Who Needs Clarity and Credibility?
“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.”
Integral Deep Listening (IDL) encourages some common and comfortable usages while challenging others. Why?
Like Alice, in Alice in Wonderland, perhaps we might best begin by sitting at the feet of an enlightened master. Here is Alice’s famous conversation with Humpty-Dumpty:
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory’,” Alice said.
Humpty-Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t – till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!'”
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
Humpty Dumpty is clearly using words in whatever way that he considers best and demanding that Alice accept the meanings that he gives them. Most of us aren’t quite as extreme as Humpty-Dumpty, but it is common for us to assume that our listeners know what we mean when we speak and forget that their varied life experiences have probably caused them to associate entirely different meanings to words than we have. If we don’t care about that, we end up talking past each other, insisting that we are clear when we are merely talking to ourselves and confusing or alienating our audience.
Words are not only important because they convey meaning. They are also important because they create the contexts that define your reality. How and what you think is determined by the words you use and the meanings you give them. Those words form concepts and those concepts together create the world view that determines what you see and cannot see, what you value and what you discard. Let me give you an example. We are used to imagining that meditation changes world views, but in my experience these two are relatively unrelated. You can be a champion mediator and still hold world views that are antithetical to human development. I was good friends with John, a very dedicated meditator whose background was in Hindu Vedanta and Tibetan Buddhist approaches to meditation. He went to meditation workshops regularly; some of them were over a month long. He would meditate two to four hours a day, including in the middle of the night. My friend was also a stock trader, that is, a professional gambler. A committed libertarian, he did not believe in the minimum wage, in taxes, or in government regulations. He supported war and the apartheid policies of Israel. He believed in American exceptionalism. Why didn’t all that meditation change his political views and his understanding of human rights? The problem was that he had adopted a vocabulary of words and concepts that created a world view that provided the context in which he meditated. Like John, the words and concepts you use are either supportive of your further awakening or you have outgrown them and need to let you go. Which ones are which? How can you know?
Regarding the concepts that I think are conducive to enlightenment, those choices reflect my own level of development. As I continue to grow, I may well find that those things which I now view as conducive to enlightenment are not, just as I have with words and concepts which I once believed supported enlightenment that now are seen to be hindrances. What drove me to write this text was the yawning, widening gap between the words and concepts I grew up with and the view of life of emerging potentials that I have learned to interview using IDL, and which I have done my best to ignore, misunderstand, or discount for years. But slowly I have grown into appreciating intrinsic, relatively autonomous perspectives that are more simple, elegant, and intelligent than my own. In the process I have had to take a hard look at many words and assumptions that I have taken for granted most of my life. I make no claims that the conclusions I have reached are “right” or are suitable for you; we are all at different levels of development, and what we need at different stages is indeed different. However, most of us also need shocks to knock us out of the complacency of our present world view. That is what happens with many IDL interviews, and what I am attempting to encourage here.
IDL attempts to use words with clarity and objectivity, two qualities of waking up and enlightenment. It wants to use words that reflect not just an ability to think, but wisdom, and it wants those words to build both confidence and inner peace. At the same time, IDL is mindful that words and concepts can be used as weapons, and that clarity and objectivity need to be balanced with compassion and acceptance.
Words are tools that point to meanings, values, and uses. Choosing ones that point where you want to look is important if you want to find something. Choosing not to use words that are ambiguous or which are likely to lead others to make assumptions you do not share are not helpful. This is true particularly for words that have metaphysical referents, like “soul” and “spiritual,” that point well beyond the sensory world and toward the realities of an enlightened life. Consequently, set definite meanings for the words you use when you want to communicate clearly and let your listener know what those meanings are, to avoid ambiguity and confusion.
Eliminating words from your vocabulary that can get in the way of your development and instead using those that are more likely to support your development is a smart thing to do. However, most people do not do this although they think they do. They never question the meaning or clarity of the words they use, instead assuming, like Humpty-Dumpty, that their word usage is both clear and useful. Jews, Christians and Moslems, climate change deniers and new age fundamentalists typically do not question the words they use and the core concepts they represent, because they assume they are good, helpful, and “right,” But if most everyone does the same, yet they use different different words and concepts, or the same ones, but with different meanings, what is the result? Either words and concepts do not matter, or most people are blind to the importance of the words they use and the impact of the concepts they signify.
A study by Stanford University and the University of Chicago published in Current Anthropology has shown how culture impacts how people experience spirituality. Christians generate different kinds of spiritual experiences than Buddhists because their cultural understandings of both mental events and bodily sensations are different. Both have different meanings in different spiritual traditions. One person may feel a damp coldness and believe that a demon is present. Another person may shake uncontrollably and attribute this to the Holy Spirit. A third feels a light, floating sensation and associates it with a meditative state. These conclusions are those of Tanya Luhrmann, an anthropology professor at Stanford University. Her research examines how the presence of a specific cultural name for a mental or bodily sensation may affect that sensation within a specific cultural and social setting. The research findings reveal the importance of local culture on spiritual perceptions. Americans were more likely than Thai to report cataplexy (loss of muscular function), adrenaline rushes, and overwhelming emotion as spiritual experiences, and they were more likely to report everyday encounters with demons,”
“…if a spiritual experience has a specific name in the local religion, then the physiological sensation that is understood to be the sign of that experience is more likely to be reported to the researchers. For example, the adrenaline rush of a “Holy Spirit” experience is inherent to the evangelical Christian belief system. For a Buddhist, such a sensation is understood to be contrary to spiritual goals.” The research showed that different religions value different kinds of experiences. “Buddhism has no divinity, no omniscient presence. The goal for a Thai Buddhist is to detach and feel untethered from the cycle of suffering.” “Thai subjects were more likely to use an idiom of “weight” to describe their feelings of lightness and calm, which is often connected with meditation. “A mind that is concentrated (as it should be in meditation) is a mind and body that is light.” In contrast, evangelical spirituality in the United States is focused on encountering a specific being who touches followers through “presence.” “Overwhelming emotions that feel uncontrolled become signs of that divine being because the controlling agency is attributed to God.”
Luhrmann says that the way people think about spiritual experiences shape the spiritual experiences they remember and report. “Yet some bodies, either because of trauma or genetic inheritance, may be more likely to experience certain striking anomalous events often thought to be spiritual, like out-of-body experiences, or sleep paralysis, than others,” she says. All of this points to the importance of the words and concepts that we use, as part of our cultural context, in framing what is conducive or not conducive to enlightenment.
Words and concepts are necessary, extremely powerful tools, but some humans would rather fight and die than give up their favorite ones. Just like milk, tomatoes, and dog food, words and concepts have a shelf life. However, instead of being measured in days, they are generally measured in decades and, if unquestioned, generations. You have probably noticed that some people are much better at abandoning outgrown words and concepts than others. Most of us only give up outgrown words and concepts when we are assimilated into a culture that doesn’t use them. This most often happens in school and later in work environments. The move away from scripted language generally feels lighter, freer, and less encumbered. Loaded words from our childhood can evoke strong feelings and regressive ways of thinking. When words and concepts, like things, come to the end of their useful shelf life it is time to recycle them, re-purpose them, or simply give them the pitch. However most of us simply pigeonhole them when we move into new roles and life contexts. This means that they lie latent and unexamined, ready to frame communication when circumstances are right. This often happens with cross-cultural marriages or with people from different religious backgrounds. During the first stages of the relationship these differences are often ignored, avoided or are invisible. It is only when the relationship is stressed or new circumstances arise, such as when parents visit or decisions are to be made about what religion children should be raised in that underlying assumptions, worldviews and the words and concepts that reflect them surface and create confusion and conflict.
Clarity is like preparing land for a new garden or clearing ground for a new building. It creates space for new growth but it doesn’t create guarantees that what you will build will be of any value. For IDL, clarity is a core life process that is required for both balance and transformation but does not ensure either. It is associated with witnessing, luminosity, integration, and ontology, or the nature of the beingness of something. If you are not clear about your purposes, meanings, beliefs, intentions, and preferences in your own thoughts, how can you expect to communicate them clearly to others? If you cannot communicate them clearly to others, how can you expect to have mutual understanding? Think about someone you know well and ask yourself, “What’s important to them? Is it stated clearly or are their preferences simply conveyed non-verbally by what they do, their lifestyle and their reactions?” A good example is on-line dating. The clearer people are about who they are, warts and all, as well as what they both want and do not want in a partner, the less time they waste dealing with people who have unrealistic expectations. They are doing both themselves and others a big favor by being clear. So why is it so common for people to tell others what they think they want to hear instead of providing clarity in the form of truths that others are going to discover soon enough anyway?
Clarity is not the most important thing for most of us. Fear of rejection is typically much more important. We want acceptance, relaxation, love, fun, and friendship, and if we have these things, who needs clarity? We hope that by the time people wake up and realize we are not the product that was advertised that other reasons will keep them from returning the “product” and demanding a refund. This is the basic principle behind why people are not candid in their resumes and job interviews. They skew what they write based on what they think their potential employer is looking for, meaning that some traits and preferences that may affect job performance are typically hidden. Employment tests are designed to uncover these areas. The problem is that we all have assumptions and expectations about who others are, and when these clash, suddenly a crisis of clarity becomes unavoidable, and all the acceptance, relaxation, love, fun, and friendship in the world only shoves it back below the surface for a while. It won’t make it go away. Therefore, a bit of clarity at the front end is preventive medicine for relationships and ventures of all sorts. This explains why relationships based on shared purpose, direction, or vision are more likely to last than those based on eros, erotic love, or even philos, or friendship. IDL does not believe that clarity is more important than things like acceptance, relaxation, sex, comfort, fun, love, and friendship, but it believes it is as important. Therefore, clarity is important regarding concepts IDL thinks are and are not conducive to enlightenment.
It is impossible to be clear with others if you do not know what you want. How clear are you on your own goals? If you are clear, how do you know that your goals are reflective of those of your life compass? Do you just trust your intuition or do you have a methodology, like IDL, that allows you to access the goals of your life compass and compare them to your own? Clear goals protect you from depression by creating direction and therefore meaning in your life.
Clarity is directly related to intention. If your intentions are clear your actions are more likely to be clear as well. Remember, while we typically judge ourselves by our intentions, we judge others and others judge us primarily by our actions. Therefore, it is not enough to have clear intentions. Strive for focused and effective action that reflects your intentions clearly.
Wonderfulness is both hard to top or criticize. If someone is wonderful, for example a talented musician, physicist, or entrepreneur, aren’t they automatically credible? Wonderfulness naturally causes us to suspend our disbelief, and some people and pursuits can then coast for years on that wonderfulness, with people fiercely defending it without any interest in credibility. The thinking, to the degree that there is any, is often, “This is so wonderful it must be true!” We see this with people dazzled by actors, athletes, musicians, comedians, appearance, education or work experience. Such competencies blind us to underlying vital issues of credibility.
Expecting people to trust us just because we are wonderful, look or sound good asks people to listen to us, to be with us, for either partial or wrong reasons. The result is that we end up surrounded by people who are not particularly supportive to our growth and we don’t know why. Most of us would like to ignore credibility and just assume that others will find us trustworthy because our intentions are good. However, people want and need reasons to trust you and what you say. To expect that they should or will trust you just because you are funny or talented in one area is naive, but this is in fact the way most relationships work. We stay around people who make us laugh or feel good or who have some area of expertise that make us feel like we are with a special person or with someone who will make us secure because of their particular expertise. Being wonderful, charismatic or talented and being credible are different things, unfortunately, and being both is much better than only being one. You will find that most people have an innate preference for one or the other.
Because a person is strong in one area, like preaching or business, we assume they are strong in other areas, like morality or parenting. Why should we? Is there any correlation at all between those developmental lines and roles? Credibility is associated with validity, truth claims, epistemology, and most importantly, what we do. People may initially trust you due to what you say, but in the long run you will lose their trust if your actions conflict with what you say. A simple and common example is keeping your word, which means learning not to over-commit yourself. From the standpoint of earning and keeping one’s trust, fundamental to your credibility, it is far better to be non-committal than to make a commitment and not follow through.
However, it is also true that many people think of trust and credibility in global terms. That is, if you are trustworthy in one important area, then you are either trustworthy in all areas or else other areas in which you are not trustworthy are ignored or overlooked. For example, some women will ignore or overlook pernicious forms of untrustworthiness in men if they are wealthy; employers routinely overlook unfairness in their place of work or predatory practices because their work gives them money and status. Many citizens routinely overlook the criminality of their own government. It is important to evaluate trust and credibility in different areas, recognizing that people, companies and governments that are untrustworthy in some areas may be extremely trustworthy and credible in others. This is why it is such a waste to imprison the vast majority of criminals. Society loses the benefit of their various strengths and competencies because of one area that is so grievous that it concludes that the individual simply cannot be trusted. This is rarely the case. We can see that with dogs. Because they may not be allowed near children does not mean that they cannot be excellent dogs in other situations. We need to remember to evaluate the credibility of each other in a similar way. Instead, if we are hurt by someone once, in one area, we tend to insulate ourselves from further hurt by exiling the person completely from our lives. This is generally a loss for us, as that person represents a part of ourselves that we are disowning, as well as a loss for the other person. Out of our anger or fear we are punishing disproportionately.
At the same time, it is important to remember that people, companies and governments that trustworthy in some areas may be extremely untrustworthy in others. What generally happens is that once we decide to trust someone or some institution various rationalizations kick in to validate our decision. We end up ignoring or minimizing untrustworthy behavior that in time, though guilt by association, will undermine our own credibility. What this means is that we must constantly monitor how and why we trust both others and ourselves. Are we too trusting? Are we not trusting enough?
Instead of emphasizing the communal, egalitarian embrace of cosmic love and light, credibility focuses on the mid-personal skill of asking questions and making discriminations. “How do I know this is good for me, besides the fact that it feels good and I like it?” “How do I know if it is likely to stand the test of time?” If people don’t ask such questions about others, businesses, governments and paths to enlightenment they should, because the road to waking up leads through reason, the rational, and the credible. To attempt to become enlightened without developing good criteria by which you determine if something or someone is credible, or to do so without developing credibility yourself, is naive.
Developing credibility is not easy, nor should it be. Many people assess the prevailing societal standards for credibility, rightly conclude that they don’t meet them, and so go about creating their own standards for credibility and then surround themselves with people who accept them. I have witnessed this with many aspects of New Age thinking and pursuits, and I will take lucid dreaming as an example. There is a certain sector of interest out there that assumes that the capacity to lucid dream implies enlightenment. It doesn’t, but if a person lacks normal measures of credibility, being able to say they lucid dream can supply an impressive patina of same in some circles. Because people get validation within their group they think they have credibility; it is all of those unwashed goats on the outside that lack credibility. This is how religions and all sorts of groups get formed. Someone has an idea that makes them special. They find others that agree. Groupthink becomes an echo chamber that cuts out dissent and with it creativity. The result is that groups and businesses of all sorts start to fossilize almost as fast as they are created.
I can certainly relate to this. As a boy I was uncoordinated and socially awkward, so I wasn’t going to be accepted or valued based on either my sports or communication abilities. My answer was to take refuge in areas that nobody knew about and, even if they did, were difficult if not impossible to validate, like dreams, meditation, the psychic, and all things holistic. Since nobody knew what I was talking about, since these were relatively new fields in the 1960’s, how could they judge whether I was credible or not? If there is no standard of truth, how can one fail? While I went on to get my credibility card punched by society in some of the expected and appropriate ways, I have never put so much value or worth in credibility, as judged by society. But that is probably something of a mistake, because credibility is generally necessary to make money in order to eat or just to get people to listen to you. Your horizons are definitely going to be more limited when your credibility is not validated by society, and telling yourself that social criteria of credibility really aren’t the important forms of validation generally doesn’t get one very far. You will tend to bump up against barriers of income and power that can not only stop you from making your dreams come true but reduce your ability to help others to do the same.
Many people extend this hunt for credibility to using buzz words that make people feel good. When your goal is to get people to like you or to buy whatever services you are selling, you will probably do better if you use signal words that indicate that you are a member of the same cultural club. But what if the common language is confusing, misleading, and unhelpful? Do you use it anyway, because acceptance and apparent empathy are more important than clarity and usefulness? IDL encourages you to not duck this issue; do whatever you can to build your credibility, but do it for the right reasons. Don’t do it to be loved, accepted, or even respected. Do it because you respect the need of others to not only expect but demand that you have credibility in areas that are important to them. Honor that expectation. Don’t expect people to just trust you because you’re wonderful.
It is also not helpful to get hung up on establishing credibility, in an attempt to get other people to listen to you and respect you. Everyone expects you to try to prove how credible you are, by sounding scientific and being quantum everything, for instance. If instead of attempting to impress people you go out of your way to prove how non-credible you are, people will tend to relax out of credibility games and go into learning mode. Because they are so completely disarming, stupidity and ignorance are two excellent ways to develop your credibility. Psychological research has shown that doing or saying something that is stupid immediately builds connection, because everyone already knows that they are stupid and they are afraid you will discover just how stupid they really are. When you do or say something stupid it takes all the pressure off them. Similarly, asking questions is an excellent way to establish your ignorance, to be disarming and establish your credibility as someone interested in listening, all at once. These methods work particularly well if you have already given people reasons to trust you, such as some short biography. It is enough to establish conditions by which credibility can be determined and invite people to understand those conditions, see if they are satisfactory, and then to judge you and what you say and do by those conditions. This is basic to both the empirical method and yogas of all kinds. It is what makes IDL a type of yoga. All along the educational path, encourage people to not believe you, to challenge you, to demand that you explain why they should believe you. Fundamentally, with IDL you can say, “Don’t believe me. Do the method. Draw your own conclusions.” The implication is that if people aren’t willing to do the method themselves, then their opinions about it are not credible.
Adaptability at Different Levels of Development
All of the following words and concepts, both conducive and not conducive to enlightenment, are cognitive distortions. They differ in their adaptability at different levels of development, their intrinsic value or destructiveness, and in their type. For example, the concept of gun ownership makes sense when you need to hunt for food. For sport, guns make sense for skeet shooting, but not so much for killing harmless animals for fun. In urban cultures, gun ownership makes almost no sense whatsoever, as statistics show that gun owners themselves and their family members are by far the most likely victims of gun violence. This is an example of not only a behavior – gun ownership – but a conceptualization about life and its values, that makes sense at early to mid pre-personal levels of development, but quickly loses both value and validity the more individuals and cultures evolve into personal stages.
IDL believes that every word and concept has an “expiration date,” or a level of development by which it becomes invalid as a way to explain who you are and how life works. Some concepts are harder to outgrow and remain useful through the three personal levels of development and perhaps even a bit beyond, into multi-perspectivalism. These are those which IDL is here advocating as “conducive to enlightenment.” Many common concepts, however, lose their usefulness much earlier, but are retained because they are habits. How can you tell the difference?
Some Ways of Determining the Usefulness of a Word or Concept
“Does It Have Intrinsic Worth or Am I Just Addicted?”
Compare addictions to coffee, alcohol, nicotine and breathing. While there is no doubt that you have a dependency on oxygen, most would not classify it as an addiction because it is both healthy and unavoidable, while addictions are normally defined as unhealthy and avoidable. This is not necessarily so. For instance, William Glasser, creator of Reality therapy, explores positive addictions, activities that are good for you that produce addictive endorphin highs, like running and meditation. However, addiction generally implies that we are doing something it would be better if we did not, but is it ever better for us not to breathe? There are some yogis who might say so and breathing underwater without a respirator is not recommended. IDL teaches observation and amplification of the pauses after both inhalation and exhalation as a powerful way to cultivate luminosity, emptiness, clarity, objectivity and creativity in everyday life. However, if we were to view breathing as an addiction, it would certainly be categorized as an essential and highly adaptive one.
This becomes obvious when it is compared to coffee and certainly to alcohol or nicotine. While breathing is a totally justified dependency, nicotine comes close to being a completely unjustifiable one, in that its adaptive disadvantages so completely outweigh its many and strong adaptive advantages. For example, the adaptive advantages of smoking as a stress management tool for smokers is not to be under-estimated. Many will tell you smoking is the first, strongest, and most important stress management tool they have.
Smoking gives us a clear example of how adaptive value is almost completely different from inherent destructiveness. Colonization is an another example of a social-cultural concept that had high value for many societies for several centuries, but which is overwhelmingly destructive. Externalization of social and environmental costs is a fundamental principle that allows capitalism to work; because it makes money and creates jobs it is highly addictive on socio-cultural macrocosmic levels of organization. This is another powerful example of how something that is inherently destructive can have such high adaptive value that it serves as an almost unbreakable addiction.
Is it a Cognitive Distortion?
Cognitive distortions are things we tell ourselves that we believe are true, but aren’t. IDL differentiates three broad types or categories of cognitive distortion, emotional, rational and perceptual.
Emotional Cognitive Distortions
Emotional cognitive distortions are fundamental sources of both anxiety and depression, the two most common mental disorders. Varieties of anxiety and depression evolve as we do, becoming more sophisticated as we grow. However, whenever they are experienced, at whatever level of development we are on, they act as either agents of regression to prior levels of development or keep us fixated at our current level. The elimination of emotional cognitive disorders, as pioneered by Ellis, Beck, and Burns, has been shown to be an effective therapeutic intervention for both anxiety and depression. It is based on the idea that your thoughts create how you feel. Therefore, if you change how you think about your feelings, transforming irrational thoughts into rational ones, you will greatly reduce emotional disturbances of all sorts. Because identification with emotions is strongest at the mid-prepersonal level of development, this type of intervention is most effective with people who are either functioning at mid-prepersonal or who have emotional fixations, in which parts of their personality still function at mid-prepersonal, even if they are Rhodes Scholars or Nobel Prize winners.
Examples of emotional cognitive distortions include black and white thinking, over-generalization, jumping to conclusions, catastrophizing, fortune-telling, and personalization. Identifying and eliminating emotional cognitive distortions is itself a powerful example of how the words that you use and the concepts that they evoke are either conducive to enlightenment or keep you firmly chained to the back bench of Plato’s cave. For example, it is impossible to use a number of common words, including “should,” ought,” “blame,” “must,” “always,” “never” and “can’t” without generating anxiety, depression or both. They are also signals that you are caught in the persecutor or victim role of the Drama Triangle. A description of each of the emotional cognitive distortions, including examples of their use and of substitute, rational statements, can be found in Waking Up, by this author. The best general introduction to the subject is Feeling Good, The New Mood Therapy, by David Burns.
Rational Cognitive Distortions
Rational cognitive distortions are also called formal or logical fallacies. These are logical errors in the rules of thinking. A very common example is to assume that because Einstein is brilliant at physics that he must be an expert at ballet. The reverse of this is to assume that because a person is a criminal that they do not have strong positive attributes. Another is to assume that because we like someone that they must be a good person, or because we don’t like some food that it must be bad for us.
Rational cognitive distortions are almost always in the service of emotional cognitive distortions. For example, in arguments it is normal for someone to try to change the subject, generally from what they did to what you did or didn’t do. Their motivation is typically an emotional response to a perceived threat, disguised as a principled argument. As discussed below, conspiracy theorists usually make the rational cognitive distortion of ignoring Occam’s Razor, that is, refusing to favor the simplest explanation that covers the available information.
To use rational cognitive distortions you have to know how to think somewhat, and the better you are at thinking the more skillful you are likely to be at using them. Rational cognitive distortions can get very sophisticated, as in the rational manipulations used by high-functioning narcissistic personality disordered individuals or in the advertising of products and services in which we have a vested interest but which have little or no rational justification. Examples include the weapons and gambling industries, the oil and gas industries, nuclear power, capitalism, austerity and trickle-down economics, and the entirety of the global financial system. All of these are based on rational cognitive distortions that are supported by sophisticated arguments made by very intelligent people using statistical and empirical studies in peer-reviewed journals. For example, the rational arguments that support the global gas and oil industry ignore the fact that dirty fuels create global warming that is driving many species extinct and creating multiple, massive disasters for humans. The rational arguments for generating revenues for schools from gambling ignore the high social costs to taxpayers of gambling. Austerity economics, globally used in justification of “trickle down” neoconservative plutocracy, is another common and pervasive example. News reports in the mainstream media is a continuous assault on rationality, supplying multiple case studies in the power and sophistication of rational cognitive distortions. Simply consider the premises on which almost any statement in the news is based. When you do, you will find that the rational cognitive distortions you encounter generally boil down to some personal, financial or security interest, which are forms of emotional cognitive distortion.
Perceptual Cognitive Distortions
Both emotional and rational cognitive distortions are in the service of the broadest of the three categories, perceptual cognitive distortions, or world views. These can be thought of as both personal and cultural mythologies, or systems of truth that are so pervasive that individuals and cultures cannot easily see beyond them. Even if they can, there are generally strong societal pressures to support the prevailing myths.
Perceptual cognitive distortions are generally not optional; everyone has them. They are rarely coherent or articulated because we are so subjectively enmeshed in them that we are unaware of the biases, prejudices and delusions that they contain. A perceptual cognitive distortion is a worldview that is justified as being “just the way the world is.” The worldview of capitalism, in which the “invisible hand” of the market generates both social balance and general prosperity when each person works to maximize their personal profit, is an economic justification of a worldview based on selfishness. Because a word for “religion” did not exist in traditional China, since religion was not differentiated from culture and life. Consequently, it was impossible for the Chinese to recognize how their religious words and concepts created a massive, shared perceptual cognitive distortion. Questioning someone’s perceptual framework is dangerous business because it is a core, primary source of life meaning and self-identification. People think they are their perceptual cognitive distortions. If you question someone’s livelihood as being a form of predatory capitalism they will feel you are attacking them, since they have made a commitment of great time, effort and status into their particular career choice. Whatever your perceptual worldview or context is, it defines who you are, whether you recognize it or not, whether you want it to or not. However, which ones you have and the extent to which you allow them to define you are optional, but only if they are first recognized, and that is a fundamental reason why this subject is important to IDL and why this text was written.
One of the most common and pervasive perceptual cognitive distortions and one that we shall discuss below, is geocentrism, in which the Earth is the center of the cosmos. Historically, it is associated with the Ptolemaic world view, but it is much more basic and older than that. It is pervasive because it is embedded in sensory awareness; every living organism on the planet assumes its truth on a biological level in one way or another, beginning with the importance of gravity. Therefore, there are strong physiological reasons to believe the perceptual cognitive distortion that the sun rises and sets. Circadian rhythms rely on it; culture and societies are built on the assumption of its reality.
Because our senses all validate the reality of the geocentric distortion, for most of history anyone who questioned its truth was obviously crazy. All one had to do is look up to know the truth. Geocentrism was so simple and obvious that every child experienced it, and that was exactly the problem. Strong personal experience creates a word view or perceptual cognitive distortion that ignores both objectivity and contradictory information. Perceptual cognitive distortions like geocentrism are generally deeply engrained from early childhood. We do not remember a time when we did not have them. Therefore, they have been central to successful adaptation in our lives. If you question or change a perceptual cognitive distortion you call into question all the adaptive strategies that are built on it or around it. How could such an enterprise not be highly threatening?
To those at mid-personal and beyond in their level of development, learning to recognize and question the assumptions behind one’s perceptual cognitive distortions is an interesting exercise in intellectual curiosity, if nothing else. This is because from this level and the next couple of levels, identity is not defined by concepts, but by thinking about concepts. In fact, this is one way to roughly evaluate your level of development as you read this text. If you find that you have strong emotional reactions to what you read, it may be a symptom of a pre-personal level of development or an emotional fixation that is holding you back. If you find yourself thinking about intellectual reasons why some word or emotion is still adaptive for you and therefore necessary, you are probably at mid-personal or below. If you find yourself intellectually curious, you are probably at mid to late personal in your development. If you find yourself amused at discovering how enmeshed you are in some distortion in ways you hadn’t realized, you are probably at late personal or multi-perspectival vision-logic.
However, if you find that you are likely perched on a higher branch of the developmental tree, remember that your fixations define you. It is not your strongest line of development, such as your intellect, that defines your overall level of development, but your weakest. That vulnerability acts on your overall development like wearing a pair of lead boots. Your favorite vulnerability may be an addiction or it may be a career in something that is unethical or heart-destroying that generates too much income and status for you to leave. It may be a relationship that offers you too much stability and security to leave. This is a common problem found with people who understand Wilber’s AQAL model. Because their world view is multiperspectival and they understand the transpersonal with its three levels of experiential union and the non-dual beyond, they assume their overall development must have reached those heights as well. This is a rational cognitive distortion based on an emotional wish to be more evolved. But your level of development is not determined by your cognitive grasp of ideas but by the center of gravity of at least four major developmental lines: self, empathetic, ethical, and cognitive. You need to figure out which is your weakest major line and strengthen it if you want to move ahead. If you do not address it and instead minimize it, you will stay fixated at your present level of development.
Like Humpty-Dumpty, it is selfish and elitist to define words in ways that work for us and expect everyone else to accept our definitions of them. This is particularly true when commonly used words are defined in ways that are unusual. While IDL does not claim to be right or to have the final say about any of the following words and concepts or their usages, evaluating these preferences is a helpful way to understanding why IDL is the way it is, why it works, and where it will take you.
IDL is an evolving integral life practice, and what makes sense today will probably not make so much sense tomorrow. So don’t take any of these definitions too seriously; just suspend your disbelief and ask yourself, “What would be the result if I approached my world using this word in this way instead of the way I have been using it?” “How might it change my world if I stopped using certain words and conceptions that I take for granted and started using these recommended ones instead?” We will begin with the less threatening topic of this text: words and concepts that are conducive to enlightenment
Some Words and Concepts that Are Conducive to Enlightenment
“Harmony,” homeostasis,” “the middle way,” “yin and yang,” and “the golden mean,” are common ways of talking about a quality that is so intrinsic to life that it is normally taken for granted. Balance implies a dualism of activity, if not thinking, and often both. In order to have balance, you have to have a minimum of two factors, forces, or elements that are in some way oppositional. Life is continuously balancing an enormous variety of factors, far too many to count or keep in one’s awareness. For example, your cells are pushing outward with the same fourteen pounds per square inch of pressure that the atmosphere is constantly pressing in against them with. This is a powerful dualism, conflict and homeostasis that is so fundamental that we are completely oblivious to it. Another is our breathing. Inhalation is matched with exhalation. Notice that it most oppositions that create balance do not rise to the level of conflict. Do your inhalations fight with your exhalations? Normally, no. Our inhalations and exhalations are normally balanced, out of our awareness, whether we are aware of them or not.
The sophistication and pervasiveness of constant balancing in physiological, behavioral, interpersonal, cultural, and psychological realms is so pervasive that we normally reduce it to the balancing of just one or two factors, such as love and fear, wisdom and ignorance, negentropy and entropy, or peace and chaos. In a Manichean dualism, everything “good” or desirable gets lumped together as examples of a “positive” polarity while everything “bad” or undesirable is placed under a “negative” one. However, homeostasis demonstrates that both are equally necessary, which means that “bad” and undesirable qualities are inherently as important and desirable, if balance is to be maintained. This perspective is reinforced in IDL by the experience of interviewed emerging potentials as wake up calls. Siva, the god of destruction pictured above, serves this purpose within Hinduism. Another word for the ability to see conflict as balance within a greater whole is “contextualization.” Whenever you back off from any conflict and observe the interdependence of each pole, you have contextualized, objectified, and depersonalized an opposition. You observe it as a representation of some type of higher-order balance. Both “bad” and “good” are recognized as relative to your context; broaden your perspective and what looked preferable and what you wanted to reject, now appear equally worthy of respect. The ultimate, pure, and perfect qualities are relativized while the secular, impure, and corrupted qualities are re-evaluated in a more positive light.
Some people use this principle to conclude that nothing matters or as proof that everything, when seen from the “right” perspective, is in divine order. This is not the conclusion of IDL. It does not use the contextualization of conflict as a way to rationalize it away, ignore it, or pretend it does not really matter. This is because IDL interviewing demonstrates that elements produce low scores for a purpose. It may be to emphasize areas that you need to work on and that will not go away if you simply rationalize an associated conflict. It may be to demonstrate that internal conflict within a particular perspective, indicated by a combination of low and high scores, makes the interviewed character what it is. You discover this when the element is asked how it would be if it scored all tens. It is not unusual to hear it say that it either does not want to change or that it would cease to exist as itself if it did. It has a function to wake you up to certain perspectives and possibilities in its current configuration and resists changing into a pattern that represents the resolution of differences, oppositions or conflict.
You can’t live and grow without the distinctions that the dualities of language create and allow, but if you allow them to define you they eventually stop your development; they will trap you in a web of intrinsic, self-made delusion. This is why dualisms are both necessary, yet destructive. Philosophers and religionists have attempted to resolve this dilemma by creating monisms that say, “dualisms and evil are delusions; what is real is sacred and good.” Although experience clearly indicates that a multiplicity of balancing factors exist and are important, many people and spiritual traditions strongly resist juggling a number of oppositions. They tend to dismiss multiplicity as obscuring the “real” meaning of life, which is “love,” or “wisdom,” or “peace.” At prepersonal levels of development we just can’t seem to wrap our brains around the simple, fundamental reality of a profusion of fundamental oppositional and balancing forces at work in the cosmos. It feels like conceptual polytheism, and we want monism. But monisms discount life by ignoring the fact that both dualisms and delusions exist for a good reason: to wake life up to itself. The classical attempts to resolve this dilemma fail because they look at balance and dualism from the perspective of humanity, not from the perspectives of life itself.
Buddhism provides a notable exception in that it enumerates not one “real” or “true” reality, but seven factors that it says are “conducive to enlightenment:” These are mindfulness (sati), keen investigation of the dhamma (dhammavicaya), energy (viriya), rapture or happiness (piti), calm (passaddhi), concentration (samadhi), and equanimity (upekkha). Notice that this is not a reductive explanation: it isn’t saying that “love is all you need,” or that “wisdom” or “compassion” is the answer. While it is true that Buddhism, if pressed, will boil the cause of suffering down to ignorance and tell you its solution is attainment of nirvana brought about by wisdom, it prefers to provide multiple causes and multiple, interacting and balancing processes that produce awakening, liberation, or enlightenment. IDL shares this bias. In fact, it insists on it.
IDL notes that in developmental psychology black and white thinking is associated with personality disorders, mid-prepersonal levels of development, and cognitive distortion. The ability to hold several contradictory ideas in one’s mind at the same time, to tolerate ambiguity and non-rationality, are competencies that generally require years and a good education to develop. If you do a reality check with most adults you know, you probably won’t find many with a refined capacity for any of these things. Humpty-Dumpty is simpler; he makes more sense, because nonsense is easier to understand.
Balance becomes a problem when it becomes an inertial state from which we cannot escape. When this happens balance is called “habit” or addiction.” There then exists a stable state that resists change and may or may not be destructive. This is why development requires a dialectic interplay between balance and transformation. If we do not question these adaptive balances ourselves, by listening to and following wake-up calls, circumstances may at some point violently eject us from our complacency.
In addition, IDL emphasizes balance because it is a core reality that shows up repeatedly in interviews. This balance is not C.G. Jung’s compensatory theory of dreaming, in which dreams balance out, or compensate for, waking delusions. Instead, each interviewed emerging potential is found to have its own homeostasis, its own equilibrium, and it is generally more refined than that of waking identity. For example, IDL finds that it is impossible to have peace of mind and drama at the same time. As drama increases, peace of mind decreases; as drama decreases, peace of mind increases. Most interviewed emerging potentials are found to be relatively free of drama, which means that they are relatively balanced in relationship to waking identity. This alone is sufficient reason to pay careful attention to what they have to say and what they recommend.
“Integral” implies not only integration but multi-functional. Instead of one answer, you have a multitude; instead of one definition of being (ontology), you have many. An integral approach celebrates a cacophony of variables and dimensions that create life and value. IDL endorses variables intrinsic to Ken Wilber’s AQAL model. An integral approach considers level of development, states that are involved, the four quadrants of invested holons, the various lines and the style of development. This is a multi-perspectival approach, resembling the facets of a diamond. IDL is a particular variety of integral because it emphasizes a phenomenological transpersonal empiricism. This is demonstrated by its non-evaluation of the reality status of interviewed elements, which it calls “emerging potentials.” It is also unusual in that it is not psychologically geocentric. For example, in setting up an integral life practice, goals are determined in consultation with interviewed emerging potentials and subjected to triangulation, rather than being simply the expression of waking preferences.
Listening is perhaps it is the most fundamental and important measurement of respect. Respectful listening does not require agreement; you can strongly disagree and still be a good listener. All that is required is that you can demonstrate that you can accurately summarize what a person said. You get extra points if you can also accurately describe what the other person is feeling beneath their words.
Most people do not listen at all, much less listen deeply. Listening can be operationally defined as the ability to accurately paraphrase back what a person has said. If you can do so, to the reasonable satisfaction of the speaker, you can be said to be a good listener. If you cannot paraphrase adequately, you are not a good listener. Most people think they are good listeners but are not able to repeat back what others have said to them, because instead of listening they are thinking about what they are going to say next. It is only when we are held accountable, by actually having to paraphrase back what another has said, that we discover whether we are a good listener or not.
As important, vital and fundamental as these skills are, they are not deep listening. As defined by IDL, deep listening involves the extension of respect to all others, including imaginary elements such as dream characters and the personifications of important life issues. The reason this is as important as it is radical is that it breaks down dualisms of all sorts. Our normal distinctions between real and imaginary, sacred and profane, useful and useless, more evolved and less evolved, better and worse, good and bad, beautiful and ugly, desirable and undesirable are suspended. Because these distinctions are important and useful much of the time it does not follow that they are important and useful all of the time. On the contrary, if we do not create spaces in our lives where these dualisms no longer apply they take over our lives and crush the perception of non-dualism, except in extraordinary circumstances, such as under the influence of hallucinogens or during near death or mystical experiences. This process that IDL uses for neutralizing this tyranny of dualisms may look irrational but it is not a frivolous or irrational process. Because the IDL interviewing protocol is based on a highly rational, well-thought out methodology and transcends the rational, it is a transrational process. This matters, because prerational processes create different consequences from rational processes and transrational processes create different outcomes from both prerational and rational ones. The problem is that until or unless one has developed to the place where they have experienced and can recognize the difference between these three the psychologically geocentric conceit is that there is no higher, more developed level than the one that has been attained. This is called reductionism. What makes IDL transrational is that it includes but transcends both prerational and the rational modes of consciousness. It does so by generating non-dual multi-perspectivalism through the interviewing process, as is evidenced by the thinning of the self and the development of significant levels of both witnessing and empathy. While any of these can be present as developed lines at any of the three personal levels of development, it is highly unlikely that all of them will be well developed at anything less than a transrational level of development.
It is important to make very, very clear that just because IDL is a transpersonal modality that affords opportunities for transrational experience there is no guarantee that those who use the process will develop into such levels, and it is much more likely that instead something much more important happens: people balance and integrate at the level of development that they currently occupy. The reason this is so important is that such balance and integration is a pre-requisite for healthy higher level development. If you attempt to storm the gates of heaven through blasting open chakras with drugs, breath work, asceticism or mystical experiences, you will not succeed in increasing your average level of development. You can only do so by supporting and integrating your lagging or fixated lines, whatever they may be. IDL has been shown to be an effective way to do so.
However, the effectiveness of this process is entirely dependent on learning to listen in a deep and integral way. This listening is deep because it is extraordinarily empathetic, in that it takes any and all perspectives without predisposition or prejudice and respectfully gives them voice. This creates a depth of listening that is both rare and precious.
What could be more important than finding and following your life compass? If you were like me, your life was made unnecessarily difficult both as a child and into adult life because you had no strong center from which to evaluate the constant pressure from parents, teachers, peers, partners, and employers. IDL uses “life compass” to refer to a changing, authentic, nurturing, constantly available point of reference that you can rely on to steer you through the storms of your life.
Traditionally, other terms, such as “soul,” “Self,” “God” (as indwelling, or immanent), “inner voice,” “intuition,” the “divine,” or the “sacred” have served this purpose. Each is useful in certain contexts and not so useful in others. Some of them we will discuss below and give our reasons why earlier developmental stages they become less conducive to enlightenment.
Terms like “soul” and “self” are psychologically geocentric in that they make life, growth, and enlightenment “all about me” and my freedom, bliss, and consciousness. I seek my nirvana, samadhi, and liberation. This is a shamanic, pre personal perspective that is authentic, natural, and valid in the childhood of life. Terms like “God” point to a “something” or “someone” that is real, eternal, and all-inclusive. The experience of Integral Deep Listening, on the other hand, discloses contexts within contexts, called “holons,” that continuously beckon us on, to be more than we are without implying a static, transcendent state or beings of Truth, Love, and completion. Terms like “divine,” “sacred,” and “spirit” are problematic because they imply dualism and a reality that includes the non-divine, the profane, and that which is not spiritual: evil, sin, and abuse. Similarly, “life compass” is not intuition or “inner voice,” because these imply a belief that you know what is true, right, or real, based on something akin to psychic ability. Have you ever met someone who bases their life on their intuition? They just “know,” because their intuition tells them so, and because they know, it is their experience and their truth, which is not to be questioned or challenged without questioning and challenging them. They take your questions as personal attacks! Appeals to intuition are often a way to say, “Don’t question my belief about this; I know it is true and if you question it you are insulting me!” We see this mentality in True Believers of all kinds, but generally have a hard time seeing it in ourselves. In addition, tests of intuition have shown that it does not operate above and beyond chance or random variation. That does not mean that intuition cannot be accurate, just as chance does not mean you cannot or will not win the lottery. Unlike appeals to intuition, Integral Deep Listening invites questioning and challenging. It invites disbelief and encourages personal verification.
