In Integral Deep Listening you may become all sorts of crazy, irrational, and stupid dream characters, like a dream toilet brush. Why? And why would you want to do so in a lucid dream? Let us say you are in a lucid dream, riding your bike in the mountains. All of a sudden you look up and there is an avalanche on the hillside coming down fast, toward you! What do you do? You could simply change scenes or wake up, but these are interventions that a non-lucid dreamer might take. Since you are lucid, you have all sorts of other possibilities. You could fly up above the avalanche with or without your bike, thereby avoiding the avalanche. You could turn it into an avalanche of rose petals or yummy chocolate syrup. You could allow the avalanche to hit you full force and allow yourself to be buried and die, to experience what dying is like without fear.
There is much to be said for each of these approaches. For example, changing scenes and waking up are forms of waking up out of your fear and escaping it. Flying up above the avalanche strengthens your sense of power and freedom while placing you in the position of objective witness. Turning the avalanche into rose petals or chocolate affirms your ability to turn life’s lemons into lemonade while allowing yourself to die. This is a strategy of identification with perspectives that cannot die. All of these lessons are so wonderful it is difficult to decide which is the best one to take. However, if we look closer, we also discover that each approach has its drawbacks.
Most involve some sort of self-rescuing, in that they are avoidance strategies. When you change scenes or stop dreaming, aren’t you simply choosing self-rescuing within the Drama Triangle? Haven’t you simply exchanged the role of rescuer for that of victim in the presence of a perceived persecutor, the avalanche? Does that not keep you locked in avoidance of the next persecutor that crosses your path, awake or dreaming? Does that not reinforce your tendency to see events you fear as persecuting and to experience yourself in the role of victim? How well is that working for you?
While it is hard for us to imagine why or how having more power and freedom in our lives would be a bad thing, as represented by flying away from the avalanche or turning it into something desirable and non-threatening, we all know people who indeed use their power and freedom in exploitative and destructive ways. However, they deny this. How can we be sure that we do not do the same? How would we know if we are right not now using our power and freedom in ways that are destructive not only to others but to ourselves? Of course, this is exactly what we are doing. Many of our financial choices support the destruction of the Earth, whether we want to or not, such as our purchase of petrol. We daily make choices that privilege ourselves and our standard of living at the expense of those elsewhere that have far less, whether we want to or not. The point is not to feel guilty or kill ourselves so we are free of these responsibilities, but to recognize that the pursuit of power and freedom begs a more fundamental question: “Who is becoming more powerful and free?” “At whose cost does our power and freedom come?” Self-rescuing then, by building freedom, control, and power, inherently involves persecution within the Drama Triangle. It is a choice that can keep you stuck in the Drama Triangle, which is merely a modern retelling of avidya (ignorance) and dukkha (suffering).
Let us consider the other possibility. Let us imagine we surrender our desire for power, freedom, and control in the face of the avalanche and simply let it kill us. Since we are lucid, what does it matter? The point is that death is a state transformation; it is not necessarily an evolution in stage. Why should it be? Why should being dead automatically make you any wiser or better? Why should a dead alcoholic suddenly become sober? Yes, you are free, but is being radically free necessarily wiser or better? If so, why don’t we all just choose to die right now? Is it that we are all so stupid we think being alive is better than being dead, or is it that we are all so scared of death we don’t know what is best for us? Or could it be that being radically free also means “game over;” no more freedom to wake up within form. Consequently, dying can also be seen as a form of self-rescue from the hard decisions, imperfections, failures, and struggles that are intrinsically part of being alive. It is easy to say it is better to let go of all that, but isn’t it better to let go of it while we are still alive rather than to make a choice for extinction that is irreversible?
Of course dream death teaches that death is not real, that such choices are reversible, but is that not also a form of self-rescue? The problem is that all of these options may not only keep you in the Drama Triangle but provide you with no information about why there was an avalanche in the first place. You don’t know if you caused it, if you happened to be in the wrong dream place at the wrong time, if Descartes’ evil genie is at work, if the avalanche is an expression of an animistic spirit dimension, or whether this was an event on the planet Rigel that you were visiting in your lucid dream. Similarly, as profound a choice as allowing yourself to die in order to learn deathlessness is, you still haven’t learned anything about the avalanche, although you have given yourself another important lesson. Note that all of these possible responses share one important characteristic: they are all psychologically geocentric. That means that they are all about you, your perspective, and you making the decisions for yourself in your life. On the one hand, it is quite fair to argue that learning to do so is not only an essential human competency, but it is being used to actually extinguish your identification with that self, as in the case of allowing yourself to die. However, again note that even in that instance, you are the one who is experiencing dying and being dead. You are still in a psychologically geocentric perspective, which you have not questioned. Is there an alternative within our dream of the avalanche that is not a form of self-rescue?
