by the interviewed character or characters.
Most people would choose to interview Cody; Cathy has done enough Integral Deep Listening interviewing to know that her emotional investment in a lover, enemy, or family member may be so strong that she will not stay in role; she will have them say what she wants to hear or is afraid they will tell her. Therefore, she chose a relatively neutral and objective character that she was attracted to: the swimming pool. This is an example of deferring to the preferences of the subject, in order to demonstrate trust and build their confidence. It is not always done in Integral Deep Listening; there are times when the Practitioner over-rules or selects a character to be interviewed, based on experience of conducting many interviews. But the preference is to defer to the subject’s judgment on who to interview. It is also common to defer to the preferences of some previously interviewed emerging potential and to ask it who to interview or to ask it if it agrees with the subject’s choice or with the interviewer’s choice. If the interviewer is over-ruled, he acquiesces to the preferences of emerging potentials. This is because Integral Deep Listening Practitioners want to teach students to rely primarily on the personifications of their inner compass, not on external authority figures. Notice that the choice of Swimming Pool is also an example of the rule of Horizontalization. Inanimate objects, such as swimming pools, are given the same ontological status as humans, Cody, in this case.
The Swimming Pool is bright, sunny, sparkling, and refreshing. It is high scoring in compassion, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing. It doesn’t need confidence and it doesn’t relate to being wise. In answer to the question, “Swimming Pool, how would Cathy’s life be different if she naturally scored like you do in all six of these qualities all the time? it says, “she would be vibrant and alive. She’s a sparkling and lovely person. She doesn’t have to muck around in feelings of shame.”
Shame! Where did that come from? It didn’t come from the dream narrative. It didn’t come from Cathy’s interpretation of the dream. This is an example of what happens when the rules of epoché, description, and horizontalization are followed. An interpretation arises that is not in the province of the waking awareness of the subject or likely to be derived by the therapist from the material of the dream. This led to an interpretation by the subject and the interviewer, later, at the conclusion of the interview, that this dream was an attempt to deal with the shame that she feels for not having a partner, for feeling rejected and therefore inadequate in love, for not living up to her high expectations or those of her parents that she be financially self-sufficient at this stage of her life. These are awarenesses that arose out of a phenomenalistic approach to dreamwork and to life. Would they have arose through other approaches? Perhaps, but probably not as quickly. Even if an astute therapist had seen this, would that not have been a matter of him projecting his interpretations onto the client and hoping that the interpretation “fit?” Would this not be a case of teaching the client to trust external “experts” instead of learning to trust her own inner compass? Would that not also contribute to a continuing sense of dependency on the therapist, something that might be useful, and would certainly help the therapists’ sense of professional worthiness in addition to his bank account. The secondary gains of therapists, coaches, friends, and concerned family members in the help they offer are not to be underestimated.
Applying the Phenomenological Method to both Dreams and Waking Life Issues
If dream elements themselves are the most reliable source for interpretation of dreams, then interviewing them by asking them questions about themselves and the dream is only common sense. However, there is a problem with this; you aren’t used to letting dream characters speak. All your life you have been taught to learn to think, to problem solve, to be in control. Letting dream roads, houses, ghosts, and dogs speak not only sounds crazy; it feels like you are being encouraged to lose your mind. This is only a bias of your waking point of view. When you actually let your dream elements speak you find that you do not have to close your eyes, go into an altered state of consciousness, or stop being you. Instead of losing yourself, you find yourself; instead of contracting into a fragmented, chaotic primal self, you expand; you become more.
This is also what happens when you perform the same experiment with Integral Deep Listening with waking life issues. Consequently, the distinction between waking and dreaming breaks down on an experiential level. This is Horizontalization occurring naturally as a consequence of applying Epoché and Description. You may be very certain that waking and dreaming are different states rationally, metaphysically, emotionally, preferentially, and perspectively, but experientially these distinctions break down with Integral Deep Listening. This is what phenomenological approaches do. They undercut the ground that supports cognitive super-structures.