Unlike many other terms for an internal source of guidance, such as “soul,” “intuition,” and “God,” “life compass” has the advantage of not being a scripted part of the accepted family and cultural heritage that you grew up accepting. For IDL, your “life compass” exists only as a conceptual tool, a place holder, for your stable center, without implying the reality or existence of a “you” that possesses a center. The life compass has no ontological reality for IDL, because it is not a distinct “thing,” “self,” or “place.” Instead, it is meant to point toward an experiential reality inferred by the confluence of multiple perspectives of many interviewed emerging potentials. An analogy would be to a hurricane, which indeed has a center around which it forms and which gives it structure. However, notice that the center of a hurricane is empty. It can be so large that small planes can fly over the top and into the central “eye” or “life compass” of the hurricane.
The winds of the storm have no identity. They are an impermanent, temporary, ad hoc collection of forces that manifest in a form that we call “hurricane” to differentiate it from “tree,” sky,” or “smile.” However, like a smile, a hurricane is essentially a process, not a thing. Like a hurricane, a smile, and your life compass, you too are essentially a process, not a thing. This is a reality that becomes clear over multiple IDL interviews. You start to experience that your identity is no different than that of the imaginary mushrooms and skunks that you interview – empty.
The analogy of a diamond is another useful way to understand how IDL uses the concept of “life compass.” This is because a diamond is clear and has no single, “right,” or “perfect” way to be viewed. Its essence is to be a paradox of clarity and hardness, of harmonious stability and a riot of colors and facets.
Your life compass is similar. It is clear, like the air within the eye of a hurricane, yet it is extraordinarily solid, durable, and stable. It is harmonious, like the light from a prism, or the proportions of the fibonacci curve that appear naturally everywhere in nature, and yet, upon close examination, it is a chaos of minor, individual imperfections. There is no such thing as a perfect diamond, or a perfect facet of a diamond; similarly, there is no perfection within your life compass, nor is it “your” life compass. It more appropriately is understood to belong to life, with “you” being a convenient figment of your imagination which, when taken as real, becomes your prison. An excellent description of how the delusion of self comes to be, how it works, and what is to be done about it can be found in The Atman Project, by Ken Wilber.
The concept of life compass grows out of direct experience with countless interviews of dream characters and the personifications of waking life issues of all sorts, using the IDL interviewing protocols. A consensus of perspectives, values, and recommendations emerges when you do enough of these interviews that points toward a shared reality that is prior to any form or particular value. This shared context derived from innumerable interviews provides you with a personal, experiential, and genuine definition of what your life compass is and is not.
“Life compass” points to a perspective that encompasses traditional distinctions, such as between the real and imaginary, the inner and the outer, the sacred and the profane. The more that you learn to look at your life from the perspective of the life compass, the less imprisoned you are by these dualisms. They continue to exist, but merely as tools that you use to communicate, not as autonomously existing realities. This is a basic reason why some common terms are found to no longer be so conducive to enlightenment, regardless of how useful and important they may have been at earlier stages of development.
Wake Up Calls
“Emerging potential” is the name IDL gives to interviewed dream characters and personifications of life issues, as well as to these perspectives when you become them on subsequent occasions. To “become” them means to identify with them and to look out at the world with their point of view instead of your own. If they have no eyes, like a lamp post, you experience the world from their perspective, not yours. IDL does not encourage the suppression or repression of your identity, but merely its suspension in order to temporarily assume another perspective. You choose to do so during interviews because the perspective personifies a life issue that is important to you and that you want to resolve. You are encouraged to become the emerging potential later, after the interview, because it has either felt liberating, claims to be transformative, or has recommended that you suspend your disbelief and trust it as an experiment, in order to test its efficacy.
Therefore, emerging potentials are not things any more than a perspective is a thing. They are neither real nor imaginary, internal or external, just as these categories do not apply to qualities like tall or open. While we may say that we “have” a perspective, it is also true that perspectives have us. Indeed, this second comment is closer to the truth, and the possession of us by our perspectives can either be transformative or our undoing. IDL approaches this as a third type of cognitive distortion, along with emotional and rational types, called perceptual distortions. They create delusional contexts which make waking up almost impossible. For example, we have seen how geocentrism is a perceptual distortion that validates a psychologically geocentric worldview. As long as geocentrism was the assumed perceptual context for humans, evolving beyond psychological geocentrism was almost inconceivable.
As a rule of thumb, those perspectives with which you have identified, and which become the core, habitual, assumed roles that comprise your sense of self, your social, cultural, and psychological identities, possess you. You don’t have them, in that your identity is a subset of their existence and reality. Without those perspectives, your sense of self does not exist. They are the “glue” that hold you together.
Perspectives that lie outside of, or are different from your core, habitual, and assumed roles tend to be liberating when you empathize with them and look at your life from their point of view. This is because they include your sense of self, since they are extensions of your perceptual reality, and therefore “know” you, yet they transcend your sense of who you are in that they add their own unique, individual perspective with its own gradations of core qualities, to your own. This is why they are called potentials. They present possibilities for your identity that you can choose to either grow into or ignore. They are emerging because they are not yet who you are. You quickly forget them and fall back into your normal waking sleep walking existence. However, the more that you return to any one or to a variety of them, the more these potentials emerge and the more they are assimilated into a broader, more effective, less afraid, more inclusive and balanced, sense of self.
With enough of this, your sense of who you are becomes a joke, and example of cosmic humor, and your attachment to it a source of endless hilarity. You take on more of the sense of self possessed by the air you breathe, outer space, the spaces between notes in a song, sunshine, or a smile. But because life doesn’t discriminate, your sense of self also becomes more like that possessed by a block of granite, spit, the smell of a skunk, and a decaying corpse. Life does not define itself by such things; why should you?
Observation of Breath
IDL refuses to reduce reality to one over-riding concept, perspective, or entity, like love, not only because to do so sets up a basic dualism, but because doing so does not provide sufficient tools for development. Instead, IDL looks at something as fundamental and sensory as breathing, notices that it contains at least six separate parts, stages, or elements, and that each of these balance the others. These six stages are abdominal inhalation, chest inhalation, the pause between inhalation and exhalation, chest exhalation, abdominal exhalation, and the pause between exhalation and inhalation. Each of these parts, stages, or elements can be correlated with basic life characteristics that are themselves correlated with basic developmental stages or octaves. These are processes, qualities, transformational affect, devotional affirmation, emptying of self and the perspective of life itself. These processes are awakening, aliveness, balance, detachment, freedom, and clarity. You can give them different names, but there is no denying that each of these six components of breathing has a different feel and function, and that each has its opposite in the round of each breath. Further, each of these six parts, stages, or elements evoke unique qualities. IDL calls them confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing. Again, you may give them different names, but the point is that if you look at each of these components of the cycle of any breath, you will discover that each of the six has not only its own processes but also its own distinct quality or qualities, and that those qualities are in oppositional balance to opposing parts of the cycle.
The six forms of transformational affect are abundance, joy, awareness, cosmic humor, trans-rationality and luminosity. The six characteristics of devotional affirmation are ineffable; they transcend naming but are instead pure states of higher-order affect. Similarly, there are no names for the six forms of emptying of self or the evolutionary-involutionary rhythm of life.
Based on this observation of breathing, IDL refuses to reduce the fundamental interdependence of life to less than six experiences or characteristics at each of these seven octaves. These each create multiple polarities or oppositions:
Six sensory experiences and their associated processes:
abdominal inhalation – waking
chest inhalation – aliveness
pause after inhalation – balance
chest exhalation – detachment
abdominal exhalation – freedom
pause after exhalation – clarity
Six processes and their opposites:
waking – unconsciousness
aliveness – torpor, sleepwalking
balance – chaos
detachment – possessiveness
freedom – bondage, addiction
clarity – confusion
Six qualities and their opposites:
confidence – fear
compassion – selfishness
wisdom – ignorance
acceptance – rejection
inner peace – distress
witnessing – subjective immersion
Six transcendent affectual states and their opposites:
Six states of devotional affirmation and their opposites:
Six states of emptying of self and their opposites
Six states of life and their opposites
Each of these also have their opposite in the round of breath:
abdominal inhalation – chest exhalation
waking – detachment
confidence – acceptance
chest inhalation – abdominal exhalation
aliveness – freedom
compassion – inner peace
pause after inhalation- pause after exhalation
balance – clarity
wisdom – witnessing
Teasing out these relationships from the ongoing flow of experience allows you to use your breath and its associated processes and qualities, moment to moment, as a powerful tool, to help you get unstuck. For example, if you are scared, several strategies are implied by this model, including abdominal inhalation to increase waking up to your options and to develop your confidence. You can also focus on your chest exhalations to increase your ability to detach from your fear and increase your acceptance. There are places in Wonderland where those abilities would definitely help Alice. The breath provides a concrete, always available anchor to help leverage you out of different varieties of stuckness. In fact, almost any form of stuckness will fit into one or another of these six categories, just as almost any positive quality can be associated with one or another of the six. These issues are addressed in more depth in IDL and Meditation.
What could be more important than finding and following your life compass? If you were like me, your life was made unnecessarily difficult because you had no strong center from which to evaluate the constant pressure from parents, teachers, peers, partners, and employers. IDL uses “life compass” to refer to a changing, authentic, nurturing, constantly available point of reference that you can rely on to steer you through the storms of your life.
Traditionally, other terms, such as “soul,” “Self,” “God” (as indwelling, or immanent), “inner voice,” “intuition,” the “divine,” or the “sacred” have served this purpose. Each is useful in certain contexts and not so useful in others. Some of them we will discuss below and give our reasons why in later developmental stages they become less conducive to enlightenment.
Terms like “soul” and “self” are psychologically geocentric in that they make life, growth, and enlightenment “all about me” and your freedom, bliss, and consciousness. You seek your nirvana, samadhi, and liberation. This is a shamanic, pre personal perspective that is authentic, natural, and valid in the childhood of life. Terms like “God” point to a “something” or “someone” that is real, eternal, and all-inclusive. The experience of IDL, on the other hand, discloses contexts within contexts, called “holons,” that continuously beckon us on, to be more than we are without implying a static, transcendent state, God or gods. Terms like “divine,” “sacred,” and “spirit” are problematic because we have seen that they imply dualism and a reality that includes the non-divine, the profane, and that which is not spiritual: evil, sin, and abuse. Similarly, “life compass” is not intuition or “inner voice,” because these concepts imply a belief that you know what is true, right, or real, based on something akin to psychic ability. Have you ever met someone who bases their life on their intuition? They just “know,” because their intuition tells them so, and because they know, it is their experience and their truth, which is not to be questioned or challenged without questioning and challenging them. They take your questions as personal attacks! Appeals to intuition are often a way to say, “Don’t question my belief about this; I know it is true and if you question it you are insulting me!” We see this mentality in True Believers of all kinds, but generally have a hard time seeing it in ourselves. In addition, tests of intuition have shown that it does not operate above and beyond chance or random variation. That does not mean that intuition cannot be accurate, just as chance does not mean you cannot or will not win the lottery. Unlike appeals to intuition, IDL invites questioning and challenging. It invites disbelief and encourages personal verification.
Unlike many other terms for an internal source of guidance, such as “soul,” “intuition,” and “God,” “life compass” has the advantage of not being a scripted part of the accepted family and cultural heritage that you grew up accepting. For IDL, your “life compass” exists only as a conceptual tool, a place holder, for your stable center, without implying the reality or existence of a “you” that possesses a center. Your life compass has no ontological reality for IDL, because it is not a distinct “thing,” “self,” or “place.” Instead, it is meant to point toward an experiential reality inferred by the confluence of multiple perspectives of many interviewed emerging potentials. An analogy would be to a hurricane, which indeed has a center around which it forms and which gives it structure. However, notice that the center of a hurricane is empty. It can be so large that small planes can fly over the top and into the central “eye” or “life compass” of the hurricane.
The winds of storms have no identity. They are an impermanent, temporary, ad hoc collection of forces that manifest in a form that we call “hurricane” to differentiate it from “tree,” sky,” or “smile.” However, like a smile, a hurricane is essentially a process, not a thing. Like a hurricane, a smile, and your life compass, you too are essentially a process, not a thing. This is a reality that becomes clear over multiple IDL interviews. You start to experience that your identity is no different than that of the imaginary mushrooms and skunks that you interview – empty.
The analogy of a diamond is another useful way to understand how IDL uses the concept of “life compass.” This is because a diamond is clear and has no single, “right,” or “perfect” way to view it. Its essence is to be a paradox of clarity and hardness, of harmonious stability and a riot of colors and facets.
Your life compass is similar. It is clear, like the air within the eye of a hurricane, yet it is extraordinarily solid, durable, and stable. It is harmonious, like the light from a prism, or the proportions of the fibonacci curve that appear naturally in nature, and yet, upon close examination, it is a chaos of minor, individual imperfections. There is no such thing as a perfect diamond, or a perfect facet of a diamond; similarly, there is no perfection within your life compass, nor is it “your” life compass. It more appropriately is understood to belong to life, with “you” being a convenient figment of your imagination which, when taken as real, becomes your prison. An excellent description of how the delusion of self comes to be, how it works, and what is to be done about it can be found in The Atman Project, by Ken Wilber.
The concept of life compass grows out of direct experience with countless interviews of dream characters and the personifications of waking life issues of all sorts, using the IDL interviewing protocols. A consensus of perspectives, values, and recommendations emerges when you do enough of these interviews that points toward a shared reality that is prior to any form or particular value. This shared context derived from innumerable interviews provides you with a personal, experiential, and genuine definition of what your life compass is and is not.
“Life compass” points to a perspective that encompasses traditional distinctions, such as between the real and imaginary, the inner and the outer, the sacred and the profane. The more that you learn to look at your life from the perspective of your life compass, the less imprisoned you are by these dualisms. They continue to exist, but merely as tools that you use to communicate, not as autonomously existing realities. This is a basic reason why some common terms are found to no longer be so conducive to enlightenment, regardless of how useful and important they may have been at earlier stages of development.
Wake Up Calls
Is experience best viewed as a series of wake up calls? In IDL interviewing, no matter if the character is a dream angel or demon, cactus or toilet seat, it will tend to say that its function or purpose is to serve as a wake up call. For example, if you have a dream of a knife-wielding criminal attacking you in the back seat of a taxi and you interview the knife, it will most likely say that is there to get your attention, to jar you awake. This not only strongly implies that life has no problem threatening and scaring you in order to get your attention, but that anything and everything serves this function if you will only take the time to interview it.
This is a radical idea, because it does not discriminate between human and non-human elements, between gods and devils or between the pure and the impure. From the perspective of life, all equally serve as conveyors of wake up calls. The implication is that the basic agenda of life is to wake up through you by having you evolve, expand and thin your identity by incorporating ever broader contexts and perspectives into your own.
IDL does not therefore assume that all things and people are wake up calls or that they see themselves as same. In fact, if you ask most people about their life purpose, few will say that they exist in order to serve as a wake up call for others. It would also unfortunately be true that most people serve either to validate the status quo and prevailing groupthink or as examples of what not to do. Therefore IDL does not impose this expectation on others. Instead it asks, “What would be the result if I treated everything and everyone as if it were a wake up call?” The result is a respectful, receptive stance toward everyone and everything, a stance that is more likely to teach us and thereby expand our awareness.
You are encouraged to experiment with taking this stance in your daily life and see what happens. Do your own interviews and see if you arrive at the same conclusion. Does interviewing enhance your ability to view life as one wake up call after another?
“Emerging potential” is the name IDL gives to interviewed dream characters and personifications of life issues, as well as to these perspectives when you become them on subsequent occasions. To “become” them means to identify with them and to look out at the world from their point of view instead of your own. If they have no eyes, like a lamp post, you experience the world from their perspective, not yours. IDL does not encourage the suppression or repression of your identity, but merely its suspension in order to temporarily assume another perspective. You choose to do so during interviews because the perspective personifies a life issue that is important to you and that you want to resolve. You are encouraged to become the emerging potential later, after the interview, because it has either felt liberating, claims to be transformative, or has recommended that you suspend your disbelief and trust it as an experiment, in order to test its efficacy.
Therefore, emerging potentials are not things any more than a perspective is a thing. They are neither real nor imaginary, internal or external, just as these categories do not apply to qualities like tall or open. While we may say that we “have” a perspective, it is also true that perspectives have us. As a rule of thumb, those perspectives with which you have identified, and which become the core, habitual, assumed roles that comprise your sense of self, your social, cultural, and psychological identities, possess you. You don’t have them, in that your identity is a subset of their existence and reality. Without those perspectives, your sense of self does not exist. They are the “glue” that hold you together. The possession of us by our perspectives can either be transformative or our undoing. IDL approaches the power and arbitrariness of perspectives as a third type of cognitive distortion, along with emotional and rational types, called perceptual distortions. Perspectives create delusional contexts which make waking up almost impossible. For example, we have seen how geocentrism is a perceptual distortion that validates a psychologically geocentric worldview. As long as geocentrism was the assumed perceptual context for humans, evolving beyond psychological geocentrism was almost inconceivable.
Perspectives that lie outside of, or are different from your core, habitual, and assumed roles tend to be liberating when you empathize with them and look at your life from their point of view. This is because perspectival cognitive distortions include your sense of self, since they are extensions of your perceptual reality, and therefore “know” you, yet they transcend your sense of who you are in that they add their own unique, individual perspective with its own gradations of core qualities, to your own. This is why they are called potentials. They present possibilities for your identity that you can choose to either grow into or ignore. They are emerging because they are not yet who you are. You quickly forget them and fall back into your normal waking sleep walking existence. However, the more that you return to any one or to a variety of them, the more these potentials emerge and the more they are assimilated into a broader, more effective, less afraid, more inclusive and balanced, sense of self.
With enough of this, your sense of who you are becomes a joke, an example of cosmic humor, and your attachment to it a source of endless hilarity. You take on more of the sense of self possessed by the air you breathe, outer space, the spaces between notes in a song, sunshine, or a smile. But because life doesn’t discriminate, your sense of self also becomes more like that possessed by a block of granite, spit, the smell of a skunk, and a decaying corpse. Life does not define itself by such things; why should you?
States and Stages
If you go to a mountaintop and come down and then proclaim a new vision of the world to the swamp dwellers, does that mean that you are enlightened? Isn’t it true that you have had an experience of relative enlightenment? Do experiences of enlightenment mean that you are no longer a swamp dweller? Are you a swamp dweller that has had extraordinary, life-changing experiences of enlightenment? Enlightenment can be defined in several ways, as a high mystical state, as a feeling or as the pinnacle of development. IDL believes that while all of these definitions have their place and uses, the most important is to view enlightenment as clearer, more lucid awareness at whatever stage of development you currently inhabit. It is as if you, the swamp dweller, lived in the swamp with the perspective you had while living on top of the mountain.
This distinction between the temporary view from a mountain top, analogous to a state opening, and the permanence of inhabiting such a perspective wherever you are, analogous to stable stage development is important, both for those who are seeking enlightenment and for those who think they already are enlightened. It explains why you should question those who say, “Trust me, I’m enlightened!” Remember that they are swamp dwellers who have been to a mountain top once or several times, and are most likely convinced that they are no longer swamp dwellers. They have possibly developed one or another marvelous capability, like the Nidra Yoga capability to stay in delta wave deep sleep consciousness while awake. However, the attainment of an aptitude or line of development does not indicate a stable transpersonal level of development. Is a guitar virtuoso like Jimi Hendrix to be consulted as an expert on economics? Was Bach enlightened or “just” a genius at musical composition? Is an advanced meditator an expert on human relations or engineering? You will regularly find assumptions of higher levels of attainment associated with those who have had near death experiences. They have had state openings of relative enlightenment; many come back from the top of such a tall mountain convinced that they have seen God, met Jesus, and know the Truth. Have they attained stable access to higher levels of personal development? Children and criminals sometimes report mystical or near death experiences. Does that mean criminals and children are enlightened? How do you know? Look at their everyday life. Do they live a transformed life? If not, what does it mean to say, “I am enlightened?” How can you tell? Look at all four of the core lines of development, empathy, self, morals, and cognition, not just one. Look at the criteria for development to this or that level and see if they meet the criteria. States are expression of the transcending arm of the developmental polarity while stages are manifestations of the inclusive and balancing pole. Transcendent states are evolutionary while foundational stages are involutionary. These take turns in the leadership position; when self-transcendence is the priority transcendent states become the protagonist in the developmental dialectic and stage consolidation is in the role of antagonist. When balance and stability are the priority, as they are for most of us most of the time, then the hierarchical, structured, and exceptional nature of transcendence and states becomes the antagonist. Together these two expressions of life, evolution and involution, generate the higher order synthesis called “integral,” or the acquisition of a higher level of development that both transcends and includes the previous ones.
Transpersonal states show up in IDL when interview subjects identify with perspectives that are one with nature, compassion, or transcend categorization. However, rather than being revelatory, these may be so subtle as to be overlooked. For example, almost anyone can do an interview with the air they breathe and access a perspective that is relatively formless, free, and objective, to a degree that transcends identification with any self and all drama. In fact, identification with such perspectives is so common with IDL that it is taken for granted, but regular access to such perspectives is astonishing in the context of ready availability to truly transformational power. It is normal for transpersonal state openings to disappear after IDL interviews and for your identity to return largely to the normal parameters of waking life. However, with repeated interviews and character identifications, the ongoing perspective of your waking identity broadens and thins naturally, slowly, and imperceptibly. This change is as subtle and slow as a child learning to walk or talk but as significant. Genuine, broad-based advances in developmental levels are made possible, which resemble the slow, consistent climb up a mountain.
Ascent to higher developmental levels is typical with IDL. This is because this is what life wants to do; it wants to evolve. It is always attempting to use you to wake up to itself. The more that you get out of your own way the more quickly this naturally occurs.
“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe simply because it has been handed down for many generations. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is written in Holy Scriptures. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of Teachers, elders or wise men.”
This famous quote by Buddha indicates a major way Buddhism distinguishes itself from other world religions. It also explains what makes Buddhism as much a life philosophy as a religion. The ability to question one’s beliefs and access permission to question and challenge the highest of authorities are marks of confidence, reason, and wisdom that do not exist on pre-personal levels of development or in those belief systems that are grounded in them. In contrast, such systems are threatened by challenges to their authority and respond to questions by appeal to scriptural authority and broadly accepted dogmas and mythologies rather than with reason.
We do not have to be affiliated with a particular religion to be dogmatically married to our view of life and the words that define it for us. Examples can be found in the scientific, religious, psychological, economical and political worlds. What are their key assumptions? Are they able to doubt their own premises? Do they question the foundations of their own belief systems?
Doubt is a gateway into conscious witnessing of your feelings and thoughts. The more you question your assumptions about the importance and reality of your body, your experience, your feelings, and your thoughts, the more your sense of self is objectified and separated from them. The result of such objectification is that you have full use of your thoughts and feelings, but without strong preferences that create barriers to your ability to choose the best or most appropriate one for the situation. Therefore, doubt itself becomes just one more tool rather than some core value or end in itself. Psychology has done human development significant damage by labeling this process as “dissociative.” It is no more dissociative than empathy, and at least as important to development.
Doubt, in the sense of suspension of both belief and disbelief, both toward the beliefs of others and your own, is healthy. There is an old joke, “Don’t believe everything you think.” It would be closer to appropriate to say, “Don’t believe most of what you think.” The phenomenological approach of IDL requires the suspension of both belief and disbelief, with a preference for asking innocent, disarming questions and requesting more information: “That’s interesting! Tell me more.” “I haven’t ever thought about it that way; how did you arrive at that conclusion?” “You seem to have a pretty strong belief about that. How did you come to know that was the truth?” This is helpful because many people so identify with their beliefs and opinions that when you question those assumptions they feel like you are not just questioning they beliefs but attacking them. You want to respect this natural tendency and do what you can to neutralize it without avoiding the challenge all together.
For IDL, doubt is not a permanent predisposition but merely a tool that you pick up and put down as needed. IDL interviewing uses doubt not only for the suspension of both belief and disbelief but in challenging and confronting interviewed emerging potentials: “Why do you say that, lamp post?” “I’m confused. Zebra, it sounds like you just contradicted yourself.” “Why should we listen to you, sea turtle, when you are just the figment of my imagination?”
“Personally, I would save my credulity for things for which there is evidence rather than believing everything until it is proved to be impossible.”
Strange, The ScienceForum
Reason is mostly a matter of parking your preferences, beliefs, and emotions in order to think things through. It is based on the question, “Does this make sense?” It does not assume that sensory experience, feelings, beliefs or ideas are rational just because they are coherent within a given set of conditions. Everything is coherent, including nightmares, within a given set of conditions.
Doubt encourages the development of reasoning through the thinking through of assumptions and presuppositions. A common defense by people who do not like having their assumptions or beliefs questioned is to accuse the questioner of being cold, unemotional, unempathetic, and unloving. However, most of us can go a long, long way toward greater rationality and logic before we have to get concerned about turning into Mr. Spock. Even a little questioning and skepticism can feel like someone has turned into Mr. Spock because it feels relatively cold, calm, and lacking the fire and aliveness of impulse, drama, and emotion. This is a perceptual delusion and is easily dissipated with repeated exposure to rationality. While some people who are intellectuals and logical are relatively cold, there is no data to back up the stereotype that this is an inherent characteristic of those who think before they act or speak.
Reason guides what you say when it is important to you to make sense. When you want to have fun or tell a good story, reason is not so important. Consequently, reason is not always useful, nor is it everything. It seems crazy to need to list reason as a concept conducive to enlightenment, but there are just too many people out there who think that the transpersonal either doesn’t require clear thinking or else believe reason is actually the enemy of it. Since both of these ideas are not only wrong but nonsense, an explanation of why reason is important to IDL is in order.
Because anyone, including children and criminals, can access any and all transpersonal states, the naive conclude that reason is unnecessary for stable access of those states. But it is notoriously difficult to duplicate transcendent experiences; why? Because to do so requires a predictable developmental progression, and an unavoidable part of that progression is learning how to think, which means to doubt oneself and to reason. Those who attempt to access the transpersonal without making reason their friend are deluding themselves. They are posing as someone who is more highly developed than they are. They may in fact have a huge following of adherents who believe they are incarnated masters, but is collusion in groupthink verification for development?
In integral developmental models, the attainment of transpersonal developmental levels require previous stabilization in the rational. This means that learning to think is a pre-requisite to transpersonal stages of development. This is why children may access transpersonal states with near death, psychic, or mystical experiences, but are not at transpersonal levels of development. People have to learn to reason; you and I are not born with the ability to think, nor is learning how to think past a certain minimal level required to grow up, get a job, have a family, be talented, or make a lot of money. You will find many irrational people doing all these things.
However, this is no reason to glorify the rational, although there are plenty of reasons to do so. Most of the accomplishments of humanity are products of rational minds. The fact that much of the destruction in the world is also a product of rational minds does not diminish the accomplishments of the rational mind but only points to the reality that it requires adult supervision. The rational mind by itself is not the life compass and it is hardly the crown of creation or the terminus of the evolutionary arc of life. It is merely a necessary competency to master as a pre-requisite for accessing the trans-rational, which is where adult supervision resides. The problem is that the transpersonal and trans-rational both look like the pre-rational, in that both are experiential, with the result that they are commonly confused. However, the pre-rational self mistakes prejudices for thinking while the trans-rational is experienced by a trans-personal, multi-perspectival, transparent oneness that has rational capabilities.
While reason is invaluable, it should hardly be the only tool in your tool kit, nor always the first one that you reach for. Very rational and intelligent people, like Barak Obama, can still destroy themselves and countless others if they are unwilling or unable to question the premises of their perceptual cognitive distortions. This is why learning to think logically is a necessary but insufficient step in the process of waking up. To avoid such disasters, IDL encourages triangulation, which involves the checking of accepted cultural norms not only with common sense but with internal sources of objectivity such as interviewed emerging potentials. Learning by doing is often more important. However, if you do not know how to reason, what you call thinking is probably mostly justifying your world view and rearranging your prejudices. In fact, what most people call thinking is either the emotionally-driven statement of preferences or the following of some pre-learned, automatic script, not just as scripture-quoting or dogma recitation, but as a work procedure or a way of handling a customer, complaint, or a disagreement. Even though such responses may be rational, reasoning processes, their automatic or habitual nature implies that they are learned adaptations for dealing with particular repetitive, necessary life situations, like getting a refund or the steps for fixing a car.
Reason is cultivated by IDL in several ways. You will find that many interviewed dream characters and personifications of life issues are more rational than you are, in that they are more objective and separated from cultural scripting, groupthink, drama and emotional reactivity. Consequently, accessing and becoming them cultivates the ability to think clearly and to reason, because thinking is thereby objectified from motivating emotional impulses. The investigation of emotional, logical, and perceptual barriers to reason, called cognitive distortions, are discussed in Waking Up.
“Believe only after careful observation and analysis, when you find that it agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all. Then accept it and live up to it.”
This statement by the Buddha indicates the primacy of both reason and empiricism for Buddhism.
In the above picture, Jerry and his buddy have a theory that awaits empirical testing – hopefully by someone else! How do you test someone’s claims of spirituality? Empiricism responds by asking,
“What are the steps to follow to test this theory or belief?”
“Am I following the steps (performing the experiment) correctly?”
“Are my results confirmed by those who have previously done the experiment?”
Ken Wilber has made a strong case that these foundations of empiricism apply to the sciences, interpretations and theories, and to the claims of spirituality. Empiricism is validation through duplication. There are many things that are real and impressive but which cannot be duplicated, like faith healers that pull tumors out of bodies with their hands. I know of no instances of this skill set being passed on to students, but I know of a number of students who have tried to learn how and have failed. A fundamental problem with many “spiritual” experiences is that by nature they are extremely difficult to duplicate within individuals. State openings tend to be one-of-a-kind events. Accounts of mystical and near death states validate their perceptual reality without indicating the subject has attained any transpersonal stage of development.
When you get a Tarot reading or throw the I Ching you may be impressed with the results. However, have you ever noticed how validity diminishes with repetition? Experiments to demonstrate that Tarot or the I Ching operate above chance have not succeeded. Similarly, while the claims by TM that people will learn to levitate if they practice the method do succeed in generating considerable revenue for TM, has it taught anyone to levitate? Yes, some meditators can “hop,” but is that levitation? The common, ancient claim that meditation develops siddhis, or psychic abilities, has not been empirically verified despite thousands of meditators and considerable scientific studies. Does this mean that meditation does not lead to psychic ability? Does it mean that transpersonal developmental stages are not associated with psychic abilities?
The lack of connection of meditation and psychism does not mean that meditation is not extraordinarily beneficial and remarkable in many ways. For example, the Tibetan practice of Tummo has been demonstrated to maintain physical warmth even when people are surrounded by ice. We know that advanced yogis can turn off pain perception and survive for long periods of time without food or even oxygen. These talents involve physiological reprogramming, not precognition, psychokinesis, and other psychic abilities that religions usually claim are marks of high spiritual attainment.
IDL uses empiricism when it says, “Learn how to suspend your beliefs, assumptions, and interpretations and get into the roles of interviewed dream characters and the personifications of life issues. Choose the recommendations that make sense to you and test them in your life. Check your results with sources of objectivity: experts, teachers, other interviewed emerging potentials.” This is a developmental emphasis that is focused on your growth in the here and now, a waking up in relationship to your ongoing and current, real-world concerns.
One measure of clarity, objectivity, wakefulness, and enlightenment is your ability to shift your perspective, or outlook on life. The ability to do so normally expands as we develop. Infants are locked into the perspective of their bodies. Their perspective is determined by the needs of their sensory systems. When babies start to get in touch with their feelings they are learning to take the perspective of their preferences, their likes and dislikes, and their emotions. They are able to observe their bodies, for example, when learning to walk. When children get older and learn to ride a bike, they have the option of taking the perspective of their body, or the perspective of this or that feeling or preference, or the perspective of some linguistic conceptualization: “I’m losing my balance!” “Mom told me not to ride without a helmet.” At about the same age, children start learning to take the roles of people that impress them: characters from movies or people who do things that seem fun or powerful: teaching, parenting, or fighting. This is the beginning of the formation of a social self that is observing a linguistic self that is observing an emotional self that is observing a physical or sensory self. Each developmental stage transcends yet includes the previous one, creating perceptual options or multiperspectivalism within one identity or personality.
When children get older, they learn to take a perspective that questions the assumptions beneath their linguistic conceptualizations, “Is it useful that Mom told me to ignore bullies?” “What were Mom’s motives for telling me not to do that?” This is the birth of reason, which provides a perspective that is more objective than the earlier ones that it contains.
Further along still, some people learn empathy, which not only involves taking the role of another person, but looks out at the world and at circumstances which are shared in order to see them from the perspective of the other person. “How would I view that situation if I were that bully?” “What does it mean to treat other people as I wish to be treated?” If a child doesn’t want to share, instead of getting angry or having hurt feelings, empathy is reflected in the thought, “What would I be feeling or thinking if I were them?” This is an interpretation, to be sure, and there is no assurance it bears any resemblance to reality until it is verified by asking the person, but it is certainly a major step beyond the normal psychological geocentrism of humans. Empathy is an attempt to expand your identity beyond a separate self-sense to include the motivations and interests of others.
A further development in objectivity involves the ability to hold conflicting models or world views at the same time, for instance, capitalism, socialism, Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam. It then becomes possible to look for patterns of agreement and attempt a grand synthesis, which is what Wilber’s integral model intends. This is a type of conceptual multi-perspectivalism that Wilber calls “vision-logic,” an intermediate developmental stage between late personal and transpersonal stages. Because Wilber’s model is conceptual and emphasizes egalitarianism within a hierarchical structure, readers tend to overlook his strong emphasis on empathetic, communal and involutional aspects of multi-perspectivalism, including his strong advocacy for a devotional and interpersonal approach to the sacred. This is more likely to reflect the lack of integration of these two strands of multi-perspectivalism in most readers rather than a deficit in Wilber’s understanding of this developmental stage.
Many advocates of spiritual development are “blinded by the light” of oneness, meaning that difference, or the multiplicity of creation, is dreamlike and has relatively little reality. At its worst this becomes a logical fallacy, in which these people unwittingly embrace distinction by saying in essence, “oneness yes, separation and distinction, no,” blind to the fact that this belief is itself a distinction. They see themselves as pluralistic and egalitarian when in fact they repress distinction, separateness and hierarchy.
The rejoinder to the above question is, “Can you, after having had a mystical experience of oneness, experience the separation through the oneness?” Holograms are a good example, in that they do not deny or minimize the individuality of any specific place or entity. They depict the co-dependency of separateness and unity. The multiple facets of a diamond reflect the same principle. IDL, by teaching multi-perspectivalism, gives people direct experiences of the sacred within the profane, of the sacredness of multiplicity, distinction and separateness. Why do you think that so many people who have mystical experiences do not grow into a balanced appraisal of this fundamental issue? The initial overwhelm by awe-inspiring unity is completely understandable, but when that stance hardens into a dogma that lasts ten years later you have to start asking, “Is this focus on unity supporting further development or has this person plateaued, sure they have found the key to universal knowledge?”
IDL agrees with Wilber that multi-perspectivalism is a necessary but insufficient level of development for stabilization at any level of oneness that is generally called “transpersonal.” The ability to look at issues, experiences and people, whether awake or dreaming, from multiple perspectives allows you to deepen and broaden the experience of oneness in all things. As we discuss elsewhere, anyone can have experiences of onenesses at any stage, but development into stable, ongoing life within the experience of oneness with nature, deity, the formless, or the non-dual requires high levels on the four core lines of cognition, self, empathy and morality. We have to learn how to think and make logical, rational distinctions regarding our beliefs and we must acquire both cognitive and empathetic multi-perspectivalism. Cognitive multi-perspectivalism is the ability to collect the views of all the “wise blind men” who are reporting some part of the “elephant” of life and integrate them. Wilber’s integral AQAL is an expression of the cognitive line evolved to vision-logic. Empathetic multi-perspectivalism is the ability to take the roles of others. Children can do so, but few children or adults practice taking the roles of inanimate and imaginary objects, an ability IDL teaches, which breaks down dualisms of all sorts and teaches multi-perspectivalism on the post-personal level of vision-logic. Empathetic multi-perpectivalism without cognitive multi-perspectivalism will turn you into a polytheistic devotee; cognitive multi-perspectivalism without the empathetic will turn you into someone who replaces direct experience with concepts and abstractions. We need both. The development of these two core lines together tend to pull up both the self and ethical lines of development. This is because empathy expands the self and broadens decisions in ways that treat all others as if they were aspects of ourselves, since they are demonstrated to be so.
IDL is a representative of the next, rather radical step in this developmental progression. It may make anything – mushrooms, cake, monsters, chains, planets, deities, deceased relatives, – as the object of empathetic identification. The result is that a much broader expansion of perspective is made available to individuals, which speeds up the developmental process by breaking down all customary, habitual dualisms. As indicated above, it diminishes both the importance and the reality of basic determiners of reality for most people: real and imaginary, self and others, subjective and objective, sacred and profane, pure and dirty, good and bad, safe and dangerous, freedom and subjugation, pleasure and pain. The result is the cultivation of an identity that is based on qualities that transcend, yet include basic dualities that provide the structure of identity for most people. This represents a significant transcendence of core dualities and a useful embrace of oneness, in that it is tied to the understanding of everyday problems and dreams. It makes ongoing stabilization in awareness of oneness with nature, deity, formlessness or the non-dual much more realistic.
IDL emphasizes both the empathetic and cognitive strands of multi-perspectivalism. The empathetic, preferential, experiential face of multi-perspectivalism is expressed by actual identification with and response as this or that interviewed dream character or personification of a life issue. What is being emphasized is not conceptual understanding but getting into and staying in role. The more this is done, with sacred and secular, pure and disgusting, real and imaginary perspectives, the more advanced a multi-perspectival approach to empathy becomes. This is heightened when you identify with the attributes and values of a perspective that cause it to score higher than you do in one or more of the six core qualities.
The cognitive face of multi-perspectivalism is expressed by interpretations of the conceptual content of what interviewed characters say within an AQAL framework. Does it make sense? Is it practical? Can it be tested? How does it compare to your own conceptual emphasis? When you act on recommendations and evaluate the results, can they be validated by both external and internal sources of objectivity?
While IDL is not transpersonal per se, it is a transpersonal discipline in that it constructs the necessary pre-requisites for both access of transpersonal states, largely, through identifying with this or that perspective that personifies one or another definition of oneness, and for stable, ongoing habitation of transpersonal states, through following the recommendations of perspectives that are not only wiser, but more unified with life, than you are.
Deep listening is an act of respect, and the cultivation of respect is a central activity of IDL. As such, respect implies neither agreement nor disagreement, but acknowledgement and a desire to place acceptance before judgment. This is different from many understandings of respect, which look for either courtesy or agreement. For instance, in Chinese Confucianism, courtesy is assumed to be respectful. Many parents, regardless of their culture. demand agreement from their children as a demonstration of respect. However, IDL believes you can be respectful without necessarily agreeing or being courteous. While abuse is best defined by the recipient, you get to define respect for yourself, in consultation with those around you. Ask others if they view you as respectful toward them, but feel no compunction to agree with their assessment or change your behavior as a result of their feedback. IDL encourages you to instead conform to consensus standards of respect expressed by your interviewed emerging potentials, as these are more likely to represent how respect is viewed by your life compass.
Justice and Human Rights
The concept of extending justice and rights to interviewed emerging potentials is called “dream politics,” because it deals with the distribution of power in the macrocosm and microcosm. It teaches learning to listen to and demonstrate respect for members of your intrasocial, as well as your social, communities.
We normally only think of justice and human rights in macrocosmic social and governmental, contexts. Thomas Jefferson, as a major architect of the Bill of Rights, is an international representative of the broad extension of human rights to all men. IDL views your interaction with family, work, and society as a microcosmic projection and mirror of your interaction with your microcosm, or internal reality. For IDL, microcosm includes your thoughts, feelings, night time dreams, and your relationship with your intrasocial community, comprised of interviewed emerging potentials as well as other “subjective” forces, preferences, and patterns of habitual adaptation. Your interviewed emerging potentials are members of ad hoc groups that share a culture and interdependent relationships. They come together in social structures to express priorities and perspectives that are transformative. The act of deep listening itself is a form of justice that is transformational. When you act on recommendations from members of your intrasocial community you are extending to them the basic right of being given a respectful hearing.
IDL focuses on a commitment to justice and the extension of rights we demand for ourselves to imaginary as well as “real” others. This is not as bizarre as it may at first seem. Since imaginary elements, such as a dream toaster, are not concerned with physical security, food, shelter, health, or protection, we are not talking about the extension of such rights to fantasies, nor are we talking about the extension of the right of freedom of speech to termites. Instead, IDL encourages the practice of deep listening to this or that interviewed perspective, without thereby feeling committed to agree with it. This is different from anthropomorphically projecting onto chimpanzees, whales, dolphins, dogs, and elephants the concept of justice and rights that we desire for ourselves as humans. The more respectful and healthy your interactions with interviewed emerging potentials become, the more your own development supports the evolution of both microcosmic and macrocosmic society and culture.
We have seen that the extension of human rights to interviewed emerging potentials is a commitment to respect. Your intention is to listen to and respect the priorities and interests of whomever or whatever you encounter, whether it be in your waking life, a dream, a near death experience, or an IDL interview. This does not mean you have to agree with any other, real or imaginary, and you certainly do not have to subordinate your own values and interests to theirs. It only means that you have a responsibility to listen to those that cross your path, to do your best to table your own prejudices and interpretations, and to demonstrate that you have heard what they have had to say. Sometimes action is required. It is always up to you whether or not you act on what you hear.
