How do we transform? The nature of synthesis


How do we transform? How do we access and maintain a transcendent consciousness? One model is the dialectic, dating from Fichte and Hegel, that says development progresses through thesis, antithesis and synthesis stages. The following, which deals with synthesis, is an excerpt from the text, “Understanding the Dream Sociogram,” a sequel to “Dream Sociometry,” which explores a multi-perspectival approach to transformation and integration as one aspect of Integral Deep Listening.


The Nature of Synthesis Intrasocial Patterns

“The ultimate character pervading the universe is a drive toward the endless production of new syntheses.”

Alfred North Whitehead30

At this stage of the developmental dialectic, strongly nurturing forces gain ascendancy. While thesis patterns feel relatively stable, settled or dead and antithetical patterns feel relatively chaotic, spontaneous, disagreeable and out of control, synthesis patterns feel alive, powerful and highly accepting. There is a sense of completion and rightness about these constellations. Whatever its source, integration is the keynote of this type of intrasocial group. Ground (other) has incorporated figure (self) to become the new, expanded, inclusive figure (self). The distal self has incorporated one or more previously proximal selves into a broader and more functional self-definition, creating a new, broader distal self.

Synthesis patterns are defined in their depiction in Dream Sociograms by their strong positive scores on all axes, which represent integration and cooperation. (For example, here.) However, it is only an assumption that these represent previously antagonistic forces that are now cooperating. All we have is integration; we are merely assuming that this reflects a transition from a previous state of relative disorder, chaos, confusion and dispute. It is possible to take the position that these Dream Sociograms represent underlying patterns of harmony and integration that have always been present and that are now, for whatever reason, finding the light of day. This is a famous and ancient position, going back at least to Plato’s anamnesis, that is impossible to refute.

Can we move straight from thesis (translation) to synthesis (integration) without antithesis (conflict)? In most life instances development occurs without a conscious awareness of conflict, struggle or opposition. Learning to walk and talk, two momentous, complex and lengthy processes are like that. We often incorporate things that we are not consciously aware of, even when they cause physical or psychological indigestion: mindlessly eating potato chips or popcorn while watching a horror movie, for example. All three stages are probably always present and always accessible, but both our perspective and physiological, psychological, social and cultural contexts predispose us toward one or the other. What causes some conflicts to break through into the daylight of our self awareness while others move from thesis to synthesis out of our awareness is probably a complicated and multi-faceted process. However, investigating these Dream Sociograms certainly brings more of the factors associated with some antitheses into our awareness in greater clarity.

Is synthesis “better” or more desirable than thesis or antithesis? From our perspective, it certainly feels better. There is a sense of expansion, freedom, transcendence and balance that can be ecstatic. Such openings can be highly addictive, leading to the creation of a life designed to generate more of them. Monasteries represent entire sub-societies built to support the quest for these utopian experiences and states. Telihard deChardin’s “Omega Point” represents an evolutionary synthesis, beyond which there is no description. Eschatology and the Second Coming presents a similar mythology, but in a religious context. Note that these represent a linear conception of time, which, upon closer examination, turns out to be an isolated section of some larger cyclic pattern. Therefore, this question is a bit like asking if adulthood is better than childhood or if death is better than adulthood, whether the climax of a book is better than the events leading up to it, or whether conscious competence and unconscious competence are better than unconscious incompetence or unconscious competence.

One way to answer this is to look at life outside the Drama Triangle. We can certainly affirm that it is “better” on a number of dimensions; there is less wasted time, less fearfulness, less personalization, less projection of unresolved issues onto others and fewer unrecognized and misunderstood wake up calls. However, life outside the Drama Triangle is hardly synthesis; it is largely thesis punctuated by various types of antithesis. Therefore, the common delusion that synthesis is better than thesis or antithesis is a projection of psychological geocentrism rather than a statement of the priorities of life itself.