An analogy is provided by the transition from the geocentric Ptolemaic world view to the heliocentric Copernican model. As long as the experiential reality of the sun rising and setting went uncontested, the thoughts, feelings, metaphysics, and world views that arise from that experience were unquestioned. When people were provided with a context that allowed them to experience the sun not as rising and setting, but as the world turning, then associated thoughts, feelings, metaphysics, and world views transform. It is not that the previous thoughts, feelings, and world views are eliminated; one can still look at the sun and see it rising and setting and think about life in geocentric terms. However, what is different is that this experience and the world view that is derived from it is now optional; it is a choice; it can now be viewed for what it is: a perspective that is relatively inadequate to one’s expanded experience.
When is a phenomenological approach best?
Just as there are many different ways to approach life, there are many ways to approach life as a dream. For example, objective methods are superior when social consensus is important and when waking problem solving and application is desirable. In those circumstances, Integral Deep Listening interviewing, as well as phenomenological approaches in general, will generally be viewed to be a waste of time. There is a practical decision to be made and teamwork is required, so a method needs to be used to help the client/subject/student conform to the expectations of parents, teachers, co-workers, bosses, or society. In other words, no one really wants to listen to what the individual wants; what is demanded is that he or she change to conform to the requirements of their environment. Few people are honest about this. They don’t think, “I don’t want to listen to my son. I just want him to behave.” “I don’t want to listen to my employee; I just want her to do her work.” “I don’t want to listen to my partner. They need to listen to ME!” The reason they do not want to be honest about this is because they do not want to confront their own selfishness and narcissism. They have a large investment in maintaining a mental image of themselves as caring, respectful, and listening. If they were to be honest, they would see that the truth is that there are major areas of their life where they are not, nor do they want to be.
This leads to a more fundamental question. “Is deep listening always the best approach?” The answer is, “absolutely not.” There are times when we need to stop listening and act, to stop getting information and instead act on what information we have, knowing it is partial and flawed. However, for various personal and cultural reasons, most people defer to action over listening or shallow listening over deep listening. Action used in such a way is often repression and avoidance; shallow listening is being immobilized by thoughts, feelings, and dramas that are the internalized voices of parents, peers, and other external sources of authority. Therefore, the stance of Integral Deep Listening is, “While deep listening is not always the best approach, it is generally advisable whenever there is either doubt or confusion about what course to take, there is too much certainty about what course to take, or there are wake-up calls that are flashing like yellow caution or red warning lights.
Subjective methods, in particular phenomenologically based ones, are superior when self-exploration, which is largely independent of the input of others, is desired, yet one still desires the maintenance of some degree of objectivity. Phenomenological methods are also superior when the researcher desires to suspend reality claims to the best of her ability and when description is emphasized. Most approaches to dreamwork have tended not to be phenomenologically based in that subject dream experiences are generally not evaluated in terms of how these experiences appear to the dreamer herself, or to the dream characters that have a personal stake in the experience.
Much dream research emphasizes the psychotherapeutic, physiological, or cultural nature of dreaming rather than other invested perspectives. Consequently, most dream research up into the twenty-first century has not been phenomenological in approach. Reading in our schemas, biases, and world views occurs not only when we look at someone else’s dream; we routinely do it to our own dream recollections. Kant would say that this process is unavoidable, because we have no choice but to view the dream (and life itself) through the schemas of our own subjective experience. While projection may be unavoidable, awareness of projection and attempts to reduce it are both worthwhile and important goals. Otherwise you will simply find in the dream what you are looking for and little more. You will simply go away from the experience validated in your own delusions. Researchers and interpreters inevitably read into both dream accounts and life itself whatever it is that they are looking for. If you are looking for repeating dream patterns you are likely to find them. If you are of the psychoanalytic tradition, dreams are more likely to be symbolic conflicts between eros and thanatos, unresolved childhood conflicts, and defense mechanisms. If you are out of the Jungian tradition, dreams are full of symbols, shadow, archetypes, and individuation. If you are a fundamentalist Christian, your dreams may be either the hand of God or the work of the devil. If you are a scientific materialist, dreams look like random epiphenomena.
