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This is a good example of a visual metaphor of our latent potential for transformation, how we keep ourselves from transforming and what we need to do in order to transform. Obviously, the particular “prescription” or methodology is going to be different for different people.
Tell me a dream you remember. It can be an old one, a repetitive dream, a nightmare, or one that you’re sure you understand.
I am watching a flat, oblong plastic or metal “coffin” automatically slide slowly along hardly visible rails set in a floor. It appears to move slowly around on a large oblong track. I am curious as I watch. What is it? What’s its purpose?
What are three fundamental life issues that you are dealing with now in your life?
Doing things promptly.
Sticking to my routines – yoga, meditation, gym
Substituting low sugar for higher sugar drinks and foods
Tell me a dream you remember. It can be an old one, a repetitive dream, a nightmare, or one that you’re sure you understand.
I am watching a flat, oblong plastic or metal “coffin” automatically slide slowly along hardly visible rails set in a floor. It appears to move slowly around on a large oblong track. I am curious as I watch. What is it? What’s its purpose?
Why do you think that you had this dream?
I don’t know. I haven’t been thinking about death lately.
If this dream were playing at a theater, what name would be on the marquee?
Coffin on Tracks.
These are the characters in the dream, beside yourself…
If one character had something especially important to tell you, what would it be?
Now remember how as a child you liked to pretend you were a teacher or a doctor? It’s easy and fun for you to imagine that you are this or that character in your dream 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!
Coffin, are you a character in Joseph’s dream?
Coffin, look out at the world from your perspective and tell us what you see…
I am more of the artificial or man-made shell of a seed, part of a transformational potential that is within me that is not man-made but totally natural, innate and spontaneous. What is inside me can burst forth if I am planted…
Coffin, would you please tell me about yourself and what you are doing?
I am going in circles instead of vertically. I am meant to be planted.
Coffin, what do you like most about yourself? What are your strengths?
I provide shelter and protection for amazing potentials for transformation and rebirth.
Coffin, what do you dislike most about yourself? Do you have weaknesses? What are they?
I can’t think of any. My man-made or artificial nature is stronger, more durable and more adaptable than most natural-occurring substances, so I do an extraordinary job of protecting my contents until they are ready to burst forth. I like myself just fine, but this going around in circles on this track, while interesting, is not supporting my function, which is transformation.
Coffin, what aspect of Joseph do you represent or most closely personify?
His transformational potentials.
Coffin, if you could be anywhere you wanted to be and take any form you desired, would you change? If so, how?
I would be buried, metaphorically speaking, and getting the equivalent of darkness and moisture, with ready nutrients, the ingredients that nature normally supplies to seeds and eggs. The darkness is best supplied by meditation, not because he does it in the dark – he doesn’t – he even keeps his eyes open, but because it is a state of relative sensory deprivation because he focuses on clarity rather than on senses, thoughts, feelings or images when he meditates. The moisture is best provided by emotional warmth, provided by his practice of inhaling abundance and exhaling thankfulness as well as by his constant exposure to creative ideas, generosity and service to others. The nutrients are best provided by interviews such as this one, which supply him with access to emerging potentials that align him with the priorities of his life compass.
(Continue, answering as the transformed object, if it chose to change.)
Seed Pod, 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? I can and will do what I am made to do, given the proper conditions.
Compassion, 0-10. ?? Why? I don’t do compassion; humans do compassion. I am extremely patient and durable and then go into action when conditions are appropriate.
Wisdom, 0-10. 10 Why? My wisdom is innate; I respond appropriately to the right conditions. Flow.
Acceptance, 0-10. 10. Why? I accept that I am not planted or cracking at present; when I am I will accept that.
Inner Peace, 0-10. 10 Why? Because I am high in acceptance.
Witnessing, 0-10. 10 Why? I have no problem observing my environment, my contexts objectively and dispassionately.
Seed Pod, how would Joseph’s life be different if he naturally scored like you do in all six of these qualities all the time?
He would have much less resistance to planting and sprouting me! He could break himself out of his horizontal reality, his addiction to his train of mind that mostly takes him around in circles!
Seed Pod, if you could live Joseph’s life for him, how would you live it differently?
I would take 5-10 minute meditation breaks throughout the day. He doesn’t have to do a lot if it’s quality, in order to get me the amount of time “underground” that I require to sprout.
Seed Pod, if you could live Joseph’s waking life for him today, would you handle Joseph’s three life issues differently? If so, how?
Doing things promptly: Getting started is the most important thing. He sticks with stuff pretty well once he starts.
Sticking to my routines – yoga, meditation, gym: Going over the routines for the next day at night before going to sleep will help.
Substituting low sugar for higher sugar drinks and foods: I am not too concerned about this. Not buying them is key, since you can’t eat or drink what you don’t have on hand.
Seed Pod, what life issues would you focus on if you were in charge of Joseph’s life?
1. Meditating more!
2. Moisturizing with the inhaling of abundance and exhaling of gratitude!
Seed Pod, in what life situations would it be most beneficial for Joseph to imagine that he is you and act as you would?
