Who Are You – Really? An IDL Explanation of Identity

The following is Chapter 2 of Waking Up, which is currently under revision and being translated into German for my Deutsch students by my intrepid, intelligent, and hard-working student, Heidrun Schwartz. I am posting this in response to a question by another bright member of Friends of IDL who has enquired as to the nature of the “self” in IDL. Hopefully this will confuse her even more and further muddy the waters…


Who are you?

Am I a Figment of My Imagination?


Are you a figment of your imagination?

If so, perhaps imagination should be outlawed. That’s a joke, but an ironic one. The dilemma is that the more you own your insignificance, the more you gain power over your fear and the more powerful you become.

The more that we imagine that we are real, the more we are at risk of an increasing risk of hubris, grandiosity and abuse of power. But what’s the alternative? The more you insist that everything is objectively real—others, the world, your soul—the more of world you disown. That which is “real” but “other,” is out of your control, by definition. For example, remember that monster in that nightmare you had? You thought it was “real” and “other.” What was the result? The more of reality that is not your creation, whether dreaming or awake, the more disempowered you become, with the final result being anxiety disorders, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, in which waking life turns into a nightmare of your own creation.

Therefore, as with the continuum between truth and love,[i] we are condemned to live in a state of uneasy paradox—finding truth somewhere in the shifting sands between the delusion of the world as a self-created dream and the delusion of the world as an objective reality. Avoidance of this dilemma is a type of regression to a romanticized, simpler time in our childhood. Acceptance of such inherent ambiguity is a sign of cognitive maturity that is a precondition for stable, lasting development at transpersonal levels, in which we experience oneness with nature and others, as well as clear witnessing.

Getting to Know Your Iceberg Self

You not only are dreaming the delusions of a phony self-image and arbitrary cultural preferences, you are asleep to the fact that this is what is going on. The movie, The Matrix, provides an example of this dream:

“The Matrix is everywhere, it is all around us. Even in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes; it is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”

And Neo asks, “What truth?”

“That you are a slave, Neo, like everyone else, you were born into bondage; born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch; a prison for your mind.”

To wake up, like Neo, you have to get out of the matrix. That means you have to access the objectivity necessary to witness not only your delusions but also your sleeping, dreamlike state. You are asleep means you are out of touch with most of who you are. If you compare yourself to an iceberg, you are mostly in touch with the ten percent of yourself that is above the water.


Inceberg Ninety percent of the cells in your body carry their own microbial DNA and are not “you”. The ten percent that is above the water is who you think you are most of the time. It is your “psychologically geocentric,” “Ptolemaic,” sense of self that says the world is all about you, your needs, desires and sufferings. Even when you dream, you still think you are that same self that experiences life in your waking state. That is because you normally think you are awake when you are dreaming. So, if you imagine you are an iceberg, the way you experience the sky, other icebergs and the water is in that context—your experience as the ten percent of yourself that you think you are. This is the perspective humans generally take to understand the interior of humanity. They are on the outside looking in; they are the ten percent observing itself, the ninety percent and the world without. There are important, built-in limitations to this perspective; your lack of awareness of those limitations can make you miserable. Here is a parable that attempts to clarify that point.

Imagine that your iceberg self is in the far north, surrounded by cold water, cold air and plenty of other icebergs. You have just broken off from your mother glacier. There is a strong wind blowing from the south, assuring you that your future is an icy one, which is what an iceberg wants and needs for a long life.  You are happy, comfortable, and your future looks bright. Days pass. You notice that the other icebergs have moved farther away. The air is warmer. The water is warmer, but the wind is blowing from the south as strong as ever. This is strange! What is happening? More days pass. Now no more icebergs are to be seen anywhere. You are alone and the water is much warmer. You are melting! You think, “How could this be happening?” “Why is this happening?” “Life is unfair!” “I am a victim!” You live out your shrinking iceberg life bitter and alone, feeling betrayed by life.