Something similar can be said about the interpretive structure by which you approach life. It allows you to see some things while filtering out other information. Consequently, the filters that you choose to see life through are statements about you and who you think you are, not about who you are and certainly not about the world itself. Remembering this will help you to not take personally the attacks of others. They are not talking about you; they are describing themselves, in terms of their own particular world view. Phenomenological methods avoid these problems by focusing on description instead of interpretation, after tabling your assumptions.
Evaluating the usefulness of Integral Deep Listening as a phenomenological approach
Integral Deep Listening proposes that the validity of your interview does not lie primarily in the power of the experience or the meaningfulness of what is said. The power of an experience, or its ability to inspire, generate catharsis, or to open up new, expanded states of consciousness can be an important catalyst, but these experiences do not last and are not easy to duplicate. They are best used as motivators for the difficult slog of integration and stage development, rather than encouraging a lifelong search for the next high or some imagined lost Eden. There are plenty of experiences that are powerful but do not last and cannot be duplicated. There are plenty of experiences that are enormously meaningful but cannot be easily translated into concrete life changes. Religious, mystical and near death experiences generally fit this description. They may be highly transformative, but they are also notoriously difficult to translate into a transformed life. Similarly, the meanings that we give things are critical. But what are the sources of these interpretations? Do they spring from your inner compass or do they originate with some external authority? How do you know? The power of Integral Deep Listening lies in the usefulness of information derived from personifications of your inner compass and which are then subjected first to triangulation and then daily accountability and transparency. This is a pragmatic definition of truth, which looks to the consequences of an idea, belief, or recommendation, when applied in your life. It also approaches Integral Deep Listening as an integral life practice directed by education and coaching rather than as therapy.
Because Integral Deep Listening uses a phenomenological method in a pragmatic context, it teaches a trans-rational epistemology. An epistemology is a theory of how to determine what is true and what is not. A trans-rational epistemology is first rational, in that it challenges beliefs and assumptions, requiring that they make sense and pass empirical tests of validity. This means that they be duplicatable and that those tests are validated by peers in the method. It is trans rational because it is a theory of truth that is not only grounded in rationality, but transcends it by emphasizing experience rather than reason. For example, Integral Deep Listening interviewing is a rational, thought-out process. It makes assumptions about when and how to ask questions and how to deal with particular responses. These are not magical processes or simply matters of belief. They represent a tested, empirical protocol that can be validated by others. However, Integral Deep Listening interviewing is not simply a rational process. It yields trans-rational experiences of identification with perspectives that transcend, yet include your own. This is why these perspectives are called emerging potentials. They may or may not be self-aspects or beings from astral dimensions; however, what we do know that they are, based on our own experience, is that they are perspectives that we can grow into if we so desire and are therefore both emerging and potential.
Integral Deep Listening asks you to suspend both your beliefs and your rationality, within the context of a rational method, in order to access perspectives that transcend yet include both belief and reason. This means that Integral Deep Listening is a tool for accessing a trans-contextual perspective, regardless of what your current perspective is. You can be Buddha and do Integral Deep Listening and access perspectives that transcend and include your present ones.
Of course, many approaches claim to be trans-rational and transpersonal. How do you tell if they are or not? First, accessing transpersonal states, like mystical experiences, oneness with God, universal love, cosmic energy, timelessness, spacelessness, or various psychic abilities, is a claim to a transpersonal state, not a transpersonal stage of development. The difference is, the first is transitory and notoriously difficult to duplicate, while the second is permanent. Just because someone claims they can access a particular transpersonal state does not mean 1) they actually did; 2) that they can do it again; 3) that they can show you how; or 4) that accessing the state means they are a “spiritual” person, that is, dwelling permanently in that higher stage of development. These are epistemological claims. They claim that something is true. How do you test such claims?