Whenever he does resistance. Although I am strong, solid and resistant, I do not myself do resistance.
Seed Pod, why do you think that you are in Joseph’s life?
To remind him of his potentials, which are like unopened gifts and possibilities that are ready to sprout and awaken if he will simply subject them to the proper conditions.
Seed Pod, why do you think Joseph had this dream?
As above, to show him what he is doing – living on the horizontal, mostly – and motivate him to spend more of his time living on the vertical.
Seed Pod, why do you think (some dream event happened) or (some character) was in the dream?
The tracks I am on are the habits of his thoughts, feelings and actions. His daily routines.
Seed Pod, why should Joseph pay any attention to what you have said? Aren’t these just a projection of Joseph’s own wishes and desires?
I am a representation for him of truths that he knows are authentic and important.
Thank you, character! And now a couple questions for Joseph:
What have you heard yourself say?
If I spend more time planting and watering this seed it will sprout. The potentials are unknown but the implication is that they are significant.
If this experience were a wake-up call from your life compass, what do you think it would be saying to you?
Your evolution and transformation is largely independent of external circumstances. You can support, control and encourage it by planting, feeding and watering it.
Look back over the interview and list the specific recommendations that were made:
Meditate for short periods throughout the day.
Keep up the abundance/gratefulness breathing.
Interviews once a week.
What do you think? How does transformation show up in your dreams? What works for you to support and encourage it?
Part of the reason I developed Integral Deep Listening was because I was naturally highly intuitive in a number of ways but found I couldn’t trust my intuition or that of others because I found it highly unreliable, and sometimes trusting intuition got me into big trouble. Therefore, I was searching for a way to honor and validate intuition without using it to validate simple prepersonal irrationality and unhinged belief.
I had an interesting talk with my daughter Kira last night. She was talking about how she is good at sizing people up, is usually right, and has gotten her highly analytical boyfriend Aaron to finally agree that her intuition is generally correct on such things.
I explained to her how, after being a fervent believer in intuition for years, I am highly suspicious of it because i think it is over-rated, it usually doesn’t describe anything that can be measured, quantified or falsified and therefore disproven, and is often used for manipulative psychological ends, as revealed by the response you get when you question someone about how they know what they know – they tend to get defensive and take it as a personal attack.
Kira said that she and Aaron had talked about it a lot and had come to an agreement on a common understanding of what they mean by “intuition,” and it’s one I also agree with. It is certainly less than what psychics and gurus mean by “intuition,” but it is at least some definition that I do not think is totally delusional.
That is, that intuition is right-hemisphere brain awareness, meaning perception based on non-verbal spatial awareness, that looks for patterns and configurations, similarities, is spontaneous, affective and derives meaning from stories. What is interesting is that I value all of these qualities and am particularly good at seeing and making sense of patterns. I have had a strong affinity for most of these qualities all my life.
The difficulties I have with intuition may therefore largely be a matter of language. If someone says, “I trust my intuition on that” I will tend to wonder what the hell they mean, if anything. Do they mean they trust God? Their feelings? Their “still small voice? If so, what the hell is that??” Their “heart?” Okeee…. We can see how well that works with soul mates…
Does it mean they are ignoring their left hemisphere? That is my suspicion.
So it is clearer to me if someone were to say, “I am getting a strong right-hemisphere sense of truth about this and I have really been trying to use my left hemisphere skills to make sure I am not deluding myself.”
Now no one is actually going to say that, but I am trying to communicate an approach in shorthand. What that says to me is that a person is validating their strong right-hemisphere “feelings”” or “intuitions” of truth with left hemisphere strengths.
If I know someone is trying to do this, what else can they do? In other words, I respect that.
Really, a lot of my work with dreams is about attempting to honor, respect and balance both hemispheres.
I suppose what I do when I have a strong intuition, for instance any clear wake-up call or sense of importance, such as a dream – in fact pretty much WHAT I do when I have a strong intuition or non-rational experience, again, like a dream, – is go down the list of left-hemisphere strengths and see if my intuition just represents right hemisphere perception or whether it also can meet left hemisphere criteria of considering other explanations, can be put into some measurable form by which it can be held accountable, can be transcribed into structures of thought and action that are reliable and directs feelings in caring, loving ways.
In other words, if I want whole-brain or integrated living I have to consult, balance and integrate the strengths of both hemispheres.
People who rely too heavily on reason and logic discount the strengths and possibilities of the right hemisphere while people who rely too heavily on intuition, whatever they may call it, discount the strengths and possibilities of the left hemisphere.
In my experience, almost all of us think we have that balance pretty well figured out.
(From Dillard, J. Escaping the Drama Triangle in the Three Realms: Waking, Thinking and Dreaming.)
You probably work hard during the day to eat right, exercise, maintain a positive attitude, treat others with respect, not react, and generally be a good person. You can go to workshops and therapy, go to bed feeling good and still wake up feeling anxious and out of sorts. How come?
Could it be that despite all of your excellent efforts during the day that at night while you sleep you are unconsciously undoing, undercutting, and destroying all that you have fought to create during your waking hours? If you are so sure that this is not the case, how do you know?