Synthesis can evolve in the journey away from thesis, in the expressive phase. For example, involution or incarnation, builds on some thesis stage of development, perhaps cellular, in utero and moves again and again to synthesis, normally without any conscious awareness of antithesis. Synthesis can also evolve in the journey away from antithesis, in the assimilative phase. For example, moving into death following a struggle with a long illness is a movement from antithesis to synthesis that can involve inner peace and higher order acceptance. Truly understood, any and every moment and experience is synthesis, when a multi-perspectival approach is used. This is because in any situation there are and will be found some perspectives that are in a sythesis relationship to the issue. However, note that while accessing these can be liberating, they do not inherently resolve antithesis. They may simply represent an avoidance of it, rather like traveling into outer space and viewing the earth as unified, whole and peaceful. This is one legitimate perspective but is it the “best” perspective? Is it the “true” perspective? Is it the most important and effective perspective?

The classical hero’s journey is a depiction of a process which is optional. Fighting and conflict may or may not be necessary to find your way “home.” In hindsight we justify, rationalize and defend the importance and necessity of our conflicts. Is this proof that they were necessary or simply a powerful statement of our need to justify whatever dramas and miseries we subject ourselves to? IDL answers this question by noting that access to synthesis perspectives puts antithesis into broader contexts that can aid in their resolution. The challenge is to use them as such instead of doing what most are tempted to do: use them to avoid dealing with antithesis. We generally do so by moving into one type or another self-rescuing state: drugs, relationship drama, obsession with social media and world affairs, sugar and chronic worry. Such states of delusional bondage are hardly likely to be considered states of synthesis, but in that they are attempts to avoid some real or imagined antithesis, they indeed are.

There is no reason why you cannot, at any point, achieve synthesis. The trick is to access those perspectives that possess the objectivity and integration that you currently lack without thereby minimizing or negating the reality of oppositions that authentically exist in your life in order to amplify the priorities of life itself. This psychological judo normally occurs in Integral Deep Listening (IDL) when you interview a character that you are sure is an antagonist, like a burglar. It also occurs when you interview random characters that seem to be innocuous, background “thesis-supportive” elements, such as a dirt road. Ask the road questions. From its responses you will find that it is much more than you thought, that it is alive with creative possibilities, opinions and preferences. This step is rare precisely because of our intense identification with psychological geocentrism and our need for the other to remain “other” in order to support and maintain our sense of who we are.

Synthesis intrasocial groups often appear to be the result of successful interaction between antithetical and thesis aspects of our lives. We have resolved a waking conflict of some sort or succeeded at a task we previously failed at and the resulting integration is depicted in such dreams or integrative life events. We have seen more clearly or taken a significant risk. Perhaps we have conquered some fear and acquired new wisdom. This certainly is our understanding of waking synthesis, as exemplified by major life transitions, such as graduations and marriage ceremonies. However, it is important to keep in mind that synthesis states automatically emerge whenever we simply let go of thesis and antithesis. This is the implication of near death and mystical experiences. However, note that these are by nature impermanent. Even if they might be magically maintained, they soon enough become normal thesis consciousness.

Dream Sociometric groups that form synthesis patterns contain elements that are accepting of themselves and one another. This can occur spontaneously and they can also be consciously generated as they are with Integral Deep Listening. For example, if you take the elements in any Dreamage and create first a Dream Sociomatrix and then a Dream Sociogram based on their preferences, you are highly likely to find the group generating a (+/+) or a (+/+)* pattern. You can even perform this experiment with single character interviews that do not generate Dream Sociograms by writing a narrative that reflects the group’s consensus recommendations regarding the handling of your life issues and then creating a Dream Sociomatrix based on it. The implication is that IDL tends to transform everyday consciousness toward a state of ongoing higher acceptance of self and others, without thereby ignoring or minimizing differences or oppositions.

Is Synthesis Transpersonal?