This is a question of empiricism; the steps of empirical testing are well known. They are:
1) What are the instructions? What are the things that you are required to do to test the claims? Are they doable? Claims of flying are not doable, in that they are not duplicatable. Are they realistic? Claims that require years, a lifetime, or lifetimes of practice to validate are not realistic, because they cannot be disproven.
Are they falsifiable, that is, can they be disproven? If your attempts are always met with “try harder,” or, “you aren’t doing it right,” you may be a hamster in someone’s wheel. The harder you run the more you stay where you are.
2) Follow the instructions. You have to do the experiment if you want to see the results. Pontificating about something you haven’t experienced is legitimate, as long as you don’t claim to be knowledgeable about the method.
3) Submit your results to peers in the method, that is, people who have followed the instructions and know what you are talking about from their own experience.
These are the steps that you use to test Integral Deep Listening; they are the processes that make it an empirical methodology. It sets out steps to follow that are realistic and falsifiable; it has you do interviews; it has you submit your process to peers in the method, that is the interviewer, and hopefully Integral Deep Listening Practitioners, since all interviewers are not equally skilled.
This approach resonates with the Buddhist idea of finding and following a middle way; Integral Deep Listening integrates Husserl’s epoché and a central Buddhist formulation of what it means to suspend assumptions in order to find and follow a path between extremes of reality and delusion, truth and falsity, yes and no, being and non-being. This is called Nagarjuna’s tetralemma. It involves the suspension of all four of the following assumptions:
“It is.” (“It exists.”)
“It is not.” (“It does not exist.”)
“It is both existing and not existing”
“It is neither existing and not existing.”
“It” is anything and everything you can think of, feel, or experience: God, soul, the ground, air, your fingers, soup, your name, your very existence. Another way of stating this is that you suspend your assumptions about the via affirmativa, or any and all positive affirmations or statements you can make about the existence of anything or anyone, including yourself. When these are suspended, everything becomes ineffable, or no longer susceptible to cognitive apprehension.
“It is not” involves the suspension of your assumption that because you do assume that God, soul, the ground, air, your fingers, soup, your name, your very existence do not exist, that they must not exist. That the existence of something or someone is no longer assumed does not necessarily mean that you assume that they do not exist. This second assumption makes that clear. You are in fact saying, “Because I assume that God, soul, the ground, air, your fingers, soup, my name, or my very existence do not exist, that does not mean that I am assuming that there is such a state as non-existence.” You are suspending your assumptions about the reality of non-existence just as you are suspending your assumptions about existence. That means you are not affirming atheism, the non-existence of souls, heaven, hell or anything else. This position suspends the assumption that something or someone does not exist.
“It is both existing and not existing” involves any assumptions that you may make that God, soul, the ground, air, your fingers, soup, your name, your very existence may both exist and not exist. You are not saying that there exists a dimension, such as a multiple string universe, or a dream world in which whatever you can conceive is thereby not only possible, but real, and not only real, but in fact existing somewhere in some time and space because you can think it. You are tabling the assumption that both existence and non-existence are possible, that something can exist and not exist at the same time. You are in fact saying the opposite, that for the moment you are going to suspend belief in both the existence in such a place or time and in the non-existence of such a place or time. These are assumptions, and you aren’t going to make them just now. Later, you may, but at this moment, during this experiment, you are not going to do so.
“It is neither existing and not existing” applies to any assumptions that you make that God, soul, the ground, air, your fingers, soup, your name, and your very existence neither exist and do not exist. You are not assuming nihilism, which is the existence of a belief in nothing and nothingness, or in solipsism, which is a belief in something, that is yourself, and a disbelief in everything else. You are not affirming either a moral or an experiential relativism, because that is itself a belief in something: relativism. You are not affirming meaninglessness, because that is a belief in a particular state, meaninglessness, as existing. To do so would put you back at a refusal to do step number one, the tabling of the assumption, “It exists.”
