What Could You Possibly Learn from a Tree Sloth?

Do you ever have trouble with mental focus? Would you like to be able to concentrate better so that you learn better and make better grades in school? If you aren’t in school, do you think improved concentration might help you in other ways?

This interview shows how Integral Deep Listening can help teenagers find where they can best put their energies so that they can get to the root of their unhappiness and find their inner compass that will direct them to a satisfying life.

This interview is with a lovely, intelligent, well-adjusted girl who is a good student at one of the best university preparatory schools in Berlin. Cleo had no trouble getting into role or staying in role, and she was rewarded for her efforts with practical help that can make a real difference in her life.

Comments about the interview follow.

Cleo, what are three fundamental life issues that you are dealing with now in your life?

1 How can I concentrate better when I study when I’m at home or at school?

2 I feel like I am seen too much as a child still by my parents. I am now 14 and they treat me more like I am 12!

3 I sometimes feel like I have to justify what I do to myself! I woke up this morning with a dream where I was doing that!

Which issue brings up the strongest feelings for you?

The first!  It brings up feelings of stress…I feel like everything inside of my head gets under pressure.  I get a little bit aggressive.  I might snap at my parents a little when I get stressed out!

If those feelings had a color (or colors), what would it be?


Imagine that color filling the space in front of you so that it has depth, height, width, and aliveness.

Now watch that color swirl, congeal, and condense into a shape. Don’t make it take a shape, just watch it and say the first thing that you see or that comes to your mind: An animal? Object? Plant? What?

A cobra!

Now remember how as a child you liked to pretend you were a teacher or a doctor?  It’s easy and fun for you to imagine that you are the shape that took form from your color and answer some questions I ask, saying the first thing that comes to your mind.  If you wait too long to answer, that’s not the character answering – that’s YOU trying to figure out the right thing to say!

Cobra, would you please tell me about yourself and what you are doing?

I’m coiled around Cleo.  My head is by her right ear and my tail is somewhere below, hip height.  I can control her! I am still violet and it doesn’t matter what sex I am.  My name is Leo!

What do you like most about yourself? What are your strengths?

I like that I am determined.  I can squeeze good! I will hiss into her ear to get her attention!  I know it’s successful if she starts getting uneasy, a bit nervous.

What do you dislike most about yourself? Do you have weaknesses?  What are they?

Sometime I lose my power.  I might become unimportant for Cleo. I might lose my power if Cleo realizes I’m not so bad after all. But I think I’m bad!  I want her to believe that I’m bad so she’ll be afraid of me so that I will have power and control over her!

Leo, you are in Cleo’s life experience, correct?  She created you, right? What aspect of Cleo do you represent or most closely personify?

Ambition!  I’m ambitious.  I always succeed in what I plan. I want to control Cleo.  I think sometimes it’s good for her to have some stress and some pressure.

Leo, if you could be anywhere you wanted to be and take any form you desired, would you change?  If so, how?

I’d like to turn into a purple parrot!

(Continue, answering as the transformed object, if it chose to change.)

Purple Parrot, where are you and what are you doing?

I’m sitting on her right shoulder.  I’m watching what she’s doing.

Purple Parrot,, how would you score yourself 0-10, in each of the following six qualities: confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing?  Why?

Confidence: 7 I don’t have any fear but if something really bad happens I might get scared.

Compassion: 3 I’m not so interested in what others do. Sometimes when I get carried away and get a bit of compassion.

Wisdom: 4 I am intelligent but wise?? Not that wise…

Acceptance: 8        It’s relatively easy accepting others for what they are because they are what they are.  For self-acceptance, I don’t always accept myself but it’s not that often that I’m not accepting.

Do you have a name, Parrot?


Inner Peace:      2.5!      My environment does have an impact on me. There might be things that are far more important than me.  Cleo finds a lot of other things more important than me.

Witnessing:           4       I want to be a part of life all the time and I want to have a say in it too, but sometimes I want to relax.

Sarah, if you scored tens in all six of these qualities, would you be different?  If so, how?

I would be a tree sloth!

Does that mean if you were a tree sloth that you wouldn’t accomplish anything or get anything done?

I wouldn’t be perfect at everything!

Do you have a name?


How would Cleo’s life be different if she naturally scored like you do in all six of these qualities all the time?

It would be far more relaxed and it would not be perfect! She wouldn’t drive herself nuts any longer!  Because she would have so much confidence!

What’s your secret, tree sloth?  How do you have so much confidence?

I don’t care so much about the rest of the world!

Yet you score a ten in compassion!  How do you manage that, tree sloth?

I always try to understand everybody…

If you could live Cleo’s life for him, how would you live it differently?

I would be far more relaxed! With all my many good qualities I wouldn’t drive myself nuts like she does….

If you could live Cleo’s waking life for her today, would you handle Cleo’s three life issues differently?  If so, how?

1 How can I concentrate better when I study when I’m at home or at school? I’m very good at concentrating. I don’t let anything get too close to me.  So I can concentrate better!  If I want to I can totally cut myself off, but only when I want to.  I wouldn’t let anything interrupt my concentration!  I would go for the goal. Cleo always lets herself get distracted, while I don’t. Cleo finds that everything is more fun than studying.  I think that if you really get down to it, you can also have fun studying. I can do one thing and look forward to doing other things.