The problem is, most people go through life expanding definitions of self but never question the legitimacy of psychological geocentrism itself. This is rather like humans expanding all sorts of capacities for millions of years within the context of a Ptolemaic worldview, in which the stars, planets, and moon obviously revolve around the earth and oneself. There is never a questioning of that perspective and yet all sorts of important growth is not only possible but actually occurs. Humans indeed evolve in the context of distorted, limited, and delusional worldviews. However, certain types of evolution cannot and do not happen until such perspectives are questioned. When they are, all sorts of new possibilities emerge. For one thing, there is now the possibility to consider what it means to have a heliocentric, or sun-centered reality. Psychologically, the analogy would be to a soul, Atman, or God-centered reality, in which our identity orbits around some “true” or “real” sense of beingness. If we look at that model closely, it turns out to be another form of psychological geocentrism, but only now we see that our ego is a false center and our “real” center is deathless. It is a similar form of psychological geocentrism to the lucid dreamer who allows the avalanche to hit him so he can experience his identity as deathless.
What would a genuinely non-psychologically geocentric response look like in a lucid dream? It will involve the suspension of choice and action by the self, except to choose to shift to the perspective of the avalanche, the mountain, sky, or bike. You could also choose to go into formless meditation. The reason why this is no longer psychologically geocentric is because none of these objects of consciousness are experienced as aspects of self. Instead, they are experienced as “other.” The object is not to make them aspects of self by becoming them, because to do so is simply to inflate the self and redefine psychological geocentrism as including such perspectives. You can do so, but this not only maintains the Atman Project, or your efforts to maintain the primacy and exclusivity of your precious identity, but it is fundamentally an act of disrespect, although it is not intended to be so. The disrespect is largely a product of both ignorance and habit; it is rarely a consciously selfish choice. It is much more a reflection of the evolutionary state of humanity: so stuck in identification with an exclusive self that we shut out knowledge of the agenda of life.
Consequently, IDL does not say, “Stop waking up out of the dream or changing scenes or flying or turning the avalanche into something delightful, or using it as an opportunity to practice fearless acceptance of both death and deathlessness.” Instead it says, “Consider the possibility of choices that reflect respectful deep listening to other perspectives that co-create your reality.” How and why is it more difficult to become the avalanche and address the dream from its perspective than it is to do any of these other alternatives? Why is it less valuable or important to do so? Do you see how by becoming the perspective of the avalanche or other dream character you are no longer insisting on pursuing your agenda within the dream? Do you see how instead you are in effect saying, “What, if any, is the agenda of the avalanche, bike, mountain, or sky?” Now, it may turn out that they have none. What does it mean to learn that? How can you even learn that is the case if you do not become them? What makes your perspective right, better, or more important, or significant within the dream? Do you see how these assumptions are expressions of innate human narcissism?
Once you learn to become any dream character, you have the ability to still change dreams if you want. You are not eliminating your ability to act in lucid dreams; you are merely radically expanding your possibilities. It is not that it is always better to take another perspective; IDL does not say that. Instead it says it is always better to have the ability to take other perspectives than not. Empathy provides a useful analogy. Just as most of us would agree that it is better to have the ability to be empathetic than to only make self-centered choices, it does not follow that empathy is always the best choice. To take a ridiculous example, we can empathize with the need of others to go to the bathroom, but doing so does not replace or negate our own need to go to the bathroom. We can be empathetic and still take care of our own needs, and that is better than simply taking care of our own needs, because we have more options once we learn to be empathetic. For example, we can allow others to use the toilet first, or we can look around and check to see if the roll of toilet paper needs to be replaced. The ability to empathize opens possibilities that simply do not exist without it.
The same is true with Integral Deep Listening. When you learn to listen in a deep and integral way by suspending your assumptions and waking perspective and instead take up another, whether awake, dreaming, or lucid dreaming, you are eliminating identification with fundamental dualities, such as those between self and other, subjectivity and objectivity, the secular and the sacred, fear and fearless, and evil and goodness. These dualities continue to be used, but simply as conceptual tools, not as definitions of reality. This is a huge difference, and it opens up possibilities for both self-definition and action that simply do not exist for us when we are locked in a worldview based on psychological geocentrism.
The fact is, you only think a dream toilet brush is unimportant, mundane, or irrelevant, and that it is a waste of time to become it and interview it. While it may be, years of experience with Integral Deep Listening demonstrates that it probably will not be. In fact, you will probably find that it is more awake and evolved than you are in some of the core characteristics of enlightenment.
The above is an excerpt from Lucid Dreaming, a chapter in the forthcoming book, Dream Yogas. Chapters of the book are posted here.