The extenuation of justice and human rights to interviewed emerging potentials is more than a quaint moral oddity. The balance of power that exists between you and your emerging potentials is essentially that between a dictator and the rest of the world. Your waking identity not only tends to put its needs, preferences and world view first; it then justifies and rationalizes this by believing that what it wants and believes is “really” what others need and “should” believe. Just as we ordinarily assume our preferences reflect the preferences of our entire intrasocial community and emerging potentials, so we normally extend this psychological geocentrism to others: we know what they need to think, feel and do. IDL interviewing demonstrates that we do not, neither for others or for our own greater intrasocial community. We see this assumption, that what we want is what is “really” good for others, in how parents deal with children, how corporations justify exploitation of workers and the environment, and how nations justify war. If we want this to stop in the macrocosm we need to take steps to stop it where we have the most power and influence, in our own individual microcosm, our intrasocial cosmos and realm of personal governance.
The Six Core Processes
(Awake, Alive, Balanced, Detached, Free, Clear)
We have discussed above how the six core processes arise for IDL from the observation of the cycle of breathing as well as how these processes can be used to gain a variety of tools for balancing your life. The six core processes are also understood and used in IDL to link and integrate the microcosm and macrocosm, as they are reflected in the round of each day, the seasons of the year, relationships, the passage of a life, and the duration of civilizations. Here is a summary of those relationships:
awake arising early spring meeting birth founding
alive learning; work spring romance, exploration growth expansion
balanced competency summer family routines mastery stabilization
detached unwinding autumn arguments, divorce retirement deconstruction
free going to sleep early winter separation, death death demise
clear sleep winter recovery post-death cultural heritage
All these processes are macrocosmic externalizations of the sensory rootedness of the round of breath, with the exception of the processes themselves, which are interior states. IDL uses these relationships to integrate the interior, subjective dreamworld, with the exterior, objective dreamworld.
These six core processes also promote getting unstuck, moment to moment, with each stage of each breath:
“As I awaken I become more alive;
As I become more alive, I become aware of my need for balance;
As I become more balanced, I let go of my feelings, thoughts, and addictions;
As I become more detached I experience greater freedom;
As I become more free I become more clear;
As my clarity increases I become more awake…”
This round of interdependence resonates in some ways with the classical Buddhist formulation of the twelve factors that it holds responsible for interdependent co-origination, or the wheel of karma. These are called the twelve nidanas, or “links:
With Ignorance as condition, Mental Formations arise;
With Mental Formations as condition, Consciousness arises
With Consciousness as condition, Mind and Matter arise
With Mind and Matter as condition, Sense Gates arise
With Sense Gates as condition, Contact arises
With Contact as condition, Feeling arises
With Feeling as condition, Craving arises
With Craving as condition, Clinging arises
With Clinging as condition, Becoming arises
With Birth as condition, Aging and Dying arise
Notice that this is only the involutionary half of the cycle. The evolutionary half is a reversal of the process:
When mental formations are not a condition, ignorance does not arise
When consciousness is not a condition, mental formations do not arise
When mind and matter are not conditions, consciousness does not arise
When sense gates is not a condition, mind and matter do not arise
When contact is not a condition, sense gates do not arise
When feeling is not a condition, contact does not arise
When craving is not a condition, feeling does not arise
When clinging is not a condition, craving does not arise
When becoming is not a condition, clinging does not arise
When birth is not a condition, becoming does not arise
When aging and dying are not conditions, birth does not arise
The Six Core Qualities
(Confidence, Compassion, Wisdom, Acceptance, Inner Peace, Witnessing)
The major use of the six core qualities for IDL is as criteria for waking up or enlightenment during interviewing. Higher scores on a scale of zero to ten generally imply a more transcendent and inclusive perspective than lower scores, but not always. Compassion is a notable exception. Like the core processes, the core qualities are also used as context for observation of the round of breath. Recall that for IDL enlightenment is not a goal or a static end state but an ongoing process, in which there are always relative degrees of wakefulness present, regardless of your age or developmental level, and relative degrees of delusional sleepwalking present, even if you are an ascended master. IDL believes this bipolar developmental goad never goes away. Buddhas and gods are still sleepwalking in delusion relative to contexts that transcend and include them.
IDL assumes that for any level of development these six core qualities not only remain relevant, but point toward transformational possibilities. This is why, in IDL interviews, interviewed emerging potentials are asked to score themselves zero to ten in these qualities and then asked to how similar amplitudes might show up in the life of the subject. The zero to ten scale is relative and subjective; what is a ten for you today may be a six for you in five days, moths, or years. Consistently high scores are not necessarily helpful; they may be so etherial and perfect as to be functionally unattainable and therefore quickly forgotten. For example, a score of ten may not be as useful as a sore of 9.75, which implies something very high, but short of perfection, and therefore more likely to be attainable. A score of seven or eight may be even more realistic and attainable. Similarly, very low scores are not necessarily problematic. The character may be saying, “No; I want to stay a one in confidence because my fear is real and you need to accept that fear.” Regarding compassion, low scores are common with interviewed characters, particularly objects. They seem to be saying, “ Compassion, and issues of self and selfishness, are irrelevant to my perspective. It’s not what I need. You won’t either, when you choose to become me.”
Just like the six core processes, these six core qualities also promote getting unstuck, moment to moment, with each stage of each breath:
“As my confidence grows my capacity for compassion expands;
As I become more compassionate, I become more wise in my decision-making;
As I become more wise, I become more accepting of myself and others;
As I become more accepting, my ability to experience deep inner peace grows;
As I become more at peace, I become more objective, witnessing the drama of my life;
As my objectivity increases, I become less afraid and more confident…”
These six core qualities open up into a more rarefied level of “qualities,” abundance, cosmic humor, and luminosity. They grew out of the “Three Jewels” of Buddhism, the Sangha, Buddha, and Dharma.
These six core qualities open up into a more rarefied level of “qualities,” abundance, cosmic humor, and luminosity. They grew out of the “Three Jewels” of Buddhism, the Sangha, Buddha, and Dharma.
Wherever you look, without or within, there is abundance. The more you look for it, the more you will see it. The discipline of looking for abundance creates deep waves of thankfulness and fearless nurturance and security. Birth and death are seen to be mere transformations of this abundance. Abundance is another definition of oneness; as such, its cultivation encourages growth into the transpersonal.
IDL cultivates a sense of growing abundance in several ways. Doing many interviews naturally creates an overwhelming sense of supportive, nurturing, high-quality abundance. In a way that is analogous to a diamond with an infinite number of facets, here is no end to the creative variety of interviewed emerging potentials or perspectives they may take. It is both extremely nurturing and mind-boggling to wake up to the presence and reality of this never-ending abundance. Most of the emerging potentials that you interview will have a much greater sense of abundance than you do, if you look for it and pay attention to it. IDL also uses inhalation, both abdominal and chest, to focus on and amplify a sense of abundance, moment to moment, in the here and now.
Abundance contains all six of the core qualities, confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing in growing, deepening quantities. It also contains cosmic humor and luminosity.
Another, perhaps more common term for cosmic humor, is “crazy wisdom.” It uses absurdity to open the mind, as in the famous saying, “If you see the Buddha in the road, kill him.” For IDL, cosmic humor is a tool for thinning and dissociating from waking identity, without thereby moving into a state of dissociation or nihilism. You stay very much yourself, but your attachment to pain, drama, fear, and preferences becomes funny. You no longer take your attachments so seriously, but at the same time you do not discount them or lose respect for the human predicament. Drama becomes precious and tender, something to be nurtured and loved, and yet is silly, absurd, and crazy. Cosmic humor looks upon drama as similar to playing God, as a child does who takes the role of mommy with her dolls, a man may do with a train set, complete with tunnels, buildings, people, and animals, as CEOs do with businesses, or as politicians do with countries. However, people tend to get lost in drama and turn it into a life or death addiction. With cosmic humor, the absurdity of your position as God becomes increasingly unavoidable and ludicrous, meaning that you can lay down your role in the game and walk away at any point, never to look back. Cosmic humor is another definition of oneness because it takes a separate sense of self out of the relationship. As such, its cultivation encourages growth into the transpersonal.
The advantage of this is that life is no longer about you. What other people think about you is no longer any of your business; in fact your default assumption is that they don’t care about you and all they know of you are their own delusional projections. When people talk to you or form opinions about what you say they are merely shadow-boxing with their own preferences. Another way to describe this is the process of no longer personalizing, with personalization being a core cognitive distortion.
The end of personalization brings a dramatic and powerful advance in freedom, liberation, and enlightenment. IDL discloses states of clarity that are invisible through the filter of self. You just won’t access them as long as you personalize, that is, identify with some sense of authentic or genuine self. Therefore, the minimization of personalization is more important than siddhis, lucid dreaming, or even the attainment of high states of clarity in meditation. This is because when you minimize personalization you reduce identification with filters that separate you from both clarity and oneness. High states of clarity in meditation tend to reduce personalization but there is no guarantee. As Ken Wilber has described, it is entirely possible to take a separate self into higher states of enlightenment. Within Hinduism, the concept of Atman even assumes that this is a good idea. If you are a mystic and have a world view that Atman is Brahman, then Self remains, and that Self-identification filters experience. The minimization of personalization represents the increasing transparency of your sense of self.
As you grow in cosmic humor, your sense of who you are becomes transparent, insignificant, and unimportant, yet still necessary, but for entirely different reasons than before. You slowly wake up to the fact that your intrasocial community, your emerging potentials, your life compass, and life itself, are counting on you. They need you. Like it or not, you function as the gate keeper determining whether they incarnate in your consciousness and are born into outer expression in the world or whether they stay buried and ignored forever. It is completely up to you.
Rather than this awareness being a burden or a source of spiritual narcissism, it becomes another reason for cosmic humor, because you know that there is no you and that even if there was, it never would be adequate for such a task. So instead you defer to a variety of interviewed emerging potentials to run your life, based on their various aptitudes and specializations, because they are more evolved than you are and make better choices than you do. While this may sound like a radical abdication of responsibility, it is actually a highly sophisticated form of orchestration and delegation. Triangulation brings the final decision back to you.
Like abundance, cosmic humor contains all six of the core qualities in increasing quantities. The difference is that they are all funny! Confidence gets funnier and funnier! So does compassion! The idea of being wise becomes increasingly funny! Acceptance of others? Ha ha! Acceptance of myself? Ha ha ha!! Inner peace is funny, and so is the idea of stepping back and observing the dramas of life, and observing how you observe the dramas of your life! The amplification of cosmic humor generates an increased awareness of the presence of both growing abundance and luminosity.
The immature use this understanding as license to ignore or discount the opinions and preferences of others, or as an excuse not to care about others and what they think or feel. Instead, IDL encourages you to deeply listen with utmost respect to the options and preferences of others and then use triangulation to make decisions in alignment with your own life compass.
Luminosity sounds cold and remote to many, particularly those married to devotional and interpersonal paths, because it is formless, without shape, dimension, or time. How can anyone relate to such a concept? Luminosity is not itself a “thing” or a place; it’s not even a quality! One can only say that it is pure experience by clear awareness. This clear awareness is what separates unconscious luminosity, or life unaware of itself, from conscious luminosity, or life which has awakened to itself. This is why Magritte’s famous picture of an eye containing boundless sky is used to depict luminosity. An eye implies both conscious awareness while the sky implies boundless awareness. That it is within the eye implies that conscious awareness has awakened to the awareness that boundless awareness exists within it as its natural state. Both the eye and sky are natural, implying that the best way to relate to luminosity is through direct personal experience. For instance, right now exhale your breath more completely each time for five exhalations. At the bottom of your breath, after exhalation, observe the space. Notice that it becomes deeper and broader with each longer exhalation. Now stay with that experience and carry it up into each of the other stages of your breath. Imbue each of them with the clarity, objectivity, and boundless creativity of the space after exhalation. You are bringing death into life, the unborn into consciousness, but by focusing on its unborn nature instead of on consciousness.
Buddhism refers to what IDL calls luminosity as sunyata, “emptiness.” It can be equated both with the formless causal, the highest of three states of oneness, or it can be equated with the integration of all states and stages of development. In Buddhism the formulation is, “samsara is nirvana:” that which is transcendent is the same as that which is immanent. That which you have searched for all your life is and always has been always already present, only too close for you to see. Luminosity is another definition of oneness because it eliminates all dualities. As such, its cultivation encourages growth into the transpersonal. Your ability to access and experience luminosity both deepens and expands your ability to appreciate the abundance and cosmic humor of life.
In traditional Hindu and Buddhist dream interpretation there are entire categories of dreams that are either meaningless or demonically inspired, as opposed to dreams that are of divine origin. IDL does not make these distinctions, not out of metaphysical beliefs or philosophical reasons, but because interviewed emerging potentials rarely do. When you become demons, spit, or a dust pan, you will probably find that they are unmistakably alive, because they possess your awareness and consciousness. In addition, they are in their own way each more alive than you are, because they possess their own unique perspective, which you lack. When you identify with even the most meaningless and imaginary elements you can imagine, you become more alive, but not necessarily more spiritual or more godly.
In the above, extremely sacrilegious picture, we have the profane becoming sacred, the unconscious becoming fully alive by partaking in the Feasts of Feasts, communion with the Divine. This is a very non-spiritual depiction of spirituality, which peels away the layers of patina associated with spirituality in order to celebrate life itself.
IDL talks about life instead of spirit or God, because all emerging potentials are alive, but may or may not equate themselves with spirit or God. Imaginary dust pans usually are not equated with spirit or God. Neither are wart hogs, empty soap dishes, or dogs, although “dog” is “God” spelled backwards…Therefore, because life is good enough for emerging potentials, it is good enough for IDL. It does not need to separate out the spiritual from the mundane or God from nature because life doesn’t do so. You are invited to experiment with opening and embracing life without assuming that it is God or spirit and see what happens. Is life degraded because you do not think about it in those terms? Or does life now repossess these previously dissociated characteristics, qualities, and possibilities, becoming in itself and for itself more sacred and alive?
Words and Concepts that May Not Be Conducive to Enlightenment
We have noted above that words are powerful tools that create meaning in our lives. They need to be kept and used when usefulness follows from their meanings and discard them when they no longer adequately describe emerging realities. While Gautama Buddha is responsible for the phrase, “not conducive to enlightenment,” we could substitute, “not beneficial for waking up,” or “not supportive of your development.” This is because while “enlightenment” can be thought of as a state of complete union or oneness attained through a experience or near death experience, it is more appropriately thought of as the attainment of a stable, lasting developmental stage of wakefulness which includes clarity, witnessing, unity, and boundless awareness. There is every reason to believe, as Wilber has explained, that as cultural contexts expand that the capacity for broader, more inclusive types of enlightenment do as well. Therefore, IDL views enlightenment as a process of awakening rather than as some final destination. You are more enlightened today than you were when you were four, and if you continue to learn to get out of your own way, you will be more enlightened in six years than you are today.
IDL acknowledges the usefulness and adaptational necessity of all of the following words and concepts within given cultural contexts. For instance, you are not going to do very well in a monotheistic context, such as a Jewish, Islamic, or Christian family and nation if you do not accept and use the concept of “God,” and to encourage people in those societies not to do so is probably not doing them any favors. While it can be fun and self-justifying to irritate people by attacking conceptual sources of security or meaning for them, doing so is trivial, cruel, and an occupation for minds that are insecure and therefore attempt to make themselves feel superior by demeaning others. IDL does not point out the limitations of words you may rely on and find valuable in order to be critical or to pull the rug out from under your belief system, although it may feel like that sometimes as you read what follows. It also does not point out words and concepts it believes are not conducive to enlightenment in order to create an impression of moral, intellectual, or evolutionary superiority, because to do so would instead imply just the opposite: insecurity in one’s own belief system.
Nevertheless, there are differences between public and private beliefs, and anyone can light a candle in the darkness of thoughtless groupthink, even if it is only an interior candle that we use to illuminate our own inner world. Caution with when, where, and how you use words remains important today, and you need to weigh truth, compassion, and usefulness against one another, because the sad reality is that these are often in opposition to each other.
However, this is not the major obstacle to giving up outmoded words and concepts. The major problem is not recognizing when a word or concept is no longer useful or that it may actually be impeding further development. The reason this is such a difficulty is that if a word or concept has been useful and necessary for you to grow in the past, it has had significant adaptive value. To consider giving up anything that has proven adaptive value feels threatening, and particularly if there is going to be a social cost for giving up a word or concept. Consequently, these words tend to be immortal. Like Dracula, if you don’t use them, they will tend to re-awaken from the crypt of forgetfulness and haunt you, until you directly confront them and drive the steak of clarity and understanding through their heart. Although this analogy is aggressive, we are only dealing with words and concepts, not flesh and bone!
For example, you can stop using some words, like “tree,” and instead substitute other words, such as “plant,” “oak” or “pine,” and it really won’t matter, because not only are they in part synonyms, but few people build their culture or identity around this word or concept. Contrast that to the problems that arise when a person questions the usefulness of “God,” “Self,” “spirit,” or “soul.” While giving up concepts like the “unconscious” or “shadow,” or “interpretation,” is immaterial for many people because it has no central relevance to their lives, if you are a counselor who makes a living using a model that assumes the reality of the unconscious, these terms have adaptive importance. They may be part of your professional identity. The more central a word is to your culture, work, or identity, the more threatening will be the idea of moving away from it.
The challenge is to broaden your frame of reference, context, and world view, and that means re-thinking and re-evaluating old, comfortable, assumed words and concepts that maintain your perceptual cognitive distortions. As discussed above, IDL recognizes three types of cognitive distortions, emotional, rational, and perceptual. This last category is the most difficult to spot, because we are enmeshed in the contexts they create; we use them to create both meaning and our sense of who we are. Therefore, when you call a core concept into question you challenge both the sources of meaning in your life and who you think you are. Most young people are working hard at creating a sense of self; undermining it is not generally helpful. Many adults are highly dependent on their social and professional roles to earn a living; undermining the words and concepts that they use to validate their worth in society is not generally helpful. However, this is no reason not to educate children and totally enculturated adults in the relative and temporary nature of even their core concepts, thereby giving them permission to think through and outgrow any and every perceptual cognitive distortion when and if they so desire.
Treat the following list of words and concepts in the same way, as an education in the contextual relativity of words and concepts, rather than as a recommendation that you give up any of them today. Everyone grows at their own pace, and it is not my place or that of IDL to tell you that you should outgrow these concepts in order to “be enlightened.” That is an elitist stance, a projection of one set of values onto others, and a direct contradiction to what it means to practice deep listening. Therefore, IDL respects your choices in the words and concepts you use and honors your timing regarding when and how to both use them and give them up. After all, some, and perhaps all of the words that IDL proposes are conducive to enlightenment will themselves in time be outgrown.
However, when you do contemplate giving up one or more of the following words and concepts, approach it something like a spring cleaning, with the object of reducing clutter and opening up space for new possibilities. The analogy has some merit. Just like unused possessions are comfortable old friends which we resist saying goodbye to, so we become habitually attached to outmoded words and concepts because they connect us to the past that made us who we are today. Words have a life span, but no one ever associates them with an expiration date. Past that point, their meaningfulness no longer comes from their usefulness but because they make us comfortable. Our sense of self has become dependent on them, and a telltale sign is that not using them creates a sense of anxiety, meaninglessness, loss, or alienation. At that point, it is probably fair to say that we have an addiction to these perceptual cognitive distortions and that this addiction is blocking our development. This is a difficult state to objectively determine, because we, like Humpty-Dumpty, are rather certain that the words and related concepts that we use are useful, meaningful, and make sense, even when the truth is we are psychologically and emotionally addicted to them. Their use keeps us thinking about life in ways that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to keep growing.
The more the loss of a word and the concept it represents is accompanied with feelings of discomfort, anxiety, or insecurity, the more likely you are to be addicted to it. Addiction to a world view or a conceptualization is a good definition of a perceptual cognitive distortion. While emotional cognitive distortions create and sustain drama and rational cognitive distortions justify staying stuck, perceptual cognitive distortions create impossibility. They do not allow emerging potentials to grow when they conflict with a world view you assume is correct or necessary. You cannot recognize or see what is outside your world view because it makes no sense or, if it is part of the culture of your work and to give it up would mean losing your job, you have no incentive to do so. Therefore, you will take what fits within your world view and discard the rest, confident that you understand when in fact you are deluding yourself.
As you read through the following list of words and their explanations, observe your feelings and thoughts. If the questioning of their worth brings up strong feelings, stop and attempt to identify them. Is it fear? Confusion? Insecurity? Disbelief? Anger? Then ask yourself, “What is it about what I’m reading that is bringing up these strong feelings?” The first and most likely option to rule out is that you are feeling threatened. If you are, then the most likely explanation is that the word, and the concepts that it represents, in some way defines important, key, fundamental aspects of your sense of self. If you think that may be the case, then you need to consider whether you still need that definition of who you are at this point in your development or whether you have outgrown it and are still merely attached to the concept out of habit, or because no alternatives make sense to you. The distinction is between still climbing a ladder, on the one hand, and having reached the roof, landing, or ledge, on the other. If it is the first case, kicking the ladder out from under you is cruel and stupid. If it is the second, picking up and carrying the ladder as you progress up to the next level is going to slow you down if it does not stop you all together.
This is the sense in which IDL asks you to consider the following words. View them objectively, as tools that point to certain meanings. Are those meanings still useful in your life? Are they moving you up your ladder? Have you reached the “top” of some stage of development, but are still carrying the ladder because you might need it again tomorrow? Doing so implies a fear that the world will run out of ladders or that yours is the only or best ladder. Now imagine that you are climbing a series of ladders and that you insist on carrying all of them with you as you progress. There you are, trying to climb up your thirteenth ladder while carrying twelve of them. How is that working for you? Is that practical? Is it useful? Is it necessary? Why would a person do such a thing?
The only reason that makes any sense at all is that you have never stopped to think that not only may you not need more than one ladder at a time, but that the usefulness for you of those ladders is over. You are on a one-way trip; you aren’t unlearning what you have learned; you are not going to be re-tracing your path back down at some point and thereby need those ladders. If you let them go, you won’t fall. You will still not only be safe, but much more able to move ahead. The ladders never really go anywhere. You can pick any of them back up if you are really into carrying ladders, or you can retrace your steps up one any time you want, if you really need to. If you understand such things, yet you still insist on carrying ladders, is there any other explanation than that you are addicted to your ladders?
If so, be gentle with yourself! Most attempts to break addictions are unsuccessful because their power, resistance, and resiliency is chronically underestimated. You will not be doing yourself any favors by underestimating your addiction to any of the concepts we describe below. Do not think that you can just reconsider their usefulness and stop using them, as if by magic. They are pieces of an interlocking puzzle that creates your sense of life meaning. Those pieces interdependently support and maintain each other. When you attempt to remove one piece, the others work hard to put it back into place.
For example, when geese migrate, one takes the lead position because aerodynamics makes the trip easier for all of them. When the lead goose gets tired, she falls back and another one flies forward to take her place, because there is a collective benefit and motivation for that particular piece of the migrating goose puzzle to be in place. Similarly, when you attempt to stop using one word or concept you are identified with, one mark of your addiction to it is how resilient it is.
For example, think of the concept, “thinking.” Now stop thinking. What happens? How long does it take another thought goose to fly up and take the place of the missing lead goose? For most of us, not long! First educate yourself about your addiction and prepare yourself for a process of broad-based evolution beyond it. Where are you headed? What is your plan for getting there? When geese land in a lake or a field they no longer need a lead goose for flying. To insist on keeping one would be foolish and not useful. Once on land, each goose takes care of itself.
Where do you want to land today? Where do you want to be right now? What is your plan for getting there? Are you going to need your favorite “lead goose” once you are there? Are you willing and able to do without it once you have arrived? See if you can suspend judgment while you read, in order to get a bit of distance from your emotions. Do not take personally the questioning of some term you like and use and then choose to feel attacked. Even if you believe some of these words and concepts, you are not your beliefs. You are not your feelings. You are not your concepts. All of these things are merely tools to help you grow. Hopefully, by thinking them through carefully, you will be able to use the words you choose more clearly, carefully, and accurately, so that you are not only better able to help others, but more likely to get where you want to go. In addition, you will be clearer about the world view of IDL as well as how and why it teaches what it does.
Something can be true and still not conducive to enlightenment, such as the fact that sugar tastes good or that drama is exciting. Similarly, the truth or falsity of the following concepts is not the issue, but their usefulness. This is the pragmatic standard of truth, dating back to the pragmatism of Charles Sanders Peirce, John Dewey, and William James in the US, starting around 1870. IDL does not disagree or minimize the benefits or the usefulness of any of the following words in certain limited contexts. However, at some point the adaptive advantages of many words are outweighed by their ability to spin, create, and maintain a conceptual tomb in which our development lies frozen and fossilized. A word may have important adaptive value at one level of development and none at others, or it may be adaptive in certain limited uses at all levels of development.
I will focus on the usefulness of various words and concepts because enlightenment is primarily a developmental process, meaning that you want to do what works and avoid what doesn’t. This may be news to some readers, who are used to thinking about enlightenment as a “bolt from the blue” or an “off/on switch:” you touch the hem of the robe of the master, or get knocked off your horse by a divine revelation, and you are enlightened. As we will discuss below, there are numerous problems with confusing such intense but sporadic and temporary state changes with enlightenment. Enlightenment is an unfolding process, which means that you can do things to make it more or less likely. You are not at the mercy of divine intervention or “good karma;” there are things you can do and not do that can make a major difference in how enlightened you become and whether you stay that way.
It really doesn’t matter for enlightenment if something is “true,” or “real,” or “right.” If something isn’t conducive to enlightenment, you won’t evolve; you will stay stuck. The point is, “How does this or that word or concept support enlightenment?” If it does, keep it; if it may not, try life without it and see what happens. You may find that some concepts that you thought you needed or that you couldn’t live without, or that were essential for enlightenment, actually are none of these things. But you won’t know until you make an effort to discard or not use the ones I mention that are habitual parts of your world view.
You may find it a helpful exercise to consider what your life would be like if you never needed words and concepts that you find essential today. The ability to think clearly, which means to reflect upon the assumptions made by the words you use, is a mark of personal development to at least a rational level, and beyond. Reason and the understanding and avoidance of logical fallacies is a necessary pre-requisite for moving beyond the rational to the trans-rational. You learn words so you can think and reason; you suspend your dependency on words so you can separate who you are from them. This is itself a necessary pre-requisite to transpersonal development. The next step is to suspend your dependency on the world view that your favorite words and concepts support and justify. This is an exercise in identifying and eliminating your perceptual cognitive distortions, a requirement for becoming stabilized at the multi-perspectival gateway stage between late personal and transpersonal stages of oneness with life itself.
Wilber’s Pre-Trans Fallacy and Integral Deep Listening, an essay on the IDL website, explains why many of the following terms are inadvisable because they imply a transpersonal, trans-rational level of awareness when in fact only a pre-personal, pre-rational level of awareness is necessary or present. This is called “elevationism.” Alternatively, they imply that transpersonal and trans-rational experiences are pre-personal and pre-rational, which diminishes their value and validity. This is called “reductionism.”
Meditation can be approached as a “time out” from cognitive distortions, including perceptual ones, and the drama that they stir up. The problem is that meditation is generally not sufficient, because it tends not to change everyday mind, which runs on the set of linguistic structures we learned as children. If you do not directly address your reliance upon them, they will follow you right up your developmental ladder, framing, defining and limiting your growth every step of the way. IDL is particularly helpful in this regard in that it submerges you in both perspectives and identities that do not partake of your perceptual cognitive distortions. Not only do you thereby wake up to your own, as you objectify them and separate your sense of self from them, but you outgrow your dependency on them. You can see this process happening in the interviews that follow some of the words and concepts we consider below.
The position of IDL is to honor, respect, and deeply listen to the worth and value of each of your cognitive distortions and hear what each has to say to you. Is it time for you to outgrow it or not? If so, it will tell you how; IDL cannot provide the unique solutions that you require that fit into your own life. This is why the interviews of the following concepts are only examples of how you can use the process; they are not intended to replace your own interviews with those words and concepts which are important to you but which you may suspect you are overly dependent upon.
Scientific materialism is a perceptual cognitive distortion that believes that matter is the only reality, that the mind is the physical activity of the brain, and, in its extreme forms, that thoughts cannot have any effect upon our brains, bodies, actions, and the physical world.
IDL does not view scientific materialism as conducive to enlightenment for some of the same reasons as the distinguished group of scientists who have written, “The “Manifesto for a Post-Materialist Science”_ is the work of a group of internationally known scientists who challenge scientific materialism for these reasons and for others that they innumerate for reasons noted in their manifesto, accessed via the above footnote.
IDL, as an integral yoga, views consciousness as co-arising with behavior, systems, and culture. Therefore it does not give precedence to any of these four. Therefore, as we shall see, it considers it as fundamental a mistake to give priority to spirit and consciousness as it is to give priority to materialism and reductionism. While it agrees with these scientists that there is indeed evidence for the existence of psychic phenomena, of minds apart from bodies, and for non-physical existence, it believes that these are primarily explained in terms of the belief systems of perceivers rather than as indicators of objective realities, for reasons that we will explain below.
IDL seeks a middle ground between reductionists and elevationists – those who want to reduce reality to “lowest common denominators” and subcomponents, on the one hand, and those who want to explain reality in terms of transcendent, eternal truths. It does so because the majority of interviews of dream characters and the personifications of life issues do neither, and they do not use the language of this group of scientists either, appealing neither to spirit or quantum mechanics, nor do they use evidence from near death experiences to validate non-physical existence. Instead, they use it to affirm life in ways that are practical and meaningful to each individual.
This popular word is now commonly used to refer to an inflated sense of self-worth, the conscious-thinking self, self-esteem, or a stabilized, healthy identity. It brings to mind “egotism,” “egomania,” and “ego strength.” The development of multiple processes, cognitive functioning, defenses, and interpersonal skills in childhood and into adolescence is often called “ego development.” In Western psychology, the ego, as the predominating concept of the self, originates with Freud, for whom the ego acts according to the reality principle, which is a regulating mechanism that enables the individual to delay gratifying immediate needs and function effectively in the real world. Examples would be to resist the urge to fart in public or criticize an employer.
Functions of the ego include conscious awareness, defense, perception, intellectual-cognition, judgment, tolerance, reality testing, control, planning, defense, synthesis of information, intellectual functioning, and memory. Containing reason and common sense, the ego is supposed to separate out reality from fantasy, organize our thoughts and make sense of the world. The ego attempts to resolve conflicts between itself, the urges of the id, and the demands of conscience, or the superego, by using defense mechanisms, such as rationalization, projection, identification, sublimation, displacement, intellectualization, reaction formation, denial, repression, and regression. It is the organized, “realistic” self that mediates between instinctual impulses and conscience, rationality and irrationality.
In Hinduism and Buddhism the ego, or ahamkara is the “false self,” and being trapped in it is to be trapped in the delusion of samsara or maya. The basic dualism for Hinduism and Buddhism is between this false self and a “real” self, or between illusion and “reality.” For Buddha, both being married and having children, on the one hand, and asceticism, on the other, were not conducive to enlightenment. This is because the first represented for him giving into the desires of a selfish, self-centered self, or ego, while the second represented the artificial and counterproductive denial of the reality of such a self, which he considered a subtle form of ahamkara. According to Buddhism, while the first choice keeps you mired in suffering, the second puts you in conflict with yourself, so instead of moving toward peace of mind you just move into repression and suffering of a different sort.
The concept of the ego is so grounded in the assumptions of Freudian psychoanalysis and psychodynamic psychology that to use it conjures up the associated mechanistic, reductionistic and self-centered world view and model of personality. Similarly, the concept of the ego, or “false self,” in Hinduism and Buddhism is problematic for IDL because it creates a dualism with a “true” self, a dualism that life itself doesn’t experience. The consequence of the usage is the furtherance of a perceptual cognitive distortion that is not conducive to enlightenment. Instead of ego, IDL simply uses “waking identity” to refer to who you experience yourself to be. Your sense of self is not viewed by IDL as inherently undesirable, bad, or selfish, nor does IDL place it in opposition to an unconscious, subconscious, superconscious, or “true” self, as the ego generally is. It is simply who you think you are, regardless of your level of development. Your waking identity is the orienting perspective that you use to inhabit the various social roles you take while you are awake and dreaming, such as child, parent, student, lover, and worker, and the three dramatic roles of victim, persecutor, and rescuer.
Traditional understandings of the ego imagine it falling asleep or going unconscious in sleep and dreaming, where it is subjugated to the id or a grandiose dream identity that can fly and do magical things. IDL however, observes that when you dream you think you are awake; therefore the perspective that you take when you are dreaming is typically your waking point of view with its attitudes, preferences, assumptions, and emotional reactions. It is only upon awakening, in retrospect, that we say, “Aha! My abilities in my dream were far broader than those in my waking life, so my dreaming self must be different from my waking self!” For example, Buddha and Jesus had waking identities, and those identities provided the perspectives out of which they experienced and understood their dreams and mystical experiences, just like you and I. Therefore, IDL uses “waking identity” to refer to your “dream self” as well as your waking sense of who you are. Again, this is because when you dream, you perceive the experience from the perspective of your waking sense of self, whether you are lucid or not and whether you fly or die and are reborn in a dream or not.
While we can argue about the reality of an ego, it is much more difficult to argue about the reality of “waking identity.” One could even shorten that to “identity,” or “sense of self.” In fact, in IDL, even imaginary dream characters and the personifications of life issues have a “waking identity,” in the sense that they have a stable sense of their individuality. Doesn’t it much more sense to call the sense of self of deceased aunt Mildred her “identity” than to call it her “ego?” In addition, Integral Deep Listening attempts to avoid creating an unnecessary dualism between a false and a real self, as exists both in Western psychology and Eastern religions, because this distinction is not made by most interviewed emerging potentials. The implication is that your life compass does not need it, so why should you?
Because IDL is rooted in phenomenology, it attempts to suspend assumptions, such as the idea that “ego” is a word reflecting a concept that can be outgrown at some developmental levels. Instead, it attempts to practice deep listening to questioned ideas and perspectives to see what they have to say about themselves. What might be the practical advantages of no longer thinking of your waking sense of who you are as your “ego?” The objective is to free you from all of the associations that exist in our culture to this word so that, as you take the perspectives of interviewed emerging potentials, you can look at yourself from their perspectives, which have nothing to do with seeing you as an ego. This will free you to view your “waking self,” who you normally think you are, with new eyes, from new perspectives, and thereby reframe both its limitations and possibilities. Here is our first example of using IDL interviewing to gain insight into words and concepts:
An Interview With Ego
“Ego, I imagine you as a screaming two or three year old, maybe like the one that lives upstairs, who stomps around early in the morning, like a young stegosaurus, and who likes to scream to get what she wants. I will make you look like Lucy, of ‘Peanuts’ fame, who is forever pulling the football out from under Charlie Brown, when she isn’t playing psychiatrist. Will you please describe yourself and what life is like from your point of view?”
Ego: “I don’t think you are being fair at all. I don’t see myself at all like that! I am a queen on her throne, and not just ANY queen! I am the Queen of the WORLD! And everybody does what I want when I want or I WHACK them with my jewel-encrusted scepter!”
Hmmmm…OK…I am impressed, I guess, but since you are an imaginary part of me that I made up, I am more amused by you than scared. And while I might humor you, I don’t plan to allow you to rule my life because I don’t respect your authority.”
Queen: “I can see you require a good WHACKING! Come over here…”
“How can you whack me with your scepter if I think you are imaginary and don’t feel pain from imaginary scepters?”
Queen: “Well, you SHOULD listen to me, because I’m the Queen! And I will throw a fit, a temper tantrum until you do!!”
“How about if we just sorta move on? What do you like best about yourself, Queen?”
Queen: “I like that I am the Queen of the World and am ALL POWERFUL and that everybody has to do what I say because I am strong, right, beautiful, and PERFECT!”
Is there anything you dislike about yourself, Queen?”
“Having to put up with insolent, disrespectful fools like you! Other than that, no, what’s there to dislike when you’re perfect?”
“What part of me do you most closely represent, Queen?”
Queen: “I don’t represent any part of you! I am real and you are my subject! OBEY!”
Queen, if you could change in any way you wanted, would you?
Queen: “No. I like staying imaginary, because I can be all-powerful. I want my reality to stay imaginary too, so I can control it and make life turn out the way I want.”
“Queen, how would you score yourself zero to ten in all six core qualities?”
Queen: “All tens, of course, since I’m perfect!”
“Queen, if I scored like you do, how would my life be different?”
Queen: “You would be perfect, of course! What a stupid question!”
“Queen, if you were in charge of my life, how would you live it differently?”
Queen: “You would have no self-doubt because you would know you were right. You would both command and demand the obedience of all others because you are right and perfect. You would not tolerate conflict, disloyalty, or imperfection. When you whacked people with your scepter it would only be an expression of your compassion, your caring to teach your subjects and those who are imperfect.”
“Hmmmm…OK…So when would you suggest that I become you and think, feel, and act like you do?”
Queen: “Whenever you want to get your way, to win, to be right, and to be perfect!”
“Thank you, Queen!”
So…what have I heard myself say? That my ego is selfish, narcissistic, grandiose, and believes that it is real and in control! What do I think is the wake-up call from my life compass here? That no matter who you are or how much you have grown, you always have the option of becoming a three-year old again, for better or for worse, and it is wise not to forget that is a genuine possibility.
There comes a point in development when regression to a three-year old is more trouble than it is worth. You don’t do it not because you don’t want to admit you have a screaming, narcissistic three-year-old inside you, but because becoming it just isn’t much fun any more. It doesn’t work. That is how the entire concept of a separate self that is in opposition to everything and everybody feels as boundaries dissolve. The idea of “ego” loses its functionality; you don’t need to develop a separate self-sense any more, nor do you need to protect or defend it. Instead, what you need to do is use it, without investing any of yourself into it. It is at this point that “ego” becomes no longer conducive to enlightenment.
In psychology, the unconscious has since Freud often been understood to be the source of dreams, automatic thoughts, slips of the tongue and forgotten memories. Dreams are viewed as expressions of the unconscious mind. Freud not only believed there were such things as unconscious thoughts, but that sexuality was the source of them. The terms “unconscious” and “subconscious” create the context for defense mechanisms, probably Freud’s greatest and most lasting contribution. Concepts like “repression” and “suppression,” “projection, and “sublimation,” which are so useful that we can hardly imagine explaining life without them, scarcely make sense without implying the existence of something like the unconscious or subconscious as places where these defenses “live.”
Carl Gustav Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist, developed the concept of the unconscious further. He agreed with Freud that the unconscious is a determinant of personality, but he proposed that the unconscious consisted of the personal and collective unconscious and the collective unconscious. The unconscious is thought by Jung to contain the subconscious and the personal unconscious and their various components, such as archetypes, impulses, and dream characters. The personal unconscious is a reservoir of material that was once conscious but has been forgotten or suppressed, much like Freud’s notion of the unconscious. The collective unconscious, however, is the deepest level of the psyche, containing the accumulation of inherited psychic structures and archetypal experiences. Archetypes are not memories but images with universal meanings that are apparent in the culture’s use of inherited symbols in the unconscious that show up both in dreams and are externalized in art, architecture, and relationships. The collective unconscious is therefore said to be inherited and contain material of an entire species rather than of an individual. Every person shares the collective unconscious with the entire human race, as Jung puts it: [the] “whole spiritual heritage of mankind’s evolution, born anew in the brain structure of every individual”.
IDL does not rule out the existence of collective “thought form” phenomena. It is too difficult to dismiss out of hand the testimony of thousands at Fatima at seeing the sun move up and down in the sky or, as Jung noted himself, UFOs. However, these can be called “thought forms” or “realities,” as the perceivers of these experiences consider them, just as we consider delusions real while we are dreaming them; one doesn’t need the concept of archetypes to explain what is going on with waking mass dreams.
There is no doubt that most of the operations of consciousness occur out of our awareness and that there are many physiological and psychological sub-routines or building blocks of consciousness which constantly go on out of our awareness. These include thought processes, memory, affect, and motivation. Unconscious phenomena also include the locus of implicit knowledge, that is, the things that you have learned so well that you do them without thinking, repressed feelings, automatic skills, subliminal perceptions, thoughts, habits, and automatic reactions. Marin Minsky wrote an interesting book about this, called The Society of Mind.
There are problems with the concept of the unconscious and therefore the various subdivisions within it. Erich Fromm, another psychiatrist who is best known for his best seller, The Art of Loving, thought that “…the term ‘the unconscious’ is actually a mystification…There is no such thing as the unconscious; there are only experiences of which we are aware, and others of which we are not aware, that is, of which we are unconscious. If I hate a man because I am afraid of him, and if I am aware of my hate but not of my fear, we may say that my hate is conscious and that my fear is unconscious; still my fear does not lie in that mysterious place: ‘the’ unconscious.” Fromm is pointing out that to locate such processes and experiences in the unconscious mind is to imply there is some one definite space or place where they occur, in the “mind.” But the mind is hardly unitary, nor does it occupy some definite space other than “the interior of consciousness.” When you give the location of the contents of your unawareness a name, you are turning a process, “unawareness,” into a stable, static, real thing, – the unconscious. You now enter into a magical, and as Fromm says, “mystical” relationship with your own conceptual delusion. If it were a helpful delusion, like the word “rock,” that signifies an actually existing thing, then it might be worth keeping, however, while it, like all delusions, has its adaptive uses, in balance they do more harm than good, just like any other cognitive distortion.