Have you ever awakened anxious, irritable, or confused from a deep, dreamless sleep? Something was going on out of your awareness while you slept that created stress. Such events not only leave a physiological residue, making it harder for your body to cope with health risks; they leave a mental and emotional residue that colors your perception and affects your responsiveness, your mood, your mental focus, and your creativity. You don’t have to wake up in a foul mood for this process to be taking place. It can be very subtle. Generally, the stress of unhealthy dream experiences undercut your physical, mental, and spiritual development completely out of your awareness.
What are some of the barriers to awakening out of the Drama Triangle in Dreams? Most people give little pause to the time that they spend asleep. Our main concern is that we sleep soundly and awaken refreshed. For most of us that means deep, dreamless unconsciousness, without restlessness, interruption or awareness. As long as such a state remains our priority, any activity that prevents unconsciousness is to be eliminated. As a result, we will sabotage any desire to remember our dreams or heighten our self-awareness while asleep because this will disrupt a basic habit in which we have a deep and long lasting investment. We are under enough stress already; don’t we deserve a good night’s sleep? Unless you are thoroughly convinced that dream recall and dream lucidity contribute in a significant way to your overall health and personal development, no amount of fascination and curiosity about dreaming is likely to make a long-term dent in this basic human desire to sink into oblivion every night.
We know that sleep is regenerative and necessary for health. Do we also know that we must be unconscious for sleep to be healthy? It seems so. A system of toxin removal from the brain has been discovered, and it is much more effective when the brain is inactive in a state of deep sleep. This has in fact been proposed as the adaptational advantage of deep sleep. How is this to be reconciled with the increased brain coherence demonstrated by regular meditators? How is it that some of these meditators can remain conscious in theta (dream) and even delta (deep) sleep?
This might best be understood as a polarity between the evolutionary movement toward objectivity, self-awareness and heightened wakefulness, on the one hand, and the involutionary movement toward subjectivity and surrender to an underlying, revitalizing, wellspring of oneness. Within sleep we have the capacity to do both, to move toward lucidity and greater wakefulness in our dreams while surrendering to involutionary subjectivity during deep sleep.1
If health is about being conscious of what limits the ability of life to wake up to itself within and through us as well as how to avoid those limits, then sickness is sleepwalking our way through life, pursuing limited, self-centered agendas that do not reflect the priorities of life. While such self-centered agendas are not only necessary but vital for the advancement of life’s agenda in the physiosphere, that is, for plants and animals and young children, as well as into the early noosphere, into human adolescence, past that point the self-centered agendas we learn as children impede our further development if their influence is not circumscribed by growth into broader contexts.
This truth applies to the evolutionary polarity of life; the opposite appears to be true for its involutionary phase: greater health comes from surrendering all sense of self before a pervasive regression into a primordial unity. Integral approaches, such as that of Aurobindo and Wilber, as well as IDL, contend that there is a higher order synthesis of these two poles, a space in which we can be self-aware during the involution of deep sleep without interrupting the healing process and, on the other hand, experience healing unity during evolution (for example mystical and near death experiences) without thereby regressing into a state of pre-conscious dissolution. These distinctions are important; otherwise nidra yoga, the yoga of deep sleep wakefulness, is not healthy, nor is mystical awareness, because it is retrogression rather than progression.
Evolution is the figure or focus of life as form while involution is the ground or substrate that form returns to in winter and deep sleep. For non-manifested life, that is, life before birth and after death, when there is no self, involution is the figure or focus of life as formless creativity and luminosity, while evolution is the ground or substrate that unmanifested life returns to in spring and birth. This is not, however, to posit reincarnation in the sense of a returning self-sense. This process occurs in spectacular natural abundance in snowflakes and seeds without the need of any self-sense whatsoever.
Waking up, whether becoming more vigilant while asleep or while awake, expands your awareness of yourself beyond yourself. What was a proximal self, who you think you are, becomes a distal self, or a role or subset within a broader set or context that now defines who you are. In the evolutionary sense, waking up is about learning how to step outside of who you routinely think that you are and watching yourself go by. While the dividends for doing so are enormous, drama blocks this process.
Stepping outside of the Drama Triangle is the difference between being a more conscious participant in life, on the one hand, and, on the other, living a somnambulistic life, a victim of your own unquestioned habitual ways of thinking, feeling, and acting.
While there appear to be clear biological and psychological benefits to sleep, there is also a price to pay for going unconscious unnecessarily. First, your biochemistry controls you. Consider the basic fight or flight physiological reaction to stress. Let’s say you are preparing to give an important speech and you are feeling intense pressure to do a really good job. You hate public speaking and you would love to avoid giving the presentation, but you know that you can’t. You know that you are going to have to put on a brave face and fight your way through it. You go to sleep feeling anxious about how you are going to do. How might this affect your ability to give your speech?