This little iceberg analogy would be trite if it didn’t so clearly apply to the life experiences of many, many people who feel victimized by life. This parable demonstrates that their misery and suffering is a function of their lack of awareness. Because they are unaware of the entirety of themselves, the ninety percent that lies below the surface of their awareness, they lack the information that is required for their lives to make sense. When events do not live up to our expectations, it is easy to feel that we are out of control, pushed along by life forces that our culture might have taught us to view as “fate,” “God’s will,” genes, karma, our life scripts, or the norms of our particular societies and cultures.

How do you avoid concluding that you are a victim of circumstances beyond your control and that you are therefore helpless, hopeless and powerless? Integral Deep Listening works to move you from unawareness to awareness, from victimization to a healthy participation in the flow of life. It does so by showing you how to get in touch with the rest of your iceberg self. Returning to our analogy, if you were aware of the ninety percent of yourself that lies below the surface of your awareness, what information might you have that you did not have before? As the ten percent above the surface of your awareness, you experienced a strong wind blowing from the south. From this, you concluded that you would be pushed to the north, remaining in very cold waters. But you did not stay north. You moved south! Your awareness as the ten percent of the iceberg is not sufficient to explain why and how you moved to the south and melted.

When you expand your awareness to include the ninety percent of yourself that is below the water, you have more information. You are now aware of ocean currents that move slowly through the depths, pushing against your underwater mass. This force can be so gentle as to be almost imperceptible, but as long as it is steady and it impacts on your huge underwater surface that faces the current, it will be stronger than even hurricane winds blowing in an opposite direction on the upper ten percent that is above the water and exposed. It is because these gentle but powerful currents are pushing you south that your life as an iceberg is the way it is, not because of the fierce drama of storms on the surface. If you are out of touch with this awareness, as most people are most of the time, you are likely to experience yourself as a victim of fate. When you are in touch with this awareness, you are much more likely to be at peace with your life and be able to enjoy it to the fullest. Once you get in touch with the ninety percent of your iceberg self and experience life from its perspective, life makes sense. You may not like it, but you can be at peace with the nature of things.

Now imagine that as the ten percent of the iceberg above the water, you look down into yourself. What do you see? You see your reflection in the ice. You dimly see yourself disappearing below the water as well, but what you make of that below the water self is based on your out-of-water perspective.  What you see below the water is distorted by waves and refracted in illusory ways by the light on ice. Your conclusions about your underwater self will inevitably be distorted.

By analogy, this is what mankind, religion and psychology have done and continue to do. They look at life from the outside in, thereby creating a delusional view of reality. They view greater human consciousness primarily from the perspective of waking identity, the part of yourself that you are mostly aware of and concerned about. The great heritage of human experience is mostly the distorted perceptions of the ten percent of the human iceberg, either trying to make sense of the ocean, weather and what’s happening to it with only partial information, or trying to make sense of its ninety percent by peering down through the distortions of light, ice and water. Consequently, almost everything that you have learned about yourself and about life is distorted and misperceived. That part of your enormous iceberg self that lies outside your normal awareness is not viewed as it sees the world but as you see it. It is viewed in terms of its meaning and value for the ten percent of yourself that you are mostly aware of. What this means is that stuff inside you that looks distorted is distorted to you. Stuff that looks stuck really is stuck to you. Parts that you can’t budge really won’t budge for you. Stuff inside that looks scary, such as nightmares, are scary to you. Stuff inside that is misunderstood because it is seen through waves and refracted light is dismissed as delusional by you. You see the distortions caused by the refraction of the water’s surface and think the illusions are real. Forming beliefs on those illusory experiences, you live in a delusional world. These are the types of observations that the wise men of history have made; they have declared what is true and right based on delusions.