When is synthesis transpersonal and when is it not? Synthesis, that is the transformation of antithesis into higher order wholes, is intrinsic to every stage and line of development. That means that there is nothing inherently transpersonal about it, if we think of the transpersonal as a stage of development. However, if we think of the transpersonal as an always already present background state of awareness that is relatively clear, unconditioned and inclusive, relative to our current state of awareness, then synthesis is transpersonal. If one does not keep this distinction in mind there will be unnecessary confusion and complication. States are accessible at any stage of development. Stages, on the other hand, imply and require previous stage development. You can’t drop acid and access a transpersonal stage, but you can immerse yourself in a transpersonal state by doing so.

Most synthesis in Dream Sociograms have elements of access to transpersonal states. This includes high levels of empathy, acceptance, morality, wisdom, inner peace, witnessing and fearlessness. You access these qualities merely by identifying with the perspective of characters with strong positive preferences or transcendent witnessing. While this is therapeutic, it is not in itself indicative of a synthesis Dream Sociogram pattern, whether (+/ ), (+/+), (+/+)* or ( / )*. The integration of most oppositions creates greater, more inclusive, holonic balance. Such experiences are normal occurrences when interviewing old, mundane or lucid dreams or some current or past life experience. Perhaps the dream or waking experience involves eating. If interviewing results in your identification with perspectives that generate  increased awareness of sacred communion and the assimilation of the essence of life, elements of state transpersonal synthesis are present. Perhaps you turn to face an attacker who has been chasing you through many dreams or through some annoying life drama. If you access a transpersonal perspective instead of regressing into drama, transpersonal synthesis is occurring. While this often occurs during interviewing, the goal is to have it occur while we are dreaming, lucid dreaming or awake. However, to read transpersonal synthesis into a dream or life narrative without having same volunteered by perspectives is to project our own mythology onto our experience.

Synthesis state experiences do indeed make a difference and the more that they are repeated the more likely your identity is to take on perspectives that are transpersonal. This means that you will become more clear and transparent at whatever stage of development that you are on. By removing major resistances, you speed your stage development toward the transpersonal. IDL demonstrates that access to transpersonal states is available to all of us at any time while pointing an integral path forward into permanent transpersonal stages of enlightenment.

Synthesis assumes the resolution of conflicts between two or more of the four quadrants of the human holon. The resolution may be between thinking and doing, role values and emotions or personal behavior and social expectations. There exist interpersonal, attitudinal, emotional, behavioral and transpersonal varieties of synthesis. Such resolutions can occur at early prepersonal, mid-prepersonal, late prepersonal, early personal, mid-personal, late personal and vision-logic levels of development. Because of the various types of holonic conflict resolution that are possible at different stages and on different lines of development, many types of synthesis can be observed in waking, dreaming and in intrasocial groups. All types of synthesis share elements of creativity and spontaneity. In an intrasocial group higher-order synthesis is demonstrated when all of the perspectives are highly accepting of most or all of their fellows and rejecting of none.

Each level of development becomes increasingly more complex and therefore more difficult to balance than the last because there are an increasing number of pieces that have to fit together for synthesis to occur. This is a process that must happen for the self line of development. This same progression of holonic integration needs to occur on the cognitive, moral and empathetic lines as well. That the self has done so implies that the cognitive line has already done so, but not that the other two lines have also done so. IDL naturally encourages the development of these two critical lines, ones that often lag and retard stage development. It supports moral development by accessing perspectives that are relatively selfless and by unearthing roles that are unethical, dishonest and hypocritical. It supports the development of empathy by consistently taking the perspectives of a wide variety of others.

If synthesis is achieved, there is no guarantee that there will not be slippage back into antithetical ways of dealing with an issue. Who hasn’t had experiences of breakthrough while attending seminars or conferences, only to later wonder how the magic could have so quickly faded?

Characteristics of Synthesis Dream Sociomatrices

Sociomatrices demonstrating synthetical patterns are remarkable for their high number of positive preferences.  Characters do not simply like each other; they greatly like and love one another. Mutuality of acceptance is the rule. There are fewer neutral choices as a percentage of all possible choices. Any ambiguity that exists is minimal as are any negative preferences. There may also be statements of no preference of the type of transpersonal witnessing. These are amplified in the Sociomatrix Commentaries.