Hans Selye, the brilliant Canadian doctor and researcher, was a pioneer in research on the physical consequences of stress on organisms. He observed and described what he called the General Adaptation Syndrome, the process by which organisms adapt to stress, whether it is an illness, a death, a job loss, or an accident. When you first experience a stress you go into an alarm reaction. A cascade of powerful hormones is pumped out of your endocrine glands to alert and activate your body to deal with danger. Your heart speeds up, your breathing becomes faster and more shallow. Blood flows away from your internal organs and to your skeletal muscles to prepare you to fight or run. Your pupils constrict. If the threat does not go away as a result of all these measures, you next go into an adaptive phase in which you conserve your resources for a drawn-out defense against the attack. When you have a major life stress, such as a public speaking phobia, you can recognize both the initial alarm reaction and the secondary adaptive phase when your anxiety does not go away. Finally, if the threat remains present, something that happens with physiological stressors like drowning or running from a bear, but not from social threats like public speaking, you enter the exhaustion phase. At this point new energy is poured into your body in a last-ditch attempt to overcome the challenge; you look like you are rallying when in fact you are making a total expenditure of all your resources in one final effort to turn the tide. If this does not work, you will die.
We know that adrenaline, norepinephrine, and other stress hormones collect in the body when the fight or flight response is activated. In waking life, we can metabolize them by fighting or running. However, when you are anticipating a stress like giving a speech, you can’t do either. A similar situation is created very night when you sleep. During your dreams your central nervous system is paralyzed to keep you from acting out your dreams and thereby hurting yourself.
IDL believes that if you want to stay healthy you need to learn to perceive and respond to stressful dreams as wake-up calls. Reenacting the Drama Triangle in one form or another, in dream after dream, can’t be good for your health. You might ask, “How can I be stressed if I am unconscious?”
“How can something affect me that I don’t even remember?” Here is an analogy. Every time you eat something it affects you for better or for worse. If it’s toxic it will harm your body whether or not you are aware of its toxicity. Samples of Beethoven’s hair showed that he went deaf and eventually died due to lead poisoning, probably from the pewter mugs he drank from during his life.
Similarly, dreams and nightmares that arouse a fight or flight response in you release powerfully corrosive stress chemicals into your body –whether or not you remember any dreams. When you go to bed worried, your dreams are more likely to be filled with anxiety-causing themes of inadequacy and failure in an attempt to address your fear. If you take as a genuine threat something that is only a dream experience, your body cannot tell the difference. For instance, if you dream of public speaking and being embarrassed and humiliated because the audience is laughing at you and walking out, this is your reality. You will respond as if these events happened to you in real life and your body will go into its normal reactions to stress. This may be one reason why psychotherapy is ineffective with many people. They leave the session feeling good, but at night in their dreams they regress into the Drama Triangle and habitual emotional reactivity and mental delusions, thereby undercutting their progress and increasing the likelihood they will wake up in the morning anxious, depressed, or both.
So how does the Drama Triangle in my dreams undermine my health and peace of mind? Dream threats are typically experienced as real when they are in fact self-created manifestations of the Drama Triangle. While you may dream you are fighting or fleeing, that does nothing to neutralize the powerful hormones that are building up in your tissues as a physiological response to perceived threat. Because they are not dissipated by running or fighting, these hormones act like battery acid, attacking the weakest link in your body’s defense system.
Given enough time and enough repeated exposure to these night time assaults on the body, caused by addiction to the Drama Triangle, one person may catch some bug because their immune system is depleted; another person may develop arthritis because their auto-immune system goes haywire. Another person may develop high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, while yet another may develop insomnia or ulcers. Still others may show no effect whatsoever. While genetic predisposition partially determines which system is most likely to collapse beneath the onslaught of these biochemicals, the depth of your submersion in the Drama Triangle makes an enormous difference in how deep you immerse yourself in physiological toxins, for how long, and how quickly you recover from it.
Fortunately, normal physical activity helps to metabolize and eliminate toxic stress chemicals, which is one reason why regular exercise is so important. If you don’t do something physical to metabolize these powerful stress hormones, over time they can destroy your resistance to disease. However, most of us assure ourselves that this is not happening to us. We think about the walking that we do, the exercise that we get, the efforts we make to handle our feelings and responsibilities in ways that don’t allow stress hormones to build up in us. Yet we still get sick; our organs break down and we start feeling our age. While some of this is inevitable, how much of it is due to genes and natural processes of aging and how much of it is the result of unnecessary stress due to immersion in the Drama Triangle not only during our waking relationships, but in our thinking and dreams?
How does IDL reduce the Drama Triangle in dreams? IDL short-circuits this process by re-framing your perception of both waking and dreaming sources of anxiety and depression, so that they need not work themselves out in your dreams. For example, Lorna dreamed that she was in her apartment, up to her waist in water. She was not feeling particularly in danger, although she was worried about all the water damage. The water was, in her dream perception, in the role of Persecutor while she was in the role of victim. Dreams like this tend to reinforce life scripts that say, “The world is a dangerous place, full of overwhelming threats, and I am a powerless victim of those threats.”