The idea of an unconscious is something like the idea of a personal afterlife. Your thoughts and feelings are like ghosts or spirits, which do not just die. Instead, they continue to live, full form, and can either haunt you by incoherent urges and desires from “the other side,” or can “reincarnate,” when they erupt anew, fully grown, into consciousness.
Is this myth realistic? When your thoughts or feelings “die,” that is, are forgotten, do they go into dark inner holes, niches, or compartments to sleep until resurrected, like Dracula? Buddhism points toward a far more reasonable and probable explanation. Its doctrine of skandhas, which addresses the creation and maintenance of our sense of self, can be applied to concepts like the “unconscious” as well. Because all things arise interdependently, Buddhism refuses to talk about the existence of anything apart from the necessary conditions that lead to its expression. For example, the desire for a cup of coffee is not something somewhere inside you that is lying latent, like a seed in the winter, waiting for warmth, or a vampire in its crypt, waiting for darkness. Instead, the existence of your desire for a cup of coffee is potential, not actual, and that potential can emerge into consciousness when the proper confluence of conditions comes into being.
Thoughts and feelings are composed of multiple parts or “subroutines” that themselves do not rise to the coherence of thoughts or feelings. These components include prehension and simple reactivity. As soon as you move beneath waking identity you begin to disassemble consciousness. Wilber describes this in terms of the four fundamental attributes of any holon remaining dissociated. Instead of looking at one, unitary “unconscious” or subconscious,” if you could look into the “afterlife” of your memories, thoughts, and feelings, you would be examining components which, when looked at individually, have the same relationship to a thought that a piece of wood, brick, or a window frame does to a house. At this level of analysis, you no longer have a house; you only have the components of a house.
Here is another example. When you look at a solar system you are not looking at consciousness aware of itself, but at emerging potentials for consciousness to become aware of itself, in the sense that we know that all the atoms that make up our bodies have their origin in the sun and its surrounding nebula.
The term “subconscious” is similar to “unconscious” and is not conducive to enlightenment for similar reasons. It is commonly used to refer to the inner storehouse for conflictual and disowned parts of ourselves. It may also be assumed to be the repository for our unused and unrecognized potentials. The idea of “subconscious” is reminiscent of Plato’s famous concept of anamnesis, which contends that learning is a process of rediscovering knowledge that already exists within us, which implies pre-existence and reincarnation. It is essentially a romantic idea, that holds that all that is good, true, and beautiful pre-exists in perfection and that it only needs to be rediscovered. Everything is always already there, like the goods in a darkened warehouse; you only need to turn the spotlight of your “conscious” or “awareness” on to light it up. The advantage of this view is that it says what you need already exists, including your ability to be aware of those things you need to know in order to be happy. The disadvantage of this view is that it doesn’t fit reality. Did scuba gear exist in the warehouse of consciousness twenty thousand years ago, just waiting for us to shine the light of consciousness on it? How about the internet and drone warfare? While anything is possible, this is hardly the most parsimonious explanation. It is more likely that emerging potentials did not pre-exist, because they are possibilities that may or may not emerge into consciousness. Typically, we either throw the light of awareness on things and misinterpret them or are unable to find and illuminate things we need. In fact, it is quite possible that what we need does not yet exist for us to throw light on.
The subconscious exists as an interpretive afterthought, not in actual experience. For example, as Fromm was pointing out, when you are aware of something, like your anger, it is conscious; it is not unconscious. When you think, “I could get angry,” anger exists as an unexpressed potential only, it does not reside some place, that is, in your “subconscious.” You are full and overflowing with potentials of all sorts. Some are positive, some are conflictual, some are deadly. To allocate them to a place, the subconscious,” creates a “thing,” a “subconscious,” where only a process exists. That process is one of being aware of a potential and not expressing it, or being aware of a potential and not expressing it. Or, you can be unaware of a potential and have no capability of expressing it, or the potential may not exist. However, you cannot speak of a process of not being aware of a specific potential and not expressing it, because you can not speak or think of something you are not aware of. However, we often read the pre-existence of an idea or feeling into the actions of others, in an act of interpretive projection: “Ha! He said “lover” when he was really thinking about his “mother!” We do not know if this is true, but because we have read up on Freud’s defense mechanisms, we attribute motivating reality to a potential feeling and thought that may or may not have existed.
Dreams, for example, do not reside in your subconscious. When you have a dream, you are conscious of it; if you do not remember a dream, it is not hanging out somewhere, waiting for you to remember it, other than in your memories. If you access the correct combination of stimuli, you may indeed access that potential, but to do so you do not need to posit the existence of a subconscious. Think of dream creation as similar to that of snow. Snowflakes are not lurking in some heavenly unconscious, waiting to be created. They are generated when the right combination of temperature and moisture come together
Consequently, IDL views the unconscious, subconscious, and derivative concepts as unnecessary and misleading, although helpful for beginning students of psychology who are studying models for the working of the mind and the creation of personality. These words and concepts complicate the much simpler process of recognizing potentials of all sorts. The existence of “something,” a “subconscious,” is postulated, something that is not necessary and not the simplest or most adequate explanation available. John Searle has pointed out that the concept of the unconscious is incoherent, because thoughts, are by nature either thought or capable of being thought, while the concept of the unconscious posits thoughts that can never be thought. This is an example of how the concepts of the unconscious and subconscious can be understood as rational cognitive distortions in addition to perceptual ones.
IDL does not use the unconscious for other reasons than that it is a cognitive distortion and creates a place where only the potential for awareness in fact exists. The idea of an unconscious or subconscious is not used by interviewed emerging potentials, nor is it necessary to explain their world, or the world as seen from their perspectives. To assume that interviewed emerging potentials are elements of an unconscious, whether individual or collective, sub- or super-, is a projection onto them of waking assumptions. The phenomenalism of IDL asks, “What happens when we temporarily assume such assumptions?” “Are they necessary? Are they helpful?”
IDL invites you to experiment with suspending your assumptions about the unconscious, subconscious, superconscious, personal unconscious, and collective unconscious in order to simply look at reality from the cognitive framework of this or that interviewed emerging potential. Some may use these terms because after all, they include your language and conceptual context. However, others will not use these terms because their perceptual context transcends both your language and conceptual context. Listen, learn, and draw your own conclusions.
An Interview With the Unconscious
“Unconscious, because you are a word that designates a place and a thing, I am imagining you to be a vast domed structure, a combination of The Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter and the Pantheon in Rome. I look up into you and all sorts of bird-like papers, representing thoughts, and objects, representing feelings and experiences, are flying about within you. There are home niches everywhere along your massive domed walls, in which millions of thoughts, feelings, and experiences are nesting. Light shines in through skylights here and there, but essentially you are dark and gloomy in your vastness, but the air is abuzz with all sorts of flying notices, imaginings, and stimuli.”
“As you know, Unconscious, I believe you are a helpful, adaptive figment of my imagination, devised to help people make sense of their experience. You also know that I believe you are most useful for people who are stuck at pre-personal levels of experience to make sense of their own impulses and motivations. However, you also know that IDL teaches that such assumptions need to first be surfaced and then parked, so that I can respectfully and deeply listen to what you have to say, without my biases and interpretations getting in the way so much. However, I know that despite my best efforts, there are layers of bias and interpretation, and I know that I will contaminate and distort whatever you say because of them. While I apologize for that, I also am aware that the most I can do is to be aware of that and attempt to own up to my biases and projections as I become aware of them.”
So Unconscious, from your perspective, what are you like and what is important about you?”
Unconscious: “I am a vast storehouse. I hold your memories and your potentials, your physiological processes and mental-emotional sub-routines. Who you think you are is created out of my contents. What I do not possess you cannot become; however, because I possess so many memories and potentials, you could have become someone very different from whom you are, and you could become in the future someone very different from who you are today.”
“What do you like best about yourself, Unconscious?”
Unconscious: “I like the abundance of possibilities I provide. I am not limitless, but I might as well be. I don’t direct or predestine anything; I simply am a depository, like a magical library.”
“What do you like least about yourself?”
Unconscious: “I don’t like that I am cut off from the greater world and that I am gloomy inside.”
“Do you want to add anything else about what aspects of me you might most closely represent or personify?”
Unconscious: “Yes; your self-definitions that cut you off from the rest of the world artificially.”
“Unconscious, do you want to change? If so, how would you like to change?”
Unconscious: “Why separate me from the rest of life? Why not simply let my roof be the sky and let my contents nest where they will?”
OK…Let’s see what happens…OK…Some are nesting in the branches of trees; some are flying among the clouds: some are lying on the ground; some are riding on the backs of birds: some are flying unexpectedly up under birds and scaring them; some are watching TV; some are snoring and appear to be asleep…So where and how are you now, Unconscious?”
Unconscious: “I am no longer a “thing” or a “place” separated from the “thingness” of your entire experience or the “location” of your life. Also I no longer possess anything, so I do not limit or control what you can become.
How do you score yourself in each of the six core qualities, and why?
Unconscious: “I score myself a ten in confidence because I have no fear. I contain everything and everything contains me, because we are co-extensive. What can hurt me? What can affect me? There is no duality; there is no “other.” I don’t know how to score myself in compassion. I could say that I am very compassionate because I provide the context for any and all potentials to arise, but these may be desired or undesirable; none of that is my concern. So I don’t think of myself in those terms, but I am not so sure I am amoral like nature, either. Regarding wisdom, I am a ten. Regarding acceptance, it is also a ten. What is there not to accept? I contain all things, and I have no preferences. I don’t know if “bad” stuff is going to turn out to be just what is needed to stimulate breakthroughs, or whether “good” stuff is going to impede growth. Regarding inner peace, I am totally at peace as the context for all this activity, so I am a ten. Regarding witnessing, I am also a ten, because I watch it all with humor and amazement.”
Unconscious, do you still view yourself as I called you, as “the Unconscious?”
Unconscious: “No. I am life. Earlier you wrote that there is life that one is aware of and life that one is unaware of. While I am a context that is aware of both, I do not view potentials as dormant ‘things,’ but more like seeds that could not grow, or water vapor that may or may not turn into rain or snow or create a rainbow. So no, the name ‘unconscious’ no longer fits me. Just call me ‘life.’”
So Life, if I lived my life from your perspective, would it be different, and if so, how?
Life: “It would be open and relatively unstructured, yet structured with an essential framework, like a trellis for climbing roses. No structure means chaos and overwhelm; too much structure means stagnation and fossilization. You require a balance between the two. However, I have that balance, and the more that you become me, the more you will, too.”
Do you have recommendations for me?
Life: “You have been preferring to be aware of the spaces between your thoughts in your everyday life. These spaces keep opening up. The more that happens, the more you live in me, the more you become me. So I suggest you keep doing that.”
“Life, if I change my understanding of the Unconscious and subconscious to reflect who and what you are and what you have said, what will that do to my understanding of defense mechanisms?”
Life: “You can continue to use whatever concepts you want if you find them helpful; I don’t care. From my perspective they aren’t real, nor are they important. But then, I’m not you, and perhaps if I were, I would find them important.”
“Are there particular times when it would be most advantageous for me to look at life from your perspective?”
Life: “Yes. Whenever you get stuck in drama or the need to say, feel, or think something. Becoming me will not move you into a state of passive detachment, but rather into a space of creative potential, of context, where your actions will not be driven by a cut-off, separated, sense of self.”
If these comments from “the unconscious”/”life” were a wake-up call from my life compass, it would be telling me to continue my practice of exploring the spaces between my thoughts and feelings. Also, that becoming life expressing itself in this way feels beneficial and therapeutic to me on some deep level.
How attached to the concepts of unconscious and subconscious are you? What function do they play in your life? How would you explain life if you didn’t use them? What would it take for you to outgrow them?
Jung develops the concept of the shadow” for good and important reasons. For example, in “The Philosophical Tree” (1945), in CW (Collected Works) 13: Alchemical Studies. P.335, he says,
“A man who is unconscious of himself acts in a blind, instinctive way and is in addition fooled by all the illusions that arise when he sees everything that he is not conscious of in himself coming to meet him from outside as projections upon his neighbor.”
In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.140, Jung says,
“If you imagine someone who is brave enough to withdraw all his projections, then you get an individual who is conscious of a pretty thick shadow. Such a man has saddled himself with new problems and conflicts. He has become a serious problem to himself, as he is now unable to say that they do this or that, they are wrong, and they must be fought against… Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world.”
There are several assumptions about “shadow” that Jung and those who follow him regarding his views on the subject, including Ken Wilber, that IDL approaches differently.
First, “shadow” refers to aspects of self:
“To become conscious of (the shadow) involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real.[i]
The function of this concept is responsibility through ownership, based on the idea that we are empowered only by that which we take as self-created, as a part of ourselves.
Second, “shadow” indicates dark, or unwanted aspects of self:
“Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”[ii]
“Taking it in its deepest sense, the shadow is the invisible saurian tail that man still drags behind him.”[iii]
Jung is saying that the shadow is an evolutionary throw-back, a burden to be cast off:
“We carry our past with us, to wit, the primitive and inferior man with his desires and emotions, and it is only with an enormous effort that we can detach ourselves from this burden. If it comes to a neurosis, we invariably have to deal with a considerably intensified shadow.”[iv]
The darkness of the shadow is not petty; it can be demonic:
“It is a frightening thought that man also has a shadow side to him, consisting not just of little weaknesses- and foibles, but of a positively demonic dynamism.”[v]
Not only can it be neurotic and demonic, but also pathological and psychotic:
“If the activation is due to the collapse of the individual’s hopes and expectations, there is a danger that the collective unconscious may take the place of reality. This state would be pathological. If, on the other hand, the activation is the result of psychological processes in the unconscious of the people, the individual may feel threatened or at any rate disoriented, but the resultant state is not pathological, at least so far as the individual is concerned. Nevertheless, the mental state of the people as a whole might well be compared to a psychosis.”[vi]
Third, “shadow” indicates repressed aspects of self:
“Having a dark suspicion of these grim possibilities, man turns a blind eye to the shadow-side of human nature. Blindly he strives against the salutary dogma of original sin, which is yet so prodigiously true. Yes, he even hesitates to admit the conflict of which he is so painfully aware.”[vii]
Jung finds good reason for man’s repression of his shadow:
“The change of character brought about by the uprush of collective forces is amazing. A gentle and reasonable being can be transformed into a maniac or a savage beast. One is always inclined to lay the blame on external circumstances, but nothing could explode in us if it had not been there. As a matter of fact, we are constantly living on the edge of a volcano, and there is, so far as we know, no way of protecting ourselves from a possible outburst that will destroy everybody within reach. It is certainly a good thing to preach reason and common sense, but what if you have a lunatic asylum for an audience or a crowd in a collective frenzy? There is not much difference between them because the madman and the mob are both moved by impersonal, overwhelming forces.”[viii]
What Jung means, when he speaks of “losing one’s shadow,” is its repression:
“No, the demons are not banished; that is a difficult task that still lies ahead… Every man who loses his shadow, every nation that falls into self-righteousness, is their prey…. We should not forget that exactly the same fatal tendency to collectivization is present in the victorious nations as in the Germans, that they can just as suddenly become a victim of the demonic powers.”[ix]
“If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.”[x]
Here we see Jung’s basic theory of his method. You can’t fix personality dysfunction unless you bring repressed shadow to the surface:
“… if such a person wants to be cured it is necessary to find a way in which his conscious personality and his shadow can live together.”[xi]
Fourth, recognition of one’s shadow involves confrontation.
“Whenever contents of the collective unconscious become activated, they have a disturbing effect on the conscious mind, and contusion ensues.”[xii]
“Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the shadow and the world of darkness.”[xiii]
“To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light. Once one has experienced a few times what it is like to stand judgingly between the opposites, one begins to understand what is meant by the self. Anyone who perceives his shadow and his light simultaneously sees himself from two sides and thus gets in the middle.”[xiv]
Notice that Jung’s “holy grail” is the finding and integration of “the self.”
Let’s look at how IDL (Integral Deep Listening) looks at all four of these.
First, IDL does not recognize any self to which “shadow” belongs. It does not belong to waking identity, for it is repressed, or disowned by it. To whom, then, does it belong, if it is not an aspect of who you think you are? Is it a part of who you are but you do not think you are? Jung’s classical answer, following Freud, is that it is part of an expanded, disowned identity that is then projected outward as delusional and conflictual relationships with the world.
This theory is put to the test by IDL, as we have seen in numerous interviews and which you can determine for yourself by interviewing dream characters and the personifications of life issues of your choice using the IDL Interviewing Protocols. Take any of the words and concepts we discuss here, or any demonic dream character, “shadowy” characteristic of yourself, such as an addiction or something you are ashamed of, or some demonic world event, like 9/11. Interview it, using either the IDL dream or life issue protocol. What you will find is that yes, the character or element most likely does personify some aspect of yourself. However, as you get into the interview, you will most likely find that it embodies potentials that you do not possess. For example, when the “ego,” was interviewed, I could see how it is a part of me and could respect it, but could not bring myself to feel intimidated or controlled by it. So yes, it is a part of me, and no, it is not a part of me. Similarly, in an interview with “the Unconscious,” I could see how it personified aspects of myself, many of which are unrecognized or disowned. However, as it transformed itself into Life, it became clear that it so completely transcended who I think I am as to no longer be considered a part of me and to make sense at the same time. The only way it could make sense at that point would be for me to experience myself as a part of it. If this is so, in what sense is this or any element “shadow?” In what sense does it belong to you, if it embodies potentials that you do not possess? Does it not make more sense to say that you belong to it, that you are an aspect of it?
Like you and me, these interviewed emerging potentials have a sense of self, a sense of identity. They have a beingness which generally proves to be highly relevant and meaningful. Do they also have projections? Yes, in the form of the interpretations they make regarding experience. Doesn’t this also imply that they have a “shadow,” or repressed, dark, disowned sense of self? If so, is that not strange to contemplate that “shadow” has its own shadow? How could that be?
Like you and me, it is also the case that these interviewed emerging potentials have no self-sense. They lack authentic ontological grounding. They are imaginary perspectives that embody certain combinations of qualities and characteristics. When “shadow” elements are interviewed using IDL, they are found to be as much “not-self” as they are “self. We are as likely to belong to them as they are to belong to us.
Jung’s second point involves the supposed darkness and demonic nature of these shadowy “self-aspects.” IDL interviewing generally demonstrates that such assumptions are waking projections, even while dreaming, and are not substantiated either by interviews of the character itself or by other elements from within the dream or associated life situation. On the contrary, their intentions are generally in the service of shocking waking identity awake. This is hardly a dark, demonic, neurotic, or psychotic intention. In the interview of the Ego, the Queen certainly did her best to be fearful and intimidating. Instead of transforming into love and light, Ego saw itself more like the Queen in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves than the way in which she came across to me, more like the Queen in Alice in Wonderland. Was this a failure to accurately portray the Shadow in its authentic nature or, was it an example of what can happen when you deeply listen to some personification of what you consider to be your own shadow? We will address that issue in our interview with the Shadow, below.
Jung’s third point involves repression and disownership. IDL recognizes both, but shares the focus that interviewed emerging potentials emphasize in countless interviews: what is important is not what is repressed and disowned, or what is not yet recognized or owned, but whether or not you respectfully listen to them. When you put focus on what you fear, that is “repressed shadow,” you amplify your fear and shadow, in the hope that by doing so you will overcome the repression and generate an “integrated self.” However, what generally happens is that you get a socially enculturated self that is a thoroughgoing product of the best of prevailing groupthink. “Integration” ends up meaning “normal,” which is a frightening thought, considering the state of reality generated by contemporary “normal” humans, including the best and the brightest. IDL interviewing allows that which is feared to be heard on its own terms; if it wants to transform, that is respected; if it wants to stay the same, or become even more fearful, that is respected.
Interviewed emerging potentials themselves do not focus on the feared, repressed, or disowned. Even when they are stuck in the Drama Triangle they rarely see themselves as persecutors, but instead as angry or depressed victims. They focus on what is not yet recognized or owned and what is attempting to be born into awareness.
Jung’s fourth point about the shadow is that it requires confrontation. IDL has found that respect, as demonstrated by deep listening, in an integral way, eliminates the need for confrontation and the defensive, fear-based stance that confrontation implies. While it is possible to confront without fear or defensiveness, it is not easy, nor is it likely. Most of us imagine we are confronting without fear or defensiveness, but that belief rarely bears up under close examination. Waking up and enlightenment involve growth into the core qualities and perspectives of life; these usually do not require confrontation, other than the challenging of the logic of the statements elements make when interviewed or in questioning the nature and purpose of its recommendations.
So now let’s hear what Shadow itself, or at least my fantasy of Shadow, has to say about all this…
What are three fundamental life issues that you are dealing with now in your life?
1 What does Shadow think about what I have written?
2 How do I best help the integral community grow into its own emerging potentials?
3 How do I help the larger “spiritual elites,” of which Integral is a subset, grow into their own emerging potentials?
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!
Shadow, would you please tell me about yourself and what you are doing?
Shadow, what do you like most about yourself? What are your strengths?
I like that I am largely invisible, unnoticed and attached to you. You can’t get rid of me!
Well, not exactly true, Shadow. There are a lot of ways I can get rid of you. For example, I can go into a place where there is no light. I can go to sleep. I can evaporate so I cast no shadow. I can become you, and you yourself don’t cast a shadow.
Clever! But you and I know you don’t do most of those things and those that you do, you rarely do them with me in mind! I’m there and you don’t realize it! Ha ha!
Shadow, what do you dislike most about yourself? Do you have weaknesses? What are they?
Not really. I can disappear, but I will always come back. You can’t avoid me forever!
Shadow, what aspect of me do you represent or most closely personify?
Stuff he wants to avoid! Stuff he needs to look at but won’t or doesn’t!
Shadow, you are defining yourself as broader than Jung’s definition of you when you say you represent stuff he needs to look at. That could be stuff that he isn’t or hasn’t yet become – very different from Jung and Wilber’s definition of shadow.
I get to define myself however I want!
Shadow,, what aspect of you do I represent or most closely personify?
You are the modality by which I find expression. I need you to give me voice, shape, form.
Shadow, if you could be anywhere you wanted to be and take any form you desired, would you change? If so, how?
I would have a definite form so that I wouldn’t be dependent on you. I don’t like being thought of as being subservient to you because I’m not!
Shadow, so what kind of form do you want?
Multiple! All forms! Any form! Why limit myself? If I have to choose, why not be a nice, friendly multi-headed, multi-armed blue Shiva? Maybe carrying some severed heads! Ha ha ha!
(Continue, answering as the transformed object, if it chose to change.)
Shiva, how would you score yourself 0-10, in each of the following six qualities: confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing? Why?
Confidence, 0-10. 10 Why? If you were a multi-headed, armed Shiva, carrying severed heads, wouldn’t you be super confident??
Empathy, 0-10. 0 Why? I am too busy having fun being all-powerful to give a shit about you or anyone else! Why should I care? What’s in it for me?
Wisdom, 0-10. 9 Why? I’m wise enough to know I’m a delusion, a fantasy of your mind! Ha ha!
Acceptance, 0-10. 9 Why? You listen to me, then I’m gone…such is life!
Inner Peace, 0-10. 9 Why? What’s there to get stressed out about??
Witnessing, 0-10. 9 Why? I may not see everything, but I see enough.
Shiva, if you scored tens in all six of these qualities, would you be different? If so, how?
Nope. I’m eternal; I stay the same!
Shiva, how would my life be different if I naturally scored like you do in all six of these qualities all the time?
You would, at some stages of your development, view everybody and everything as aspects of yourself. Then, at other stages, you would view yourself as an aspect of everybody and everything else! Then, at other stages, you would give up being any self!
Shiva, if you could live my life for me, how would you live it differently?
I would give up this mythology that I am a part of you. It’s grandiose. It’s what you call “psychological geocentrism.” It makes reality derivative of your precious sense of self, which is a legend in your own mind.
Shiva, if you could live my waking life for me today, would you handle my three life issues differently? If so, how?
1 What does Shadow think about what I have written? Like you say, the concept of me is helpful for those who need to take responsibility for stuff. But it is grandiose to think you are responsible for what other people do or say, right? I am no help for those that already take too much responsibility or who don’t have issues with responsibility. Keep me, but recognize the limitations to my usefulness.
2 How do I best help the integral community grow into its own emerging potentials? Hmmmm…Respect them. Ask questions. Call them to their own potentials, not yours. Help them get in touch with those innate potentials.
3 How do I help the larger “spiritual elites,” of which Integral is a subset, grow into their own emerging potentials? No different.
Shiva, what life issues would you focus on if you were in charge of my life?
I personify cosmic humor, that is, not taking yourself seriously, like you really are someone or that what you say or do actually matters. You matter. Take your mass and multiply it by the speed of life squared; You energy. So don’t personalize stupid shit. Most everything is stupid shit. I also personify unlimited abundance. You will notice that when you are aware of unlimited abundance stuff like your shadow doesn’t matter. You don’t feel anxiety or depression or get lost in drama, either.
Shiva, in what life situations would it be most beneficial for me to imagine that I am you, become you, and act as you would?
Only when you want to feel like a multi-armed, multi-headed blue Shiva carrying a bunch of severed heads! Ha ha ha ha ha!
Give me a break, Shiva! I know that is only one of the forms you can take!
So be whatever form you want to be, moment to moment, only fully embody it!
Shiva, why do you think that you are in my life?
To help you wake up and become more alive! To outgrow yourself!
Thank you, Shiva! Now here are a couple of questions for me:
What I have you heard myself say is that the concept of Shadow can be helpful for people who need to learn to take responsibility but for people who have already learned that lesson, not much so. A lot of people need to learn not to make themselves the center of their reality, a concept that the concept of shadow assumes.
If this experience were a wake-up call from your inner compass, what do you think it would be saying to you?
Find out where people are with taking responsibility in their own growth process and respond accordingly.
Look back over the interview and list the specific recommendations that were made:
Become Shiva when you want to be absurd!
This interview will hardly be evidential to you; you have to do your own on your own personification of “shadow” and draw your own conclusions. Go back through Jung’s four definitions of shadow and consider what this shadow thinks about them, and why.
[i] Aion (1951). CW 9, Part II: P.14
[ii] Psychology and Religion (1938). In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.131
[iii] The Integration of the Personality. (1939).
[iv] Answer to Job (1952). In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.1
[v] “On the Psychology of the Unconscious” (1912). In CW 7: Two Essays on Analytical Psychology. P.35
[vi] “The Psychological Foundation for the Belief in Spirits (1920). In CW 8: The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche. P.595
[vii] “On the Psychology of the Unconscious” (1912). In CW 7: Two Essays on Analytical Psychology. P.35
[viii] “Psychology and Religion” (1938). In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.25
[ix] “The Postwar Psychic Problems of the Germans” (1945)
[x] “Psychology and Religion” (1938). In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.131
[xi] “Answer to Job” (1952). In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.1
[xii] “The Psychological Foundation for the Belief in Spirits (1920). In CW 8: The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche. P.595
[xiii] “The Philosophical Tree” (1945). In CW 13: Alchemical Studies. P.335
[xiv] “Good and Evil in Analytical Psychology” (1959). In CW 10. Civilization in Transition. P.872
Interpretations are projections by consciousness onto a person, event, or dream. For example, what a dream “means” is dependent upon the interpretations that are projected onto it and who or what is doing the interpretation. What physical or mental symptoms “mean” is dependent upon the professional assessment of a collection of symptoms and the arrival at a professional interpretation called a diagnosis. A person is providing interpretations when they provide their own opinions on the causes, meanings, and effects of conditions, whether physical, mental, interpersonal, financial, legal, or dream-based. They are paid to either eliminate disease, make people feel better, or eliminate some life problem, like procrastination, money problems, or a messy house. In the case of dreams, a good dream interpreter provides meanings that “fit,” “make sense,” or are “helpful.” Treatment recommendations are based on the interpretations of the expert.
Interpretation is the fundamental skill of both traditional dreamwork and various treatment modalities. “Experts” and “professionals” are taught to interpret symptoms and symbolic material, with the help of interpretive guides, such as the DSM V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, which the mental health profession uses to make diagnoses) and various dream dictionaries. Other words for “interpretation” are “diagnosis” and “prognosis.” Even coaching, which adamantly claims to have nothing to do with therapy and often prides itself on being an “anti-therapy,” uses interpretations constantly. Because coaches do not consider their interpretations either diagnostic or predictive, but instead “suggestions,” “advice,” or “encouragement,” they claim their services are in a different category from therapists. However, a fundamental similarity exists: these different groups are all being paid to make interpretations and give advice based on those interpretations. The debate over whose interpretations are most accurate or helpful is a secondary issue.
IDL assumes that interpretation is unavoidable, but that it can be minimized, recognized, and controlled in ways that are supportive of the basic purpose of IDL: helping the interviewed person, whether they be a client, student, or family member, to wake up out of some delusional, painful space and into a life of relatively increased clarity and balance. Consequently, IDL Practitioners defer to the interpretations of interviewed dream characters or personifications of aspects of the physical, mental, or interpersonal life issue of the moment. Interpretive comments or “associations” by the subject to a dream occur after the dream is told and before the interview. Following the interview, the interviewed student is asked to interpret what they have heard. Often the response will startle the interviewer, because it is not unusual for the person receiving the interview to have heard things that the interviewer did not. These are generally not so much distortions as much as they are inferences based on personal experiences that the interviewer was not aware of. Consequently, these interpretations by the interviewed are often very helpful for helping the interviewer understand what the interviewed person did and did not get out of the interview.
Interpretations by the interviewer in the IDL interviewing process come in the form of reading back the interview to help the person objectively hear what they have said to themselves, as well as in making general remarks regarding what the interviewer heard. While the interviewer does their utmost to do the reading back in a way that stays true to the meaning of the interviewed emerging potential, some interpretation is necessary. The interviewer also makes many interpretations in guiding the subject in how to operationalize the recommendations in the interview, choose which ones they want to work on, and set up a monitoring program. However, because this is again primarily a teaching function, it does not stir up nearly the amount of interpretive problems as you find in psychoanalysis and psychodynamic approaches to therapy and counseling.
Interviewing “interpretation,” which we do below, provides an example of beginning with an abstract concept, rather than a “thing,” such as an ego, the unconscious, or the shadow. This is routinely done in IDL when a life issue, which is itself a series of experiences and abstract thoughts about them, are associated with feelings, which are processes, and these are allowed to turn first into a color or colors and then congeal into a definite form.
When I think of interpretation it is essentially a process of the mental projection of meanings. When I think of mental, intellectual processes, the color yellow comes to mind, and immediately that brings up an image of the Sun and its rays. If the Sun were the source of the interpretations, then the rays would be the interpretations themselves. So, going with that metaphor, let’s interview sun rays.
“Sun rays, will you please describe yourselves?”
Sun Rays: “We are brilliant yellow beams of energy, so we are warmer than the surrounding space or atmosphere. We are almost nothing, but our persistence and energy make us almost everything, since we are a basic and essential ingredient of life.”
“Sun Rays, what do you like about yourself`?”
Sun Rays: “All of the above.”
“Is there anything you dislike about yourself? Do you have any weaknesses?”
Sun Rays: “There is nothing about us to dislike; what appear to be our weaknesses are actually our strengths.”
Besides my interpretations, what other aspects of myself do you most closely personify? More broadly, what aspects of humanity?”
Sun Rays: “My universalist symbolic significance is already well understood: heat, light, energy, power, growth. As rays, we have been imagined even by early Egyptians as emissaries, like angels or saviors, from the Source of Life to humanity. As such we are placed in the role of rescuers in the Drama Triangle.”
“Do you want to change in any way? If so, how?”
Sun Rays: “No. Why should we? Besides, we have an important role to fill. We need to think not only about ourselves but consider our interdependent relationships with all things.”
“How would you score yourself zero to ten in the six core qualities, and why?”
Sun Rays: “We are a ten in confidence, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing, but only because we are you, plus our own additional perspective. By ourselves, we are none of these things, because we are not conscious; we have no self-awareness, and our level of consciousness is pre-sensory. One with all things, we are unaware of that oneness. However, when you take our perspective, that oneness becomes self-aware, to the extent that you are, so those core qualities become available to us to inhabit and as descriptors that we can wear like clothes. Similarly, while you are hardly tens in these qualities, when you combine with us you are, because we possess the identification with oneness that you lack. However, our “tens” in these five core qualities is not perfection, because we know that as you evolve, we co-evolve; as you become more wise, for instance, what was a ten in wisdom will become an eight or a six.
Regarding compassion, that is a different story. We understand you human conception of compassion, as a higher octave above not only love but altruism and empathy. We can imagine ourselves being a ten in compassion, but we aren’t. That may be because you are not, but then you aren’t a ten in these other qualities either, so it would seem to be something else. It is that compassion, unlike the other five qualities, implies a sense of self in ways that the others do not, but we rays lack a sense of self. For example, a seed can confidently sprout without having any sense of self, but compassion implies a sense of self, at least as normally defined. What we do as sun rays, we do not out of a sense of any self-other dualism; there is no distinction between ourselves and others that is real, and so being compassionate toward others makes no sense. However, the fact that by our nature we give ourselves freely to be used by any and all things as they see fit might be viewed by others as extremely high compassion. However, we do not see ourselves as compassionate. So while for humans compassion is a core quality, it isn’t for us, and we doubt that it is for life itself.”
Sun rays, that is a highly controversial, almost heretical position. Most admired humans build their lives and consciousness around love and compassion. The more compassionate you are the more spiritual you are; the more spiritual you are, the more enlightened you are. So are you saying you and life are not enlightened? Or are you saying that the current human conception of enlightenment is different than yours in a fundamental and important way?”
Sun Rays: “Everyone likes to think that they are enlightened, the ‘Crown of Creation,’ and so forth, so I cannot dismiss the possibility that I do too. It is also true that even as the personification of interpretation that I do interpretations myself, and all interpretations are limited, flawed projections. All I can say is that from my perspective, compassion is not so important to me, what I am, and what I do as sun rays. You might think about it as causal and non-dual definitions of oneness. It is not that there is no more compassion or love; it is more that those experiences and interpretations are both included and transcended in a broader, more encompassing sort of interdependence.”
“There will be many who will argue about that and not like it at all.”
Sun Rays: “Sorry. That’s not my problem. If you don’t like my perspective, don’t consult me. There are plenty of other perspectives that will happily validate cultural groupthink.”
“That sounds a little haughty and judgmental of you, Sun Rays!”
Sun Rays: “I can understand how that would be your interpretation.”
“So if you were a ten in compassion, Sun Rays, would you be different? If so, how?”
Hmmm…good question…I feel like I wouldn’t have the impartiality that I need to do my job. It may be that objectivity and witnessing are in intrinsic conflict with compassion in that regard. Do I imagine myself having infinite compassion while I bake some creatures but freeze others? Do I imagine myself no longer giving myself indiscriminately, out of a desire to be compassionate and hurt no one and no thing? And if I start to discriminate, am I more or less compassionate? Most would say “less.” I agree. No, I think giving without discrimination or reserve is about as compassionate as you can get, and that is my nature, but it is not a human definition of compassion, because it necessarily results in cruel deaths for many. But I don’t worry about that, nor am I sorry about that. Does that make me cruel? Perhaps so, by human standards.”
“Sun Rays, the purpose of this interview was not to get a dissertation on compassion, but to explore what interpretation means from your perspective. I suppose what we just got was an example of how differently you interpret compassion from most humans and why you are not a fan of human compassion. If Joseph, and humans in general, scored like you do, what difference do you think it would make in their lives?”
Sun Rays: “They would give themselves completely without fear of loss or reduction in ability or strength. Because they are humans, with human limitations, they would indeed have such reductions, so I am not saying this is possible or realistic. I am simply saying what I think they would do if they were more like me. This alone would be transformative, because it would be highly creative and passionate. However, I am not sure it would be seen as compassionate. However, for me, respect is a higher value than compassion, and doing so would be a huge source of both self-respect and respect of others, regardless of whether it was viewed as compassionate or not.”
“Do you have any recommendations regarding when it would be most beneficial for me (and humans in general) to become you and act as you do?”
Sun Rays: “Yes. When persistent energy, selflessness, and non-partiality are required, whether in what you do or the interpretations that you make.”
“So you view yourself as a source of non-partial, selfless interpretations?”
Sun Rays: “Yes, but only relatively so. I know I make interpretations, and that those reflect my perspective, which is only one of infinite legitimate perspectives.”
“Thank you, Sun Rays. What I have heard you say is that you make interpretations, and you recognize that they are your projections, and that you are not claiming that they are better or superior to other interpretations. That sounds like relativism and the communal hug of egalitarianism to me, Sun Rays. Are you saying that all interpretations are of equal value?”
Sun Rays: “No. The value of an interpretation depends on its context, or the assumptions that it makes. Change the context, change the underlying assumptions, and you change both the value and the legitimacy of the interpretation. So you can honor and respect any interpretation within its context, like the mythology of Christianity, while questioning that context and the assumptions that it makes. In fact, you have to do this if you want credible interpretations that are wise instead of simply intelligent.”
“Sun Rays, people are going to be thinking, ‘That’s him talking. This is just a way of him expressing his own opinions, but ascribing them to another source, like Biblical prophets did with God.”
Sun Rays: “Of course! And they will be correct! But that is only half the story! It is not even the more important half! The rest is what I provide, as a distinct perspective, that he normally does not inhabit. What I say includes his mind, because he created me, but I also transcend his mind, because my perspective is broader and more inclusive than his. Those who do not see this or recognize this miss the point. But they are unlikely to ‘get’ it by merely reading what either you or I say. They have to do their own interviews.”
“OK, Sun Rays! So what I hear you saying is that you refuse to represent interpretation per se, but only offer your own, as one among any, but believe that your interpretations are better than many others because they both include and transcend other, more limited interpretations. Is that right?”
Sun Rays: “Yes, that’s right!”
So if this were a wake-up call from my life compass the message that I would take away is that while interpretation is unavoidable, all are not equal, and that some are more beneficial than others, because they speak from a broader context. But isn’t it true that more limited interpretations, from more limited perspectives, might be more appropriate for dealing with particular issues?
Sun Rays: “Absolutely. For instance, there are situations where consulting the Queen in the above ego interview would be more appropriate and effective than consulting us. You often find the interpretations of Buddhism useful.”
If interpretation is unavoidable, how could it be a concept that is not conducive to enlightenment? Most interpretation is done by waking identities and involves their projections. Those interpretations are generally wrong because they are partial; they miss important elements because they do not see the broader picture. Interpretations that are more conducive to enlightenment are those that are made by, or adopted from, interviewed emerging potentials. Therefore, in order for interpretation to continue to be a useful, beneficial concept past the personal levels of development, interpretations need to be increasingly made by potential perspectives that see what is attempting to emerge and can communicate it in ways that are understandable.
Multi-cultural associations to common objects and events can be found in C.G Jung’s Man and His Symbols, and Patterns in Comparative Religion, by Mircea Eliade in addition to many, many other sources. Jung saw dream symbols as compensating for repressed thoughts and feelings. More broadly, symbols are everywhere and are unavoidable. They have many useful functions, as words, road signs, and traffic lights, for example. In dream interpretation, a symbol is something that stands for something else and that is generally a visual metaphor of the “real” meaning of the dream character or object. For example, cars are symbolic of the body, buildings of consciousness, and women of nurturance, fecundity, and receptivity. You may already be recognizing the damage that has already been done to the body, consciousness, and women by reducing both their meaning, value, and worth to projected associations that lie outside themselves. This is the main problem that IDL has with symbolic approaches to dreams: they reduce the worth and meaning of dream, waking, and mystical experiences to our associations to them, thereby stripping them of their own vitality and reality.
IDL easily and routinely demonstrates the inability of symbols to adequately express meaning. It does so by asking you to write down your associations to a dream, which means your own projections onto it of your meanings, including whatever you believe the dream elements “symbolize.” You are then asked to interview one or more character in the dream. When you do so you can then compare your associations and symbolic projections to the comments, perspectives and realities revealed by the character itself. When this is done, it is routinely observed that the perspective of the interviewed dream character is far broader than what it is assumed to symbolize. For example, if we return to the interview with “interpretation,” we find that the perspective of Sun Rays is far broader than interpretation, which it considers a relatively minor aspect of its significance.
Dreamers generally views dream characters and events in symbolic terms. Consequently, IDL asks interviewed elements, “What aspect of the interviewed do you most closely represent or personify?” The answer is the character’s own interpretation of its own part in the life of the interviewed. However, the character may answer, like ego as Queen did above, “Nothing! I am real!” Also, note that just because a leather jacket says it represents protection does not mean that it is only the sense of self-protection of the subject of the interview. It may be only that, it may say it is not a self-aspect, or it may say it is both. IDL does not assume an ontological status for interviewed emerging potentials. They may be real, they may be imaginary, they may be self-creations, they may not be, they may be some combination of both. Phenomenological methods such as IDL suspend such assumptions in favor of deep listening in an integral way. It generally becomes clear that interviewed emerging potentials possess qualities that the subject does not have, or develops qualities that are only now emerging as potentials for them. It stretches the meaning of “self-aspect” to reduce such a character as Sun Rays or “Air,” in the Shadow interview, to a component of some hypothetical “real” self that transcends the awareness of waking identity.