You identify with a part of yourself, the ten percent that lacks the ability to make the stuck parts of yourself in the other ninety percent of yourself budge. The top part of your iceberg is in the minority. It does not have the ability to control or direct the destiny of its greater identity. It is the tail wagging the dog, the flea thinking it is in charge of its host. However, there are other parts of your iceberg self, below the surface, that aren’t stuck. There are other parts of yourself that might be able to make the stuck parts of yourself budge, if only you were able to access them. There are other parts of your greater iceberg self that are in harmony with the parts that are not to your liking. When you take in their perspective, you may discover new ways to get the stuck parts moving or to accept some of your life challenges as being the way they are.

What Is an “Emerging Potential?”

 When you look down into the water or through the ice, you see more water, either as the sea or as the frozen fresh water of your iceberg self. The frozen fresh water below the surface is one part of your greater identity that lies outside your normal awareness; the ocean itself is another, far more vast part of your greater identity that lies outside your normal awareness. These “aspects” are so vast and impersonal that it makes little sense to refer to them as aspects of yourself. The water in the iceberg essentially belongs to no self. Because of this, it makes better sense to refer to these “underwater” perspectives, whether they are within “your” iceberg, in the ocean or in other icebergs, as “emerging potentials” rather than as self aspects. This is because each perspective is emerging into your awareness. It has the potential to be part of your awareness. It also has the potential, when it does, to make a difference in your life. This is because it has the advantage of your life history and perspective, to which it adds its own perspective. The result is a perspective that not only transcends but includes your own.

How can you access perspectives that know how you are stuck and what you need to do to get unstuck? Returning to our analogy, it would be as if you took samples, called “ice cores,” of your ninety percent below the surface. Such ice cores are samples of the entire iceberg, but from different places, experiences and times.

If you took enough such samples, you would gain a good sense of what the extent and nature of your previously unknown “self” was. You wouldn’t have to explore everything all the time in order to gain a broad overview map of a much more expansive sense of who you are. What could reasonably be expected to be the outcome? You will make better decisions because you take into account a more accurate perception of reality. You will be more at peace, both with yourself and with life, because you know you are much more than a melting “tip of an iceberg.” You will have more confidence, based on a sense that you know who you are.

In Integral Deep Listening, you learn to make this powerful shift in perspective when you interview and take on the role of various emerging potentials. By doing so, you discover that your life looks and feels a lot different. Things inside you that looked scary aren’t any longer. When you become the monster in your dreams, you find out it was chasing you to give you a message or to scare you into paying attention to something important you are overlooking in your life. You come to view not only surprises but all life events as wake-up calls. When you become the personification of some waking fear, such as frustration, abandonment or poverty, you find that your fear diminishes greatly. Your experience of yourself is now broader and more inclusive. Looking out into the water or up through the water or even into yourself is a lot different when you are this or that part of the iceberg that is under water. What you find is that all these perspectives are different, in that they are in different locations, take different points of view, and throw off light in unique ways. Yet, they are all the same in that they are all made out of water. There is nothing “shadowy,” illusory or stuck about any of this; only the reflections seen by the ten percent may seem shadowy, illusory or stuck. There is nothing that won’t budge; there is nothing that is stuck; there is nothing that is in conflict or that takes an adversarial stance.

Water doesn’t have a personality or a soul, although it has qualities and a “nature.” Whether the water makes up your geocentric ten percent, some internal emerging potential of your ninety percent, or an emerging potential from the ocean or sky, there is a comfort and peace about each emerging potential that is normally lacking in your socially-scripted sense of who you are. For example, one woman reported the following three life issues: “Why do I make myself dependent so quickly on  people that I love?” “Why do I not know what I want to do in life professionally?” “Why don’t I manage to voice my own needs clearly?” Feelings of emptiness, sadness and not being self-directed personified as a large stone hovering above her head, ready to fall and crush her at any moment, like some granite Sword of Damocles. It personified for this lady, “the strength and power that can come out of me.” Had she disowned her strength and turned it into an externalized threat? When she became the stone and asked it if it would like to change, the stone became a sun-lit piece of wood that scored very high in the core qualities of confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace and witnessing. It had no fear, emptiness or sadness. This woman saw that she had the option to live her life from an open, harmonious, peaceful perspective instead of constantly feeling threatened by impending doom. This sun-lit wood is like the water in our iceberg analogy. It does not have a soul or an ego, but it certainly has qualities of nature and feels natural and alive. Similarly, IDL is about coming home to a sense of who you have always been and who you truly are.

