Making Sense of Nightmares


Nobody likes nightmares.  And it would seem that with spiritual development and years of meditation that they would go away, right?  Wrong.  Life drama, as best seen in the roles of victim, persecutor, and rescuer, are not outgrown; it remains as the manifestation of life’s exterior and interior conflicts, as long as we are alive. These roles are always present, jolting us out of the limitations of our world view, if we pay attention to them, regardless of how far we have come.  The common belief that you will evolve beyond drama and life nightmares if you just meditate enough and become “spiritual” enough lacks evidential support. Even advanced meditators can have such dreams. Consider the following dream of a long-time meditator and teacher of meditation:

I am repeatedly spearing some tall, shirtless man with a short sword.  There is no blood and he does not seem to be hurt.  I am curious about what the effect of the next, deeper thrust will be.

What would you think such a dream would be about if you had it?

Notice the relative objectivity and lack of normal emotions in this dream. Instead of the stabbing being accompanied with feelings of horror, anger, fear, or regret, there is only mere “curiosity,” perhaps the sort of attitude that Joseph Mengele, Hitler’s chief doctor in charge of conducting medical experiments on concentration camp prisoners, might express. But is this an accurate assessment? To find out, we first find out why the dreamer thinks he had this dream, and then we will consult the perspective of a character from the dream itself.

“The dream seems to me to be like childhood cruelty in that it is a dispassionate, methodical, disidentification with pain and suffering.  But why wasn’t the guy bleeding, fighting, protesting, or in pain??? I would call the dream, “Senseless Murder.”

Of the characters in the dream, the man, the sword, the ground, and sky, the dreamer chose to interview “the guy getting stabbed.” This is what he had to say:

“I’m big, healthy, and impervious to these stabbing wounds.  I don’t bleed. That should tell you something. I don’t have any weaknesses; I personify the dreamer’s imperviousness to harm.

I don’t want to change; I would just like him to assimilate my nature. I am obviously ten, on a scale of zero to ten, in confidence. To understand how I am a ten in compassion, ask yourself this question: Would you allow yourself to get stabbed just so someone MIGHT get the idea that a part of themselves was impervious to harm? Regarding being a ten in wisdom, having my degree of confidence and fearlessness would be pretty wise, wouldn’t it?  As long as it wasn’t based on naivete or stupidity, right? I am a ten in acceptance, since letting myself be stabbed and accepting someone who stabs me, is highly accepting. I score myself a ten in inner peace. Do you see me upset or complaining or struggling? I am a ten in witnessing in that I am about as detached as they come.”

If the dreamer were more like me nothing would bother him or negatively impact him. If I were him I would stop living life from my waking self and start living it from my potential selves.  I would grow into the perspectives of interviewed emerging potentials that naturally have all six of the core qualities. Regarding his life issue of money, he needs to know that who he really is will be OK regardless of how much or how little money he has. Regarding his career, I recommend that he focus on expanding in the six core qualities. Regarding improving his health, he can focus on being like me, since I am impervious to harm. Don’t worry about it going to your head.  It won’t.  Don’t worry about being stupid about it and endangering yourself.  You won’t.”

“I am in his life to show the dreamer how he normally blocks himself from his growth by reflexively seeing the world from his waking perspective and thereby being blind to his true nature and his potentials. He will ignore what I am saying by concluding it is interesting but unrealistic. He needs to understand that my imperviousness to stabbing is a visual metaphor.  It is really about not being affected by aggression coming his way from the world or by various assaults, whether financial, health, career or interpersonal. He has the ability to do this, to move into this perspective, if he will allow himself to claim it. I am showing him how he focuses on his own perspective and draws partial conclusions.  If the dream had not been set up for him to stab me he wouldn’t have gotten the “point!” Having someone else stab me might not have shocked him into remembering this dream so he would consider it.  Also, it would not have brought up all those strong feelings of guilt, blame, responsibility, cruelty, and aggression that lie dormant within him and that he is afraid of. Their presence stops him from becoming me, out of fear that he will regress into being a selfish six year old.  He won’t.”