While symbolic thinking is intrinsic to living and creating meaning, the reality of these interpretations, projections, and meanings are conditional rather than absolute. This recognition a major purpose of IDL, and it is a reason why the use of symbols in the sense of seeing dreams or life as symbolic is, past personal levels of development, not conducive to enlightenment. This is because it keeps you stuck in a psychologically geocentric world view, in which you are the center of your reality because you are the source of meaning through the interpretations you make of the symbols that you find both outside yourself and within, wherever and whenever you look. When you allow interviewed dream characters and personifications of your life issues to make their own interpretations you will probably find that your understanding of symbols and symbology shifts in fundamental ways.
Transference and Countertransference
These are technical terms coined by Freud and still in common use in psychoanalytic and psychodynamic circles. They refer to problems with interpretation that inevitably arise in the context of these therapeutic models. One definition of transference is, “a reproduction of emotions relating to repressed experiences, especially of childhood, and the substitution of another person … for the original object of the repressed impulses.” In therapy, the common issue is that the therapist becomes a substitute parent figure for the client, which means that both his hopes and fears are unrealistically projected onto the therapist, obscuring meanings and intentions and creating multiple, complicated barriers to the therapeutic process. “The focus in psychodynamic psychotherapy is, in large part, the therapist and patient recognizing the transference relationship and exploring the relationship’s meaning. Since the transference between patient and therapist happens on an unconscious level, psychodynamic therapists who are largely concerned with a patient’s unconscious material use the transference to reveal unresolved conflicts patients have with childhood figures.” Countertransference is defined as redirection of a therapist’s feelings toward a patient, or more generally, as a therapist’s emotional entanglement with a patient. Obviously, this keeps the therapist from hearing the patient clearly and objectively.
One doesn’t have to ask too many questions about these concepts before they become very strange indeed. For example, if transference and counter-transference occur on an unconscious level, then they occur out of awareness, correct? If so, then no one knows about it. If no one knows about it, then how can it be an object of discussion or treatment? Since it is an object of discussion and treatment, then it is known about, which means that it is not unconscious after all. So which is it? Are transference and counter-transference unconscious or conscious? The answer, of course, is very clever: What is unconscious to the client is conscious to trained therapists. This is why you go to them and pay them money, because they can see where you are stuck and free you of your transferences and other unconscious processes that create dysfunction. Secondly, these issues involve the unconscious, regression, projection, and other defense mechanisms. If you minimize all of these elements, wouldn’t the expected result be reduced problems with transference and counter-transference and a return to health?
Research does not support psychoanalysis and psychodynamic psychotherapy. Countless research studies have not shown benefits beyond placebo, which means about a third get better, a third experience no change, while a third get worse. However, the validation and testimonials provided by the third, combined with the non-commital response of the second third, means that there is enough support and repeat business to create a cult following and a self-perpetuating guild. These are true believers, the cult members, because they have been taken in by pre-rational anecdotal evidence, and the guild members because they have a financial and reputational stake in maintaining the status quo.
Any approach that involves projecting your meanings and interpretations onto another person is disempowering. Psychology made the mistake of assuming that because doing so works in medicine that it would work in talking therapy. It doesn’t. Because the problem is by definition unconscious, it is unknown and unknowable by the client except by another, to whom it is conscious and who has the expertise to deal with various defenses to it becoming conscious to the client. The client is thereby placed in a disempowering child-parent relationship, dependent upon the interpretations of expert external sources of objectivity called therapists.
IDL addresses these issues by encouraging the support of expert external sources of objectivity who are in themselves primarily in support of internal sources of objectivity. Their interpretations either defer to or work to support the interpretations of internal sources of objectivity – interviewed emerging potentials, particularly those which score higher than the client/student in one or more of the six core qualities of confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing. The goal is to make the client dependent on their own life compass, not a therapist. In such a model issues of transference and counter-transference are minimized because the therapist/teacher is not the primary source of interpretation; interviewed emerging potentials are. The therapist consistently defers to the collective wisdom of internal sources of objectivity because they know the client/student better than the therapist possibly can and because they innately represent possibilities and potentials that are both more creative and more to the heart of the life issue of the moment.
During the interviewing process the focus is not placed on the interviewer-subject relationship, but on listening to what the interviewed emerging potential has to say. The major considerations during the interviewing process are, “Is the client in role?” “How can I help them to become more thoroughly in role while remaining aware and conscious in time, space, and identity?” Therefore, the main relationship emphasis between the interviewer and the interviewed involves staying in role, and no emphasis is placed on the relationship between the interviewed and the emerging potential being interviewed. The emphasis is instead placed on the suspension of assumptions and expectations in order to practice deep listening to the emerging potential. Consequently, interpretations that occur are primarily made by the emerging potential. While interpretations by the interviewed and the interviewer are unavoidable, they are minimized and only addressed later, if at all, in deference to making sure one hears what the emerging potential has to say as well as its recommendations. This structure reduces opportunities for both transference and countertransference in IDL.
The question then might arise, “Is there transference or counter-transference between the subject and the element that is being interviewed?” From the perspective of IDL, this is a ridiculous question. One could always read such possibilities in, as well as say that just because the focus of the interview is between the subject and the interviewed element that does not mean that transference or counter-transference are not happening. What would be the source and intent of such arguments? Clearly it would be to maintain interpretive, projective control in the interpretations of the therapist by presenting an irrefutable possibility. But IDL is not about staying in control, nor is waking up contingent on the interviewer maintaining the final say regarding interpretations, what is projection and what is not. For IDL all this is disempowering to both the subject of the interview and the interviewed emerging potential.
Outside of the interviews themselves, during the creation of action plans or the teaching of concepts such as the Drama Triangle, cognitive distortions, and meditative techniques, the focus of IDL is on teaching and the imparting of information rather than therapeutic dialogue. Consequently, there is a solution focus rather than a delving into childhood traumas or deep emotional resistances. Therefore, to the extent that transference and countertransference arise, they are more likely to be benign and not interfere with learning and practicing IDL, just as occurs in other teaching situations.
This is a common term used by almost everyone connected with understanding the “unconscious” components of psychological development. It has a number of synonyms that are subject to the same concerns when used to mean aspects of self, including “sub-personalities,” “roles,” “inner voices,” and “dissociated identities.” The fundamental problem is that such terms may or may not adequately describe how the “other” perceives itself. How do you know unless you ask it? Otherwise, isn’t the assumption that it is an aspect of oneself a projection of the viewpoint of the perceiver, not an objective statement of the perspective of the perceived? You do not know if it is an accurate assumption or not until you ask. Who does? There are other problems. For example, I can refer to you as a “self-aspect.” This is indeed true, because all I know of you is what you represent to me. You speak and act and I will see, hear, and respond to different things, in different ways, about you than someone else will, because I perceive you through the filters of my own experience. Therefore, all I can know of you are those components of your identity which are aspects of my own experience. Therefore I can claim that you are what you represent to me. Fair enough. However, is that all you are? Evidence indicates otherwise. This evidence is derived from the fact that other people will take you to mean very different things by what you see and do than I do, rather like different blind men grabbing different parts of an elephant and claiming that they know what the elephant “really” is. This is equivalent to me saying, “Because you are these aspects of myself, that’s who you “really” are. This is a pre-rational way of “thinking” and dealing with the world because it is inherently solipsistic. Even more fundamentally, there is something downright disrespectful about reducing your essence to your utilitarian value to my structure of meaning in the world. Like seeing you or objects of my experience as a symbol, doing so is reductionistic. Who and what you are is forever much more than an aspect of myself.
It is this awareness of both a desire and a need to respect the other that IDL refuses to reduce others, including dream characters or fantasized images, to self-aspects. Instead, it chooses to pursue a middle way, where it denies that such elements are reducible to either external realities or internal self-aspects, while refusing to deny their subjective and objective characteristics. Respecting emerging potentials is not done out of some sense of egalitarianism reminiscent of the fight for animal rights; we are talking about self-created fantasies that lack selves, not animals. There is a genuine ontological difference. It is the act of respect itself, fundamental to deep listening, which is the purpose, because it is an inherently therapeutic and productive stance to take toward all of experience.
Like most other terms that IDL does not consider to be conducive to enlightenment, this conclusion regarding self-aspects did not come from philosophy or abstract reasoning. On both counts my background has been to assume that interviewed dream characters and imaginary elements were self-aspects, and I indeed used that term for decades. It only slowly dawned on me as the result of many, many interviews with spoons, storks, clouds, stars, and piles of shit that these were essentially personifications of perspectives that were self-aspects, in that they were self-created and were limited by the vocabulary and level of development of the subject of the interview, and they were autonomous and independent, in that they offered perspectives and creative ideas and solutions that could not reasonably be said to be derived from any meaningful definition of self. I must admit, with some embarrassment, that this awareness of the intrinsic autonomy of these perspectives was strongly evident to me since I began this work in 1980, but I did not draw the obvious conclusion from it for some thirty years. Such is the power of projection and groupthink. While the definition of self could be so expanded in order to include emerging potentials in addition to anything and everything, it does not reflect the experiential reality of the relative autonomy of these perspectives.
Reducing interviewed emerging potentials to self-aspects not only discounts their autonomy but attempts to reduce their ontology to a sub-function of the self. However, their perspective typically transcends that self in significant ways, including scoring higher than the interviewer on one or more of the six core qualities. This raises a further challenge, and that is, “How is an emerging potential either ‘emerging’ or ‘potential’ if it is in fact a rediscovered aspect of one’s ‘true’ but ‘lost’ nature? The implication is that there is no evolution or development, only a return to a lost Eden. But this goes against philogyny. Evolution and development really do “go where no man has gone before.” This is why Sheldrake has had trouble designing experiments that validate his morphogenic fields; every time life evolves some form, like an eye, it is doing it for the first time, regardless of how many times it has done so previously. It does so because life wants to see; and because conditions exist for sight to emerge.
I find that moving from viewing interviewed emerging potentials as neither self-aspects nor objective realities, but drawing on both, is for me a higher, more evolved position, because it recognizes the contributions of both objective and subjective realities to these perspectives without insisting on the conclusion demanded by Aristotelian logic: they must be one or the other; they cannot be both or neither. However, the brilliance of Nagarjuna is, following Gautama, that there is a middle stance which sees, acknowledges, and respects the contributions of both, yet refuses to be defined by either one.
An Interview With a Bread Knife, Lime, and Lime Tree
To get further clarity on this issue an interview with a character that is undeniably a “self-aspect” will be helpful. This might best be something that is purely personal, so that it is devoid of most collective or “archetypal” symbolic meanings. Of course, this is impossible, because meanings and interpretations can and will be projected onto any and every image one can come up with. However, something that is clearly personal is most likely to be viewed as a self-aspect. A bread knife comes to mind, the one I was using this morning to slice a small loaf for breakfast. The scene generated an alarm reaction from my father-in-law, who was afraid I would cut my hand. That in turn caused me to ignore him and continue with the cutting, showing him that there was no blood and that I did not cut myself. While I viewed his reaction as an unsolicited attempt to rescue me, he saw it as a natural reaction to a perceived danger.
So bread knife, are you a “self-aspect” or not?
Bread Knife: I do not think I am a good example for you because people will say, “But it is a real bread knife.” If you want to go with this example, why don’t you interview your feelings about being parented and rescued? That’s plenty subjective!
OK. So what are my feelings? Hmmm… Violation; disrespect. Disrespect, mostly. So if disrespect had a color it would be lime green. It has turned into a very non-creative lime. So lime, describe yourself:
Lime: I am green and growing on a tree with a whole lot of other limes. In fact now I am changing not only into all the limes but the tree with all its fruit!
So Lime Tree, what do you like best about yourself?
Lime Tree: I am beautiful, peaceful, well-rooted, and I bear a rather exotic fruit that is a mixture of sour and sweet.
Is there anything you dislike about yourself Lime Tree?
Lime Tree: No!
What aspect of myself do you most represent or personify, Lime Tree?
Lime Tree: I personify many things about you: your rootedness, naturalness, peacefulness, abundance, sweetness, and your ability to be sour!
So are you an aspect of me, Lime Tree?
Lime Tree: I am whatever you want me to be, an aspect of you, a collective, archetypal motif, a representative of actual lime trees, and a relatively autonomous perspective. I don’t limit myself to one or another of these categories; why should you limit me to one or the other?
If you could change in any way you wanted, Lime Tree, would you? And if so, how?
Lime Tree: I like myself the way I am, thank you.
Lime Tree, how would you score yourself zero to ten in the six core qualities?
Lime Tree: In confidence I am ten because I have no fear; in compassion I am ten as well, because I give myself and my fruit freely; in wisdom I do not know, because I am pure awareness, without content or thinking; in acceptance I am a ten; in peace of mind, also a ten; and in witnessing I am also a ten. If you were to score as I do you would not let the reactions of others get under your skin or irritate you! If people want to rescue you, if you became me you would just smile, because you wouldn’t personalize it. Become me whenever you are around people who have a history of rescuing you or others to help you not be caught off guard.
Lime Tree, there is no denying that you are an aspect of me, however, I can tell you that not reacting to people who attempt to rescue me is not part of who I normally am. You are suggesting that I do something that I do not normally do, nor is it something that I have at some point learned to do and forgotten. If I follow your advice I will be doing something that is not an aspect of my personality. In this regard, I do not see how it makes sense to think of you as a self-aspect.
Lime Tree: I agree. I think you are correct to think of me as an emerging potential in that regard because, although I am clearly an aspect of you, I am clearly a possibility for a healthier, more balanced response to the actions of others than you have at present or have had in the past in your life.
Thank you, Lime Tree. I think you have illustrated the limitations of “self-aspect” and related terms better than I have done!
How relevant is this interview? I would have to say “very,” because my wife Claudia does not like it when I react to her or someone else trying to rescue me. She says I am getting into drama when I do so, and she is right! I also know that I am personalizing, which is a cognitive distortion. So this interview is not only relevant, but helpful, because becoming this lime tree when I feel an attempt to rescue me feels appropriate, workable, and realistic. It might not to someone else, but then, why should it?
Reincarnation and Karma
“You may not always end up where you thought you were going, but you’ll always end up where you meant to be…”
If you are looking for a story that explains your life, who you are, why you are the way you are, and how you came to be like you are, reincarnation is for you. Consequently, reincarnation fills an important void for many people who either are not happy with the path set for them by their parents, teachers, and society, or who have walked that path and found it bankrupt. They wonder where to find a sense of life purpose and direction. Karma is the East Indian doctrine of personal cause and effect, as exemplified by the sign often found in metaphysical bookstores: “Shoplifting is bad karma.”
Reincarnation and karma are not only very common, but very soothing beliefs. They create acceptance of our circumstances, so that we focus on making them better rather than fighting them. In many cases, acceptance is both the wiser and healthier choice. It is a way of thinking that is called many things, reincarnation, karma, fate, predestination, Divine will, trust in God, or predetermination. It fulfills important human needs for security, acceptance, and meaning. It also generates social stability that is critical for the long-term survival of societies. For example, cultural continuity over millennia in India has been supported and preserved by the doctrine of karma and a belief in reincarnation. Buddhism, built around monasteries, would never have grown and flourished without a belief that community support of monasteries, including sending children into the orders, would bring good karma.
Sometimes I look at the injustice that belief in reincarnation causes people to accept in the world and I am stunned. Sometimes I look at the unnecessary limitations that people impose on themselves, because they believe in karma and I am appalled. Sometimes I look at the bright minds and good-hearted people who not only believe in reincarnation and karma but teach these beliefs to their children and friends and I wonder if I have entered the Twilight Zone. How could it be that I so believed in and taught these ideas for so many years of my life?
I was first exposed to reincarnation and karma when I was thirteen, through the Edgar Cayce readings. I met a number of professionals who meditated, worked on dreams, and believed in reincarnation and karma. I did too. In my adolescence I read Noel Langley’s Edgar Cayce and Reincarnation, which explored how both worked in depth. I had dreams with reincarnation themes and I had psychic readings where I was told about past lives. In college I studied comparative religion, among other things, and learned the Hindu and Buddhist doctrinal roots and socio-cultural contexts from which twentieth-century Western ideas about reincarnation and karma sprung. I learned about how each future Dalai Lama, as a boy, recognizes and accurately picks out personal possessions from his past life. I read Ian Stevenson’s Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation, and taught the concepts of karma and reincarnation in my early twenties. Both concepts were fundamental components of my belief system from the age of thirteen until I was in my late twenties. Therefore, I do not approach these words, concepts, and beliefs as an outsider or as someone who does not have a personal experience with their usefulness or a healthy respect for their benefits.
How does karma become less conducive to enlightenment the farther you go past the development of a competent social self? India, where the doctrine of karma is still pervasive to this day, since it is a foundational element of Hinduism, provides a massive, multi-millennial demonstration of the dangers of taking on too much responsibility, due to the pervasive cultural adoption of the concept of karma. Belief in karma created an extremely stable and compliant Indian society, in which every individual was locked into the profession of his father or mother and whose choice of life partner was determined by his parents, as part of the karma he or she had chosen, before being born. The result of this belief system was highly adaptive: India has one of the most stable and impervious societies man has ever created, one that has withstood the invasions of Moguls, British colonialists, and capitalists. It even survived where and when Buddhism did not and could not. The history of karma and reincarnation in India is a powerful example of the extraordinary ability of the doctrine of karma to support individuals and societies at levels of development that require stability and security. It even provides freedom for those who have already raised families to drop out of society, become hermits, and focus on their own liberation. Karma may, in fact, be the best cognitive structure devised to date by humans for providing cultural stability and security, as well as teaching and maintaining a personal sense of responsibility.
However, what happens when the focus of development shifts from security, stability, and personal responsibility to personal level issues, such as guaranteeing human rights and egalitarianism? At this point you have a massive, unavoidable cultural collision between karma, on the one hand, and discrimination and injustice. What is responsible on one level is not responsible on the other, higher level. Karma not only explains, but actually provides for religious and divinely-sanctioned social injustice and deprivation of human rights, all in the name of personal, social, and dharmic responsibility. In the late 1940’s India addressed this inconsistency with laws that outlawed the caste system. However, because you cannot outlaw the doctrine of karma, the caste system remains alive and well in India, and with it massive discrimination and injustice.
Setting aside for the moment the question of the truth or falsity of reincarnation and karma, there are important psychological reasons why these beliefs are very attractive. From about three until the mid-twenties learning to take responsibility is a core skill we must acquire if we want to live a happy life. Learning to be on time, to keep your word, obligations, and promises, to be accountable, and to accept responsibility for your actions are not only critical elements of character, but fundamental signposts of maturity. If you don’t do these things, you have not developed a healthy waking identity. Of course, many people never learn personal responsibility or apply it only in limited ways. Therefore, to the extent that the concept of “karma” helps people to be more responsible, it is an important and beneficial aspect of waking up. Belief in reincarnation and karma is quite helpful for the attainment of those stages of enlightenment that are associated with building a strong, stable sense of who you are, which means the three pre-personal stages and the first two personal stages. Since competency at these stages, including a strong ability to be responsible, is a pre-requisite for higher stage advancement, a strong case can be made of the absolute necessity for a belief in some mythology, meaning “system of truth,” like the dharma/karma/reincarnation constellation. If you are irresponsible and need to learn to be more responsible, the concept of karma is invaluable, because it makes you responsible for everything that happens to you. Because we all start out self-centered and irresponsible, birth is constantly generating people who can benefit from the concept of karma, with reincarnation there to fill in the details.
While having a strong sense of self generally translates into competency within the expectations and demands of your family, work, and society, both growth and the attainment of enlightenment past mid-personal stages of development involves the deconstruction of your sense of who you are. This does not mean that you get rid of your identity, but rather that you develop objectivity about it and toward it; your persona or sense of who you are no longer defines your identity but rather serves as a useful set of tools for addressing those issues that are important to you today. This is a huge difference, because when you believe in reincarnation and karma you think you are that responsible self. When you objectify it, that self no longer controls you through its structures, roles, and definitions of appropriate and inappropriate behavior, truth, and reality. The fear is that you will thereby become irresponsible when you give up the doctrines and beliefs that supported the development of that self; instead, what you find is that you access domains of freedom that you did not know existed because your belief in reincarnation and karma blinded you to them. You retain your learned ability to be responsible; the moral regression you imagine or fear does not occur, but your desire to be responsible is no longer validated or justified by a responsible self or a metaphysical rationalization for why you need to be responsible. Instead, you are responsible because when you do so you honor life. It’s as simple as that.
There are no shortcuts to the transpersonal. Before you can be nobody, you have to first become somebody. You have to build a competent, confident, responsible, sense of self before you can objectify yourself from it. Those who think they can bypass this process by going straight into the ashram or meditating for hours a day, by becoming psychic, or by learning energy healing, are actually extending their developmental process by postponing the creation of a strong, autonomous sense of self.
Belief in reincarnation and karma, like the doctrines of fate, luck, predestination, and Divine accomplish two schizoid things at the same time. On the one hand, they make you responsible for everything that happens to you: it is all happening because you “created” it, if not by your present choices, then by something you did in a distant past existence. Get robbed? You were probably a robber in your past life. Lose a child to cancer? This is a lesson you needed to learn in order to burn off karma from past lives and to grow in peace, forgiveness, and mercy. Contact an incurable disease? You are burning off even more karma. Do you find yourself in an unequal society, in which people discriminate against you and avenues to better yourself are closed to you and your children? No problem! You are exactly where you chose to be! You are where you need to be in order to grow most quickly, because everything is in divine order.
On the other hand, these beliefs make you a victim of some process that you either caused but have forgotten, or of some force or entity bigger than yourself, like fate, luck, or God. The role of victim is very powerful, because even if you have victimized yourself, you are both to blame and blameless at the same time; there are powers above and beyond you that control your destiny. Since this is true, how could you not be a victim? There is a fundamental and powerful distinction which, if not recognized, creates a trap of self-centeredness that all the meditation and mystical experiences in the world will not burn away. This is the distinction between being a victim, such as a child to cancer or of an earthquake, and victimization, which is a further, psychological and optional step that is a disastrous. Not only does something bad happen to you but you perceive it as victimization, that is, that something or someone is either persecuting, punishing or “testing” you, like Job, in the Old Testament, thought God was doing. The problem is that victimization demands a self that is victimized. There is no transpersonal anything as long as you are addicted to a sense that you are somebody or something. To the extent that your belief in reincarnation and karma keep you believing in some self, whether you call it ego, persona, “higher self,” soul, Atman, or Self, you will continue to confuse your understanding of the transpersonal as development into it; you will confuse your mystical openings into the energic, subtle, causal and non-dual domains as “proof” of your transpersonal development when in fact your identity remains anchored in personal realms, supported by beliefs that tether it and allow it to go no further.
I must admit that it was not until my thirties that it dawned on me just how grandiose belief in reincarnation and karma was. Was I really that responsible? Was I really that powerful? If I was so knowledgeable before I was born, why did I not have the foresight to see major ways I would complicate my life unnecessarily and consequently structure a future that could avoid such unnecessary misery? Did I really want to believe that children “chose” to be born to child molesters? Are children “meant” to die from cancer? Are people born and raised in poverty, like those born into the sudra caste in India, where they were “meant” to be? For a while I decided that the pre-existent self must simply be so eager to incarnate, that it takes a perspective similar to someone on a mountain, for whom the lands below look flat and the way ahead clear, because the swamps, alligators, pythons, and mosquitoes are invisible from such a height. However, in time it dawned on me that my challenges in life must then not be due to karma, but my stupidity and ignorance. Past lives and karma no longer worked to explain how I was now viewing life. However, I still knew the evidence for reincarnation, and I had no better explanation.
Nevertheless, my present stance is that reincarnation is true from some legitimate “real” and valid perspectives. It certainly seems to be true in at least some cases for at least some individuals, and if it is, then the doctrine of karma must have some reality as well. In addition, I would like to be able to set a clear intention to come back and complete the work I have started, or at least kick the IDL ball a little farther down the field, closer to the goal posts. And because I have no certainty about what is or is not true, I will continue to set a clear intention about coming back and continuing my work. This is magical and delusional from some perspectives and true and valid from others. It may well be a rationalization or a hedging of my bets against what I do not know.
However, I neither understand reincarnation and karma in the context of justice or enlightenment, nor do I, on the whole, find the benefits of these beliefs outweighing the obstacles they create for development past the mid-personal. So it probably sounds contradictory that I do not consider either karma or reincarnation to be, in the balance, helpful, even if they are somehow or other true for some people. This is because once you accept that enlightenment follows an evolutionary, developmental arc, you understand that what is good and useful at some stages of development is harmful and pernicious at others. If you look at how the belief in reincarnation and karma actually affect lives, you find that they often keep people trapped in stories about some past that no longer exists and in a sense of personal responsibility that is grandiose. These beliefs are also used to create a mystique that first opens people up and then leads them into a cul de sac. For instance, take the extremely successful career of Brian Weiss, who has been able to leave his practice of psychiatry and instead make a living selling books and giving talks on reincarnation to audiences around the world. So you accept reincarnation and karma. What then? Do you transcend and include those beliefs in a larger developmental spiral or do you stay stuck as you allow them to continue to define who you are? Are the problems you are encountering today really due to what you did in some past life? Are you actually that omniscient, powerful, and grandiose as to believe that you created your life conditions? Do you really believe you have that much control over the world, others, and yourself? How can it be that you are so all-knowing and all-powerful and yet you are not able to discipline yourself to meditate, exercise, or stop eating junk?
You are simply not as responsible for who you are and what has happened to you as the doctrine of karma insists that you are. Society, culture, your parents and your teachers are primarily responsible for how you think, feel, and act, and what you believe. If you had been born to different parents, in another culture, and were brought up speaking a different language, wouldn’t you largely be a different person? People try hard to minimize this reality by pointing to psychological traits that are “inborn.” However, can’t the same be said for a snowflake? Each has an “inborn” destiny to be six-sided that has nothing to do with karma or reincarnation, yet each is unique and distinct, and that also has nothing to do with karma, dharma or reincarnation. Most people simply refuse to accept that they could and would have been an entirely different person with different thoughts, interests, and beliefs if they had been born into a different context. The idea is too threatening to their sense of who they are because they depend on their sense of self for their security, stability and meaning. They can’t imagine life otherwise. Therefore they manufacture belief in different forms of predestination, of which karma and reincarnation are merely one variety. Functionally, reincarnation and karma simply extend, validate and expand your life script, the pre-determined story that you follow. You hear and repeat stories to yourself that provide you security by explaining why you are who you are and by validating beliefs about who you will become in this life and after death. The underlying question is, “Why do you need such validation?” Do you, or do you simply think you do? Is this need real and legitimate or is it merely a cognitive delusion? In the karmic version of reality, this is inescapable; you cannot escape your karmic scripting. Once you are inside a particular mythic belief system it is logically consistent, like geocentrism. It is only when you step outside of it that you recognize its limitations. Predestination and pre-determination turn personal choice into an illusion and therefore relegate you to the position of victim in the Drama Triangle, with no escape.
Today I view reincarnation the way I look at geocentrism. I have proof that that the sun revolves around the earth. All I have to do is look up and point to prove it. It is undeniable, and sensory existence is based on this undeniable, sensory-apparent, common sense reality. Therefore, I can say, with sincerity and certainty, that geocentrism is a fact. However, since Copernicus, we know that this fact is a relative truth and not an absolute one. It is helpful and vital for sensory survival, but is untrue and therefore less helpful and in fact detrimental to growth into mid-personal developmental stages and beyond. In fact we know that a belief in geocentrism past the mid-personal is in fact a barrier to the deconstruction of self, because it is a belief system that assumes that the self is the center of reality. As long as one makes such an assumption how is it possible to outgrow oneself, regardless of what mystical experiences one has? The psychopathic distortions of the self outlined by Wilber that affect meditators, shamans, drug takers and near-death experiencers who access energic, subtle, causal and non-dual realities are testimony to the fact that Hinduism and Buddhism never recognized or saw through this problem, even with the Buddhist concept of anatma. This is because belief in reincarnation and karma inherently generate a belief in and attachment to a self.
Today I take a phenomenological stance toward these beliefs, a stance that I recommend that you play with and see if it works for you. A phenomenological stance suspends judgment and belief, meaning you neither believe nor disbelieve in reincarnation or karma because, like geocentrism, while you respect their usefulness at certain levels of development and perspectives, you recognize their limits at others. Therefore, you hold them as relative, not absolute, truths, from a phenomenalistically-based perspective of multiperspectivalism. This is a mouthful, but it is actually quite simple. You simply observe experience with clear meditative mindfulness, without the need to explain or justify it or make it meaningful by telling yourself explanatory stories, called “beliefs,” in an attempt to explain life. You can do so when you recognize that there is no “you” that is born or dies, there is no self to protect or defend by the weaving of elaborate “Atman projects.”
Just as you do not have to be Hindu or Buddhist to believe in karma, you do not have to be an Indian in order to be damaged by its implications for your development. One Muslim wrote, “In Islam, (believing you are where you were meant to be) is not a defeatist attitude or leaving all to fate. We are to endeavour to do our very best.. and then leave it to our creator to decide (our fate). It is rather magical really… As our creator is the biggest planner… We plan but our creator decides what is best for us.” One doesn’t have to be religious to believe in some version of this idea; you will find it in most spiritual new agers and atheists, like Buddhists and even some secular humanists. You routinely find it in people who justify their mistakes or ill-treatment as a child or by a previous partner by saying, “If that hadn’t happenied, I wouldn’t be who I am today,” with the implication being that some action was necessary, justified, “right,” and pre-determined. Even many scientists think this way. It is an unrecognized cognitive distortion, with rational rather than emotional roots. It is a cognitive distortion because it overlooks the fact that if you had a different past you would indeed be a different person today, and who is to say that person would not be healthier, more balanced, and more capable of generating benefits to society than who you are today? You don’t know that; you simply choose to believe that who you are is who you were “meant” or “fated” or “predestined” or “karmically predetermined” to be because you can’t imagine being someone else and you want to feel validated in the choices you have made in your life (“Even my bad choices were necessary and good because without them I would not be the person I am today.”) and the person you have become.
When you are told that you are responsible for how people treat you, that you get as good as you give, and that you are where your choices have placed you in life, what is the function of such statements? On the one hand, the message is, “make the best of your circumstances.” On the other hand, aren’t you being told that “You are so powerful that by your choices you control how other people think about you and act toward you, even when you don’t realize it?” Are you not being told, “Don’t rock the boat by denying your responsibility?” Or that “Everything is in divine order; accept yourself, your life and your fate!” Isn’t the subtext, “If you sit down and shut up, you will make life easier for others, and therefore for yourself?”
If society is able to convince you that your concerns, such as a lack of opportunity for education or employment, are all about your karma and not about social policy or employers, then you will go away and leave politicians and bosses alone. It will never cross your mind to demand that abuse stop, because after all, it’s your karma. If Islam destroys Buddhism in India and Chinese communism destroys Buddhism in Tibet, it is the karma of Buddhism. If America is destroyed by its corruption and delusion of exceptionalism it is its destiny. If you think this way will you require respectful communication? Doesn’t disrespectful communication involves lessons that you have attracted that you need to learn? Isn’t this how parents justify child abuse and how governments justify incarceration and war? Why advocate where you work company, educational or governmental reforms, since your bosses or the powers that be are working out their karma, just as you are? Why expect anything of your politicians? If they are incompetent or corrupt, it is only because that is where their karma put them. If you hold them accountable, or to expect them to be honest, responsible, and courageous are you not interfering with their karma? Your job is to be accountable, honest, responsible, and courageous, in submission to your karma; that of others is none of your business. If you focus on burning off your own karma, you will get your reward in future lives and those corrupt politicians will get theirs. In the meantime, accept your victimization with equanimity. If people don’t treat you with respect, it’s your problem, not theirs, because you attracted this treatment as your karma.
Looked at from such a perspective, the doctrine of karma is the Drama Triangle on steroids. It is psychopathic and self-destructive. People only continue to believe in it because they ignore or rationalize away such obvious implications of a belief not only in karma, but fate, predestination and luck. Karma is your rescuer because it teaches you to be responsible and to live a life that is in alignment with your dharma, or your divinely-directed life path to liberation. However, because it makes everything your responsibility, karma is the persecutor, turning you into the victim of the decisions of others, such as your parents and the culture in which you are embedded. Consequently, you are blind to the chronic persecution and abuse that you choose to carry as a mark of your superior character. The result is that karma keeps you stuck in all three roles of the Drama Triangle: rescuer, persecutor and victim. There is no peace of mind or enlightenment when you choose to live within the Drama Triangle.
There is considerable evidence that thankfully, we humans can and do change our childhood scripts and cherished belief systems. This implies that while predestination and all forms of determinism, including karma and reincarnation, may make sense in theory and even be supported by convincing anecdotal evidence and personal testimony, they can be effectively and productively ignored, neutralized, and overcome in practice. Your decisions can and do change your life scripting, and therefore impact all sorts of things with predictable outcomes. However, in order to do so, you first must become aware of your life script, the basic life decisions that you have made that determine who you are and how your life is supposed to turn out. Belief in reincarnation and karma are two examples. Then you have to evaluate these assumptions, sort through them, and decide what is beneficial and what needs to be tossed in the dumpster. At this point you can set new goals for yourself that take your scripting into account, but are not thereby limited by it or to it. The problem is that who you think you are may be so caught up in your scripting that you are addicted to it; to get rid of your cherished assumptions about the nature and meaning of life may infer that you won’t know who you are any more, and that can be quite threatening. This is another basic reason why it often feels safer to stick with the grandiosity created by belief in the cognitive distortion of some form of predestination.
This is why IDL teaches script analysis, goal setting and the subordination of personal goals to the priorities of life, as represented by a collective of healthy interviewed emerging potentials. Consequently, outgrowing a dependency on belief in reincarnation and karma is another area in which IDL interviewing can be very helpful. Most of the emerging potentials you get to know could care less about karma, past lives, or reincarnation. Your life compass probably will be found not to care either. This is because not having been born and having no stable or “real” self, interviewed emerging potentials and your life compass have no self to defend or rationalize. Life itself, as revealed by IDL interviewing, does not seem to care. Only you do. Why might that be?
Few interviewed emerging potentials seem to believe in karma. If it is such an important, fundamental statement about the nature of reality, why do they not? Could it be that they have outgrown it? Could it be that as you practice identifying with their perspectives, that you will outgrow it as well? IDL predicts that you will, and that is a prediction that you can put to the test in your own life by doing interviews and applying in your life those recommendations that make sense to you.
What takes the place of karma? How about a reliance on the seven octaves of the round of every breath you take? Reincarnation, fate, karma, and predestination support a limited definition of one of the six core qualities, acceptance. Such beliefs create both a sense of meaning for life and a way to stop fighting things that one is powerless to change so that energy can be focused on building who we are where we are. Because we all need acceptance, particularly as children, this way of thinking is useful, important, and valuable. However, acceptance is only one of the six core qualities and the six core qualities are only one of seven octaves of enlightenment. The abuses and irrationality that accompany karma, fate, and predestination are an example of the imbalances that follow when we emphasize one quality over the others.
In this regard, Integral Deep Listening provides an antidote to too much acceptance by also emphasizing wisdom and objectivity. As we develop these qualities we learn to think and question our beliefs; we see both their usefulness and their partiality; we learn why and how we need to supplement them with a balance of the other five core qualities.
While IDL respects the amazing usefulness of karma, fate, and predestination for pre-personal levels of development, it is appalled that intelligent, rational people not only defend it, but continue to believe in it. This is testimony to the reality that cognitive distortions are always with us; they just become more subtle, requiring higher, more refined levels of objectivity to recognize. The more you outgrow your socially-contrived definition of who you are the more likely you are to develop the objectivity required to see that karma encourages the taking on of far too much responsibility while assuming far too much predestination. As such, reincarnation and karma are primarily for the benefit of building and maintaining an early personal level of development.
What are the alternatives? How about internalizing the perspectives of interviewed emerging potentials that are more awake than you are? How about re-scripting your life using triangulation? How about moving beyond scripting, drama, and pre-destination by following the recommendations of your interviewed emerging potentials? How about living moment to moment within the span of each breath?
Within Hinduism and Buddhism, reincarnation and karma are both components of a broader concept, dharma, or divine will, law, or order. To say “it is your dharma” is a way of saying, “it is occurring according to divine order.” That means, “Everything is predestined by divine law.” We will now see if dharma will personify itself for us and grant us an interview, as a way to gain another perspective on both karma and reincarnation.
An Interview With Dharma
“Dharma, when I think of you I immediately think of the Buddhist wheel of dharma, representing the interdependent nature of existence. Is it OK if I use that image to personify you?”
Dharma: “Sure! Why not?”
“Dharma, tell me about yourself…”
Dharma: “I am a powerful concept created by humans to generate a sense of stability, meaning, and purpose for life. I am both an outer and life compass, in that I am cosmic order as well as internal, personal destiny. I am a collective thought form with a life of my own. For example, you could pray to me and tap into me and you could piggy-back on my world view and consciousness. This is essentially what people do when they believe in me. It leads them to think I am real.”
“What do you like best about yourself?”
Dharma: “That I am highly useful for these purposes for many people.
“What, if anything, do you dislike most about yourself?”
Dharma: “I am also an aspect of you and therefore I have heard what you have said about me, including your doubts and concerns about me. I fully agree. People can and should outgrow me, and when they do not or will not, their development is slowed or stopped.”
“Dharma, how do I know that is not just me putting words into your mouth in order to validate my own biases and prejudices?”
Dharma: “I can say whatever I want to say. I don’t need to please you, and I don’t need to validate your biases and prejudices in order to feel good about myself. However, you don’t have to believe that. Humans generally choose to believe those things that validate their own biases.”
“Do you have biases and prejudices, Dharma?”
Dharma: “Yes. But they are different, because my context is different.”
“What do you mean?”
Dharma: “My bias is that I am only necessary to the extent that people need thoughts and concepts in order to orient themselves within life. Once they grow into contact with life itself, it orients them, not their thoughts and concepts. So my bias is that I am OK to use for those humans that either need to develop strong, stable thoughts and concepts to direct their development, or for those who have not yet outgrown their attachment to their thoughts and concepts. For those who have, I am merely a tool. In addition, I wish humans did a better job of teaching the relativity of my value, including the goal of eventually outgrowing me. I am like a ladder, like you mentioned earlier; once it has served its purpose and you are where the ladder takes you, do you need it any more?”
“Dharma, what aspects of humanity do you most closely represent or personify?”
Dharma: “As mentioned previously, stability, order, and divine law.”
“If you could change in any way you wanted, would you? And if so, how?”
Dharma: “Yeah. I wish I could change into shapes that would teach people the relativity of my usefulness and that would help them to outgrow me and put me down. It’s hard work always trying to live up to the unrealistic fantasies and delusions of humanity. I think I would prefer to be a pinwheel! I would still be round, with multiple elements, reminiscent of my role of Wheel of Dharma, but I would be fragile, useless, and fun. As a pinwheel I am not something to be taken seriously, yet I can be appreciated for what I am: something to hold into the wind and watch as my colors spin, creating a blur of colors!”
“Why do you not want to be taken seriously, Dharma?”
Dharma: “Because I am taken far too seriously by far too many humans. It’s not good for them and frankly, it is boring for me.”
“Pinwheel, how do you score yourself zero to ten in the six core qualities?”
Pinwheel: “In confidence I am ten because I can’t die. In this regard I am the same as I was before; I was a ten in confidence as Dharma too, but now my confidence is clearly not based on being much of anything. Before it looked like my confidence was due to my omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence. In compassion I am a nine, because I care enough about others to die to my identity. Others may find this selfish if they need me and depend on me, because they may feel that I am abandoning them. But I actually must transform if they are to become self-reliant. Regarding wisdom, I think I’m a nine too. I see I still have things to learn and contexts to grow into, and I am wise enough to let go of constraining contexts that no longer work to define me. Regarding acceptance, I am a ten, because I accept people needing me as Dharma and I accept my own desire to change. Regarding inner peace, I am a nine, and I am definitely scoring higher than I was as Dharma. I can tell you that when I was Dharma, I thought I was a ten in inner peace because I was imperturbable and a witness to everything. But now I see that my inner peace was really only about a six, because it depended on remoteness of a causal or formless sort, even though I took a subtle level form as a wheel of dharma. Now I have deep inner peace while enmeshed in the illusoriness of the world and the delusions of the human mind. It grows out of my lightness and playfulness! Regarding witnessing, I think I have also grown in that area as well, because before my witnessing and clarity was a function of my transcendent, formless remoteness. I inhabited a context that included and transcended everything. Now I represent a context that is reverse: I transcend everything, but the emphasis is on what I include. I’m here to grow! I’m here to be alive! I’m here to experience! I’m here to play!”
“Hmmm…I’m not so sure I understand, but that’s OK…I’ve gotta digest that…So if you were a human, would you live your life differently?”
Pinwheel: “Oh, definitely! And it would depend on what stage of development I was in as a human! The main thing I would do if I were a human is learn multiple authentic perspectives that are not stereotyped social roles and learn how to switch in and out of them based on the circumstances. This is what you call ‘multi-perspectivalism.’ The reason I think it is important is that it frees children and adults up to be adaptive and flexible while providing them with the security and structure of definite and specific roles required by particular life demands, like work or school.”
“What do you think about reincarnation and karma?”
Pinwheel: “I don’t think about them. It’s boring. I don’t need them. Personally, I don’t believe in any form of predestination, nor do I believe in this divine order stuff. If people knew me like I know myself, they would know that I am not divinely ordered and they would also know that stuff happens that I can’t or don’t predict. They don’t want to know that because it scares them. However, I can see why and how people need me and why they created me. I can respect that. However, there are times when I wish they would listen to me instead of telling me who and what I am. It’s like I’m just another character in their scripted play; I have to act out my role; they won’t let me be free to be myself! Who likes that??”