While this dream was somewhat stressful, it is more like a typical dream than a full-blown nightmare. It just as easily could have never been remembered. However, even if it had not been recalled, both the physiological stress processes during the dream and the emotional conclusions that Lorna drew during the dream would have occurred, undercutting both her health and her peace of mind. Lorna’s recall of her dream provided her with an opportunity to not only understand the Drama Triangle in the three realms in her life but allowed her to take steps to defuse them to limit future needless physical and psychological damage.
When the Water was interviewed, it said, “I am all the medications that Lorna is taking for her back pain. I am tranquilizing her because she is afraid of feeling how bad the pain may be. She is being swamped by her fear. If she doesn’t stop taking us she is not going to get well. Also, by taking us she does not face up to how her fear keeps her trapped in her apartment. She is afraid to go out because then something else bad might happen to her.”
This statement by water brings together elements no dream interpreter ever will. You will not read in any guide to dream symbology that water is a symbol for medicine and while it is possible that Lorna would make this association, it is unlikely. How likely is it that any interpreter would associate water not only to medicine but back pain medicine, as well as to fear of pain and how that is associated with her staying trapped in her apartment. Yet in one statement the water makes all of these important and significant connections.
Lorna had been injured in a rear-end collision. Years previously she had sustained a head injury from a freak accident when a falling tree limb hit her. Now, as before, she was afraid to go outside. By listening to the water in her dream Lorna was able to see that her fear was paralyzing her and causing her to take too much pain medication, which was swamping her with sedation. The water was no longer perceived as her Persecutor; instead it took the role of Helper, providing her with important and useful information to understand not only how she was her own worst enemy but pointing her toward what she needed to do to stop creating needless fears.
Armed with this information, Lorna told her doctor that she wanted to cut back on the pain meds. The doctor was upset with her, feeling that she was non-compliant and attempting to doctor herself. The doctor was responding as he had been taught, to her pain symptoms, rather than recognizing how her pain medication itself was a defense against a more fundamental problem – her long-term fear. Her doctor, who probably saw himself as a Helper, was in the Role of Rescuer but in fact in the Role of Persecutor in that he was contributing to Lorna’s physiological and psychological dysfunctions. Lorna had to change doctors. When she finally decreased taking the pain meds she immediately became less groggy and less fearful. She could now feel her pain, so she could more accurately tell her new doctor where she hurt so he could help her. Clearly, if Lorna had not listened to a relatively insignificant and typical dream she might have made her recovery longer and much more complicated.
Her dream and what she did with the recommendations that she derived from it is an example of how IDL works to move people out of the Drama Triangle in the three realms of relationships, thought and dreaming.
Arthur Seligman has described something very similar to Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome in his explanation of depression as learned helplessness. He explains how cows, when stuck in a bog, will bellow and struggle ferociously to get free. After a while, if their efforts are to no avail, they will struggle less; they have entered the adaptive phase of Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome. If they continue to be sucked down into the bog, they will put up one last heroic struggle before drowning. Seligman noted that cows that are trapped in bogs and yet do not die learn not to struggle; they stop trying to get out, even if they could. This is adaptation to the ongoing stress of Selye’s second stage of his General Adaptation Syndrome and resembles our habituation to chronic immersion in the Drama Triangle in our waking relationships, our thoughts and in our dreams.
(Picture from Windra.info)
Seligman noted that some of these hopelessly trapped cows that were rescued from bogs by farmers would head right back into the bog again! Do we not do the same when we return to the Drama Triangle and to our addictions? Could it be possible that we do something similar in our dreams? Just as we can get addicted to worry, horror movies or creepy detective thrillers, could it be that we get addicted to creating drama-filled dream vignettes that increase our stress and keep us sick? Repetitive, stressful dreams and nightmares appear to point to such a conclusion.
If we want to protect our health it is not enough to think good thoughts, take our vitamins and be politically correct. We need to eliminate the Drama Triangle in the three realms. We need to learn how to make dreaming as positive an experience as we possibly can. IDL not only teaches us how to recognize and neutralize drama stress; it amplifies forces in consciousness that actively support health, whether awake or asleep.
What is the most helpful way to view my dreams to move out of the Drama Triangle? View them as wake-up calls.
It is wise to treat both your dreams and your life events as wake-up calls. When you interview dream characters, particularly Persecutors, such as monsters, attackers, accidents or natural disasters they will generally say that their purpose is to get your attention, to wake you up. You can test this theory for yourself by doing your own interviews, and you are encouraged to do so. Whether dream and waking events are, in reality, wake-up calls, approaching them as if they are moves us out of the Drama Triangle because we are not perceiving experience in terms of persecution, rescuing or victimization. Instead, both dream and waking experiences are seen as helping when properly listened to in an deep and integral way. Doing so allows you to reframe unpleasant, uncomfortable, painful, confusing or irrelevant dream and life events as teaching experiences that support your further development.
1 Diagram: Bartow, J. Getting to Know Our Personality, Soul and Spiritual Cycles in Life
Conscience is your still small voice, the one that tells you right from wrong and good from bad. It is your connection to God. Your conscience keeps you from sin. Without conscience you are an animal, without guidance, ethics, morals, or social norms. If you would only listen to it and follow it, you would be happy. Humanity’s perversity is its failure to listen to and do the bidding of its conscience.