What do you make of this dream and what the “victim” of the knife attack had to say? Does it seem cold and unrealistic in its imperviousness? Does living like that feel like it would remove you from the realities of your life? It most probably would! The question becomes, “Is that a good thing or not?”

Building Trust In Yourself

This is a good example of how Integral Deep Listening generally boils down to trusting the perspectives and recommendations of voices that are all too easy to dismiss. This is fundamental to the building of self-confidence. If you doubt yourself and your judgments, how self-confident can you expect to be? And how important is self-confidence to your success in life? If you don’t believe in yourself, who will?

Can You Function Outside the Drama Triangle?

The Drama Triangle, as it manifests in your interpersonal relationships, your thinking, and your night time dreams, is a modern reframing of Hindu karma, Buddhist avidya, and Christian hell. The more you do things to rescue yourself from your feelings of powerless, hopelessness, and helplessness the more you validate to yourself that you really are a victim of things and people that really do persecute you that lie beyond your control. The result is that you stay stuck in drama, where you have no choice of finding or experiencing peace of mind, except in temporary flashes here and there.

It is amazing and powerful that this “victim” of a knife attack does not see himself as a victim at all, but functions outside the Drama Triangle. He does not see his attacker as a persecutor, nor does he seek rescuing from the abuse. Think about how extraordinarily unusual this is. Instead, the entire “drama” of the dream is intended to wake the dreamer up out of self-generated, unnecessary, and unhelpful drama. However, it only wakes him up out of the dream; it does not wake him up into any understanding of the dream or liberate his consciousness from any of the drama that the dream personifies.

Most of us hate the experience of being in the role of victim, but we hate being in the role of persecutor even more, as this dreamer is in his dream. When we do take the role of persecutor, as we do when we yell, interrupt, hit, name call, lie, steal, or touch people in ways they do not want, we rarely admit it. Instead, we offer one rationalization after another: they “were asking for it,” they “needed it,” there was no alternative, “I didn’t know what I was doing,” “God/my commander/my boss told me to,” “their behavior left me no choice.” What is powerful about this dream is that it strips the dreamer of any and all excuses, rationalizations and explanations and simply leaves him mortified by his own capacity for evil, violence, and abuse. This is so striking that it is repulsive to most people who simply read the dream. Rarely in our lives do we so utterly and completely find ourselves in the role of persecutor except occasionally, in our dreams. No wonder most people have no interest at looking at them!

Self-Rescuing is No Escape From the Drama Triangle

The only escape from such a horrific awareness of self as persecutor is to wake up, like the dreamer did, to escape through self-rescuing. But notice that even then it is not effective, because waking does not bring escape from self-persecuting feelings of guilt, responsibility, loss of control, and a basic threat to both self-esteem and core identity. This provides an excellent example of how self-rescuing leads to further entrapment in the Drama Triangle through more persecution, but also of how dreaming affects waking mood, whether or not we remember them. Does anyone really believe that such dream actions do not affect how we feel, or that those feelings do not bleed over into our waking state, contaminating our decision-making and outlook on life? Since this is so, are these not profound reasons to use Integral Deep Listening: to break up the Drama Triangle in our dreams so that we are not prisoners of self-created drama in our waking thoughts and relationships?

Ethics and Morality as Forms of Self-Rescuing

Notice that there is no moral judgment being made within the dream. It is not a statement on the ethics of violence, which is part of what makes it so appalling. Most of us depend on such assumptions to protect us from our fear that we will regress to the status of a wild animal if we do not make ethical decisions, and it seems that this dream is a visual depiction of that fear.

But is it? Ask yourself this question: Does your waking consciousness create such dreams? Not on your life! It avoids, represses, and ignores such possibilities to the best of its ability, because it does not want to put itself in the role of an unrepentant persecutor. Is Freud right in saying that such a dream must reflect some fear that the dreamer really is such a person? The problem with this type of conjecture is that it is pure projection and cannot be proven or disproven. If your answer is “no,” you are simply in denial and repressing the truth about yourself. If your answer is “yes,” then you are then trapped in moral culpability without an exit. It becomes like the Christian doctrine of original sin; no matter what you do, no matter how loving you are, how much yoga, animal rights you advocate, no matter how much money you donate or how you change you dedicate your life to helping others, no matter how much you meditate, no matter how much psychotherapy you do, you will always be “guilty,” and such dreams prove it.