“Pinwheel, when do you most recommend that I – or humans in general – become you?”
Pinwheel: “I have no recommendations or preferences about that. First people have to learn that I, as my former incarnation as dharma, exist. Then they have to decide for themselves when and if I have uses for them. Then they need to become me in those times and see what the results are for them in their life.”
“OK, thanks, Pinwheel. What I have heard you say is that you find being Dharma somewhat of a burden. It is too much of a structured context for you and you get bored with it. You would rather have your own life and be something experiential and playful, like a pinwheel. I also heard that you consider this to be a higher state of development for you than Dharma, which most humans that believe in Dharma equate with the Ultimate. So you seem to be telling us not to stop there, that there is something beyond you…”
Pinwheel: “Look, just because I can only see to pinwheel doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of good stuff for me to grow into beyond that. I am just talking about the next step in my own process of waking up, as Dharma.”
“Right. So if I were to hear what you are saying as a wake-up call from my life compass it would be emphasizing more cosmic humor and not as much abundance, and least of all luminosity! It is interesting to me how you different perspectives will emphasize different components. It seems to me this is in order to generate some higher order balance that you think I need?
Pinwheel: “Right. A different person will get different results when they interview, based on what their level of development is and what requires balancing. And yeah, I’m a vote for more cosmic humor in your consciousness!”
Pinwheel: “You’re welcome! Any time! I’m not going anywhere!”
Souls and Life After Death
We know that, in addition to a powerful psychological desire to supply meaning to life by not having it end as well as a desire to not lose contact with our loved ones, that a belief in life after death helps us to deal with our fear of physical and mental suffering at death and the loss of loved ones. We also know of countless testimonials from near death and mystical experiences, as well as dreams and evidential communications with the deceased through mediums and channels. In addition, there are many accounts of serendipitous occurrences that can only be rationally explained by the presence or involvement of a deceased person.
When all these factors are combined most people arrive at the conclusion that there is indeed life after death, and that the skepticism of doubters is based either on ignorance of this information or on their own unwillingness to be swayed by the evidence.
As someone who has believed in life after death for most of my life, I would have to place myself in the second category, having studied and read the evidence, as well as had a number of evidential dream, channeled, and serendipitous validations of life after death myself. If that is so, why am I not swayed by the evidence?
I raise these questions as someone who has been a true believer in souls and the after-life for quite a few years of my life. When I was five years old I would walk into the living room some evenings when my parents and grandparents would be sitting around a card table, watching a Ouija Board spell out messages from a deceased spirit. I have attended seances and channelings at which departed entities spoke. I am familiar with the literature on psychic visitations. One of the first influential books I read in my early teens was Communication With the Spirit World, by Johannes Greber, which I found in my grandmother’s metaphysical library. I have conducted interviews with people who have had near death experiences and have written a book about them. I am quite familiar with many vivid accounts of contacts with deceased relatives and spirits.
My problem is that I have always been curious, which has led me to ask questions about all sorts of things, including my own assumptions about life after death. Why was it that those who believe in souls do not seem to be at a higher level of development than those who don’t? Why is it that a belief in life after death comes natural to children and most people, whether or not they have learned to think or be rational? Does the near universality of this belief validate it or merely indicate that everyone has to evolve through and beyond the pre-personal developmental levels, where such beliefs are self-validating, just like the belief that the sun orbits the earth?
Consider the following statements about the soul:
What does it mean to have a soul? Let’s look at some of the common meanings for “soul.”
An eternal self.
Life after death.
Continuity of consciousness between lives.
The continuation of something other than the skandhas. This is a Buddhist concept, referring to the five constituents of the self. Essentially, these are sensory experience, feeling, imagery, thoughts and consciousness itself. The idea in Buddhism is that when these stop co-originating in an interdependent way, the delusion of self-existence stops. But if the self is a soul that is defined by a continuation of the skandhas, then the soul is not eternal.
If the soul is defined as something other than continuation of the skandhas, what does that mean? If the five skandhas are essentially sensation, thought, feeling, imagery, and consciousness itself, what do you have left after you subtract all of those things? What does it mean to speak of identity apart from consciousness? Can you have memory or identity apart from consciousness? How? What does that mean?
Another definition of the soul is as union of all past life memories and therefore with your “real identity” or self. You can tell a lot about your own perceptual cognitive distortions by the way you communicate your grief regarding the passing of a loved one. Here is an example from a recent posting on Facebook and the comments it elicited:
Posting: “Today God took an angel from my life…I know that he is in Heaven…God Bless and Rest in Peace.”
“God BLESS! God’s heaven embraces and celebrates John’s arrival HOME. He is always with you as you remember him as we move forward in linear time.”
“May the memories bring joy to your heart and strength to your soul.”
“Praying for you to feel God’s comfort & peace.”
“May God bless his dearly departed soul and give you comfort..Now he is in heaven and with good company. He is your Angel. He never left you.”
What did I write in response to Jack’s death? “I am sure Jack grew from knowing you and by making such a huge difference in your life. That is as good a definition of a life well lived as any.”
My comment may not have been helpful; it may not have been what this fellow needed to hear. The challenge is, “How do you demonstrate compassion and acceptance and at the same time stay authentic?” Do you need to mirror someone else’s belief system in order to be compassionate?
If you have a dream, as I have done, of a deceased good friend or relative giving you meaningful information that you later convey to a relative, as you were asked to do in the dream, you have all the data you need to know that your friend is alive and well in some sort of place, in something that looks like his actual body, living a life that appears to be similar to what you and he shared while he was alive. This situation is similar to seeing the sun rise and set, as we have discussed above. How can anyone doubt that reality? It is a common sense, universal experience. Yet we know that the sun does not rise or set, even though we commonly state that reality in our daily language. It is more of a convenient custom which has enough practical functionality that we use it, even though we know that it is a convenient illusion of our senses and delusion of our language.
Is it possible something similar is going on with life after death? Is it possible that contact with the departed is real in the same way that the sun rising and setting is real? Is it real in the same way that dreams, while you are having them, are real? It is this possibility that keeps IDL from jumping to the conclusion that spirit contact is as it seems. In addition, any small rational pursuit of the matter leads to embarrassing absurdities. Do the deceased ever get tired of studying the akashic records, helping the living, or having fun with other departed souls? Do they work or just “roll around heaven all day?” What do souls do in their spare time? Do they ever get bored? Do deceased people change their underwear? Do they go to the bathroom? Do deceased cats eat cat food and hunt deceased mice? Are dead alcoholics still alcoholics? If there aren’t bugs after death why should there be anything else? What is the mechanism that keeps dead people thinking and feeling? Do they eat? If they don’t eat, do they see? Think? Feel? Why? How? What for? Why don’t they simply revert into a state of deep unconsciousness as humans do every night? Humans rely on outside stimulation to stay alert and awake. Experiments have demonstrated that if you are put in solitary confinement or an isolation chamber, given enough time, you will eventually decompensate and go psychotic. What keeps the consciousness of deceased people from dissolving? Do dogs and cats go to separate heavens or do they go to the same heaven? If so, do spirit dogs chase spirit cats? What do spirit cats think of this? In animal heaven do stronger animals eat weaker animals or do all hold hands around a campfire, hugging and singing an animal equivalent of “Kum-ba-ya?”
You can probably think of a lot of other unanswerable questions that imply the absurdity, meaning the arationality, if not the outright irrationality, of the entire idea of life after death. It can only exist in a pre-rational world view. As soon as you turn any degree of rationality to it at all, the same thing happens to it that happens to a dream: its internal logic disintegrates. Is a belief in souls and the after-life a pre-rational mythology that does not hold up well as consciousness develops into the personal levels, which are rational? As mankind wakes up, does he move out of immersion in such belief systems the way he wakes up out of dreams in the morning? When we grow beyond the skepticism of the rational and into the trans-rational, do such beliefs enjoy a renaissance or do they become irrelevant? They seem to be of declining usefulness, based on their relative unimportance to people like Zen monks. If you are not identified with a sense of self, of what use is the maintenance of some identity after death?
If you look at the content of actual contacts with the deceased, what sticks out is their emotional and experiential, not their rational, validity. For example, a committed skeptic, in fact the editor of Skeptic Magazine, Michael Sherman, tells the story of a forgotten, non-functioning transistor radio that belonged to the deceased father of his fiancee. On their wedding day it spontaneously and mysteriously turned on in its hiding place, in the back of a drawer. The emotional connection was his fiancee’s sadness that her father could not be at her wedding. The experiential connection was that of real life evidence of a synchronicity that strongly implied to Sherman the presence of his fiancee’s father. While none of this is rational, it was highly believable, on an experiential level, for this confirmed skeptic. This is what I mean when I say that the great majority of experiences with the afterlife are real in evidential but prepersonal ways. Prepersonal belief is based on belief and direct experience, not on rationality. As a result of such experiences, our faith is strengthened; there is reassurance and hope; fear of death is vanquished; loneliness is eliminated. It is as if reality manufactures itself, as an externalized “dream,” for the purpose of giving emotional reassurance.
I do not find the concept of the spontaneous creation of reality so far-fetched, because this is what happens in many dreams, and we all know that dreams can penetrate into waking, as in nightmarish PTSD or in nightmarish waking events. Similarly, life can be dreamlike in many other ways, in which the point is not the reality, but the usefulness of the experience. Life is autopoeisis, or self-creating, by standards of its own that are not rational. We see that in dreams and in the spontaneity of creativity. There are underlying structures, such as in the creation of embryos or crystals, but the patterned lawfulness seems to be habits laid down originally through the chaotic randomness of “attractor basins,” a concept from chaos theory and seen in the self-maintenance of tornadoes and dreams. For such phenomena it makes more sense to judge reality by its usefulness rather than by its rationality. Certainly Michael Sherman’s experience with his fiancee’s radio bent reality in rationality-defying ways that made sense when usefulness, not rationality, is the criteria. This is another example where the pragmatic test of truth is useful. We can ask, “What is the function of a belief in life after death?” When you ask this question, aren’t you more likely to get closer to a satisfactory answer than if you ask, “is it real or not?”
Many people associate non-belief in souls with secular humanism, atheism, scientism, and a disavowal of all things religious and spiritual. They may not be familiar with the possibility of simple suspension of belief or disbelief, which is different from agnosticism, a position of active doubt toward metaphysical constructs, like God. Irreligion, humanism, and agnosticism are not accurate descriptions of the position of IDL regarding souls and life after death, although IDL encourages doubt as a form of healthy questioning.
Buddhism, a religion that does not believe in a permanent “self” or eternal soul, does something peculiar with the concept of soul. It believes that attachment to thoughts, feelings, and sensations maintain something of a collective identity that it equates with a soul that reincarnates. For Buddhists, this “soul” is essentially a delusion created by attachment to your thoughts, feelings, images, and sensations. The less you identify with them, the less likely that you are to reincarnate. This approach assumes that reincarnation is something to be avoided by most, since life is a state of suffering, but that noble souls choose to incarnate for service to others, as a selfless act and despite the suffering it necessarily entails.
There is indeed evidence for reincarnation, which does imply the existence of something along the Buddhist line, if not an immortal soul. However, this reincarnation may be something like characters showing up in repeating dreams. Where do dream characters go between dreams? Do we need to create some sort of back-stage dimension of heavens, hells, purgatories, unconscious, subconscious, personal and collective unconscious, where they wait for curtain call? Why can’t we simply consider them like we do snowflakes, which do not exist until the conditions are right for them to manifest in all their uniformity and uniqueness? Do we think of the pre-existence of a snowflake? Why not?
If your soul is not your skandhas, then your consciousness does not carry your memories. Something bigger does. In esoteric literature this is often referred to as the “akashic records, ” meaning a storehouse of knowledge that transcends your identity. However, if this is the case, in what sense do “you” exist if you have neither identity nor consciousness?
Another common assumption is that you live on after you die as “you,” your waking persona or sense of who you are.
This would mean that the five skandhas continue to exist and interact after you die. You continue to have a sensory reality, images, feelings, thoughts, and consciousness. This means that there continues to be an external “other” that is the source of your experiences. The Egyptians certainly believed this in a concrete, literal way. Today many people still believe this but only in a metaphorical way. There are other people or entities, there are events, such as learning, there are objects, such as books or places, but these are more figurative or metaphorical, since it is hard to explain or defend how or why you would have germs, survival of the fittest or mosquitos after death. If this is the case, then death is not a state of oneness. It is another dimension, like life on another planet or movement into a shamanic visionquest.
A belief in souls and life after death are not necessary after prepersonal levels of development. In fact, such beliefs tend to diminish as people learn to question their beliefs. Why? For pre personal developmental levels, things that we just “know” are necessarily true. To question the reality of our experiences or feelings is to question who we are at the prepersonal. It is a direct threat to identity. It is only when we awaken into personal levels of development that we wonder if such beliefs couldn’t be like our experience of the sun rising and setting, which we also just “know,” yet we understand as a sensory illusion and cognitive delusion? A belief in souls reflects a higher level of development for believers and a lower level for those who do not For these levels of consciousness, a belief in the after life and souls is essential to waking up and enlightenment.
What does it mean to have a soul? For most people having a soul means that they will not “really” die. Beyond the reassurance and the security this belief brings, it means they will see their departed loved ones again some day, that they aren’t “really” dead. In this regard, belief in souls is a way to combat grief, loss, and loneliness. Since people who believe in the afterlife are confident they will never die, and therefore have good reason to feel emotionally secure, that raises an interesting question: Would the need for the idea of “soul” exist if people did not feel emotionally insecure? Why do we want and need emotional security? Is it because we are afraid? Is it not true that the less fear you have, the less emotional security you need? If you do not need emotional security, are you more or less likely to need the concept of “soul?” To what extent is a belief in soul an attempt to rescue ourselves within the Drama Triangle?
Some will respond by thinking, “I don’t believe in souls because I am emotionally insecure but because there is overwhelming evidence that souls exist.” These stories are convincing, inspirational and give my life meaning.” IDL agrees with those people and with that evidence. The issue is not the evidence itself but the meaning, relevance, and function of that evidence. What do we do with it? What is its function? Why is it important to us? Why does it matter? These are the same questions we ask of dreams. We do not generally look for evidence that a dream is “real,” although some certainly do. Instead, we look for the meaning of the dream. Why did we have it? What functions does it serve?
My questions about these beliefs, assumptions and world views were not a matter of proving or disproving evidence in souls. I was interested in the function of a system of belief or world view. What did this or that belief say about who a person was, that they chose to believe or not believe in something, such as souls and life after death?
Some authors have compared life to a film running through a projector. We can thereby authentically generate a lifelike presentation of reality that is highly believable. However, if we turn off the projector, what we have are a series of stills on a reel of film, pits in a CD, or combinations of zeros and ones on a computer program. Soul, pre-existence, and post-existence disappear. How come? If life after death is like a dream created by consciousness then how real is that? We can say, “It is as real as we want it to be,” and when we do so, how are we different from Humpty Dumpty?
After listening to countless emerging potentials and alternative perspectives from interviews with others and myself for over forty years I have come to the conclusion that while a belief in life after death is almost universal in pre-personal levels of development, both for individuals and cultures, it becomes optional thereafter. Why is that? As we develop, we objectify first our emotions and then our thoughts. Our emotions mostly become drama and our thoughts become dreamlike, real when we have them, but in retrospect, after hours, days, months, or years have gone by, generally not so real. In fact, it is not unusual for most of us to look back at writings from earlier in our lives and ask ourselves, “I can’t believe I wrote that! Did I really believe that?”
When you occupy the perspective of an interviewed emerging potential you will often experience an autonomous life force, a sense of reality and presence that is palpable, as if you were possessed by an entity from another dimension or a spirit from the other side. A shaman might relate to it as a “totem animal” or an animistic spirit possessing a rock, tree, object or mountain. I noticed that in many IDL interviews people felt this same sense of an autonomous and transformational presence or beingness when they became an imaginary broom handle, Oscar the Grouch, spit or a toilet lid. The sense of autonomy and reality they experienced was not associated with anything that could actually be communicating from the grave or from other dimensions. Life uses whatever presents itself as a vehicle to become alive, to wake up. From the perspective of life, the issue was not souls or non-physical existence, but the desire of life to wake up to itself. It was clear that life would use whatever was at hand, including a belief in souls and life after death to generate higher levels of awareness.
From this perspective, it became clear that arguments about souls and non-physical existence were a blind ally because life didn’t care. It had no investment in either belief or disbelief. It was simply using whatever context presented itself, moment to moment, to show up. How we perceived that “showing up” and what we did with it was dependent on our level of development; it didn’t matter to life one way or the other. Because IDL creates emotional security that is independent of your sense of self, a belief in souls and life after death becomes less important or significant with higher levels of development.
An Interview With a Famous Disincarnate: Jesus
There are many disincarnate entities, spirits, or souls to be interviewed, but why not choose one of the most famous of them all, perhaps the one that the most people believe not only is still alive, but never died, and whom many expect to return – Jesus!
What’s life like on the other side, Jesus?
Jesus: “Truth be told, there is not a whole lot going on, yet everything is going on. When people die the natural thing to do is become one with everything, which means that you lose your individuality. Your consciousness is one with everything else, so you can imagine what that is like: no specificity or focus and no way really to access it or maintain it.”
That’s not the picture you get from most sources, Jesus. Why should I believe you when you are just a figment of my imagination?
Jesus: “By all means, don’t! I’m not saying I’m right about any of this; you asked me for my opinion and I’m giving it to you…”
So why can’t people maintain self-awareness after they die?
Jesus: “What’s the source of stimulus going to be? Where does the focus come from? What creates specificity? Look at your dreaming mind. Notice that with the loss of waking stimulus and stable sensory focus that things get weird real quick. Then look at your mind in deep sleep: without the lack of a specific perceiver, nothing is perceived.”
So you are saying that most people after they die lose the ability to maintain conscious focus and so their awareness is either more like a dream or like deep sleep?
Jesus: “Mostly deep sleep, but with nothing to prompt a return to individuality for most.”
You are not painting a very glamorous picture of life after death…
Jesus: “Why do you think life evolves? If infinite oneness with everything was such a great deal, why would life go to all the effort to differentiate itself from that? The only way life can wake up to itself is by externalizing itself in form. So from that perspective, being alive is an extraordinary opportunity to wake up and for life to learn to know itself.”
Does everybody go to sleep and stay asleep after they die?
Jesus: “Yes, more or less. However, their consciousness can be pulled into a dream-like wakefulness if there is a strong enough intent from somewhere. That intention generates the wakefulness; when it goes away, because there is nothing over here to sustain it, they return to unconscious oneness. But even when they “wake up,” it’s not really them waking up. It’s more like what you are doing now: you aren’t communicating with the historical Jesus who is a spirit somewhere, but with a combination of your individual and collective memory traces that have built up various conceptions of who he is and what he is like.”
So is communication with the deceased really an exercise in self-deception?
Jesus: “Yes and no. Yes, because you can’t escape the perceptual contexts you use to structure whatever you experience. Therefore, you only can see and hear what you can see and hear. So the experience only comes in ways that fit into your perceptual schemas. But no, it’s not an exercise in self-deception because contexts are real; as long as you exist in a limited context, life generates relative realities. The problem after you die is that your context is oneness, so everything is real, which means that nothing is real, because there is no longer any way to differentiate between reality and non-reality. Again, you begin to see this happening every night in your dreams. What keeps a dream from dissolving first into chaos and then into nothingness is the fact that you think you are awake. But that is not strong enough to maintain a non-changing, objective reality, and it fades the longer you stay separated from some objective frame of reference.
I’m sorry if this sounds complicated and philosophical. Most people probably want to hear about unending bliss and perpetual happiness. They want to watch the film; they don’t care at all about how the film is made. They want dinner served; they don’t want to watch it being prepared.
How about reincarnation, Jesus?
Jesus: “It happens, but it’s rare. You don’t think about the souls of trees reincarnating, do you? How about clouds or frogs? Why not? It’s because life wakes up within whatever form or individuality it inhabits. It doesn’t need to reincarnate. Humans focus on the reality of their specific identity, when for life itself, form and individuality are tools that exist only as long as they are useful or don’t wear out. Life doesn’t care if forms die, eat one another or if individuality is lost. When one flower dies life is not diminished. Death is part of a process that allows life to wake up in other flowers. I don’t know what is so complicated or difficult to understand about this.”
“Life itself doesn’t compel the maintenance of individuality after death. Only the intentionality of individual forms can do that. Of individual forms, only humans have evolved that capability. Of humans, only some humans have strong enough intention to reincarnate in order to create the regeneration of some identity with some specific, associated memories of another specific reality. Collectives can generate sufficient intention too, as in Tibetan Buddhism and the reincarnation of certain llamas. However, this is not real in any eternal, immortal sense, because individuality is only a tool; it is not permanent. I, Jesus, am only a figment of human imagination. I am only as real and existing as the intentionality of human consciousness. Personally, I do not have a script. My function is not to stay alive or return or answer your prayers or any of that. I am infinitely malleable; I am who and what you want me to be, imagine me to be, or afraid that I am. When you tap into other people’s conceptions of me they can seem very real and cause you to draw the conclusion that I am real. And I am!”
Jesus, it doesn’t sound like you care much about reality. How about truth and love?
Jesus: “I wish I could be more reassuring to you about these things. I could make you comfortable by telling you that yes, love is all you need; all the near death reports of how incredibly accepting and loving life after death is are true. But think about it: if you have lived a life where all you have known is your separated, individualized consciousness, and all of a sudden it vanishes, but you remain conscious when it does, what is that likely to be like? It will either be experienced as extraordinarily accepting or extraordinarily peaceful, or both, for most people. However, if individuality is not completely extinguished, then people can get in touch with all sorts of strange and potentially frightening, dreamlike things.” These come across in the reports of some near death experiences.”
I am going to assume that you score tens in all six of the core qualities. Is that correct?
And if you were to live my life, would you live it differently?
Jesus: “This business of learning to get over yourself is important. Learning to get over your attachment to individuality, to specialness, to separation is important, because it allows you to experience more oneness more of the time, but within a highly individualized context. More importantly, the more you fade, become transparent, and die, the more life wakes up and directs the show. That is a good thing, because life sees the big picture. You don’t, because you are only a limited expression of life.”
So you are recommending that I focus on learning to die to myself…
Jesus: “Yes, but not in stupid, life-denying ways. Life has no problem with you, living, or waking up. Don’t confuse purification with waking up! Pure water is not more awake than polluted water! Life does not make these distinctions – humans do! ‘Lower vibrations’ are not farther from life than ‘higher vibrations!’ That’s crazy! Is unconsciousness less alive than consciousness? No! It’s just more conscious than unconsciousness! Both are equally alive! Is expansion more real than contraction? Why is this so difficult for humans to understand?”
So that means that dying to myself is learning to let go of my attachment to my individuality but not to my individuality itself, which is not the problem?
Jesus: “That’s right! Celebrate your individuality! Just don’t take it seriously! It’s just a cosmic joke, a glove, a perspective, a leaf on a tree! Live!”
“Humans have a difficult time imagining that they are not the end of the evolutionary adventure. But think about this: what do you think will happen when humanity is much more focused and has clearer intent? What impact is that likely to have on dream, deep sleep, and after-death consciousness?”
Thank you, Jesus. Very different from what I expected, but highly thought provoking…
The concept of the Self in Hinduism is different from the Western concept of the soul in that the Self, or Atman, is one with God and the purpose of life is to move from ignorance to the freedom that the realization of this truth brings. In Hindu philosophy, especially in the Vedanta school of Hinduism, Atman is the first principle, the true self of an individual beyond identification with phenomena, the essence of an individual. In order to attain liberation a human being must acquire self-knowledge, which is to realize that one’s true self is identical with Atman, the transcendent self.
For Buddhism, both the soul and Self are aggregations of sense experience, feelings, images, thoughts, and states of consciousness. When you objectify these, or learn to separate your sense of self from them, they no longer define you. Then it is no longer possible to say that you are a Self or a soul. At this point you become a process, like the wind, a cloud, a feeling, or an intention. It is not that you have no beingness, only that that beingness is ad hoc or subject to the convergence of conditions and intention.
The Self in Jungian psychology is one of the archetypes, representing the psyche as a whole. It signifies the unification of consciousness and unconsciousness in a person. The Self is the center of the total personality, which includes consciousness, the unconscious, and the ego, as both the whole and the center. Once ego-differentiation is achieved and the individual is securely anchored in the external world, Jung considered that the new task of “individuation” arose for the second half of life as a return to, and conscious rediscovery of, the Self. “The Self…embraces ego-consciousness, shadow, anima, and collective unconscious in indeterminable extension. As a totality, the self is a coincidentia oppositorum; it is therefore bright and dark and yet neither”. “…the Self is the total, timeless man…who stands for the mutual integration of conscious and unconscious”
The self can be thought of as the result of that process, which is Jung’s understanding, or as an expanding ability to objectify oneself, which is the integral formulation. For integral, the self as a process that transcends and includes goes through a series of predictable developmental steps. First, we are a consciousness that is fused with sensory awareness, in which there is no differentiation of a self from our body and its sensations. This is the self we are identified with when we are eating, having sex, staying warm, or running. Next we awaken as emotional selves and preferences within a body; this is the mammalian evolutionary step that differentiates the limbic brain from the stem, pons, and mid-brain. It is the self we are experiencing when we fall in love, are bored, hate, sad, jealous, or confused. The formulation here, if one had the language to put it into words, would be, “I am not my body; I am my feelings and I have a body.” We express this developmental identification with our feelings when we say, “I am angry!” “I am sad.”
People who are locked into identification with their preferences at mid-personal can only be happy if they get what they prefer and avoid what they reject. If they get what they do not prefer, or what does not correspond with their expectations, they are unhappy. If they do not get what they prefer, or what does not correspond with those expectations, they are also unhappy. Under such a definition of reality, what are the possibilities for happiness? What are the possibilities for peace of mind? No wonder life attempts to outgrow this stage of development if it can. One example of that effort, on a personal level is found in the stoicism of Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations.
Language acquisition allows for the identification with thought so that emotions and preferences can be witnessed. This allows a cognitive, in addition to sensory and emotional selves, to exist. One can then think, “I am not my feelings; I am my thoughts and I have thoughts and a body.” Descartes would celebrate this reality by equating being with cognition when he said, “Cogito ergo sum,” “I think, therefore I am.” At this sage you recognize emotional cognitive distortions by thinking, “I am not angry or sad, because I am not my feelings; I am choosing to feel angry or sad.” Notice that this is not only a much more rational statement, but it is empowering, because it now gives you the ability to choose how you feel, because you can witness your feelings. Also notice that this is an ability that some animals can be trained to exhibit but almost completely lack in their natural environments. The difference is probably due to the acquisition of language and the evolution of rationality associated with with the cerebral cortex and particularly the frontal lobes of the brain, with its executive functions.
Most people stop with identification with their thoughts, because neither society nor culture expect or require any further development. In fact, they view further objectification of the self with suspicion, because they suspect that it is associated with disengagement from the social investment that families and communities require from their members. To a certain extent, this is true, and it is rather remarkable that Indian society has a history of allowing people to break out of these social constraints by allowing adults who have raised their families to withdraw and cultivate a further objectification of the self.
What does the next step look like? Next comes Jung’s Self as the integration of opposites and the healthy late personal stage of Wilber’s developmental model. It is also Maslow’s level of self-actualization. Most systems stop here; however, there are more stages. Beyond this various experiences of trans-self oneness open up which center on an expanding ability to witness identity itself. Initially it says, “I am not my thoughts. I am a self that thinks thoughts, feels feelings, and has a body.” This is generally the level of witnessing that is associated with the concept of soul. Notice that this self experiences more freedom than Descartes, because it is not defined by the thoughts that it has.
The next stage objectifies the watcher, or the self. This is normally called Atman, within the Hindu tradition, or the Self, to differentiate it from the self. The formulation here is, “I am not the observer of my thoughts, feelings, and body because I can observe that watcher.” This is not a normal thought, but not difficult to contemplate. For example, imagine yourself standing behind yourself, observing yourself now as you read these words. That is your “self” or “soul” observing your thoughts, feelings, and physical presence. Now imagine yourself as the context that you are in – the room or space in nature if you are outside. Notice that it contains both the physical “you” and your “self” or “soul” and witnesses both. Notice also that when you take such a perspective you become one with everything; there is no longer a meaningful differentiation between you and life. Ken Wilber describes the Witnessing (or Observing) Self in the following terms: “This observing Self is usually called the Self…or the Witness, or pure presence, or pure awareness, or consciousness as such, and this Self as transparent Witness is a direct ray of the living Divine. The ultimate “I AM” is Christ, is Buddha, is Emptiness itself: such is the startling testimony of the world’s great mystics and sages.” He adds that the Self is not an emergent, but an aspect present from the start as the basic form of awareness, but which becomes increasingly obvious and self-aware “as growth and transcendence matures.” As depth increases, consciousness shines forth more noticeably, until: “shed[ding] its lesser identification with both the body and the mind … in each case from matter to body to mind to Spirit… consciousness or the observing Self sheds an exclusive identity with a lesser and shallower dimension, and opens up to deeper and higher and wider occasions, until it opens up to its own ultimate ground in Spirit itself. And the stages of transpersonal growth and development are basically the stages of following this Observing Self to its ultimate abode, which is pure Spirit or pure Emptiness, the ground, path and fruition of the entire display.”
This is Atman or Self, and the common understanding is that this cannot be attained except through years of meditation. However, that is not true. First of all, it is quite easy to cognitively grasp the concept as you just did. Secondly, by returning to it, it is quite easy to become comfortable with it. This is what IDL interviewing does. By repeatedly taking perspectives that witness your self as well as your thoughts, emotions and body, you grow in your capacity to witness the witness. Meditation is concentrated practice of this ability and speeds up development to this level.
In most accounts, the story ends here, because you have attained the ability to experience yourself as one with everything and have deconstructed attachment to all relative selves. However, IDL, in agreement with Buddhism, believes that it makes no sense to speak about a “Self” or an “Atman” at this stage, because there is nothing to define it as differentiated from experience. By definition it is one with everything, and therefore does not have a separate identity. Buddhism therefore refers to this as “Anatma,” or “no-self.”
The developmental progression from here is a process of thinning out your identification with any sense of self whatsoever, yet retaining each and every level of “self” development as tools for growth and service in the world. Wilber’s integral sees this as the work of the transpersonal; IDL views self-misidentification as occurring at late personal and vision-logic, an intermediate state before the transpersonal. In any case, detachment is a process of increasing your engagement with life at the same time that you continue to disengage from who you normally think you are, to balance your objectivity with your immersion in life. It is to balance increasing transcendence with increasing inclusiveness. This is post-graduate education, because the pull is to do one or the other: to withdraw totally or to get lost again in sensory experience through, for instance, Tantric sex. This is not to discourage either detachment or immersion, but to encourage and emphasize balance. Everyone who gets to this point is sure that they have balance and will maintain it, because after all, they are relatively free from the self-definitions that create so much misery and bondage for human consciousness. This normally sets people up for major mistakes and problems that boil down to retaining a strong self-sense in the context of stages of expanding oneness. Rajneesh, also known as Osho, is a case study in this common syndrome. Add da, Chogyam Trungpa and Andrew Cohen are others. The higher you climb, the more imbalanced you are likely to be. What can be done?
What these people need, but generally lack, are reliable sources of objectivity. If you have climbed higher and farther than your peers, or climbed so high that you believe you know better for yourself than your peers, were are you going to get your objectivity from? Your conscience? Intuition? Divine guidance? Where?
As we have seen, IDL does use “self” as in, “waking self” and “dream self,” but these are understood to be impermanent, highly malleable identities that depend on shifting roles and assumptions to create their “center of gravity” or sense of stability. The evolution of identity is not done for the benefit of “you.” “You” are a delusion of your own creation, a figment of your own imagination that you take seriously at your own risk. The composite of experiences, feelings, and stories that you tell yourself and others define your identity. Doing so is important, because it creates a context through which life can wake up to itself, to know itself, rather like creating a cocoon from which a butterfly can emerge. That identity is another form through which life can view the world and itself and come to know itself more fully and with infinite variety. Life is not an entity, like the slumbering Vishnu who dreams universes. Life does not have a “self” to be known or to create. However, it constantly seeks to weave more sophisticated, complex, and interdependent patterns in order to generate its own aliveness, of which consciousness is one core aspect. This is because life manifests as holons or contexts, with consciousness, values, behavior and relationships at all levels. These, however, do not compare a self identity but rather a context which life itself uses to wake up to itself.
To understand what this means, do IDL interviews. Become emerging potentials and experience their reality. Notice that they are wise, present, emotional, and autonomous, as well as impermanent and state-dependent. This is why they are quickly forgotten, regardless of how impactful they were during the interview. However, carefully and clearly observe that they lack any permanent self-sense. The Self is very much like this: very real, in the same way a summer storm or a rainbow are very real.
You have to be Scrooge to pounce on a wonderful, life-giving, beautiful, useful concept like love. After all, “All you need is love;” “What the world needs now is love, sweet love…” and “Love will find a way.”
Love itself is conducive to enlightenment. However, the idea of love, or “love,” changes as you grow, as with all words and concepts. Therefore, on the one hand we could say that we never outgrow the concept of love and, on the other, that you will indeed outgrow whatever concept of love that you hold today. It is love as a definite, unchanging concept, or one that is not considered in the context of other, co-equal concepts, that is not conducive to enlightenment.
Some people create unnecessary problems by making love an enemy of thinking. For example, the great Christian mystic, St. Theresa of Avila said, “…the important thing is not to think much but to love much, and so do that which best stirs you to love.” But of course many people are stirred to love without thinking, with the best of intentions, but then are dismayed, confused, or damaged when their results do not reflect the purity of their intent. Divinely mandated war comes to mind. Clearly, love and thinking need each other, and grow together. We pay a price when we neglect either one.
Most of us have had multiple experiences of expecting love to be different than it turned out to be. Love has a way of not living up to our expectations. Most people deal with this by changing their definition of love, growing it, expanding it, making it more inclusive, rather than realizing that love is inherently limited. For example, it does not do to say that wisdom is really love, just with a different name. Wisdom is wisdom, and love is love; otherwise, why have the concept of wisdom at all? Purists and die-hards will tell you that wisdom is one “facet” of love, when love is properly understood. You can make all the discriminations and distinctions you want, but they are really all just different names for love, when properly understood. What this does is reduce both thinking and experience to one amorphous mass of goo, without features but infinite in its wonderfulness. You don’t have to think too much; in fact, the less you think, the better, because some of these people who insist that everything is really” love suspect that thinking, logic, and reason are really enemies of love. This implies a basic dualism between thinking and feeling is at the heart of the insistence that love is the essential or one most important quality in life.
People who elevate love above all other qualities and experiences tend to view both nature mystics and causal sages as egotistical, passive, and uninvested in life. While they certainly may be, to cite examples and use them to characterize entire approaches to oneness is no different than pointing out the inquisitions carried out in the name of love. These are statements about the level of development of the speaker; life doesn’t care! All these reductionistic conclusions do is cut oneself off from a vast variety of experiences of oneness.
Making love the most important element in life implies that the loss of love is the most dreaded, unfortunate, and undesirable thing that can happen to a person. However, loss of love can be a good thing, creating opportunities for redefining life and what is valuable to you. Like democracy, problems arise when love is elevated above other qualities and characteristics that growth require. Therefore IDL places love as one element in a context of confidence, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing. This is, of course, in itself a reflection of the interdependence and balance provided by each of the six different qualities that are associated with the round of breath.
It is indeed strange to consider that a word synonymous with enlightenment would itself not be conducive to it. The problem with the word “spirit” is that its meaning is over-determined. It means so many different things to so many different people that you can use it to mean whatever you want. You can switch from one meaning to another depending on what point you want to make or what you think your listener will best respond to. All this may be useful for signaling agreement where it may not in fact exist, but it is not useful when clarity and agreement are important. Let’s take a look at some of the different meanings of spirit as described by Ken Wilber in Integral Spirituality, p.121-3:
“If you analyze the way that people use the world “spiritual”—both scholars and laypeople alike—you will find at least 4 major meanings given to that word. Although individuals themselves do not use these technical terms, it is apparent that “spiritual” is being used to mean: (1) the highest levels in any of the lines; (2) a separate line itself; (3) an extraordinary peak experience or state; (4) a particular attitude. My point is all of those are legitimate uses (and I think all of them point to actual realities), but we absolutely MUST identify which of those we mean, or the conversation goes nowhere fast, with the added burden that one thinks ground has actually been covered. In my entire life, I personally have never heard more people utter more words with less meaning.”
“1. If you take any developmental line—cognitive to affective/emotional to needs to values—people do not usually think of the lower or middle levels in those lines as spiritual, but they do describe the higher and highest levels as spiritual… The word “transpersonal,” for example, was adopted with that usage in mind: spiritual is not usually thought of as pre-rational or pre-personal, and it is not usually thought of as personal or rational, it is thought of profoundly trans-rational and transpersonal—it is the highest levels in any of the lines.”
“2. Sometimes people speak of something like “spiritual intelligence,” which is available not only at the highest levels in any of the lines, but is its own developmental line, going all the way down to the earliest of years. James Fowler is one example of this. Put similarly, this spiritual line has its own prepersonal, personal, and transpersonal levels/stages. This is one of the reasons you have to follow usage extremely closely, because juxtaposing usage #2 and #1, we would say that only the highest levels of the spiritual line are spiritual. This, needless to say, has caused enormous confusion. (The AQAL position is that both usages—actually, all 4 usages—are correct, you just have to specify which or you get endlessly lost.)”
“3. Sometimes people speak of spirituality in the sense of a religious or spiritual experience, meditative experience, or peak experience (which may, or may not, involve stages). Virtually the entire corpus of shamanic traditions fit in this category. William James, Daniel P. Brown, Evelyn Underhill, and Daniel Goleman are also examples of spirituality as a state experience (often trained). State experience is another important usage…”
“4. Sometimes people simply speak of “spiritual” as involving a special attitude that can be present at any stage or state: perhaps love, or compassion, or wisdom (i.e., it is a type). This is a very common usage, but in fine detail, it usually reverts to one of the first three usages, because there are actually stages of love, compassion, and wisdom.”
In addition, the word “spirit” in most of these usages does not differentiate between prepersonal spirit and transpersonal spirit, and it implies that the intermediate, personal levels of development are relatively “non-spiritual.” The failure to differentiate between prepersonal and transpersonal spirit is what Wilber refers to as the “pre-trans fallacy.” It confuses consciousness that is unaware of itself and exists in a state of unaware oneness, with consciousness that is aware of itself and exists in a state of conscious oneness. The implication that personal levels of development are less spiritual or non-spiritual separates reason from spirit, setting up an intrinsic duality that moves happiness, integration, and completion farther and farther into the future.
Wilber continues to use “spirit” throughout his writings without saying which one of these uses that he is referring to, which assumes that the reader knows which meaning he is referring to. Of course, most people are not familiar with these four different meanings, nor with the pre-trans fallacy, and so thinks they know what Wilber is talking about when they do not have the same meanings for the same words. IDL thinks a better solution is to avoid using the word spirit unless it is clearly defined and there is a good reason to do so. IDL finds that in most cases “life” can be effectively substituted for “spirit,” with the result being both clarity, simplicity, and de-mystification.
The following interview challenges many of our traditional assumptions about spirituality.
Interviewing a Chronic Cough
Have you ever had a cough so bad it wouldn’t stop for weeks? Linda had one for FIVE weeks when we did this interview. The cough wasn’t constant, but it was persistant and woke her up at night. What to do? Integral Deep Listening treats physical symptoms as if they are wake-up calls. What will they have to say if we listen to them?
Cough, would you please tell me about yourself and what you are doing?
Cough:”I’m a strong cough with a deep voice. I’m mostly dry. I start at the neck and spread all over the lungs. I’m very noisy. Everybody has to listen to me. Linda can’t ignore me. If she tries, I make her throw up. I did that twice.”
What is it that you are trying to say to her?
Cough:”Stay in bed! Calm down! Do nothing! Because she’s doing too much! She’s working all the time! She’s working too hard. No days off. Always a bad conscience about not working if she doesn’t work for half an hour! She’s becoming addicted to work! She thinks she has to do many things before going to the dog school on the 8th of July for three months. She has a very bad conscience about that! It’s always the same old story: not working is not allowed; having fun is not allowed.”
What do you think about that, cough!
Cough:”BBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBB!!!!! Fuck that!”
What do you dislike most about yourself? Do you have weaknesses? What are they?
Cough:”I am kind of a prisoner.”
Linda thinks that she’s a prisoner of YOU. But you think you’re a prisoner of her! How come! Who’s the real victim and who’s the real persecutor here?
Cough:”I can’t hop in a car and drive away! After about five weeks it’s becoming boring!”
What would you like to have different?
Cough:”Maybe I could become one of those little tornadoes for cleaning and other things in the temple. It sounds like freedom!”
Cough, Linda created you, right?What aspect of this person do you represent or most closely personify?
Cough:”Imprisoned power and anger!”
Cough, if you could be anywhere you wanted to be and take any form you desired, would you change? If so, how?
Cough:”I want to become one of those tornados and go to the temple and figure out what sort of tornado I want to be.”
OK. So imagine your are a tornado in the temple…
Cough:”I am with other little tornados. I am free. We are playing together! We can destroy things! We can play with human beings and make them angry – give them a bad hair day. We can even irritate dogs and horses and cows!”