Or so they say. Conscience is perhaps the oldest, most hallowed bit of delusion in the consciousness of humanity. To question it is to go against God, society, the soul, the Good, religion, and love. What could be worse? What could be more blasphemous?
Whenever you try to make yourself do something you don’t want to do or not do something that you want to do, are you listening to your conscience? Conscience is mother’s milk laced with small, regular doses of heroin. The crack is not enough to kill you, but enough to addict you when you are still too young to remember it happening. The rewards of conformity to conscience as well as the punishments if you disobey it, are strong enough to keep you addicted for your entire life. Marx would have been been more accurate if he had said, “Conscience is the opium of the people.”
Isn’t the purpose of your conscience to keep you safe and healthy so that you will be a good child, citizen, and child of God? These are the types of good intentions that parents and leaders have. They themselves may not be aware that conscience also has the benefit of being a powerful tool for your socialization and pacification. If I, as your parent, teacher, President or guru can get you to do what I want automatically, because you think it is “God’s will” or “conscience,” then my life gets a lot easier. You are more likely to obey me and less likely to ask questions, refuse orders, or disobey laws. Whenever your parents, or some religious or spiritual leader want to get you to do something, to think a certain way, or wish to protect themselves behind a shield of unimpeachable credibility, what can they do? Can’t they present themselves as the voice of conscience?
Can’t conscience be a good thing? How about “Eat your vegetables,” or, “Don’t play in the street.” Such statements are not conscience but rather simple pieces of information, called “injunctions,” given for rational reasons, like health and safety. However, if they are given with threat of punishment (“….or else!”) or with a serving of “should,” “ought,” “must,” and guilt, they are conscience and abusive, because they are Persecutors that create and maintain the Drama Triangle in your thoughts and relationships.
Most people will tell you that what is really conscience is the same for everyone. However, isn’t it true that conscience differs according to culture, religions, social norms and mores? Won’t most Christians and Jews argue that their conscience is different from the Islamic conscience? Isn’t that what the branding of Islam as terroristic claims? Won’t Arabs and other people in countries bombed by the US and NATO argue that people in the West either have no conscience or a very different sense of what conscience means, if conscience allows them to do such things?
When you listen to and follow your conscience are you thinking for yourself? Are you instead following the internalized moral precepts of your family, culture and religion? Have you not so completely internalized them that you think their injunctions are your conscience? The inculcation of the vast majority of what is called “conscience” is a loving process of abuse and victimization within the Drama Triangle. Parents and cultures everywhere find the internalization of social values, called “socialization,” as conscience highly useful. Someday it will be widely recognized as such and parents will teach their children not only the difference between conscience and their life compass, but how to find, listen to, and follow their life compass. They will learn how to beware of anyone or anything that claims to speak as their conscience.
“Life compass” is a term used by Integral Deep Listening (IDL) to refer to consensus perspectives and recommendations you access by interviewing the personifications of dream characters and life issues that are important to you. These perspectives, called “emerging potentials,” are not the children of your parents, culture, religion or society like you are. They have their own priorities and are not afraid to disagree with yours and the voice of your conscience. You can listen to both your conscience and interviewed emerging potentials, compare them and decide for yourself which has your greatest good as its primary interest.
You are the product of a number of beliefs that you had to accept to survive, adapt, and grow in your family and school. Weren’t you much less likely to disobey if the preferences of your parents, teachers and society were called “conscience” and you were told that this was something innate within you, or the same as God’s will? To trespass against your conscience may be a threat to your society, religion, or family, and therefore a threat to you, when you are punished for disobeying authority figures.
Conscience presents itself as acting in your own good. It knows what is best for you and tells you its actions are only because it cares about and loves you. It is selfless, and you ignore it at your own peril. How is this different from a Rescuer in the Drama Triangle who tells you, “I know what you need. I am only trying to help you. If you don’t listen to me you are ungrateful and foolish.”
Conscience carries the marks not of a Helper, but of a Rescuer within the Drama Triangle. Rescuers are not Helpers, because they mask self-interest behind a facade of care for others. They do not ask if their help is needed, they do not check to see if the help they are giving is useful, and they do not stop “helping,” preferring self-martyrdom and burn-out to recognition of their selfishness.
Your conscience knows what is good for you and speaks up without you asking. It doesn’t check to see if its voice is helping, because it knows that it, by its nature, is helping. It doesn’t have to check. It refuses to stop demanding you follow it, unless you shut it out with a drug or some other type of intense avoidant stimulation.
Conscience as Rescuer promotes its truth, way, thoughts, feelings, perspectives, and actions, not yours, and certainly not the priorities of your life compass. Your life compass, revealed by interviewing your emerging potentials as they manifest as dream characters and the personifications of your life issues, balances and evolves confidence, empathy, wisdom, acceptance, and witnessing within yourself. Unlike conscience, it is selfless. If the priorities of your life compass and conscience happen to coincide it is coincidence, not due to any awareness or intention of your conscience.