IDL as a Simple, Effective Way to Escape the Chronic Delusions of Waking Identity

Or do they? The key is to recognize that this hell is inescapable when you approach such dreams from the perspective of your normal waking identity, as you do when you interpret them and when you dream them. The only escape comes from abandoning the tyranny of your waking perspective, which most people only do when they go into deep sleep or have extreme mystical experiences.

Integral Deep Listening is another way of doing so, and in a way that is very effective at relativizing your waking identity and point of view without condemning it or making it “wrong.” It simply allows it to be one perspective among others in a multi-perspectival orientation toward life.

This alone is extremely important because most people never develop to multi-perspectivalism. What passes for such is empathy, or being able to take the point of view of others. However, you can see the rudiments of empathy in animals and small children when they share; does that mean they are multi-perspectival? Agreeing with your opponent in an argument is an excellent way to disarm the opposition but does that mean you are multi-perspectival, or does it mean that you have developed a winning strategy for winning arguments?

In addition to not being something desirable to most people, multi-perspectivalism is commonly misunderstood. Our waking identity is about maintaining its current homeostasis; it instinctively sees other perspectives as a threat to that homeostasis, although it will deny this, because that concept is a threat to that very identity. An example of this are those who embrace all perspectives in a loving, communal, egalitarian, and pluralistic embrace, not recognizing how they are fighting against and disowning any perspective that sees and respects hierarchies of values, morals, culture, development, and behavior. Multi-perspectivalism is good to such people in theory, but when it is applied to say there really are differences in the intelligence of humans and animals, or that love does not conquer all, or that positive thinking will solve all the world’s problems, or that one can believe in facts and reason just as blindly as a child believes in Santa, then multi-perspectivalism is not so good. If “multi-perspectivalism” is not another word for decompensation, it certainly does nothing to promote “ego strength,” the holy grail of most psychodynamic theories and methods of counseling. However, multi-perspectivalism is not a threat to “ego strength,” or the development of a strong, capable waking identity. Instead, it strengthens waking identity by broadening it, as it internalizes the various perspectives with which it identifies.

IDL Accesses Transpersonal Perspectives

Notice that the perspective of the man being stabbed is neither pre-personal or personal. If it were pre-personal, it would be irrational and have a self-sense based on beliefs, feelings, and preferences. It doesn’t. If it were rational, it would defend itself against the attack, but it doesn’t, despite the fact that its remarks reveal that it is clear thinking and rational. This is an example of how Integral Deep Listening provides reliable and easily accessible doorways to the transrational, that domain of development which transcends yet includes both the pre-rational and the rational. This is enforced not simply by the fact that the “victim” scores himself high in the core qualities of enlightenment (pre-personal interviewed elements can do this), but by the explanations and reasons for his answers.

For example, regarding compassion, he scores himself a ten, saying, “Would you allow yourself to get stabbed just so someone MIGHT get the idea that a part of themselves was impervious to harm?” He is pointing out that this compassion is neither a pre-personal modeling or a personal empathy; it is something quite extraordinary.

What Creates Such a Dream?

This interview provides a very clear example of taking a perspective that is so far from that of waking awareness that it is almost impossible to rationalize away as, “just imaginary.” It is so real and vivid, with its implications for disturbed waking mood and thinking, that is also extremely difficult to dismiss it as “only a dream.” However, it is also difficult to dismiss it as either due to the influence of “demons” but also of God, because what sort of god sends such a dream? Assigning it to the “unconscious,” whether personal or collective, sub- or super-, is not helpful. This man is clearly not unconscious and there is nothing unconscious about the dream. To say that this sort of evil and capacity for abuse lurks within is only good if your desire is to subordinate yourself to the authority of your conscience, or some religious or authority figure.  If you want to be free, if you want to learn to think, if you want to grow, you have to move beyond explaining everything you don’t understand by pointing to the cellar door.

There is more evidence that appeals to the unconscious do not explain this experience. The comments of the man are clearly produced by the dreamer, but clearly do not represent his point of view. It also does not represent repressed fears, because the man has no fear at all, and neither does the dreamer. Therefore the explanation that it is produced by some repressed or suppressed unconscious is not true.