When you perform this experiment and suspend all four of these assumptions you find yourself outside of Aristotelian logic. It says, there can only be something or the absence of something. This is called “The Law of the Excluded Middle.” It is the foundation of Western logic. When you say to yourself, “Why not? Why can I not assume that there may be a space where something neither exists nor does it not exist?” you effectively downshift your cognitive processes into neutral. This is because you cannot think or feel without being in one of these four positions, principally the first. You have to think something; you are feeling something. If you are thinking nothing, you are not thinking. But notice that is not Nagarjuna’s position; that is the second position, “It does not exist.” What you get when you enforce all four options is that everything and everyone, including yourself, the universe, and God neither is, nor is it not; neither is it both existing and not existing; neither is it neither existing and not existing.
The result of the utilization of such a phenomenological reduction with dream characters deprives them of independent reality, what Buddhists call bhava, or “own-being.” The more that you do so, the more you deconstruct your own reality and the more you experience the absence of beingness wherever you look within yourself. It is not replaced with non-being, because that is the second position. Instead, it is replaced with what Buddhists call sunyata, formless emptiness, devoid of either being or non-being. Consequently, Integral Deep Listening is a causal level transpersonal psychospiritual discipline if approached from a through going phenomenalistic perspective.
When you apply this process to anything, as is done in meditation as taught by Integral Deep Listening, and to everything, as is done in Integral Deep Listening interviewing, you no longer interpret, analyze, or reason about it. It becomes ineffable. This is thoroughgoing phenomenological horizontalization. You move into an open, but fully conscious and present space in the here and now in relationship to your experience. Integral Deep Listening interviewing intentionally cultivates this space, which is essentially formless, existing outside of time and space, yet encompassing both. Because it is essentially a non-dual state, it is the foundation to Integral Deep Listening’s claims that it is trans-rational and transpersonal. However, it does not therefore claim to be mystical, spiritual, or in any way different from the here and now of everyday experience. The practical advantage of cultivating the ability to be present in such a space is that it is free of drama. You are in the world but not of it. Bad things still happen, but they will not happen to the you that is free, that is at complete peace, and which witnesses all of the dimensions of human experience without judgment.
Summarization of the Purpose of the Phenomenological Method in Integral Deep Listening
Integral Deep Listening phenomenology observes your own consciousness in order to identify and describe the basic structures of your inner compass, as personified by interviewed emerging potentials. In addition, it conducts phenomenological experiments in directly experiencing the basic structures of the emerging potentials, their attitudes, purposes, feelings, behaviors, interactions, and perceptions. The first aim is subjective and is known in Husseril’s phenomenology as noetic analysis; the second aim focuses on the objects or contents of consciousness and is known as noematic analysis.
Unlike traditional phenomenology, Integral Deep Listening does not focus on examining the consciousness of many different individuals in order to arrive at statistical data or empirical generalizations about the nature of the inner compass and emerging potentials. Instead, each individual may observe his or her own experience and then imaginatively vary it by taking the roles of as many different emerging potentials as he desires. Integral Deep Listening phenomenology searches for structural patterns that seem constant among emerging potentials. It focuses on examining the consciousness of many different emerging potentials, rather than individuals, in order to arrive at both data and generalizations about the nature of intrasocial groups. A further step is reporting any discovered patterns to other Integral Deep Listening Practitioners, who also undertake the method of imaginative variation in order to test and corroborate the reported essence. Of course, the findings of different students of Integral Deep Listening are compared and patterns shared by individuals can also be investigated. While this is also done by Integral Deep Listening, it is not its main focus. Integral Deep Listening uses phenomenology with waking experience, dreams, mystical and psychic experiences.