On yet closer examination, you will find that your conscience not only is not your friend, it is never was or has been your friend. This is because it never wants you to listen to yourself. It only wants you to listen to it. Your conscience doesn’t trust you. It doesn’t respect your judgment. It doesn’t even like you unless you are doing what it wants. How is this different from the role of Persecutor in the Drama Triangle which tells you, “I am only punishing you for your own good”? Isn’t it amazing that you continue to give your conscience any attention or any respect at all?
Persecutors do not see themselves as persecutors. They only say what they say for your own good; they only do what they do because they love you. This means that if your parents or teachers yell at you or call you ugly, stupid, or a failure, it is only for your own good. Verbal abuse in the name of conscience is not verbal abuse at all; it is “character strengthening,” and if you knew what was good for you, you would agree with it and change.
If you examine your conscience closely, you will discover that it is the Persecutor role in the Drama Triangle masquerading as the Rescuer, which is itself masquerading as a Helper. Your conscience is deception wrapped in deception; is there any surprise that so many believe in it and that so few ever free themselves from it? How many people ever stop to ask themselves, “How much of what I call my conscience is different from what my parents, culture or this or that peer group believes?” How much of what I call my conscience is probably internalized social and cultural norms?”
When rulers, people, and nations declare war on you in the name of God and then bomb you, destroy your towns, scatter cancer-causing munitions-grade uranium all over your fields, rape your wife and daughters, and torture you to death, is it not for the greater good, for democracy, justice and God, because conscience dictates? People who believe in conscience and then do such things have a very high rate of suicide. As of this writing, the suicide rate of American military veterans is currently twenty-two a day, about one every hour. There is one suicide a day among active duty US military, all among people acting on the basis of “conscience.” This is because their conscience has contradicted their life compass on such a fundamental level that there is no way to rationalize away the discrepancy. Unable to escape the cognitive dissonance, but unable, unwilling, or ignorant of how to free themselves of the tyranny of conscience, they kill themselves in an attempt at self-rescue.
How to escape conscience? There is no alternative to sorting through your thoughts, feelings, and motives, one by one, and finding out which script injunctions you carry that are informational facts and which are guilt-creating, persecutorial, “shoulds,” “oughts,” and “musts.” This is why IDL has chapters in Waking Up both on recognizing and freeing yourself from your life script as well as on the major emotional cognitive distortions. If you want to learn to think for yourself you must exorcise the internalized toxic directives of the ghosts of your parents that are living rent-free in your attic. Keep the nurturing voices of your parents but evict the rest!
Your conscience is never, ever representative of your life compass. How do you tell the difference? If you will learn to interview your emerging potentials you will slowly learn to differentiate between your life compass and conscience. Your life compass doesn’t do drama. It’s not in the Drama Triangle. It works to balance confidence, empathy, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing. If you don’t follow it, it doesn’t threaten you or try to make you feel guilty any more than a compass that points north cares if you go east or south. However, when you do follow your life compass, life gets easier. You have a deep inner sense that you are on the right path for your life. You will have a confidence in who you are and where you are headed regardless of what others may think or say. You will be able to speak and act with authority because you will be in alignment with what is true, good and harmonious for you. As you move into this sacred space you outgrow any need for conscience, not because you no longer listen to it, but because you subject its voice to a higher, more authentic authority that is uniquely your own.
A debate between believers and non-believers in conscience
“Conscience is the light by which we interpret the will of God in our own lives.”
“The torture of a bad conscience is the hell of a living soul.”
“[T]he infliction of cruelty with a good conscience is a delight to moralists. That is why they invented Hell.”
(Russell is universally hated by all those who cannot or will not think.)
“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
(Conscience is a very poor, unreliable reason to do what is right, if only because your worst enemy appeals to the same justification. Doing what is right? For who? Under what circumstances?)
“If all the world hated you and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved of you and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends.”
(If you do what you think is right you don’t have to care whether it makes sense or is useful.)
“Conscience is what makes a boy tell his mother before his sister does.”
“Guilt is also a way for us to express to others that we are a person of good conscience.
(The conscience of the personality disordered and of the two year old are both free of guilt.)
“Your conscience is the measure of the honesty of your selfishness. Listen to it carefully.”
(This is very true, but probably not in the sense Bach means it. Because conscience wants what is best for itself, and not for your life compass, it is not only selfish, but completely honest about its selfishness.)
“Character is doing what you don’t want to do but know you should do.”
(“Should,” is a dead giveaway that we are dealing with conscience in the form of the Persecutor role in the Drama Triangle.)
“Betrayal is common for men with no conscience.”
(That is because betrayal is a motive often projected upon others, conscience or no conscience.)
“Let us give ourselves indiscriminately to everything our passions suggest, and we will always be happy…Conscience is not the voice of Nature but only the voice of prejudice.”
Marquis de Sade
(The Marquis is feared by purveyors of guilt and conscience everywhere.)
“The only tyrant I accept in this world is the ‘still small voice’ within me. And even though I have to face the prospect of being a minority of one, I humbly believe I have the courage to be in such a hopeless minority.”