2 I feel like I am seen too much as a child still, and I am now 14 and they treat me more like I am 12! I don’t have any age. I am like a vampire, in that I can live forever! I don’t care if people treat me like I’m younger than I am! I would act older.  I sometimes act younger than I am! It wouldn’t bother me how my parents treated me if I was Cleo.

3 I sometimes feel like I have to justify what I do to myself! I don’t do that!  How exhausting!  I am who I am!

What three life issues would you focus on if you were in charge of Cleo’s life?

1. Enjoy life! Have fun!

2. Have friends!

3. See the world!

In what life situations would it be most beneficial for Cleo to imagine that she is you and act as you would?

On Cleo’s study days so she can be more relaxed and concentrate better. Also Friday nights.  Instead of driving herself nuts that she can’t go out with friends because she has to study, if she could be me then she would either say no to learning or focus on her studies.  She would be more decisive instead of not making up her mind and not accomplishing either.

Character, do you do drama?  If not, why not?

No, because it’s too exhausting!  Too tiring!

What is your secret for staying out of drama?

I’m not into drama.

What do you do when there are other tree sloths, birds or bugs around you that are into drama?

I think to myself, “How difficult do they make lives for themselves!”

Why do you think that you are in Cleo’s life?

Because I represent the possibility, the potential to have a good, easy life, not to be in drama and not drive oneself crazy!

How is Cleo most likely to ignore what you are saying to her?

She will think about the things I told her but she drives herself nuts sometimes even when she doesn’t want to!

What would you recommend that she do about that?

She might become me if she starts driving herself nuts…

Would you be ready to talk to her if she needs support, Tree Sloth?

Yes, and if I happen to be in Timbuktu I can beam myself back quickly!

Cleo, what have you heard yourself say?

I think this tree sloth really gave me some good advice. How to not drive myself nuts and how to decide if I want to concentrate now or not.  I can deliberately cut out the surrounding world by not caring about what’s going on and just concentrating on what I need to do.

If this experience were a wake-up call from the most central part of yourself, what do you think it would be saying to you?

Stop driving yourself crazy!

Others: “I think it was wonderful!  I love this tree sloth!  Most people would say this is the laziest animal in the world!  How does it accomplish anything?  But it does!  And efficiently! I love the way it changes from this persecuting cobra!  It does not need to justify itself and say, “What a waste of time to lie around as a tree sloth!” If it wants to concentrate on something it does, and others can’t keep it from it.”

“If you get stressed, imagine that Leo is wrapped around you and whispering in your right ear!  Then you’ll remember your tree sloth!”

Notice that Cleo begins with a typical adversarial relationship with her stress. It personifies itself as a determined cobra that has power and wants to control her and stress her out by whispering in her ear. This may be a reference to the “self-talk” we often do that makes us anxious and gets in the way of our ability to concentrate.

We can see from Leo the cobra’s response that the way it stays in power is by keeping Cleo asleep to its presence and its methods. One of the strengths of Integral Deep Listening is that it awakens people to how and why they are stuck in the Drama Triangle. In this case, Leo is the persecutor, Cleo is the victim, and Cleo rescues herself by not being aware of Leo or feeling stressed.  We also see how Cleo scares herself by feeling intimidated by Leo’s power and control, but the more that she gets to know Leo the less intimidated she is likely to be.

Notice that by being threatened by Leo and her stress Cleo cuts herself off from her ambition, which Leo personifies.  Notice also that Cleo keeps Leo around partially because of secondary gains: part of her thinks she will work harder if she keeps herself under stress and pressure!

Sarah the parrot’s comments say a lot about where Cleo is in her development. They reflect the understandings of an unusually intellectually mature fourteen year old girl.

Becoming a tree sloth is a very unusual and clever way for Cleo to give herself permission to not be perfect. This is important for a child that is growing up in a family, school, and society in which high expectations are common.  It is a part of herself that is so self-confident that it can relax to a degree that Cleo doesn’t allow herself to.

Notice that becoming the tree sloth allowed Cleo to get in touch with an underlying issue – that she “drives herself nuts!”

Kids grow up being rewarded for meeting the expectations of others. A central message from Tree Sloth is that relaxation can come more easily when she does not care too much about the rest of the world.

Tree Sloth gives Cleo interesting advice about her challenge with concentration. It doesn’t let anything or anyone interrupt its concentration; it is willing to separate itself.  Tree Sloth is a part of Cleo that doesn’t allow itself to get distracted and which sees studying as fun.  This is an extraordinarily mature attitude to hear from a fourteen-year old.

Tree Sloth seems much less concerned with how Cleo’s parents treat her than Cleo is. It also is not very concerned about her having to justify herself to herself.  It is a part of herself that is not concerned with such things, perhaps because it does not do drama.

Cleo can make an ally out of her Tree Sloth when she wants to take pressure off herself. She now has had an experience of getting in touch with a part of herself that has strengths that she wants and needs to develop. Every time she takes the time to “become” her tree sloth she takes those potentials and makes them more of a reality for her life.  Over time, those strengths come to define who and how she is in the world. She reclaims an important part of her potential and puts it to work to create a more fulfilled and satisfying life.

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