As we have discussed, the normal view of life taken by your waking sense of who you are is “egocentric,” or “geocentric” and “Ptolemaic.” That is, who you normally think you are is centered on the perspective of the ten percent of your iceberg self that is outside of the water. To take sample perspectives of your iceberg self or of the ocean is not to move into “heliocentric” “theocentric” perspectives, that is, centered on the perspective of something outside of yourself. Instead, you learn to take on “poly-centric” points of view that function like a hologram: whatever part of the whole you are identified with is experienced as the central focus and as the entirety. Today, this young lady found that liberating wholeness in sun-lit wood; tomorrow, it might be best expressed by a table, frog or monster. IDL works by taking you outside of yourself, to identification with multiple perspectives that put you in touch with emerging potentials that are striving to be born into your consciousness and expression in your life.

The point of view of the ten percent of yourself that is out of the water is the perspective of your common sense. We all need that.  Common sense is absolutely legitimate and necessary. However, you have other perspectives available to you that are radically different from your present one that also represent common sense. When viewed from the perspective of an emerging potential, your waking perspective is experienced as only one of an infinite variety of perspectives with common sense. Who you think you are has not cornered the market on common sense. From many other perspectives that you can access, you will discover that it is more accurate to say your waking ten percent has almost cornered the market on absurdity, in that it believes it speaks for the whole of who you are, rather like a young child speaking for an entire family or a flea “speaking” for an entire dog! Most other common sense perspectives are totally unknown to you, yet are immediately accessible.  In general, if your ten percent is to understand who and what it is, it needs to view itself both from multiple external and internal perspectives. It needs to view itself from the perspective of other icebergs, the sky, the clouds and the ocean. It also needs to view itself from different “ice core“ samples and perspectives taken from within itself.

The above iceberg analogy is significantly different from Freud’s famous iceberg analogy. While both perspectives see the conscious mind as above the water, Freud saw the remainder of the iceberg as the unconscious mind. IDL does not set up this dualism between consciousness and unconsciousness. It sees awareness as a spotlight that shines light from wherever it is at the time, awake, dreaming, deeply asleep or in some other state. The ninety percent of the iceberg that is underwater is misperceived by waking identity as unconscious, when it is not; that is simply the bias and misperception of the waking identity when it peers down through the distortions of water, light and ice. It is much more helpful to view the unknown “other,” whether within or without, as the ground out of which the figure of your sense of who you are arises.

 Which Picture Is Ground and Which Is Figure?

Your interviewed emerging potentials provide the ground for extraordinary, innate and authentic transformations that can and will speed your development. When you become an ice core of your iceberg or a facet or perspective on its environment, what was ground becomes figure and what was figure, the ten percent of yourself that was above the water, becomes another part of the ground:


You then have first-hand, personal experience that there is nothing unconscious or shadowy about the ninety percent of yourself; it is your waking unawareness that is unconscious. The “unconsciousness” of the other ninety percent is a projection of the unconsciousness of your waking sense of who you are, which is deeply asleep and dreaming. That ten percent projects its perspectives, biases, prejudices, interpretations and fears onto the remainder of your iceberg self and beyond it, out onto the world. What you learn when you take ice cores by using IDL to interview dream characters and the personifications of your waking life issues, is that it is your own waking unawareness and fear-based addiction to drama that is shadowy. You have met the enemy and found that it is not some manufactured unconscious. It is you, your own scripted, waking identity.

