On its surface, interviewing spoons, caves, spit, potholes, and imagery of any kind from any source, such as dreams, nightmares, daydreams, personifications of physical pain (like fire or a knife), or of relationship conflicts (like a knot or a porcupine), or even an element from a mystical experience, like a tunnel or bright light, is irrational. Why should becoming a cactus have anything to do with anything? While we might create associations for the cactus (“our relationship is prickly”), how about guacamole or a congregation of singing termites?
Not only are our associations to a dream image or fantasy, like a porcupine, not likely to be helpful, but it gets in the way of the transformative potential of the perspective of the porcupine, lightening, or gemstone. With its phenomenological approach, IDL purposely attempts to dampen down our natural human urge to constantly interpret experience to make sense out of it. This is because our interpretations and assumptions put life in a box and render it relatively impotent. We make life conform to our definitions and expectations about what healing, balancing, and transformation are rather than simply opening up and letting life work its magic to bring a higher order of integration.
Fuller Torrey, an “alternative psychiatrist,” wrote a fascinating book, The Mind Game: Witchdoctors and Psychiatrists. In it, he discussed why traditional shamanic healing methods can in some cases be as successful, or more successful, than contemporary “scientific” approaches to healing. I too have had healing experiences from shamanism and I have known other people who have had them as well. Tibetan Buddhism, considered by some to be the most sophisticated of all classical mediative traditions, has a strong connection to shamanism through the native Bon tradition.
Shamanism points us toward a key to understanding why becoming “irrational” and “imaginary” elements like teacups and refrigerators can be transformative. By doing so, we step out of our normal framing of how things work. We suspend all of those suppositions when we let go of who we are and “become” or “identify with” a virus, lobster, or pile of goo, particularly when these appear in a dream of our own creation or as a spontaneous association to some life issue of importance to us. When we allow ourselves to”become” such elements, we surrender our framings of experience, including our interpretations, expectations, and assumptions and instead fully embody the perspective, values and preferences of a stool, cloud, or squid. This act inherently creates space for life to move mental and biological systems toward integration and into higher level functioning.
The same thing happens in shamanism when you drop your assumptions about healing and step into a reality framed by someone waving incense sticks and inviting you into a sweat lodge. Our normal cultural and personal expectations and assumptions about healing are no longer active within such a context, and other expectations and assumptions, often completely foreign, take their place.
When healing or transformation happens from a shamanistic or other non-traditional experience, like going to a psychic, we attach value to that particular methodology. Shamanism heals. Psychics reveal the Truth. We jump to such conclusions instead of recognizing that it is the underlying process of “confusion,” or “disorientation” through submission to an entirely alien process, that has a therapeutic or integrative intention, that provides the healing or transformative openings. Sometimes the process doesn’t even have to be therapeutic or integrative, but merely needs to supply such a shock to the system that it is forced to reorganize itself. Things like witch dunking and trepanning come to mind, things that are “crazy,” but actually do “cure” some people some of the time.
However, culturally abnormal or extraordinary interventions are of temporary effectiveness for most of us, due to our natural need to understand and control our experience and our environment. Pretty soon we create mental and emotional structures of expectation and understanding in which we frame shamanism or other alternative approaches, and our experiences of them. Pretty soon even transformative near death and mystical experiences are replaced by habitual awareness; the miracle cure from the psychic or faith healer “wears off” and is replaced by everyday habits of thinking, feeling, and physiological response. This is true with whatever we do – taking psychedelics, taking cold plunges, going on visionquests, whatever. When we do anything repeatedly, it tends to lose its salience, yet we have gotten such a kick that we tend to keep going back to the same well, now dry.
Because I have studied shamanism as well as experienced it, had multiple psychic experiences from multiple sources, many of these have lost that magic salience for me that opens doors. That does not mean that they cannot or will not work for others. This principle is true for just about anything: the first one or two experiences of almost anything genuinely novel can be truly transformative, but after that, results tend to fade. I learned this reality years ago from casting the I Ching and going to psychics, but you will notice it in Tarot or working with any particular approach to transformation. Once the absence of framing has been replaced by repetition or the resurgence of everyday habits of living, transformative results tend to fade. It is true that if we pursue any path we can “force” it to open deeper levels of truth for us, but this is generally not easy, nor does it always work. For instance, I have not found it to work with I Ching, psychics, or Tarot.
As a rule, it is also best not to conclude, “because belief makes all the difference, shamanism or homeopathy works as well as surgery.” When in doubt, give preference to those approaches which have passed standards of repeatability and peer review. They may not work, but the odds that they will prove effective are innately higher than those which have not.
Integral Deep Listening is an approach which has passed standards of repeatability and peer review, yet it includes the “medicine” provided by the “miraculous,” “mysterious,” and unexpected. You never know what is going to come up when you identify with a porta potty or a vampire bat using the IDL interviewing protocols. You may have your expectations and assumptions, but what you hear and experience usually transcends and includes whatever your assumptions and interpretations are. That transcendence reframes not just your experience, but your sense of self, in broader, more inclusive, more integrative ways.
Dreams and fascinating, magical, irrational imagery continue to serve transformative purposes for humanity because they are typically three steps farther around the bend than we are, no matter how much meditation we do or enlightenment we attain. Because imagery, whether from dreams or as personifications of your life issues, is boundless in its variety and creativity, the IDL process of character identification constantly renews itself by presenting framings that transcend your assumptions, expectations, and preferences. Therefore, it does not lose its capability to provide transformation the way many other transformative pathways do.
This is a reason why all children need to learn to work with their dreams and imagery; no matter what we learn at school or from our culture, dreams and imagery transcend our conceptual framings, allowing these sorts of higher order reorganizations room to take place, if we learn how to take advantage of them in such a way.
This is why Integral Deep Listening teaches what it does. One set of skills, involving script analysis, escaping drama, and transcending cognitive distortions, removes fundamental blocks we all have to growth, while another set of skills, involving element interviewing, application of interview recommendations, and meditation, generate integration, in the form of healing, balancing, and transformation.
It is because we all have an innate attachment to our definitions of who we are and to maintaining control that we dismiss our dreams and the interviewing of all things mundane and imaginary. From infancy, we were taught to be some one, to control ourselves, as necessities to be liked and to be successful in school, in relationships, and at work.
Integral Deep Listening challenges that basic, deeply embedded survival scripting. We forget that the laying down of our sense of self temporarily, in a playful way, from time to time, in no way keeps us from picking up our normal sense of self again. It in no way undermines our sense of control over our life. Instead, we find that our sense of self expands and with it, our ability be have control without the constant stress of being in control.
We do not have to control life in order to be fully alive, resilient, adaptive, and to thrive. But what we do need are ways to access life above and beyond our habitual framings of what life is and who we are. Integral Deep Listening provides a spontaneous, evocative, and playful way of doing so at any time, for both children and adults.