A thorough-going phenomenological description of a dream involves a three-fold description of the conscious processes that occur as the recalled dream is imaginatively identified with by its component emerging potentials, including any essential structures inherent in these processes. This is “noetic analysis;” it is introspection regarding relatively objective events – the dream narrative. Secondly, there is identification with emerging potentials themselves, including the essential features of each, their attitudes, purposes, feelings, behaviors, interactions, and perspectives. This is “noematic analysis;” it is introspection regarding relatively subjective, internal events – the consciousness of the emerging potential with which you are identified. Third, the correlations between noetic and noematic properties are examined. Do different emerging potentials tell us different things about dream narratives? What? Why? Do different emerging potentials have different internal characteristics and qualities? If so, what are they? Why are there these differences? To be considered phenomenological, this description also maintains the phenomenological reduction throughout, thereby eliminating presumptions and inferences about the relative reality of 1) waking awareness, dream self awareness, the awareness of other emerging potentials, and 2) the objects of these awarenesses when they are each successively identified with. That is, what does waking awareness experience? What is the nature of its consciousness? What do you experience in your dreams? What is the nature of your consciousness in that state? What do different emerging potentials experience? What is the nature of their consciousness?
Integral Deep Listening foregoes explanation in favor of description while suspending judgments concerning the reality or illusoriness of either conscious processes or the objects of consciousness. This is both the Rule of Epoché and the Rule of Description.
Integral Deep Listening phenomenology is primarily a practice rather than a substantive theory. It emphasizes attentiveness to the processes and contents of recalled dreams, dream experience, waking awarenesses, meditative awareness, and altered states of consciousness. If students desire to learn lucid dreaming, they may continue their phenomenological investigations while dreaming by interviewing dream characters while dreaming. This can be expanded into a study of the processes and contents of dream awareness itself, or that consciousness which generates dreams. With the use of the rules of epoché, description, and horizontalization, Integral Deep Listening dispenses with attitudes that allow waking awareness and its concerns, assumptions, and biases to dominate consciousness.
Integral Deep Listening brings to both dreamwork and the investigation of waking life issues an emphasis on observing your own consciousness closely, from a myriad of equally relevant perspectives. It supports the suspension of your waking expectations and its associated reality judgments. The experimental procedure of eidetic variation clarifies the fundamental attributes of emerging potentials.
To date attributes of emerging potentials have been found to include such qualities as:
emphasis on self-acceptance,
emphasis on autonomy and inherent self-worth,
desire for the fulfillment of emerging potential needs and wants,
a willingness to put the importance of wake-up calls above the pain and inconvenience of self,
movement toward integration, consensus, and greater cohesion,
the transitoriness and therefore relativity of fear and death,
preoccupation with the expression or resolution of one or more specific life issues,
predictability, based on the assumptions and expectations of each individual emerging potential.
Each of the above statements remain hypotheses based on the use of the eidetic reduction within Integral Deep Listening. They are not statements of fact and in themselves have no reality. This is the nature of the phenomenological reduction as applied to dreaming and waking problem solving, as it is presently understood. The autonomy of interviewed emerging potentials is often first experienced as confusing, yet benign. With persistence an extraordinary growth in self-acceptance often follows. Next comes an increasing awareness of the dreamlike nature of life and a deeper appreciation of the non-reality of its dramas. As this experience ripens, the self-sense thins and core transpersonal qualities become normal fixtures of everyday awareness. These in turn thin into a growing awareness of innate abundance, joy, and luminosity. Life is sacred. These are not experiences of transpersonal states; these are adaptations to and awakenings into, the transpersonal as everyday consciousness.
It is an act of unknowable whimsy to imagine what Husserl himself would have thought of all of this. It does not seem to have been an application of phenomenology that he explored. Our hubris is to imagine that he would have been honored by this extension of his pioneering theories into realms of applicability that are meant to enhance the powerful contributions that he made to the exploration of human consciousness.