Characteristics of Synthesis Commentaries

The Commentaries produced by interviewed characters that create synthesis Dream Sociograms are marked by nurturance, pleasure and cooperation. These group members like themselves a great deal and care about their fellows. Because there is no disagreement among these perspectives, synergistic dreams and life narratives are their own Dreamages. Of course, if perspectives suggest and agree upon alterations which integrate the group even more tightly, they are free to do so. IDL predicts that the repeated reading of these comments and contemplation of such Dream Sociograms themselves reinforces perspectives invested in growth and supports the cultivation of eustressful responses to life.

Characteristics of Synthesis Action Plans

The recommendations suggested by these groups often feel wise, yet sensitive. There is a basic sense of acceptance of who you are, whether recommended changes are made or not. These perspectives provide permission for you to be yourself so that change is a transformation from within rather than a knee-jerk reactivity to passing circumstances. Because acceptability of these perspectives is rarely predicated on behavior, there may be little interest by these characters in making recommendations. Those recommendations which are made generally feel optional – “Do this if you want to feel better or have your life go more smoothly, but we don’t care.”

Sometimes suggestions will be state-specific; they are good, right and workable while you are contemplating the commentaries themselves. However, when you get into your normal daily routines and you experience a normal disconnect from those perspectives; their recommendations may lose their relevance, influence and power because you are immersed in this or that habitual role. You may find yourself frustrated at your inability to follow through with an action plan or integral life practice that you know is right for you. Ambition and hope can turn into discouragement and aversion to interviewing if we are not careful.

Motivation to change is complicated and incremental. The recommendations that are produced by current interviews will help you to address your current sabotages – what you are currently doing to block yourself in your growth. Therefore, if you forget about interviews and do nothing with the recommendations you receive, understand that this is a normal process of falling back to sleep and dreaming the dream of your habitual life scripting. Accept this as a normal, natural reality and also accept your need to persistently knock on the door of your own awakening.

Characteristics of Synthesis Dream Sociograms

Synthesis Dream Sociograms have characteristics of mandalas, at least when viewed by their creator. This is not because the depiction is visually balanced; it’s not; everything is skewed to the top and right side. However, contemplating these Dream Sociograms tends to generate not only a broad sense of witnessing and objectivity in relation to life drama, dreams and nightmares, but an awareness of the absence of fear, of greater inner peace, of nurturance, integration and harmony. These are characteristics of both emotional and cognitive stability, openness and confidence.

Synthesis-type Dream Sociograms have no bipolar placements. There is no opposition on any axis, with positive placement on the Acceptance axis being the one most important feature of this distribution. Sometimes choices are very high and placements are quite a distance from the center of the Dream Sociogram. This will not constitute a (+/+)* pattern unless the great majority of preferences of the group are “like a lot” or “love.” As we have seen, actual distance from the center is a function not only of strength of preferences by the group but of the number of elements in the Dream Sociomatrix.

It is not unusual to experience synthesis patterns as temporary and fleeting; we have glimpsed a higher degree of order and balance within us, but have yet to make it ours. We are not grounded in that new degree of unity. If the synthesis does remain, a honeymoon period is inevitably followed by an eventual ripening into fruitful thoughts and feelings. Consistent actions finally ground the pattern. In time, if not renewed, the synthesis no longer is figure in our awareness. It is integrated into ground, becoming one more thesis pattern as part of a broader unconscious competence.

Are synthesis patterns always to be preferred? No. All three stages are necessary to fuel the creative dialectic of life. We have all experienced times when we have tried to force peace and harmony on others or ourselves. We know when we are being unnaturally, inauthentically positive or happy. Each life issue is at its own appropriate stage of ripening. To be honest with that knowledge, respectful and true to its purpose is a mark of wisdom. Every pattern is complete in and of itself. No stage is more valuable than any other and your present stage of development is the most important one.

Leave a Comment

For more information, contact While IDL does not accept advertising or sponsored postings, we gratefully accept donations of your time, expertise, or financial support.