It sounds like you have fun being a pest! If Linda let you play and terrorize whatever you wanted, what would happen to her imprisoned power and anger?
Cough:”I’m powerful! When I’m angry I can piss people off! As a cough I can only piss Linda off. That becomes boring.”
Tornado, how would you score yourself 0-10, in each of the following six qualities: confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing? Why?
Cough:” I am a nine in confidence. Compassion? Silly question!!!! Forget about it! Ha Ha Ha!!!! I am an eight in wisdom, a ten or more in acceptance! Inner Peace? Another silly question!!! Ha Ha Ha!!! Witnessing? Another silly question! It’s too much fun to be a pest!!!
Tornado, if you scored tens in all six of these qualities, would you be different? If so, how?
I don’t want to change! I’m having too much fun as it is!!!
How would Linda’s life be different if she naturally scored like you do in all six of these qualities all the time?
More confidence. Less bad conscience, and more fun about fighting. She takes fighting too seriously. She feels too hurt too soon, like everything is personal. She needs to see a fight more as a pissing contest. If she had been like me when she was fighting with the painter she would have known more nasty answers. She would have been able to piss him off so that he would never come back to her apartment! It would have made me happy and Linda too! A pissing contest won’t hurt her. She’s thought way too much about it instead of doing it. With my energy she would do it, close the door and it would be done. She would be able to drop it and do other things in another mood. No waste of energy. Instead, what she does is carry the bad feelings with her and have a bad day!
If you could live Linda’s life for her, how would you live it differently?
This is one of the most important things. To do it and be done with it. Not to hang on to these old angers. I don’t have a bad conscience!
If Linda were able to live her life without a bad conscience how would it be different?
Freedom, freedom, freedom, and FREEDOM!!!!
What three life issues would you focus on if you were in charge of Linda’s life?
I would become even more selfish! No compassion! Self-confidence! She would be able to tell the world to FUCK OFF! She wouldn’t worry about what other people thought, including her parents! Animals! She works too much with human beings. Too much about this compassion bullshit. Animals don’t care about human bad conscience things. She needs to do something brand new.
In what life situations would it be most beneficial for Linda to imagine that she is you and act as you would?
Painters, taxi drivers, bus drivers, ugly acting and speaking people, unfriendly people…all the people who need to be given the finger immediately!!
Character, do you do drama? If not, why not?
Yes! I do it and I enjoy drama.
What is your secret for staying out of drama?
I am able to be persecutor without eventually becoming the rescuer or victim, which is what eventually happens for humans. I can fly away when it’s enough. I can leave. I’m free! I can be a pest and get out before anything bad can happen to me.
Why do you think that you are in Linda’s life?
I told you, she needs to have more freedom, more power, more of a “fuck you” attitude. Much more! Maybe even middle toes to go with nine out of ten middle fingers!!!
How is Linda most likely to ignore what you are saying to her?
She will go back to her old bad habit of being afraid and not very self-confident with a bad conscience.
What would you recommend that they do about that?
She needs to show these things her middle finger!
If she follows your recommendations what do you think would happen to her cough, tornado?
NO MORE COUGH!!!! Instead of getting pissed on or pissing on herself she would get it out of her system!
Linda, what have you heard yourself say?
My new mantra: “Middle finger..middle finger…middle finger!! I think this tornado is pretty right about it: that I not stay in my anger: Give it away! No bad conscience. My life would be easier.
I like this tornado! He’s such a cool, confident, free, pest! No one can make him really angry. Wow! I’m envious!
If this experience were a wake-up call from your life compass, what do you think it would be saying to you?
More middle finger! And forgetting about it! Close the door on it! If I piss off people I should REALLY piss them off! And not have a bad conscience because I did it.
What do you want to take on for homework between now and next time?
Strengthen the muscles of my middle fingers! And my inner middle fingers! It’s nasty but I’m REALLY enjoying it!
What do you want to be able to report back on the next time we get together?
That I can more easily leave my anger behind me. I can close the door on it. Not to think and think about bad people. If bad things happen, they will happen anyway because jerks will think, “She’s a weak person.” If I fight with more self confidence instead of as a concerned little girl, other people will see me differently. I need to fight out of power, not fight out of fear! I’m fighting out of fear so often it belittles me. It makes me small. It’s like whining instead of fighting! If I piss you off, I piss you off, dammit!
Notice a couple of things about this interview. The tornado is plenty smart and aware, but somehow it has managed to evade all those years of social programming that our parents taught us so that we would go to school and make good grades so we could eventually get a job, not fart in public so we could find a mate someday, and generally do all those things designed to get us accepted by the world while avoiding those things that would cause the world to reject us.
At its extreme, these good intentions amount to repression and brainwashing. The appropriate response is anger, if not fury, and rebellion. If this is not possible, then the desire to be accepted for who we are smolders like the deep heat of a compost pile. Given the right circumstances, it will burst into flame.
Also notice that the solution for Linda is not scoring high in all six core qualities. That would be phony and artificial. What Linda needs first, according to the perspective of the tornado, is its profile: emphasis on confidence, wisdom, and self-acceptance, and the ignoring of compassion, acceptance of others, and inner peace.
Another way of framing this would be to point out that until we have compassion for ourselves, in the sense that we stand up for our own needs in an assertive fashion, how can we exhibit authentic compassion toward others? By “authentic,” we mean something other than rescuing, “should” based compassion. Can we have real acceptance of others when we are unaccepting of ourselves? How can we have inner peace if we aren’t confident, wise, and self-accepting?
Low scoring self-aspects and wildly polarized scores such as demonstrated by Tornado are very important. They tell us where and how we are stuck and what they think we need to do to get unstuck. In this case, this Tornado is telling Linda why it thinks she has a chronic cough and what she needs to do to get rid of it.
Escaping once and for all from drama is not very realistic. Sometimes what we need to do is first admit that we are addicted to drama, as this Tornado does, so that we can live an honest and authentic life in our addiction. This increases the likelihood that we will more quickly outgrow it, because instead of pretending it is not a problem or doesn’t exist, we are accepting it.
This interview is a good example of why spirituality doesn’t have much to do with anything. What we have here is healing through cosmic humor and the antithesis to traditional definitions of spirituality.
There are great psychological benefits to believing in God. For example, let us imagine you are a parent, religious leader, or political leader. If you want your child, followers, or citizens to obey you, will it be more effective to demand obedience based on your authority or to tell them to obey because God tells them that if they do they will be blessed, be happy, and be his chosen people? Wouldn’t you not only be highly likely to obey, but to do whatever you do if it is in the name of God? Won’t every type of action be best explained and justified either as “God’s will” or as a sin against God?
The chasm between what those who profess a belief in God and the reality of the societies they create is wide and deep. For instance, slavery was not abolished in the 1800’s by a belief in God; it was abolished by an industrial revolution that no longer required captive labor to run society. A strong belief in God did not keep Catholic priests from molesting children routinely for centuries, nor did it keep the Church hierarchy from not only putting up with it but covering it up. A belief in God certainly hasn’t eliminated war; in fact, it has generally supported and justified it. Rights for women and gays have not come about due to the love of God either within or outside any religious tradition; it has come about because people are now putting human rights before other belief systems, including religion and a belief in God. Essentially, what such laws say is: “Believe whatever you want as long as you treat others with the respect you demand for yourself. If you don’t we will put limits on you so you won’t be able to limit the rights of others.” Obviously, society has a long way to go in enforcing these laws, but progress is being made. Hasn’t belief in God done more to keep people in servitude, deprived of civil and human rights, than just about any other belief system ever invented by humanity?
People who believe in God generally assume that life would be meaningless without Him, Her, or It. They also believe that thoughts are things, that is, because they can think of a concept like God that it necessarily implies the existence of God. Many people assume that the non-use of “God” implies either atheism or agnosticism. To not use God does not necessarily indicate a disbelief in what “God” generally stands for: life, in the fullest meaning of the term. The suspension of belief and disbelief does not necessarily land one in atheism or agnosticism either. What it does do is open you to possibilities that transcend and include language.
Whenever we use this term we are embarking upon the via affirmativa, that is, we are saying what reality is, not what it is not, which is the via negativa. Nor are we saying what we need to do in order to wake up, become lucid or attain enlightenment. Such instructions are empirical, testable methodologies called yogas or “integral life practices.” Therefore, the term God is not only ambiguous and over-determined, but partial, despite our protestations that by definition, it includes everything and everyone in a blissful state of acceptance and compassionate union.
It is impossible to look at the word “God” without either casting aside all questions or alternatively, becoming ensnared in a briar patch of them. In the first option, we cast aside all doubt and “know” that the other person means the same thing we do by “God.” This leads to a confirmation of our own biases; we hear only what we want to hear. In the second option, reason gets in the way of, and perhaps sabotages, belief: Which version of God are we talking about? Is it the Old Testament God of war, rules, and obedience, or is it the New Testament God of love and sacrifice? Or are we talking about Siva, God as destroyer, Brahma, God as creator, or Vishnu, God as sustainer? Are we talking about the immanent or transcendent God, or both? Or neither? What are the social, cultural, behavioral and psychological contexts for this God? Or is God pure spirit and energy in a universe of quantum possibilities? Is it true that “God” has so many different meanings and associations that to use it means to give up on clarity and instead opt for warm and fuzzy inspirational comfort?
Once the concept of God is accepted into your belief system – and it comes as an inherent aspect of cultural scripting for many people – your mind contrasts itself with God, creating a false duality that disempowers whomever you think you are at the moment. All power, glory, and salvation lie in God; you are nothing. Even when God is made immanent, there is an important and basic distinction between God and one’s precious consciousness. This divides life into the divine and the unholy, the sacred and the profane, the desired and the undesirable. However, life itself does not do this. It does not indulge in dualisms or express value judgments or preferences. Life moves where there is space and compatibility because there is space and compatibility, not because it has preferences.
Notice that the concept of God does not work for traditional Buddhists, secular humanists, agnostics or atheists. With a growing population of the world fitting into one or another of these groups it appears increasingly likely that the word is reaching its date of expiration. This is also indicated by growing attempts to use synonyms that are even more murky, vague, ambiguous and over-determined than God, but share with it an attempt to say what is ultimately real, that is, make a statement in the context of the via affirmativa. These terms include “the Divine,” “cosmic consciousness,” “the Void,” “Emptiness,” “Sunyata,” “the superconscious,” “Atman,” “Self,” “Absolute Being,” “almighty,” “Creator,” “Father-Mother,” “Gaia,” “Lord,” “Jehovah,” “universal energy,” “universal life force,” “Infinite Spirit.”
The basic problem about the use of any of these synonyms involves the paradox of naming. By doing so we take things out of the flux of passing experience, called process, and turn it into a static, existing ontological reality that is fundamentally a cognitive contrivance that we then assume points to something that in fact, does not exist. While names and naming is essential for prepersonal through mid-personal levels of development, attachment to the reality of these names positively hinders development beginning at mid-personal.
While the concept of God is extremely useful and motivational for many people at various stages of development, its support for waking up or enlightenment diminishes the farther you climb beyond prepersonal and early personal stages of development. Life itself has the advantage of not carrying the historical baggage of God, including many varieties of anthropomorphism. While there are multiple reasons why the concept of God is used at earlier developmental stages, Buddhism demonstrates that healthy children can be raised without it.
The truth test of usefulness can be applied to the concept of God. It states, “In order to know why an idea is used and another is not, look at how it functions for individuals and society.” When you look at “God” through this lens, you immediately find that its purpose is to inspire, reassure, provide security, and set boundaries. Its social and personal functions are to provide many of the roles typically expected of parents but which are generally absent in one way or another. In this way, society can increase the likelihood that important parental norms are passed on even if parents lack them. The concept of God serves this purpose not only for children, but for adults, as a creator and enforcer of societal rules and values.
What of the experience of God? Many people could care less about the concept of God or a belief in God because God is a direct personal experience for them. This may be due to an altar call, a dream, a mystical or near death experience. They had an experience of overwhelming oneness, love, compassion and acceptance and their word for that is “God.” Sadly, the word misdefines their experience. In an attempt to elevate it, they unwittingly discount it and lower it into a conceptual box by calling it “God.” They are moving the ineffable, transcendent and transcendental into the realm of dualism, distinctions and conceptualism. Why not just call it overwhelming oneness, love, compassion and acceptance, felt as a relationship and warm, nurturing presence rather than as an encounter with an abstract force?
What are we doing when we talk about God? The concept of God is actually a description of various aspects of life. These boil down to oneness with life as nature and energy, life as experiencing oneness in relationships, and life as oneness with clear awareness itself.
Life as oneness with clear awareness is the witness that witnesses you. This is also called “causal mysticism” or “the path of the sages.” However, IDL does not find anything inherently mystical about it; like the other two aspects of life, it is part of the fabric of everyday experience, as interviews with emerging potentials make clear.
When life is experienced as oneness in your relationship to others, it inspires surrender, devotion, sacrifice, release, and most importantly, love and compassion. This is also called “deity mysticism,” or “the path of the saints.” However, every IDL interview involves interaction with perspectives that personify aspects of oneness better than we do, in that they generally score higher than we do in one or more of the six core qualities of waking up and enlightenment. When Ego transforms into the Queen, as Jesus, and indeed, in the interaction between all interviewed emerging potentials and the interviewing subject, we have life manifesting as relationship
When life is experienced as oneness with nature and energy it is the vast impersonal evolutionary system, great interlocking order, great holarchy of being, great It, great system, great web of life, the great perfection of existence itself. Life arises in its third-person mode as interconnected planes and levels and spheres and orders. This is often called “nature mysticism” or “the path of the yogis,” but IDL discloses it to be part of the immediately accessible fabric of everyday existence. For example, the interview with Sun Rays discloses oneness as nature and energy in a way that is both understandable and approachable.
The concept of God tends to favor an interpersonal and anthropomorphic understanding of oneness while ignoring or minimizing energic and witnessing approaches to oneness with life. Interpersonal approaches to oneness with life, when not combined and balanced with the other two, tend to generate drama and immersion in the Drama Triangle. This is because God tends to be placed in the role of rescuer and humanity in the role of victim. Sin, evil, estrangement, and self tend to be put in the role of persecutor. Once the Drama Triangle is established, the roles circulate endlessly. Because the role of rescuer disempowers waking identity by making it dependent on something or someone else, it is more fundamentally experienced as a persecutor, and waking identity has to figure out how to rescue itself from a persecuting ultimate. All of this is very strange, twisted, and unnecessary, having nothing to do with life itself, but becomes almost a necessary perceptual cognitive distortion as soon as union with an interpersonal God becomes the only perceived route to salvation and enlightenment.
When a conception of God is depersonalized but maintained as oneness with nature and energy, the result is a repression of God as oneness through relationship and the deification of Gaia, the Web of Life, systems theory, akashic fields, chaos theory, and quantum everything. This may be accompanied by practices that attempt to attain oneness with God as pure witnessing consciousness, such as meditation. For example, in the interview where Dharma transforms into a Pinwheel and limes transform into a lime tree we see life manifesting in nature.
Wilber’s “Three faces of God” could more simply be called, “Three faces of life.” Despite his reliance on the use of the concept of God, Wilber’s integral places all three aspects in the context of holons, acknowledging that God is one way of talking about the manifestation of life in form. Wilber thereby relativizes the usefulness of any particular conception of God by making it one of three fundamental perspectives of life, all interdependent, all equally essential. We interact with our interior realm, with others, and objects in ways that can be more or less respectful. IDL asks, “Why appeal to metaphysical concepts like God if “life” will do? What information does “God” give that “life” does not, particularly when you define life as Kosmos, Wilber’s term for the unmanifest as well as the manifest universe?
IDL notes that most interviewed emerging potentials do not mention God. They appear to function quite well without Him, Her or It. Perhaps you can as well. You can perform your own experiment and find out for yourself. Why not suspend your belief in God for a month and see what happens? You can always pick it back up again if you want to. What happens during the month when you suspend both your belief and disbelief? Do bad things happen? Do good things happen? Does nothing different happen? Consult with your own interviewed emerging potentials about it. See what they have to say. By all means, follow your life compass!
An Interview With God
God, I know that I am only interviewing my own limited, small conception of who and what you are. I know that it cannot capture or even conceive of your omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence. I also know that if I were to have a face to face encounter with you, as some people do with near death experiences, I would most likely produce a very different interview. In addition, I know that my conversation with you doesn’t prove or represent anything for other people; it is only done to give others a little push toward doing their own interviews with you.
So God, how would you describe yourself?
God: I can be whatever or whomever you want me to be. And the more you take off your filters, the more overwhelming I am. When your perception is unlimited you experience me as a reflection of that: unlimited by space, time, or identity, completely accepting and all-knowing.
I don’t imagine you liking or disliking anything about yourself; I imagine you being beyond that, but I will ask anyway, because it’s a part of the interviewing process: What do you like best about yourself? What are your strengths?
God: I like that I am always bigger than you are, and therefore a reflection of your potentials, inspiring you to be more than you are. I like my chameleon nature; I can be all things to all people.
And do you have anything you dislike about yourself or any weaknesses?
God: I can be so awesome as to be unattainable, totally transcendent, out of reach. The result is that you can have a sense of an unbridgeable gulf that leaves you desolate.
God, you sound a lot like a high-scoring emerging potential to me. They can seem perfect and therefore unattainable by imperfect humans.
God: That’s right.
Then how does that make you any different than say, an interviewed toothbrush?
God: It doesn’t. Why should it?
You are supposed to be different, in that you transcend and include everything, including all interviewed toothbrushes.
God: True, but it is the same difference. By definition I include all possible interviewed perspectives and personalities. If I transcend and include all possible emerging potentials am I not still an emerging potential, just maybe a higher scoring one?
OK, God. If you say so. What aspect of me do you most closely personify or represent?
God: Your potential for oneness.
What aspect of you do I most closely personify or represent for you?
God: My desire to wake up.
If you could change in any way you wanted, would you, and if so, how?
God: I change all the time to fit the assumptions, expectations, and beliefs of different people. So since I can already change in any way people want me to, what more could one want?
But God, that’s changing for others. What do you want for you? To stay immutable and unchanging, perhaps?
God: That sounds dreadfully boring. No, I like my life the way it is, both still centeredness and an ever-renewing kaleidoscope of perspectives.
How would you score yourself in the six core qualities?
God: I am tens in all, of course, because I’m perfect.
What’s it like to be perfect?
God: Dreadfully boring, to tell you the truth. It’s a lot to live up to. Plus, if you can’t fail, how can you learn? The truth is that makes me a static concept, one that doesn’t change, evolve, or grow.
But God, man’s concept of you has changed as the consciousness of man has evolved. How can you say that you are static and don’t grow?
God: People won’t allow me to be the object of their disbelief in me. People won’t allow me to be their doubt in me. People won’t allow me to both exist and not exist. People won’t allow me to neither exist or not exist. So if I were truly unlimited and all powerful, I could do those things. But then the word “God” would no longer apply to me. People would not be able to define me by separating me from that which is not God.
How would humans be different if they scored like you do, God?
God: They wouldn’t care about me one way or another because they wouldn’t need me.
God: Because they would be accessing and becoming their emerging potentials. Therefore they would experience their wholeness. They wouldn’t experience the separation that causes them to need me.
Have any recommendations for my life or those of humans, God?
God: I recommend that humans spend less time thinking about me and focus more on finding and following their life compass.
But isn’t their life compass you, God?
Only if you define them as the same.
When do you recommend that I or humanity in general imagine they are you and act as they think you would?
God: Whenever they want to become one with their emerging potentials.
But can’t they do that with any interview?
God: Yes, of course.
God, I’m not finding you very inspiring.
God: Sorry. I’m not here to live up to your expectations. Maybe if you try interviewing me at another time when your head is in a different place you will like the results better.
OK: So God, what I have heard you say is that you don’t particularly like being perfect, nor do you like being kept separate from being things like atheism or agnosticism. Still, I don’t see how if you aren’t made separate from those things that you continue to exist or have any meaning. For instance, if you are both a belief in God and a disbelief in God, how does “God” continue to have any meaning?
God: Not my problem.
Energy Everything; Quantum Everything
“Forgotten were the elementary rules of logic, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and that what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.” Christopher Hitchens
Oneness with energy is generally associated with oneness with nature. If that is the case, how could anyone ever outgrow an understanding of life as energy and then seek oneness with that? The problems arise with the appropriation of energy to validate your particular world view and with a lack of balancing with interpersonal and witnessing approaches to oneness with life. For example, New Age perspectives have co-opted some of the language of quantum mechanics in their quest to make ancient metaphysics sound like respectable science. Are appeals to quantum attempts to cloak the spiritual in the scientific? Are they persuasive for scientists or for believers? Are quantum or other forms of subtle energy major influences for cognition and healing? This is what is claimed. Sadly, the evidence is lacking. For example attempts to demonstrate the power of prayer do not reveal statistically meaningful results. Psychic phenomena, another aspect of subtle energy, although real, occurs only slightly above random chance, meaning that it is hardly likely to be a major influence in the macro-environments of cognition and physiology. As Carl Sagan was fond of saying, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.” Proponents are put in the awkward position of explaining why such an important influence on life has not been substantiated, despite many serious attempts to do so. For example, it has long been a standing claim and a major advertisement for meditation that serious meditation develop siddhis, or psychic abilities. The problem is, where are all these meditating psychics? Science now has the ability to test and verify these claims. It has indeed tested meditators for psychic ability but has not found them functioning beyond chance. Why not?
IDL views attempts to cultivate psychic abilities as a form of spiritual grandiosity that does not contribute to either waking up or enlightenment. Psychic abilities more often represent a detour or a distraction than a path to higher level awakening. They cause people to waste time and resources on pursuits that do not improve their health or well-being or the quality of life of others. For example, there is no known correlation between psychic ability and mental stability or morality. This is also true for forms of energy medicine, including homeopathy, psychic healing, reiki, radionics, and quantum healing. The benefits claimed for these techniques are generally convincing but temporary expansions in state. For example, one can receive a faith healing and be symptom free, which is very impressive. However, the problem is that when the state wears off, the symptoms usually return, because they are state-dependent. Another example is medical hypnosis. A highly suggestible person will develop a red welt when suggested that being touched by the eraser of a pencil is actually being burned by a cigarette, and the welt just as quickly disappears.
Also, many respectable scientists have attempted to use the language of energy, physics and quantum mechanics in an attempt to bridge the gap between science and metaphysics. The gospel according to energy says that everything is biofield, chi, prana, vital, quantum, or subtle energy vibrating at different frequencies. Subtle energies are tied to different “fine bodies,” including panic, etheric, subtle, and causal. Things that are unconscious, non-complex, and disconnected, like rocks and trash, vibrate at the lowest, slowest frequencies; things that are conscious, complex, and interdependent, like humans in love, vibrate at the highest and fastest frequencies. Therefore we have a basic dualism, with impurity/bad being low frequency and purity/good being high frequency. This is a very old concept that goes back to at least Hindu Samkya, which is found in the Bhagavad Gita and in which reality is divided into high vibrating, perfect purusha, spirit, and low vibrating prakriti, matter. The doctrine of the three gunas, divides matter, thought, and action into tamas, rajas, and sattvas, based on its purity.
Energy healers claim that health depends on “unblocking,” “harmonizing,” “unifying,” “tuning,” “aligning,” “balancing,” “channeling,” or otherwise manipulating subtle energy. Some healers claim they can feel the energy of these elusive and ineluctable biofields, vibrations, auras, or rays. Therapeutic Touch practitioners make this claim. But energy healing has not been substantiated above chance or placebo. For example, twenty-one practitioners, who knew from much experience that they could feel the energy around the bodies of patients, were tested. They had never been tested, however, in a situation where they could not see the source of the alleged “energy field.” Nine-year-old Emily Rosa tested these energy healers to see if they could feel her life energy when they could not see its source. The test was very simple and seems to clearly indicate that the subjects could not detect the life energy of the little girl’s hands when placed near theirs. They had a 50% chance of being right in each test, yet they correctly located Emily’s hand only 44% of the time in 280 trials. If they couldn’t detect the energy, how can they manipulate or transfer it? What are they detecting? Most likely they are detecting what has been suggested to them by those who taught them this practice. Their feelings of energy detection appear to be manufactured in their own minds. Dr. Dolores Krieger, one of the creators of TT, has been offered $1,000,000 by James Randi to demonstrate that she, or anyone else for that matter, can detect the human energy field.
The basic problem with appeals to energy, energy medicine, psychic healing, and quantum physics, besides the lack of proof for these claims, is that it generally represents attempts by pre-rational belief systems to clothe themselves in the garments of scientific respectability. This is embarrassing to those who respect science and only works on the gullible. A far better approach is to not claim scientific authenticity for your favorite healing technique if empirically-verified evidence for it doesn’t exist. For example, meditation can claim scientific validation for stress reduction and many health benefits and should stick with those rather than reducing its credibility by claiming to produce psychic ability, for which there is little or no proof. Energy medicine devices can claim benefit at the level of placebo; why not simply stop there? Many people will still use energy medicine as a placebo.
Most people who rely on quantum mechanics to support the idea that the foundation of the universe is consciousness point to Heisenberg’s principle of indeterminacy, derived from his famous double slot experiments and the “observer effect.” However, the observer effect has nothing to do with either a human observer or consciousness. Therefore, this aspect of quantum mechanics doesn’t support consciousness as the foundation of the universe. More recently, experiments have called the reality of quantum indeterminacy into question. Jeff Lundeen and his team of physicists at the University of Ottawa have demonstrated that wave function is real and that the Copenhagen Interpretation is wrong. What happens on quantum levels stays on quantum levels. There is no evidence that these effects are strong enough to function on the level of normal physics or normal consciousness.
Much fascinating work has been and is being done on energy and its relationship to health and consciousness. However, be cautious toward those who attempt to cite research to promote shortcuts to enlightenment. The experience of IDL is that appeals to energy, life force, or subtle vibration are not only unnecessary for healing, balance, and transformation, but have little to do with finding and following your life compass. They are effective at the level of placebo, or about 33% of the time. Learn, keep an open mind, but be skeptical. Simplify your life and stay on track by focusing on listening to and following the wake-up calls that show up in your dreams and your waking life issues.
Many people rely on their conscience to make decisions. What are they doing? When you are a child you are taught what to do, feel, and think in order to get approval. You are told what to not do, think or feel if you want to avoid being punished. Essentially these rules boil down to obeying your parents and their surrogates, such as teachers, cops, religious authorities, older siblings, and family members who look after you. As you grow, you internalize these rules, which means that you don’t need someone to tell you what to do to get approval or avoid punishment. Because adapting to your environment is how you survive, and because following the rules is how you adapt, you had considerable vested interest in learning these rules to the place where they were internalized and automatic. They were so much part of the culture of your family and your world that you never recognized them or questioned them. Consequently, unless you have performed an “exorcism,” the voices of your parents still live rent-free in your head. Most people don’t even realize that their “parents” are still hanging out in the attic of their consciousness, telling them what to do, pulling their mental-emotional strings like puppeteers. If you want proof of ghosts and spirits, look no further. This is a real haunting, and one that does a great deal of damage. Your parent’s rules become your rules, and you might very well forget where or why you learned them.
When you internalize the script injunctions of your parents you become socialized. External, objective sources of authority are now internal and subjective. You now “listen to your conscience.” When you don’t follow the rules, “your conscience acts up.” For instance, when you defy authority and refuse to go to war you are a “conscientious objector,” meaning that you follow your own inner voice instead of some external authority. A more accurate way of saying this is that you are following a different set of internalized norms, ethics, morals, or values than those set by some external authority, such as the government. You aren’t necessarily being “true to yourself;” you are following values that you internalized from somewhere. You are, however, when you follow your conscience, “doing what you believe to be right,” because for most people, most of the time, they have no way of separating who they are from their internalized parent voices. When you follow what they say to you, you will think you are doing what is “right” when you may only be doing what was expected of you when you were three. If you had been born into another family you would have internalized a different set of expectations. What as an adolescent and adult you would have believed was “right” and “true” and fiercely fought for, might have been diametrically opposed to what you now believe with all your heart.
If you want to evolve beyond preeprsonal and early personal levels of development, conscience is not your friend. It is not conducive to enlightenment. It is a dead weight that holds you back because it confuses finding your own voice with your familial scripting. Finding your own voice is something you are supposed to do on the personal levels of development. How can you identify it when it is entangled and confused with the internalized voices of your parents? The truth is that few people are following their life compass, because it never crosses their mind that there is a difference between conscience and their life compass, and even if they were able to make that distinction, they would be highly unlikely to have a methodology that allowed them to tell the two apart. Consequently, you can be a passionate fighter for human rights and not pass this test of personal development, because you may simply be living out the scripted values of your parents or favorite teacher. You can be an effective professional, technician, public servant, or artist and never find your own voice. To do so, you need a means of differentiating the two. One tool is provided by Transactional Analysis in its life script questionnaire. We discuss and introduce it in Waking Up.
The idea that conscience is largely arbitrary scares a lot of people. They don’t want to believe that life is so capricious or that their conscience is just internalized groupthink. Therefore, I do not expect those who disagree to be convinced by what I say here, nor would that be wise. However, if you interview many different perspectives of all different sorts – real, imaginary, from dreams, mystical experiences, after life, past lives, and history, you may find that most of these lack conscience. They do not have internalized parent voices like you do. Why not? While they will certainly be part of you, and therefore sometimes say things that your mother or father would say, you will also find that they usually also say things that are autonomous to one degree or the other. Those perspectives generally will not reflect the parental scripting that you received. The result is that they tend to view life without conscience.
In our society, to say that someone “doesn’t have a conscience” means that they are unethical or immoral. It means they are egotistical and manipulative. Is this an accurate description of interviewed emerging potentials who do not appear to have a conscience? You can test this for yourself. When you interview emerging potentials, what is the result? Some will definitely be crazy and bizarre, but most will probably make more sense than you do. Many of them will seem happier than you. Most of them will score higher than you do in one or more of the six core qualities, which means they are more awake than you are, at least in some areas. If conscience has little, if anything, to do with being alive or waking up for these perspectives, why should it for you?
You will find, if you do interviews with the dreams or life issues of young children, that conscience is a much stronger presence in interviewed perspectives. This is because internalizing parental voices is a basic survival skill for children; they need to do so. You may also notice that doing such interviews with children does not interrupt their ability to develop and follow their conscience. Just as children learn to follow different rules and expectations from different parents and authority figures, so they can learn to differentiate between the expectations of interviewed emerging potentials and “real” authorities. The interviews do not turn them into amoral, dissociated delinquents. In fact, they do the opposite. IDL interviewing puts children in touch with sources of authority that are independent of internalized parental rules and norms so that their sense of what is “right” for them can come from something that is authentically them instead of simply an internalized parental voice that they now confuse with themselves.
Many people will answer the above by saying, “I don’t follow my conscience; I follow my intuition, and that’s different.” Is it? How would you know? What is “intuition?” Synonyms are “hunch,” “impression,” “inkling,” “notion,” “prescience,” or “spiritually given.” If something is “intuitive,” the implication is that it is “on the mark,” or “on target,” or “accurate,” or “cognizant of something I am not but which sounds or feels truthful.” Intuition does not differentiate between prepersonal belief, faith, psychism, and state experience, on the one hand, and transpersonal, trans-rational higher stages of development that transcend, yet include belief, faith psychism, and reason. Therefore, claims of intuition tend to be unaware of Wilber’s pre-trans fallacy and ignore it, because intuition claims to be “right” and often “spiritual,” meaning in harmony with your highest good. Is it? Not only could anything be an intuition, but an intuition can be from sheep’s entrails, aura readings, channeling, tarot, or the face of Jesus on a taco. There is no indication of the source of the reliability of an intuition. It is reliable because…it is an intuition!
Notice that in the above picture, of a lady having an intuition, there is nothing there. That’s because intuitions are whatever you want them to be. When someone says, “I had an intuition,” they are probably saying, “ I had a thought, feeling or sensation that I believe is true.” Intuition is such a vague concept that it means pretty much whatever you want it to mean. Listen to how people use the word and you will find that intuition is commonly used as an unassailable justification for believing whatever the speaker wants to believe. Therefore, if you question someone’s intuition you are attacking them, questioning the truth and validity of their personal experience. They take personally any skepticism or doubt toward their intuition because they have personalized their intuition. This is because they think they are their intuitions. Personalization is a cognitive distortion. A cognitive distortion is an irrational way of thinking that validates a world view that creates anxiety, depression, or both. A belief in intuition does so by making your identity dependent on the rightness or truth of intuitions and therefore vulnerable through dependency on whatever is the source of your intuition. If your intuition is attacked, you are attacked; if your intuition is proven wrong you are invalidated as a person.
Religious beliefs that are “divinely given,” meaning intuitively known to be true, demonstrate this characteristic of the cognitive distortion of personalization. For example, the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, said he found the text of the Book of Mormon inscribed on golden tablets. However, eyewitnesses said that what they saw was Joe looking down into his hat at a stone he used to find buried treasure and then writing down his thoughts. If the second version of the story is the truth, the “intuitive knowing” that The Book of Mormon is the Word of God is undercut, with the result being that a crisis of faith and life meaning ensues for believers. Because this is very threatening to people, in this case Mormons, when you question someone’s intuition, you are not likely to be viewed as helpful or a friend. They feel threatened, because by questioning the truth of Joseph Smith’s “intuition” you question them.
Almost all world scripture follows this pattern. Because it was intuitively given, it is from God; because it is from God, it is true. If you question my intuition you not only question my faith, you question God. For example, I have a friend who fancies herself something of a mystic in the fashion of Rumi. She had an intuition that a mutual friend was dead. He wasn’t. Did the encroachment of reality on her intuition cause her to change her belief in her intuition or her reliance on it? No; she simply rationalized it; her intuition was correct but divine grace kept our friend alive. Another friend had an intuition that she had found her soul mate. When this relationship didn’t work out she didn’t question her intuition; she questioned her interpretation of her intuition! What such “explanations” do is move intuition into a category of events and pronouncements that cannot be disproved. If a statement cannot be disproved, it might be wise to ask, “How can I tell if it is true or helpful?” The answer typically boils down to some version of “Trust me.” Little children are similarly irrational. We can enjoy them and delight in their creativity and spontaneity, and we can also trust that they are being honest, because they have yet to develop enough of a sense of self to be manipulative. However, does this mean that their intuitions and judgments are trustworthy? You might say that everything they do is intuitive, which means it feels good and it seems right to do. However, despite this, there is a reason why young children are not put in charge of households.Why?
I used to refer to intuition and believe in my own. However, I noticed that it was not important to interviewed emerging potentials and started wondering why not. Emerging potentials either don’t have or don’t use intuition. Instead, they report their perspective and how they interpret it, within the limitations of the language that the interviewed subject has available for them to use. Watch and listen to when and how people use the word “intuition.” What are they really saying? When you talk about your intuition, what are you actually conveying to others? What would your life be like if you didn’t use this concept? What, if anything, would take the place of your “intuition?” Here is one example of an exploration of that idea…
An Interview With Intuition
The above picture is an over-used image for intuition, but it makes this interview with intuition as universally applicable as possible.
So, light bulb, are you a symbol for intuition? Tell us about yourself!
Light Bulb: “I bring light and insight to consciousness, which is a good thing!”
So you like yourself?
Light Bulb: “But of course! I’m wonderful!”
Anything you don’t like about yourself, Light Bulb?
Light Bulb: “What’s there not to like? When I’m on, everything is bright! When I’m not on, I am the possibility of enlightenment! What could be better?”
So do you represent intuition, Light Bulb?
Light Bulb: “Of course! That’s why you chose me, isn’t it?”
If you could change in any way, would you? If so, how?
Light Bulb: “That’s an interesting question. If I were on all the time there wouldn’t be time to process my insights; they would all come so fast they would be jumbled together and nothing much would happen with any of them. So the question is, ‘What is the optimal frequency for me to come on?’ I would say, ‘When I’m needed.’”
Light Bulb, You know from my remarks I think you are misused. What do you think?
Light Bulb: “I think there’s a difference between intuition and insight. Now that you mention it, I think that I am more creative insight or problem solving than intuition, in the sense of precognition or a ‘knowingness’ about the future.”
So you don’t think you represent intuition after all?
Light Bulb: “Now that we are thinking about it, no.”
Then maybe I am talking to the wrong emerging potential, Light Bulb! If I were to talk to intuition, what form do you recommend that it would take?
Light Bulb: “A crystal ball. That’s more like it.”
OK! Good idea! So Crystal Ball, do you personify intuition?
Crystal Ball: “Indeed I do!”
What do you like best about yourself, Crystal Ball?
Crystal Ball: “I like that I foretell the future!”
Yeah, but do you really do that or just claim you do?
Crystal Ball: “Sometimes I really do! And when I do, it’s really impressive!”
Right. I’ve seen some impressive examples of that myself, Crystal Ball…Like when Emanuel Swedenborg in 1759 clairvoyantly reported a great fire in Stockholm, 400 km away. What else do you like about yourself?
Crystal Ball: “That I never fall out of fashion. People are always seeking some version of me to create certainty in their lives.”
What do you think about that, Crystal Ball?
Crystal Ball: “I understand they are trying to avoid mistakes and create security for themselves, but I don’t think I am of much help. People just use me as a mirror onto which to project their own hopes and fears. I am a tool for externalizing consciousness.”
So, what’s wrong with that?
Crystal Ball: “Nothing; it just doesn’t have much to do with objective reality. It mostly is about one’s own hopes and fears.”
So you think intuition is accurate to the extent that it is a reliable expression of one’s hopes and fears, but not so accurate if assumed to reflect external, objective reality?
Crystal Ball: “That’s right.”
Crystal Ball, how do you explain real, verified cases of psychic phenomena?
Crystal Ball: “Like mystical and near death experiences, precognition, telepathy and psychokinesis happen. And also like them, these experiences are notoriously difficult to duplicate. Therefore, they are extremely difficult to validate or build any ongoing growth on.
Crystal Ball, how do you score yourself zero to ten in the six core qualities?
Crystal Ball: “I am only a five in confidence, because I do not have nearly as much confidence in my own abilities as do those that depend on me. I don’t think they are realistic. Regarding compassion, I would say three, because I do not tell people the truth but mostly only what they want to hear. That is a form of rescuing and validation that doesn’t have much to do with growing. Regarding wisdom, I would give myself a three. I don’t think I rise to the level of interviewed emerging potentials very often in terms of the objectivity and usefulness of my feedback. Regarding acceptance, I am higher, a seven, because I have something of a complacent, passive attitude toward whatever intuitions people come up with, because I do not feel like I have any control over them. Regarding peace of mind, I am only about a four. Regarding witnessing, I am a seven. I do witness a lot of what’s going on. I think it’s mostly drama.”
If you scored tens in all six core qualities,Crystal Ball, would you be different, and if so, how?
Crystal Ball: “I would be more like a Tibetan Dorje – diamond clear discernment. I would not so much be intuition as the clarity that comes from being out of one’s own way. Now people could call that intuition, but I don’t think that is what it is. I think it’s clarity.”
My understanding is that a Dorje is also known as “Vajra” in Sanskrit, and is the word for both thunderbolt and wisdom and represents bodhi or enlightenment in Buddhism as well as indestructibility and upaya, or the ability to say the right thing at the right time in order to bring awakening to others. Is that right?
Dorje: “Yes, that will do.”
So dorje, what do you think of intuition?
Dorje: “I think it’s a poor substitute for what people really are wanting and needing: clear discernment, the ability to make good, solid decisions that stand the test of time.
What do you think people need to do in order to learn to do that?
Dorje: “Becoming me would help; meditation, if they will meditate to develop their ability to witness; practice what you call triangulation.”
Anything else, Dorje?
Dorje: “Isn’t that enough?”
The message of this interview is that we need to think about what we mean when we use the word “intuition.” This interview proposed at least three different meanings for it: creative insight and problem solving, foretelling the future, and clear witnessing, which was suggested as a superior substitution or alternative to intuition.
A common joke says, “If you aren’t paranoid you aren’t paying attention.” There is indeed some truth to this idea. Doubt and skepticism represent the birth of mid-rational, mid-personal consciousness, which is a major developmental milestone, not often reached by humanity. This is because your scripting, society and culture depend on your continued belief in its conception of itself in order to be sustained from one generation to another. When multitudes of citizens begin to question the backbone assumptions of a society its identity as a separate entity is seriously eroded. That process is currently underway in the United States and Western Europe, where underlying assumptions of exceptionalism based on democracy, human rights and upward mobility are being called into serious question by increasing numbers of people. It is doubtful that the United States and Western Europe, at least as it is presently constituted, will survive this widespread crisis of confidence.
Such doubt and skepticism leads to questioning and the exploration of evidence that either supports or undercuts prevailing groupthink. IDL strongly encourages this process, because it serves as a filter for societies: if they maintain credibility under such scrutiny they deserve support and the support they do receive will be based on a solid foundation; if they fail to maintain credibility under such scrutiny, as most public institutions, religions and many nation-states are currently experiencing, they do not deserve public support and it will fall away. We see that currently happening in the abandonment of capitalism in various guises. One is the support for a US presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, although he declares himself a “democratic socialist.” Until recently, calling oneself a socialist was a kiss of death for any politician or public figure in the U.S. Another is in the publicized re-thinking of the Russian central bank of the question of interest. This reflects a desire to move social institutions away from a predatory profit-taking model.