The alternative is to argue that such clarity, selflessness, and fearlessness exist within the dreamer; he just doesn’t recognize it. He is those things, or he wouldn’t have produced the interview; he just doesn’t recognize it. This is reminiscent of Plato’s theory of anamnesis, that all knowledge is remembering, and fuels belief in karma and reincarnation. However, what sense does it make to say that you really are somebody or something that does not yet exist? It is similar to saying that a baby is “really” an adult, and that the unfolded full expression of maturity is presently existing. This, of course, is palpably untrue. What is true is that the potential for such experiences exists and can be accessed. But potentials are not pre-existing, unconscious elements, nor are they predestined to exist. Most people do not fully unfold before they die, nor do we really know what that full unfoldment looks like, because it is most likely a never-ending process, with one unfoldment giving way to a number of possibilities for further unfoldments.

The Importance of Multi-Perspectivalism

Without multi-perspectivalism, you will be able to access advanced states of consciousness, through meditation, drug use, sex, trance, lucid dreaming, or other various means, but it is highly unlikely that any of these will ever turn into a stable, ongoing transpersonal stage of development. Instead, you will spend your time chasing one type of transpersonal experience after the next, vicariously sharing the ecstasy reported by mystics or near death experiencers or mastering some sort of yoga that promises the transpersonal, like lucid dreaming. However, what you will find is that these experiences do not last, precisely because that is the nature of state experiences. You will return to your normal, pre-transpersonal waking identity unless you have a methodology that generates stable multi-perspectivalism.

Ken Wilber discusses this as “vision-logic,” the name he gives for the intermediate stage between late personal and early transpersonal stages. The first openings to it are through the adopting of a multi-perspectival cognitive model for reality, such as his AQAL integral perspective provides. However, even adherents of integral commonly mistake the adoption of this model for attainment of a stable multi-perspectival level of development. This is rarely the case. Generally these people are at some combination of rational and late personal development and imagine that because they understand transpersonal states and stages, and because they have experienced transpersonal states, that they have stabilized at vision-logic or above. How can one tell?

One way that you can know if you have or not is by the frequency and depth with which you identify with perspectives that are not your own. If you do not, then your understanding of anything beyond the personal is based on temporary state access and what you have read. You have had some experiences to add to your cognitive model.

However, multi-perspectivalism, as a level of consciousness, is a stable, ongoing experience; it is not merely an abstract cognitive framework about the nature of experience. There are two basic tools for accessing multi-perspectivalism as the doorway to transpersonal stages of development. The first is to have repeated, regular, identifications with perspectives that embody those states. You must have ongoing experiences of those states in ways that can be integrated. The second is to act on the recommendations of those perspectives. This is a demonstration of trust and embodiment in order to ground or earth stable identity in these stages.

To have ongoing experiences of those states is not enough because state experiences generally are not integrated. This is because they are so overwhelming and transcendent that they are either ignored, repressed, or lost. There is too much cognitive dissonance between everyday consciousness, culture, and groupthink and the experience. Also, to have these experiences repeatedly without grounding them in everyday life reduces them to a form of escapism within the Drama Triangle; they become just another form of self-inflation. Wilber has documented the forms of self-centeredness that often accompany meditators into transpersonal levels of development.

This is why Integral Deep Listening recommends ongoing interviewing both with self and with others.

A Role Model of a Characteristic of Enlightenment

There is another way to view the impassive objectivity, while being stabbed, of this “victim.” In most world religions and spiritual traditions the divine has the quality of invulnerability or impregnability, which might also be called impassivity, or such transcendence that issues of survival, life, and death do not affect it. This “victim” appears to be a secular, or a mundane incarnation of such an unworldly or divine attribute, implying that it is not something only for gods, but for man to strive for.

One can meditate for years and not attain the perspective of this dream character or, you can choose to adopt it now, today, as an experiment, and not have to hope that years of meditation will get you out of the Drama Triangle. You can wake up and experience liberation within your own life circumstances today, now, by experimenting with becoming the perspective of this “victim” whenever you find yourself in drama.

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