(Gandhi, who beat his wife regularly, did so with a clear conscience. Tyrants do not want what is good for you; they do not want what is good for the majority; they only want what is good for them, but mask their selfishness with conscience. Tyrants of all sorts are by nature selfish persecutors, lost in the Drama Triangle.)
“In matters of conscience, the law of the majority has no place.”
(“Forget democracy and consensus governance; I don’t care what you think.”)
“There is no witness so dreadful, no accuser so terrible as the conscience that dwells in the heart of every man.”
(For Polybius, conscience is a persecutor and tyrant, but that’s a good thing.)
“Conscience is thus explained only as the voice of God in the soul.”
(When societal injunctions have the force of God’s will and are defined as both your central truth and intuition, then you are transformed into a zombie, the waking dead servant of current cultural preferences.)
“Conscience and cowardice are really the same things, Basil. Conscience is the trade-name of the firm. That is all.”
(You don’t have to think for yourself or work out difficult moral dilemmas if you appeal to your conscience.)
“Since then your sere Majesty and your Lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, neither horned nor toothed. Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.”
(Reply to the Diet of Worms, April 18, 1521)”
(Martin Luther demonstrates that when you follow your conscience, you put yourself on a diet of worms. His conscience produced some of the most discriminatory bile ever to be uttered by a man of God and conscience. See http://ergofabulous.org/luther/)
“Between the radiant white of a clear conscience and the coal black of a conscience sullied by sin lie many shades of gray–where most of us live our lives. Not perfect but not beyond redemption.”
Sherry L. Hoppe
(There can never be either integration or union within the framework of the metaphysical dualism that conscience creates and maintains.)
“True law, the code of justice, the essence of our sensations of right and wrong, is the conscience of society. It has taken thousands of years to develop, and it is the greatest, the most distinguishing quality which has developed with mankind … If we can touch God at all, where do we touch him save in the conscience? And what is the conscience of any man save his little fragment of the conscience of all men in all time?”
Walter Van Tilburg Clark
(A clear expression of conscience as simply the transmission of socio-cultural norms.)
“Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking.”
(If you can teach me to fear the consequences of my behavior, based on what you have taught me to call my conscience, I will monitor myself, freeing you and society to do as you will.)
“I have a different idea of elegance. I don’t dress like a fop, it’s true, but my moral grooming is impeccable. I never appear in public with a soiled conscience, a tarnished honor, threadbare scruples, or an insult that I haven’t washed away. I’m always immaculately clean, adorned with independence and frankness. I may not cut a stylish figure, but I hold my soul erect. I wear my deeds as ribbons, my wit is sharper then the finest mustache, and when I walk among men I make truths ring like spurs.”
(Conscience as social propriety.)
“Perhaps conscience did not always produce cowards. Sometimes it made a man feel better about himself.”
(Is the purpose of conscience not only to make you feel better about yourself, but to feel superior to all those others you judge as acting less out of conscience?)
“An educator should consider that he has failed in his job if he has not succeeded in instilling some trace of a divine dissatisfaction with our miserable social environment. ”
(Guilt and conscience are the foundations of a good education.)
“It is neither right nor safe to go against my conscience.”
(Since your conscience is a punishing Persecutor, it is unwise to go against it.)
“No guilt is forgotten so long as the conscience still knows of it.”
(Conscience as enforcer of guilt.)
“Conscience is no more than the dead speaking to us.”
(Jim does not mean what he is saying. He means that conscience is the knowledge of the ancients. What he is saying is that conscience is a haunting by voices that seek you to follow their truth, not that of your life compass.)
“The immature conscience is not its own master. It simply parrots the decisions of others. It does not make judgments of its own; it merely conforms to the judgments of others. That is not real freedom, and it makes true love impossible, for if we are to love truly and freely, we must be able to give something that is truly our own to another. If our heart does not belong to us, asks Merton, how can we give it to another?”
(Jon has drunk the Kool Aid. He still thinks there is such a thing as a good conscience.)
“Anybody can be charming if they don’t mind faking it, saying all the stupid, obvious, nauseating things that a conscience keeps most people from saying. Happily, I don’t have a conscience. I say them.”
(The opposite of conscience is not immorality, as this quote implies; it is the freedom to find and follow your life compass.)
“The study of law can be disappointing at times, a matter of applying narrow rules and arcane procedure to an uncooperative reality; a sort of glorified accounting that serves to regulate the affairs of those who have power–and that all too often seeks to explain, to those who do not, the ultimate wisdom and justness of their condition.
But that’s not all the law is. The law is also memory; the law also records a long-running conversation, a nation arguing with its conscience.”
(…a professor of Constitutional law who justifies both the personally ordered murder of civilians with drones, some of whom have been US citizens, in clear violation of both US and international law – all in the name of conscience.)
“The older you get, the more you understand how your conscience works. The biggest and only critic lives in your perception of people’s perception of you rather than people’s perception of you.”
(Other people are not the cause of your unhappiness; what you tell yourself you should and should not do in the name of conscience is.)