In February 2019, I was fortunate enough to have a lengthy discussion with Dr. Joseph Dillard on lucid dreaming, dream yoga, yoga nidra, and his approach called Integral Deep Listening (IDL). Here, for Conscious Chimera’s March 2019 article, I share with you the highlights. If you haven’t yet, please take a look at last month’s article, as February reflects part one of this two-part report. In addition, it might be helpful to take a look at Dillard’s work, particularly these two web pages:
Dillard believes dreaming to be “our most misunderstood and underutilized, innate capability.” He begins by summarizing some core points. In the Buddhist and Hindu traditions, life is seen as a dream. Yoga, as a psychospiritual discipline, can wake us up out of an existence of perpetual sleepwalking. The Buddhist and Hindu worldviews are derived from Shamanism, which assumes a fundamental cosmological dualism – that is, an underworld of demons and devils, and an overworld of angels and deities. Trance and dreaming allow shamans to access communication with these worlds. Shamanistic approaches to dream yoga are concrete and literal; what you experience in a dream is a reality in another dimension. Most traditional approaches, whether they are Amer-Indian shamanistic, Siberian or whether Hindu, Buddhist, or Tibetan Buddhist approaches, will focus on the objective concreteness of experiences and further divide dreaming into either spiritual or mundane categories. You’ll find that again and again wherever you look at them.
This traditional approach to dreamwork and dream yoga is in opposition to the Western psychological approach, which sees everything in a dream or interior, psychological experience, as a self-aspect, sub-personality, or “shadow.” Dillard adds that these two approaches generate a fundamental division in approaches to dreamwork, with the first tending to view dreams as either sacred, spiritual, and highly meaningful, or secular, profane, and meaningless, while the second emphasizing ownership and the self-created nature of experience in order to foster responsibility and personal empowerment.
According to Dillard, Tibetan Dream Yoga is divided into two different categories – one is the category associated the great Tibetan yogi Milarepa, which emphasizes gaining power to awaken out of samsara, or the clinging to the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, by waking up in your dreams. In this way, lucid dreaming becomes a tool for waking up. He states that, “The idea is to wake up in your waking life. You can rehearse this and learn how to do it by waking up in a dream, to realize that you are dreaming, and have various experiences which will teach you that you have control.” “Consequently, you’ll start to wake up in your waking life and to differentiate the dream-nature, the illusory-nature of waking life from dream life.” The “Milarepa” approach focuses on the steps or injunctions of the yoga of waking up while you are dreaming.
Now, Dillard gives attention to the second Tibetan dream yoga category known as Tibetan Deity Yoga. In short, with this approach one meditates on a bodhisattva or the Buddha, internalizes a mandala, in addition to many other details, recalling colors, shapes, figures, etc., in order to embody and become the deity. One tries to fuse with, or become the consciousness of the deity, Dillard explains. In Tibetan Deity Yoga this work uses sacred elements from within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The distinction between sacred and secular (whether in dream or waking or meditative states) is apparent, as it is in the shamanic traditions. (For a more in-depth discussion of these two types of Tibetan dream yoga, see http://www.integraldeeplistening.com/tibetan-dream-yoga/)
IDL does not make this distinction. Through the use of its interviewing protocols, we learn to listen to the perspective of an element first, before judging it to be sacred or not. Without deep listening, we may just be projecting our biases onto the element or experience. IDL is a nonjudgmental approach to dreamwork. It attempts to be objective by not assuming that dream elements are good or evil, or that they are aspects of ourselves.
Deep listening is a dream yoga that embodies or identifies with the perspective of the elements in a dream, or mystical or near-death experience (NDE), or even a waking life issue. We can interview these elements/perspectives in an integral, deep way. By “integral,” Dillard is referring to Ken Wilber’s work surrounding lines of development, stages of development, and the 4 quadrants (internal-collective, internal-individual, external-collective, external-individual).
IDL involves interviewing protocols for one or multiple dream or life issue elements. The first variety, single element interviewing, is derived from the second, multiple element interviewing, which is called “Dream Sociometry.” It was created in 1980 and is based on J.L. Moreno’s sociometric methodology. The relationships among dream elements or those constituting some personal or collective issue, such as 9/11, can be depicted in a diagram called a Dream Sociogram. For further details, see Dream Sociometry and Understanding the Dream Sociogram (Routledge, 2018), or visit Dillard’s website: www.integraldeeplistening.com for examples of both types of protocols as well as computer assisted formats for doing both sorts of interviews yourself.
Character interviewing can also be done while one is lucid in a dream. When lucid, we merge with the element so that we suspend our own perception of our experience and view it from the world view of other embedded, relevant perspectives. The results can be stunning. Lifelong nightmares can go away for good with just one interview. Agoraphobia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and toxic life scripts can be reframed in ways that open up healing, balance, and transformation.