The good news is that the help and growth you seek and need is closer and easier to access than you may realize. You have a diamond mine in your back yard, but you have to be willing to climb down and bring up a lot of rock that is heavy, dirty and seemingly useless. Then, you have to clean it up.  That’s all.  It’s amazing how many people are still not willing to mine that gold, even after they are taken down into their mine to pull out all the gold they want. They then testify that it is, indeed, gold.  Still, they continue not to believe that it is genuine. They give themselves endless reasons why not to go down and get it—that is, to do IDL interviews with their dreams and life issues and test the resulting recommendations in their daily lives.

Parts of yourself that are stuck (the ones Christians, psychologists and Wilber refer to as evil or ’shadow’) are not part of the ninety percent of yourself that is underwater. Those stuck parts are primarily other aspects of the ten percent of yourself that is above the water. These are the scripted roles from your childhood and culture that agree with and validate your waking perspective when you become them. They are the roles you have internalized from years of groupthink. They are the voices that say, among other things, ’Yes, you are right to think you’re a failure.” ”Yes, you are right to feel victimized.” “Only the ten percent of yourself is real.” “The ten percent must stay in control for you to be happy.” Such voices, as well as the drama of your addictions, are part of the internality of the ten percent of your iceberg that is above the water. It is made up of a constellation of roles or selves, and together, they validate whomever your part of the iceberg thinks that it is at the time.  Or, they threaten it, and so, are ignored or repressed. They conspire to maintain your illusion of separateness from your other ninety percent as well as from ocean, sky and other icebergs.  These interdependent, culturally-induced roles in the ten percent of yourself “above the surface,” work together to keep you in the Drama Triangle, alternately taking the roles of the Victim, the Rescuer and the Persecutor. They keep you looking for God, Jesus, Buddha, angels, the White Brotherhood or your soul mate to rescue you. The greater part of yourself that is underwater doesn’t do any of this.

Misery is optional, but it means taking the time to question your suppositions as to who you are as the ten percent of the iceberg.  Freud didn’t do this. His model assumes that the interpretations of the ten percent of Freud that is above the water line are correct. Wilber’s model still looks at reality mostly from the perspective of the evolving ten percent. Although his Vision-Logic developmental doorway to the transpersonal is what Wilber calls “aperspectival,”[iii] that model is drawn by multiple waking perspectives, waking selves reporting back on what they observed in other states of consciousness, including mystical experiences. These visionaries dove down into the iceberg and ocean and took a look around, providing an expanded but still geocentric description of the landscape of consciousness. The combined map of the self reflects a collective ten percent map of consciousness.   All the blind men grabbing different parts of the elephant of reality are all observing from the perspective of the men, not of the elephant, the ground, the grass, the trees or the sky.

In what follows you will learn powerful tools to help you evolve beyond your identification with your life script, your life drama, your feelings, your thoughts, and your identification with a separate self, cut off from the emerging potentials that are the path to your next developmental step. You will learn how to access your inner compass, make better decisions, and wake up.

[i] People who are considered to be loving can be viewed as naive and hypocritical, in that they are seen as agreeing with and supporting people with contradictory views and interests. People who place a high value on truth and honesty may be viewed as cold, insensitive, argumentative, and non-empathetic. Finding the balance between these two extremes, each of which is a worthy ideal, is a constant challenge.

[ii] A “Ptolemaic” world-view is geocentric. Named after the Hellenistic astronomer Claudius Ptolemaeus in the second century AD was based on the Greek view of the cosmos, notably Plato and Aristotle. Just as it places man and his world at the center of physical reality, in accordance with the information given by common sense experience, so psychological geocentrism, which is implied and supported by geocentrism, places our thoughts, feelings, and experiences in the center of our reality. The world is “all about me.”

[iii] “”Aperspectival” means that no single perspective is privileged, and thus, in order to gain a more holistic or integral view, we need an aperspectival approach…” Wilber, Ken. Integral Psychology. p. 167.

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