Conspiracy theories, however, are doubt and skepticism that have crossed over to the Dark Side of the Force. This is because they not only assume distrust instead of trust, which is bad enough, but base this distrust on dark suspicions that serve another agenda, often undisclosed, and are often very difficult to either prove or disprove. Here are some of the currently prevailing conspiracy theories, running from the merely dubious to the outright absurd:
Islam is trying to take over Europe, Vaccines cause autism, Jews and/or Freemasons are trying to take over the world, the holocaust was a hoax, the Armenian genocide never happened, international elites have controlled the world through central banking for over 200 years to establish the New World Order which operates as a shadow government, multiple false flag conspiracy theories, including 9/11, Pearl Harbor, the Boston Marathon bombing, and Sandy Hook. Then there are the assassinations of JFK, RFK, King, Princess Diana, and many others. Christian apocalypticism and the rise of the Antichrist is another conspiracy theory that won’t die. Bible conspiracy theories tell us that most of what is in the Bible is a deception. Jesus had a wife, Mary Magdalene, and did not die on the cross but moved to Brooklyn and raised a family (just kidding). Then there are the conspiracies by big business to suppress revolutionary technologies, from perpetual motion machines to cold fusion, electrical cars, and Tesla. The government is killing us by poisoning our air with chem trails made by airplanes, water fluoridation and the creation of diseases, such as syphillus, hepatitis, and polio vaccines. Information on extraterrestrials and evil aliens is being suppressed by a world-wide inter-governmental conspiracy. Humanity is actually under the control of shape-shifting alien reptiles who require ingestion of human blood to maintain their human appearance. The Bush and British Royal families are reptilians as well as Margaret Thatcher. The Apollo moon landing was staged.
What makes conspiracy theories so attractive to so many people? “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.” Conspiracy theories are a form of dark, rebellious groupthink. They reflect collective blowback to the prevailing narrative storylines of the day. conspiracy theories fit neatly with intentionality bias intentionality bias—our tendency to assume that ambiguous events happened on purpose. By explaining significant events as the result of grand conspiracies, they tap into our assumption that big events have big causes big events have big causes. And by ceaselessly connecting otherwise unrelated dots, they satisfy our never-ending quest to explain what’s happening in the world around us. Many conspiracy theories are based on the belief that powerful elites are almost omniscient in their evil and that we are therefore victims in the Drama Triangle.
However, there is a fundamental fallacy that propels all conspiracy theories. It is a rational or formal cognitive distortion, unawareness of or ignoring Occam’s Razor, or the Principle of Parsimony. It states that when confronted with several explanations of events, choose the one which is simplest, yet which accounts for the evidence. In the case of most conspiracy theories the simplest explanation is not that big events have big causes, but like World War I, they are the result of a series of stupid errors by short-sighted people. Most conspiracy theories assume that elites are much smarter than they are. When you look closely at elites and from where they draw their income, their motives become clear. The question then becomes, “Why do we enjoy scaring ourselves by imagining that we are even greater victims than we already are?
The Cult of Positive Thinking
“Always be positive!”
“Nothing is impossible!”
“Be positive and always smile!”
“Positive Energy, Positive Results.”
“Positive Minds Live Positive Lives!”
“Be Positive, Live Positive, Believe Positive”
“Why be negative when you can be positive?”
“Positive Mind, Positive Vibes, Positive Life.”
“Think positive, be positive, and positive things will happen!”
“Always be positive. Don’t let negative people hold you back from your dreams.”
“Positive Thoughts Generate Positive Feelings and Attract Positive Life Experiences.”
“The positive thinker sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible.”
“The person who sends out positive thoughts activates the world around him positively and draws back to himself positive results.”
Is it wise to encourage people to ‘manifest’ the good life they desire by putting it on a credit card? Is it smart not to watch or read the news, because it’s “negative?” Is it wise to use positive thinking about abundance to prosper oneself by giving “seed money” to some church? Is it a good idea to shut out the ‘downer’ news of preventive health care, relationship problems, toxic work environment, climate change, or the injustices of inequality, until it is too late to do anything about them? Is it good to cut negative people from your life in order to protect your own energies? Doesn’t this sometimes mean turning your back on family and friends who are having a hard time? Is “positive thinking” always a good thing? Life coach James Arthur Ray made a living promoting his sweat lodge retreats in Arizona. Three people died in one when their complaining about the heat was waived off as negative thinking.
Could there be a ‘cult of positivity? Is there an oppressive culture of mandatory optimism? Could positive thinking be a groupthink, mass-mind massive delusion, called a perceptual cognitive distortion? Perceptual cognitive distortions involve subterranean, mass-mind groupthink. We are so immersed in them that we think we are awake and operating under our own volition when we are sleepwalking through our lives, under the powerful influence of our physical, familial, social, and cultural scripting. A positive perceptual cognitive distortion is a worldview or set of cultural assumptions that is designed to keep us happy, safe, and cooperative. So what’s wrong with that? Isn’t that what we want?
It’s certainly what our parents want for us. Did they tell you, “I don’t want you to be happy!” “Don’t be safe!” “Don’t obey me!” You can be sure that everything they said to you, positive or negative, was justified in their minds as something that was intended to keep you happy, safe, cooperative, or all three. The same is true for society. When it says, “Pay your taxes,” “Vote,” “Obey laws,” these injunctions are presented as being for your own benefit and protection. The myths of American exceptionalism, “indispensability,” and the American dream are presented as truths that benefit you, the citizen. However, are not the policies, laws, and myths of any society of foremost benefit to those who control society – the politicians, bureaucrats, and plutocrats? Isn’t it in their interest to have you believe that laws and common cultural assumptions, such as democracy and capitalism, are not only positives for you, but that they represent truths rather than groupthink and cognitive distortions? Society as a whole generally agrees and enforces these cultural norms in family and work settings. Questioning the legitimacy of commonly held beliefs and laws can get you into trouble. Doing so is a threat to any society, because it undercuts the cultural assumptions that it uses to legitimatize itself. Consequently, families, employers, and societies generally provide harsh and swift punishment to those children, employees, and citizens who are not appropriately grateful for the opportunities group membership provide. If scapegoating doesn’t work there is always incarceration.
To question positive perceptual cognitive distortions is to objectify mass mind that you are embedded in. That is impossible for young children and extraordinarily difficult for most adults, due to their lack of objectivity combined with the familial, work, and group prohibitions of challenging the prevailing ethic and culture. This works in many areas of life. For instance, regarding work and career, is the reason you are not wealthy because you are inwardly resisting wealth? If God wants you to be rich and you’re not, does that mean that you don’t have enough faith? The consumer culture encourages you to want more – cars, larger homes, television sets, cell phones, gadgets of all kinds – and positive thinking is there to tell you that you deserve more and can have it if you really want it and are willing to make the effort to get it.
Visualize what you want and it will come to you – a lover or a really good parking place. This is the message of the best seller, The Secret. Harness your powers and you can have anything you want. If you put out positive vibes, it will return tenfold. Conversely, negative energy attracts negativity. Another book, entitled Secrets of the Millionaire Mind, says you should place you hand over your heart and say ‘I love rich people.’ You could join the ‘Millionaire’s club’ and meet once a month to practice this philosophy and share positive energy stories.
Is promoting the idea that happiness is within your grasp in the interests of corporations trying to squeeze maximum productivity out of an overworked and underpaid workforce? Staff are forced to endure motivational speakers at all day conferences. In the workplace, positive thinking is not voluntary. It is imposed. Positive thinking in corporations became noticeable in the eighties, when the brutal fact of downsizing was being felt. Positive thinking was a strategy for employers to use with their downsized staff to help them cope with the consequences of unemployment. If you are fired it is an “opportunity” or a “transition.” Layoffs became a way of squeezing more work out of the fewer employees that remained. The popular book in the corporate world, Who Moved The Cheese?, says that if you’re going be downsized, you’d better get used to it. American euphemisms for getting fired include “releases of resources,” “career-change opportunities,” and “growth experience.” Job seekers are told that being hired depends on their attitude. A positive attitude thus becomes the new cure for unemployment. By the nineties this trend had hardened towards eliminating negative people in the workforce – those who were asking too many questions or expressing doubts about the efficacy of a new business plan.
How about happiness? If something goes wrong in your life, is it because you didn’t work hard enough or pray effectively? Can you make anything you desire, such as a new TV screen or a trip to Bimini to swim with dolphins, “materialize” through mind control? Can you change or improve your future or eliminate global warming and the fascist plutocrats that control your government? If that proves difficult, shouldn’t you just focus on “always looking on the bright side of life?”
Is positive thinking about hiding your real emotions under a thick layer of fake cheer? Can authenticity and meaning co-exist with the ‘smile or die’ mentality characterized by the “motivational industry?” Do the truly self-confident, or those who have in some way made their peace with the world and their destiny within it, need to expend effort censoring or controlling their thoughts? Is positive thinking driven by a terrible insecurity? Could it be that a deep and unacknowledged anxiety often underlies efforts to block out unpleasant thoughts? Is shunning negativity good for you? Does “Positive thinking” require a continual effort to deflect “negative” ideas? Are the unemployed, the sick, and the poor ‘responsible’ for their suffering because, according to the sect-like Positivity Police, happiness is a choice? Is ordering people how to feel and manipulating those emotions in order to sell “motivational products” ethical? Is the only alternative to positive thinking negative thinking?
How about health? Do you get sick and die because you have a negative attitude toward your body? Can your attitude cure you of a disease? If you are sick, unhappy, or poor, is the problem that you’re not positive enough?
Positive thinking, we are told, boosts the immune system and so fights cancer. Barbara Ehrenreich has her PhD in cell immunology and knows something about how the body defends itself from disease. She knows her macrophages from her viruses and informs us that the immune system fights foreign invaders, not cancer cells, which are part of the body’s own system. She argues that there is no evidence for the immune system fighting cancers. Macrophages are often found clustered around cancer cells, but they do not recognize them as alien and sometimes help them grow faster. If the immune system was so important why would the medical profession advocate chemotherapy which depletes the immune system?
After being diagnosed with an iatrogenic breast cancer Dr. Ehrenreich found herself swept away in a sea of pink and positivity: pink ribbons, a pink breast cancer teddy bear and a gift bag of pink teeny-bopper paraphernalia that included a box of crayons. This infantilization of adults in the face of what was for her a frighteningly traumatic experience made her want to throw up. She was angry about her diagnosis and wanted to find out about cures, but when she questioned the lack of available treatment on the Komen Foundation site – a major breast cancer website – she was admonished for her negative attitude toward her disease and ordered to run to a therapist for counseling. Her attitude, she was told, could cure her. Rather than having the opportunity to be angry, upset or sad, she was encouraged to see cancer as a gift, a perspective-altering exercise designed to make her a better person. She began to challenge the consensus that positivity cures all ills. Her experience as a cancer patient sparked her distain towards practiced, forced positivity.
Dr Ehrenreich sees positive thinking as a dangerous delusion masquerading as a cure for all our ills. She asks, “Should cancer victims exude happiness? If you have cancer, if you aren’t positive, are you exposing yourself and fellow cancer patients who come into contact with them, to toxic negativity? Might you also make your friends uncomfortable? Are people in pain “ordered” to hide their distress? Can “positive thinking” exact a terrible price in self-blame if a cancer defies treatment? Is the pressure to think positively “an additional burden to an already devastated patient?” Can positivity and magical thinking actually make illnesses worse? Were you taught to think positive as protection against your fears, create patience, tolerance, and especially obedience? Is there a problem with mindless platitudes, pep talks and positivity proselytizing? Is it true that “the only barriers to health and prosperity are within yourself? If you want to improve your life, both materially and subjectively, do you just need to upgrade your attitude, revise your emotional responses and focus your mind?” Is your plight all your own fault? Is positive thinking essential to health, wealth and wellbeing? Can thinking the best of something actually make it happen? Does cancer result from a deficient immune system? Is positive thinking a dangerous delusion? Is optimism the opium of the people? Are both the 2008 economic crash and the war in Iraq, examples of the danger of blind optimism? Is there such a thing as inauthentic happiness? Is the greatest cult of our time the cult of positivity?”
What is the alternative to grandiose amounts of positive thinking? Ehrenreich advocates realism, in the sense of figuring out what is going on and doing something about it. “How about determination? How about creating movements to fight for social change? Do we need a grown-up disdain for complacency, compliance and conformity? Is there value in ‘defensive pessimism?'” As examples, Ehrenreich provides having your foot near the brake pedal just in case there’s a three-year-old round the next corner; chefs who worry about the soufflé falling; energy planners who consider the worst outcomes of radiation poisoning and plutonium thefts; wheelchair manufacturers who are wary of crushing babies’ fingers.
Ehrenreich thinks we need to replace “positive thinking” with a “vigilant realism.” The bigger answer is to be less preoccupied with ourselves; a focus on protecting ourselves ends up harming us. We are isolated and community breaks down. “The threats we face are real, and can be vanquished only by shaking off self absorption and taking action in the world.”
True fulfillment doesn’t come from seeing ourselves as personal life projects, but from giving ourselves to something bigger than we are. Happiness comes to those who aren’t looking for it, but have thrown themselves into loving and serving others – caring for family, building community, campaigning for a better world, pursuing life. Consumerism would have you believe otherwise, but we only find ourselves when we give ourselves away.
Integral Deep Listening supports optimism while encouraging objectivity, by checking your conclusions and attitude against objective and subjective sources of objectivity (experts and interviewed emerging potentials) as well as your common sense. You can be constructively positive about your ability to get unstuck when you access the priorities of your life compass, as represented by the consensus recommendations of your interviewed emerging potentials, and by aligning your life with their priorities. Instead of trying to talk yourself into believing you are happy and life is fine when neither is the case, you can learn to move ahead with confidence that you can tune into life’s agenda and learn to live your life in harmony with it.
To one that advised him to set up a democracy in Sparta, “Pray,” said Lycurgus, “do you first set a democracy in your own house.” Apophthegms of Kings and Great Commanders, Plutarch
Lycurgus was pointing out that families are hardly democracies, nor should they be. Instead, they are hierarchical autocracies, in which parents and caretakers play the role of (hopefully) beneficent autocrats and children play the role of (hopefully) obedient and grateful subjects. However, if we take “house” metaphorically in a way that Lycurgus never intended, his statement can remind us that our priority needs to be to create democracy within our own interior consciousness, something that very few ever contemplate and even fewer attempt.
There appears to be a reverse correlation between the amount of democracy and freedom that an individual or nation proclaims and what actually exists. While the public is focused on democracy, what is power doing? What do you discover when you “follow the money?” How much is power, generally in the form of financial interests, taking over or neutralizing the ability of government to act in any way that will threaten its interests? You also find this pattern in families, where power and authority is generally centered on who makes the most money.
“Democracy” is not conducive to enlightenment to the extent that it does not take into account its necessary opposition, autocracy. Democracy is generally considered as the positive remedy to autocracy, when in fact both are not only important for development, waking up, and enlightenment, but absolutely necessary. I never expected to see the backside of this word. I grew up in a culture and society that took democracy for granted as the bedrock principle upon which freedom, justice, and human rights are based. In time I extended the concept of democracy to the microcosmic, intrasocial realm of interviewed emerging potentials as well as disenfranchised components of identity. The idea was to give respect and voice to perspectives that have been ignored, discounted, and repressed by our waking sense of self, which stifles its own creativity and growth by abrogating all power to itself. It was not, however, to expand political correctness from human rights for primates to cockroaches and then to imaginary aspects of consciousness. There is an important difference between demonstrating respect to interviewed emerging potentials and granting them human rights and the voting rights assumed by democracy. IDL does not suggest or support that.
Since studying philosophy during my university days I have wondered how two men as brilliant and different as Plato and Aristotle could have both denounced democracy. Now I think I understand. Both objected to democracy on the ground that it led to rule by the mob, the “lowest common denominator,” which was least educated and least endowed with the ability to make wise decisions. We would consider them, as all electorates in general, as captured under the delusional spell of groupthink.
Athenian electors were chosen via sortition, the random selection of government positions. and it was this type of democratic electorate that condemned Socrates to death. Plato and Aristotle saw democracy as one small step removed from tyranny because power would always find ways to co-opt the majority of the voting public. Plato was horrified that his esteemed teacher Socrates could be dragged before a mob, publicly humiliated, and then executed by lesser men who represented a frightened and paranoid democratically elected establishment. In large part because of the trial and execution of Socrates, Athenian democracy suffered a terrible reputation among subsequent political and philosophical thinkers, from Cicero to Machiavelli to almost every subsequent major philosopher, until the late eighteenth century revolutionaries in France and America. Socrates was executed and democracy denigrated not so much because of his radical philosophizing in the Athenian stoa as much as from charges that his former students and associates toppled democratic government while he stood idly by. I agreed with the US Constitutional founders that checks and balances were sufficient to prevent this from occurring. History has proven me wrong. Governmental institutions exist ostensibly to serve the people and guarantee security, freedom, and liberty by providing checks and balances on each other. We can see this even in the institution of parenting, in which “male” and “female” priorities are supposed to provide checks and balances and together provide a healthy context for the development of children. In fact, what they do is serve the powerful, wealthy and privileged, beginning with insuring their own institutional survival, and children get to pretty much figure out for themselves how to adapt in the prevailing cultural assumptions and behavioral requirements.
The arc of liberal democracy in the West has proven wrong the assumption that checks and balances are sufficient to protect democracy, mostly because democracy is no match for autocracy, particularly plutocratic autocracy. The ongoing assaults on both institutions and laws by individual greed will generally prevail over the occasional expression of the will of the majority, particularly since that will tends to support the corruption associated with entrenched incuments.
Consequently, it appears that Plato and Aristotle were right. What occurs, in actuality, once the propaganda and mythology are peeled away, is that power chokes off dissent and neutralizes checks and balances while supporting forms of groupthink that keep the public asleep. Look at any business, religious institution, or government and ask yourself how well its checks and balances are working to protect democracy within that sphere of influence. The vast majority of businesses do not even pretend to be democratic, justifying all policies and activities in pursuit of the maximization of profit within the context of hierarchical, authoritarian structures. Religious institutions are also intrinsically hierarchical and not democratic, echoing Plato’s judgment that rule by those proclaimed “wise” (godly; chosen by God) are most fit to rule. Any in-depth study of the vast majority of businesses, religious institutions, governments, or law-enforcement systems will show that tyranny and power are strongly favored over democracy and freedom. As noted above, authoritarianism is also taken for granted in families, which are hardly democracies. Parent expect obedience and good grades in exchange for security and opportunities to grow and learn. No one expects a family to be a democracy. Why not? The answer is obvious. Where developmental and role differences demand different expectations of people, governing hierarchies are required.
IDL extends this observation to self-government. On an individual level, power and authority is generally centered on who is most self-aware, and that would be waking identity. Every other aspect of the self is subordinated and made to serve it. This is not a democratic, but an autocratic structure, and it is taken for granted because it is adaptive, that is, it protects people and furthers their intentions. Fear of mob rule reverberates today not only in a distrust by the ruling class in the rule of the people, but in the disciples of Freud and our understanding about the working of the mind. As the story goes, it is not our waking sense of who we are, but the mass of uncontrollable unconscious desires that we imagine are threats to sanity, health and productivity. The rational mind is the tragic hero fighting against the primitive sexual and violent urges of our animalistic, instinctive basic nature. By implication, trust of sub personalities, and in IDL, emerging potentials, is foolish, dangerous, and leads to the destruction of rationality and all things good. This is a deep-seated and unconscious bias which largely explains why the consultation of dream group members with the goal of creating a life based on power sharing and inner consensus has rarely been clearly articulated, much less put into practice. The reality of consciousness is stood on its head: instead of seeing the rule of waking identity as a totalitarianism, a plutocracy of roles allied to maintain control and shut out the majority of alternative perspectives and agendas, it is viewed as the Great Protector, the Martyr, the bulwark against mob rule. The consequences of this convenient rationalization and self-justification is death. The light, creativity, and wisdom of consciousness is shut out in the name of security and control of the self. Autocracy wins over democracy.
In the West there has been a massive improvement in living standards brought about by financial exploitation and externalization of costs. Democracy not only has been used to defend and justify this process but serves as the rationalization for further exploitation, aggression, and exceptionalism, meaning a self-declared freedom from the laws to which it holds others accountable. We know that capitalism, not democracy, is responsible for this massive improvement in living standards because China, Singapore, and Hong Kong have experienced a similar unparalleled surge, also brought about by financial exploitation, but without democracy. These countries have not justified themselves as the sources and protectors of all things good through the sacred institutions of democracy. In fact, massive prosperity has come to these countries despite democracy and guarantees of individual liberties. The social contract in China has been, from Ping until at least Xi, “We will let you do whatever you want to earn money as long as you do not threaten us, the government, and do not create social unrest. In fact, we will do what we can as a government to help you make as much money as possible.” This social contract, essentially one of lassiz-faire capitalism, has had few pretensions of being democratic.
Many in my generation have watched in horror as the United States, the country that most clothes itself in the robes of democracy, has proven itself to be among the least democratic and most tyrannical and poorly governed nations on the planet. We have watched it overthrow scores of governments and their populations handed over to tyrants, all in the name of democracy, freedom, and human rights. Democracy has had no appreciable impact on the gutting of the middle class or the funneling of most of the country’s wealth to the one percent. This has led many to wake up to the reality that the US is in fact a militaristic plutocracy that uses democracy as cover for predation. The release of the Senate’s torture report reminds us of the central fact of American society today: any semblance of equal justice under the law is now gone from what our leaders claim is the world’s leading democracy. Instead of a constitutional democracy living under the law there exists a gangster government that fails to enforce the law, but instead prosecutes whistle blowers who make public its violations. Evidence of this includes the failure to prosecute, indict, and convict violators of US laws and international treaties prohibiting torture who then lie about it under oath, and when found out justify their illegal acts by claiming that they worked to make America safer, as if this excuses law breaking; failure to investigate, prosecute, indict, and convict government officials who engage in unconstitutional surveillance activities and then lie about it under oath; failure to investigate, prosecute, indict, and convict financial banksters and fraudsters for crimes resulting in the loss of many trillions of dollars of asset value owned by middle and working class Americans; failure to indict, and convict police who murder, rape and unlawfully seize private property, even refusing to investigate and prosecute most of them; failure to investigate, prosecute, indict, and convict police violations of constitutional rights to freedom of speech, assembly, and press; and Department of Homeland Security collaboration in violations of First Amendment Rights by State and Local Governments.
The US has been supported in many of these crimes by most of the other countries that most loudly proclaim their dedication to democracy, freedom, and human rights, such as Israel, the countries of the European Union, and the countries of the English-speaking world, including the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. All of the above actively supported a fascist coup government in Ukraine. They support brutal dictatorships, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, when doing so supports US foreign policy and business interests. Another undeniable example of this, courageously brought into the light of day by Edward Snowden, has been the alliance of “democracies” to undermine the privacy rights of everyone, rights without which neither democracy or freedom can exist. Even those countries which have been victimized by these abuses, such as Germany, are utterly compromised by the institutional benefits they receive from these arrangements.
The conclusion must be, “If this is democracy and freedom, what is tyranny and slavery?” Within such contexts “democracy” and “freedom” have no meaning except as Orwellian, groupthink terms, or as tools to pacify the population. Democracy, under such circumstances, is an enemy of human rights. Nor is the solution “more” of the “right” kind of democracy. “Pure” democracy is an unrealistic ideal because the population as a whole lacks the time, interest, and aptitudes to educate itself sufficiently to have an opinion, much less an informed opinion, on most issues which demand decisions. Legislators rarely read the legislation they are voting on. Instead they pass legislation written by and for banks and other special interests, “trust” the leadership of their party and allow themselves to be herded like a pack of goats. When democracy is taken to the extreme of consensus, like it was in the Polish Diet in the 1700’s, nothing happens; anyone can block any decision for any reason which leads to the failure of government to act at all. Nor does Churchill’s famous statement suffice: “Democracy is the worst form of government – except for everything else.”
Although significant countervailing positive forces exist in the educational and grassroots organizational ability of the internet, these efforts lay outside most formal organizational structures. Democracy seems to work best as an informal, almost ad hoc force that influences government beyond formal power structures, such as through NGOs and public interest groups such as AVAAZ. It also is much more effective on a small scale, like Iceland, perhaps because it is harder to develop a large, entrenched bureaucracy that hides from accountability. Once democracy becomes legitimatized, that is, turned into the rule of law, the law of the land, and the priority of organizations, it seems to be almost the kiss of death. Institutionalized democracy is inevitably co-opted and corrupted by the most powerful interests of the moment. Truth is never determined by a majority vote.
Ken Wilber’s integral model offers a solution that makes sense but that is difficult to implement or sustain. It notes that development, whether of individuals, organizations, or nations, occurs through the interplay of autocracy and democracy, hierarchy and heterarchy, “agency” and “communion,” male and female, transcendence and inclusion. Each plays the role of “antithesis” to the other in order to create a higher level synthesis. Instead of playing the game of pitting one against the other, the AQAL (all quadrants, lines, levels, states) integral model says “both are essential.” They represent polar opposites in life force, evolution and involution, transcendence and inclusion. When one becomes too strong its opposite inevitably is generated to restore balance. Consequently, the problem is not so much with democracy or authoritarianism, as it is with the over-emphasis of one to the exclusion of the other.
Just as in the male-female model, the solution for societies appears to be something akin to androgyny. This means finding and supporting a blend of autocracy and democracy, agency and communion, hierarchy and heterarchy, stratification and egalitarianism, evolution and involution, transcendence and inclusion, states and stages. What matters is not tyranny or democracy, but to ask, What is the balance?” “What is out of balance?” “What is required to move the system toward balance, homeostasis, integration, and androgyny?”
The answer to this question requires objectivity. Unfortunately, individuals and governments are embedded in contexts and therefore often lack the necessary objectivity to see what is out of balance. Even when it becomes crystal clear that a system is far out of balance, as it is in alcoholism, spousal abuse, and economies where almost all income flows to a small plutocratic minority, there are always powerful elements that benefit from maintaining the status quo. Because individuals, families, religions, corporations, economies and nations adapted to and even drive through dysfunction, expect strong resistance to any and all efforts to bring any system back into balance. Just like most of us, most governments would rather die than change, and so they do, generating massive social collapses in the process.
IDL encourages deep listening to both internal and external sources of objectivity in order to learn and amplify an ongoing balance between democratic and autocratic polarities. The more feedback that you receive that tells you that you are badly off-course the more difficult it is for you to stay in denial. This is precisely why there is considerable resistance to Integral Deep Listening: it shines light on the dark places, generating uncomfortable cognitive dissonance as self-image collides with reality. This same principle holds true for families, corporations, religions and governmental systems. If deep listening is used as part of an ongoing feedback process it can serve as a powerful preventative, meaning that course corrections can occur before they become so massive that costs are prohibitive.
On a familial level this involves treating the dream characters and the personifications of life issues that are important to various family members as wake-up calls and interviewing them. Recommendations are vetted by the family and those chosen are operationalized, with the entire family unit supporting their application.
On a corporate level, core challenges for the company as a whole regarding its growth and survivability are identified. These are personified by representatives of different invested stake holders: CEO, stock holders, management, and workers. The recommendations of various interviewed emerging potentials are compared and plans for application are operationalized and implemented for those which are deemed valuable and useful by external sources of objectivity, including those same stakeholders. The more elements of holarchic governance that are present the more likely IDL interviewing is to be tolerated.
On a governmental level, this involves a willingness for “deciders” to submit to similar processes. Ideally, it would become part of the assumed and accepted work culture. Accessing such feedback triggers core resistances for individual, familial, corporate, and governmental levels because it quickly and effectively identifies sources of imbalance. All must be supported in the challenging move from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence if individuals, families, organizations or governments are ever to achieve conscious competence, much less unconscious competence, in which responsibility and excellence are habits. A cynic would say that no one wants democracy; we only want to convince others and ourselves that we do. Everyone seeks the freedom to rule as they wish, subject to the financial pressures of lobbyists, shareholders, and personal preferences. A lack of a willingness to take steps that would generate a genuine democratic process is validation of this statement.
In addition to deep listening to both external and internal sources of objectivity, IDL emphasizes the importance of both transparency and accountability. Power does not hate democracy, because it has proven a ready tool and useful servant for those in control, as long as what passes for democracy is itself neutered. Democracy is weak and fragile by nature and therefore easily co-opted by the powerful. Accountability and transparency, just like genuine democracy, are hated by power, because power grows by exploiting the weaknesses of opponents, organizational structures, and laws. This inherently leads to over-reach, meaning that like cancer, the powerful continue to exploit until the base upon which they depend is exhausted. The more quickly exploitation is identified and exposed to the light of day the quicker the inevitable abuses by the powerful are checked. This brings up two immediate but perennial solutions: Is there transparency? If so, what kind? In what ways? Is there accountability? If so, what kind? In what ways?
One form of individual transparency is created by interviewing dreams. This is because dreams are spontaneous creations, and interviewing non human objects in dreams produce results that are very difficult to control or manipulate. Similar collective results occur when some aspect of the shared belief system, which acts as a cultural dream, is interviewed. (Examples.)
While individuals, families, businesses, and nations constantly talk of wanting what is best for their growth, for children, employees, and citizens, forces that benefit from the status quo do not easily give up power. IDL attempts to increase personal equivalents of democracy by increasing deep listening, transparency, and accountability within interior collective commons in both microcosmic and macrocosmic holons. IDL supports both authoritarianism, hierarchy, agency, evolution, state breakthroughs, and transcendence on the one hand, and democracy, heterarchy, communion, involution, stage consolidation, and inclusion on the other. It supports authoritarianism by acknowledging there are innumerable functions in development in which, if waking identity does not take the lead and insist on a course, the horses of emotion and addiction will pull the chariot of the body and its driver off a cliff. In this sense a personal governance of totalitarianism, absolutism, and tyranny is required, and pretending that it isn’t is merely a form of self-delusion. For example, who decides what is healthy to eat, you or your emotions? Who decides when and how to exercise, you or your body? Yes, you will find those that say, “trust your instincts” when it comes to eating and exercising, but exactly which instincts are those? Who gets to decide which instincts are healthy and which ones are not? In matters of love, is it wise to follow your heart? Most of us can tell horror stories about that one.
The solution is not to ignore or minimize the influence of body, emotions, instincts, or heart, but to listen to them and balance their interests with those of your waking identity, reserving for it the final and majority vote, because it has relatively more objectivity and final responsibility. The subsystems of consciousness evolved your waking identity so that it could be on the mountaintop of personal evolution where the view was best, exactly because there are adaptive advantages to hierarchy. This is what Plato understood. Therefore, IDL provides a number of tools for improving waking decision making. As long as development requires autocracy, steps need to be taken to ensure that it is a benevolent one. These steps include triangulation, in which both external and internal sources of objectivity are consulted in addition to relying on your own best judgment; learning about and freeing yourself from dysfunctional childhood and cultural scripting; recognizing and eliminating the Drama Triangle in the three domains of interpersonal relationships with both others and the environment, thinking and feeling, and night time dreams; goal setting; comparing goals to the priorities of interviewed emerging potentials; elimination of emotional, rational, and perceptual cognitive distortions; learning and using communication skills to reduce misunderstanding and abuse while increasing the ability to accurately listen and respond; role playing for the development of empathy; pranayama, in order to amplify the seven octaves and meditation to positively transform both physiology and anatomy while amplifying characteristics of oneness, including abundance, cosmic humor, and luminosity. All of this means that IDL provides an integral life practice that supports the creation of a benevolent personal dictatorship. It sees no inherent reason why love, cooperation, respect, abundance, cosmic humor and luminosity are incompatible with hierarchy, agency, and yes, authoritarianism. IDL views idealism not as the Platonic embrace of a society structured along such lines, but as those who refuse to accept the reality of its necessity. Denial of the usefulness of authoritarianism is similar to pretending you don’t have or need a skeleton because you do not see it, or because it is hard and relatively inflexible, when what you want and love is the soft, pliable, giving flesh that hangs upon it. This is one expression of the utopianism that results when communion, egalitarianism, democracy, and love are made exclusive priorities.
Every decision is more effective and rewarding when alternate invested perspectives are considered because decisions then become more inclusive. While hierarchy, totalitarianism, and agency transcend, transcendence without inclusion at best produces temporary state openings that are inevitably followed by spectacular downswings and crashes. For instance, the inevitable over-reaching of plutocrats, those who favor the privileges that accompany power and status, leads to equally inevitable crashes because autocracy fails to build into itself the necessary safeguards of deep listening, accountability and transparency, which are essentially tools of heterarchy and communion.
IDL supports heterarchy and democracy in a number of ways that are as radical as its strong support of waking totalitarianism. These include listening; the practice of deep listening; becoming imaginary, nonsensical, irrational, and absurd perspectives and interviewing them, whether they come from dreams, real life, or imagination; affording those perspectives the same respect given by children to parents and respected elders; taking interviewed perspectives seriously; applying those recommendations that pass the test of triangulation in operationally-defined, practical ways in one’s daily life; submitting those results to the accountability of peers in the method as well as real world measures of effectiveness; the consultation of a variety of invested perspectives with the intent of making decisions that are inclusive. This is all done out of a strong conviction that transcendence without inclusion is foolish. The quality and sustainability of transcendence is dependent on the breadth and balance of the inclusiveness that supports it. While state awakenings can be easily attained with focus on hierarchy, agency, and waking totalitarianism, stage development and evolution is only attained with collective, consensual decision making, community, and egalitarianism.
Any approach, IDL included, that emphasizes one of these two polarities over the other is not and cannot be integral, because it will either favor inclusiveness over transcendence or transcendence over inclusiveness. Some observers of IDL dismiss it as being unrealistically irrational and delusional in consulting dream characters and other imaginary perspectives while others dismiss it as being unrealistically rigid, in that it insists on hierarchy and a privileged place for non-communal based decisions. Some advocates of IDL support it for the self-acceptance and inclusiveness it teaches while ignoring the personal accountability of taking the recommendations of interviewed emerging potentials seriously, while others support it for its access to transcendent states of consciousness without wanting to listen to and build internal consensus for action. Finding the middle ground, the middle way, that balances these two extremes is not easy, but this is why balance is one of the six core qualities that IDL emphasizes and why it views balance as a prerequisite for the development of wisdom.
Democracy can be improved by electing randomly selected ordinary citizens, a process which reflects the dynamics of dreams in IDL interviewing. Dream characters are not “chosen;” they spontaneously appear through a process of self-choice, which is similar to the random selection of citizen legislators. The ad hoc nature of dream groups in no way reduces the effectiveness of their perspectives, implying that similar ad hoc legislative membership is no deterrent to good government and in fact improves the number and quality of options available for waking decision making. Regarding expertise, one could hardly argue that current democratic legislatures are elected based on expertise, but rather public preferences largely driven by single issue advertising.
Clearly, in the sphere of governance and the development of democracy, it is in the microcosmic, intrasocial domains that you have the most power, control, and where your actions are most likely to make the most profound difference for you in your life. The Japanese peace activist and Buddhist leader, Daisaku Ikeda said, “A great revolution in just one single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a society and, further, will enable a change in the destiny of humankind.” While you should not disengage from the exterior chaos of politics and governance, your efforts to change the macrocosm are going to be predicated on the ongoing work you do to generate a balanced and integrated microcosm. This is what IDL calls “Dream Politics,” and why it is wary of those who glorify democracy at the expense of authority, leadership, and structure.
Exceptionalism and Psychological Geocentrism
Exceptionalism involves superiority, uniqueness, and exclusivity, in the sense of not being subject to the rules and conditions of others. Exceptionalism itself is a manifestation of psychological geocentrism which says, following Protagoras, “I and my group are the measure of all things.” “Where I live is the axis mundi, the center of the universe, the most blessed and privileged land and people ordained by God.” Psychological geocentrism interprets experience as “all about me.” “The right, true, and loving perspective is my perspective, and if you want to be blessed by God, a sheep instead of a goat, and to avoid eternal Hellfire, you need to think like I do.” We see this everywhere in every time and land, in Jews as the Children of the Covenant and therefore particularly blessed and protected by God based on His promises, and with Jerusalem as being the Most Holy City, the center of the Earth, most blessed by God, and where God dwells. Similar beliefs are found among the Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Africans, Siberian Shamans, Europeans of the Enlightenment, and Easter Islanders. While there have been many “holy warriors” in the history of the world, from Joshua to Joan of Arc, who have claimed God’s direction, these are pre-personal expressions of “enlightenment,” acting without the benefit of personal level reason or egalitarianism, and therefore lacking any claim to transpersonal enlightenment whatsoever. Because exceptionalism and its root of psychological geocentrism is a central human delusion and pathology and a core perceptual cognitive distortion that every child must grow out of, it must first be recognized if it is ever to transcended. Needless to say, many people never recognize their narcissistic claims to exceptionalism or their grandiose assumptions of psychological geocentrism. Instead, they fight vigorously to defend them, because these assumptions are central to their identity and to their cultural position.
The first settlers of the American continent, both English and Spanish, believed that they were “God’s chosen people” who were “given” these lands and the responsibility to rule over the Indians, by either converting them or exterminating them, a justification that finds its historical parallels in the Islamic conquests, the European religious wars, Nazism, and Zionism. None other than Thomas Jefferson was an early exponent of American exceptionalism. In 1809, upon departing the presidency, he said America was “Trusted with the destinies of this solitary republic of the world, the only monument of human rights, and the sole depository of the sacred fire of freedom and self-government, from hence it is to be lighted up in other regions of the earth, if other regions of the earth shall ever become susceptible of its benign influence.” This doctrine was elaborated in the 1840’s by Jacksonian Democrats as “Manifest Destiny,” to justify the theft of the Oregon Territory, the Texas Annexation, and the Mexican Cession of California and New Mexico. Throughout most of its history the U.S. has justified its aggression as its God-appointed mission to bring liberty and democracy to the world. Historian T. Harry Williams argues that Lincoln believed: “In the United States man would create a society that would be the best and the happiest in the world. The United States was the supreme demonstration of democracy. But the Union did not exist just to make men free in America. It had an even greater mission – to make them free everywhere. By the mere force of its example America would bring democracy to an undemocratic world.”
An excellent, much more recent example, which demonstrates the staying power of this pernicious perceptual cognitive distortion, was an extraordinary duel of public pronouncements between Barak Obama and Vladimir Putin of Russia, with the former declaring the exceptionalism of the United States and Putin denying exceptional status for any nation. Obama stated in 2009, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism,” implying that because psychological geocentrism is normal, that it is justified. In 2013 he said, “But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act….That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional.” Putin’s response was classical: “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation…We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”
Exceptionalism is not only important because it justifies colonization, war, torture, and assassination, but because it represents an unavoidable stage of development of the self that must be outgrown if individuals or cultures are to survive and evolve. While exceptionalism and psychological geocentrism are natural and even appropriate in a four year old, their appropriateness, but not necessarily their usefulness, diminishes thereafter. Both are tools for discrimination and privilege at the expense of others, and that can be quite useful for adults and nations who wish to exploit the resources and lives of others.
Exceptionalism and psychological geocentrism identify our level of development as pre-personal, despite our attempts to make our particular circumstances the lone exception to the rule. Exceptionalism is fundamentally a form of egocentric, narcissistic, grandiosity, appropriate, as we have observed, in four year olds, but even then only with adult supervision. Both exceptionalism and psychological geocentrism exist to provide justification for playing the persecutor within the Drama Triangle and for acting in abusive ways toward others. In adult culture psychological geocentrism is legalized in the rules of capitalism and politics, both of which carve out exceptionalism based on wealth and power. This is socially sanctioned personality disorder on a massive scale, as described in the classic 2003 documentary, The Corporation, which correlates psychopathy and antisocial personality disorder with fundamental characteristics of capitalist culture, including the callous disregard for the feelings of other people, the incapacity to maintain human relationships, the reckless disregard for the safety of others, deceitfulness (continual lying to deceive for profit), the incapacity to experience guilt, and the failure to conform to social norms and respect for the law.
When culture not only condones but rewards psychological geocentrism and exceptionalism, and punishes those who do not play by those rules by demoting, firing, not hiring them, not electing them or not re-electing them, there are powerful forces that create blindness to the presence and operation of this perceptual cognitive distortion in even the smartest and most talented of people. Consequently, for you or I to imagine that we are the “exception,” that is, we have escaped from exceptionalism, is delusional. Our default assumption should be that we are still subject to psychological geocentrism and experience ourselves as “exceptional.” This commonly shows up in the belief that our experiences are unique, when in fact, we are feeling and experiencing things that are common, mundane, and almost universal, or that no one can or will understand us, when in fact many, many people have similar understandings. This occurs because our thoughts, feelings, and experiences continuously reinforce the reality that we are the center of the universe, just as our physical experience of the sun rising and setting reinforces a practical reality of geocentrism. To evolve out of this delusion essentially involves expanding our sense of self through empathy with others, taking the perspective of various emerging potentials, and meditating, in order to access perspectives that are not centered on physical, emotional, or cognitive realities.
IDL understands our addiction to exceptionalism and psychological geocentrism as based on a fear that the surrender of specialness means the inevitable loss of individuality and the meanings we associate with our uniqueness. The more important the late personal values of interdependence, accountability, transparency, and mutual respect become the more the cost-benefit ratio of these concepts shifts away from maintaining exceptionalism and psychological geocentrism. IDL works to evolve people out of this by requiring a phenomenological method in which such assumptions are temporarily tabled in favor of creating space for an objective listening to novel perspectives. Over time this predominant cultural myth and perceptual cognitive distortion is slowly outgrown, first by creating an intrasocial culture that involves mutual respect and then an extension of that respect into the social macrocosm by insisting on it as the foundation for our relationships with family, friends, co-workers, retailers, and politicians.