The two approaches of Tibetan Buddhism to dream yoga largely fall within the shamanic tradition that we are having illusory experiences regarding objectively real states. There really are gods and demons and they really do appear in our dreams. But these in turn are aspects of a cosmic dream of maya. The other broad approach to lucid dreaming and dream yoga in general is the Western psychological approach, which is the opposite, which says that you are dealing with self-aspects. Dillard’s approach, Integral Deep Listening (IDL), holds a third perspective and that is that what we experience in a dream is “ontologically indeterminate” – that is, “we can treat dream elements like self-aspects, yet to a certain extent they are, at the same time, more than self-aspects, in that the perspective, or world view, of different elements within the dream, disclosed when we become and interview them, includes our own perspective, but transcends it, in that every interviewed perspective adds its own world view to our own.” Simply put, we do not know the dream element’s nature of being. Is it “real” or a self creation, both, or neither? Therefore, to immediately reduce it to a self-aspect is reductionistic, while assuming that some dream about our deceased aunt Mildred, really was her communicating from the other side, is also reductionistic. Mildred could be real or a self-creation, both, or neither; we don’t know. However, if we become and interview aunt Mildred, we will at least have the benefit of a perspective more in a position to know than we are.
Dillard’s approach is phenomenalistic, meaning that we recognize and suspend our assumptions about why we dream and what a dream means. For instance, we do not begin by assuming dreams are symbolic or that aunt Mildred is a symbol. We attempt to withdraw our projections and get out of our own way so that we can practice listening to different dream, mystical, and waking perspectives in a way that is deep and integral. Such a phenomenological approach is based on respect, which is in turn based on the principle of reciprocity: treating others, including dream elements, with the same degree of respect that we would hope others would treat us.
Dillard believes that IDL has the potential to move us away from a psychologically geocentric perspective, or pre-Copernican worldview, toward a psychologically heliocentric, Copernican worldview (which is much less egocentric, but still Self-centered), and even beyond this toward a multi-perspectival, holonic, approach by which every point in the universe is the center of the universe. The purpose is to decentralize the self, expanding, freeing, and opening our worldview significantly. This is why IDL is multi-perspectival in its orientation, as well as phenomenological.
At this point, I inserted my thoughts about yoga nidra (sleep yoga) into the discussion. Yoga nidra allows one to experience a formless self (See the February article for a brief introduction to yoga nidra). While the value of what yoga nidra can teach us is apparent, Dillard does not believe that yoga nidra shifts worldviews in such drastic ways. He asks, “What’s the change agent?” Even when aware in deep sleep, a long-time yoga nidra practitioner still experiences the phenomenon out of his/her cultural and social framework and life assumptions. Dillard adds, “What do you do about the perceptual framework of the self you’re stuck in, regardless of your state of consciousness?” IDL supports the stepping out of the waking, acculturated self, so that we don’t act out of its interpretations of our experience. When we disidentify and suspend the assumptions of the culturally, socially scripted self, more creative options can come up in our choice frameworks. Dillard states, “It is as if our everyday mind moves into the clear and spontaneous space musicians and athletes experience when they are in a state of flow, or that nidra yoga cultivates as a formless ground of all possibilities. This is an extraordinarily fecund and creative space, in which we no longer block access to perspectives that are not stuck in ways that we are stuck.” Dillard designed IDL to support people in waking up in the here and now so we can become more fully alive. It’s all about “healing, balancing, and transformation,” highlights Dillard. He considers everything to be sacred, but not from a place of polarizing the spiritual from the profane. “Vomit and spit can be sacred, in that they can teach us something, if we get out of the way and listen.” “Everything we experience in any state can be approached as a vehicle to help us to wake us up.” Through IDL we use the self as a tool to thin the self by laying it aside and becoming, or identifying with, different perspectives, whether they arise from dream or waking experience, over and over again! This is the opposite of grasping or maintaining control. Because most of our childhood was about learning to be in control, and because society places high value on having control and fears states of loss of control, learning a practice that surrenders both the self and hands control to completely foreign perspectives can scare people away.
Near the end of our conversation, we touch on NDEs, mystical experiences, and OBEs, in addition to how IDL can help those with depression, or anxiety. No matter how we label an experience, why not view our body as a vehicle for growth? Dillard sums it up by claiming, “All experiences are emerging potentials. All are my teachers.”
I want to thank Dr. Joseph Dillard for his time and for such stimulating discussion. By Dillard sharing his extensive experience and through his lively input, Conscious Chimera’s 3rd anniversary article (especially part two) has turned out to be quite special and memorable.