Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Joseph DillardDr. Joseph Dillard is a psychotherapist with over forty year's clinical experience treating individual, couple, and family issues. Dr. Dillard also has extensive experience with pain management and meditation training. The creator of Integral Deep Listening (IDL), Dr. Dillard is the author of over ten books on IDL, dreaming, nightmares, and meditation. He lives in Berlin, Germany. See: and his YouTube channel.


Assumptions of Integral Dream Analysis

A Critique of Wilber's Understanding
of the Dream State and Dreamwork

Joseph Dillard

Much to his credit, Ken Wilber pays attention to the dream state, recognizes its importance, and makes recommendations toward its integration. This essay will summarize Wilber's various approaches to dreaming and dreamwork, unearth some of the assumptions underlying his model, and make recommendations regarding an integral approach to dreaming and dreamwork.
Assumptions underlie and validate our world views. Therefore, assumptions are extremely powerful, shaping the course of our lives.

We have learned quite a bit about dreaming since the late 1800's. Superstitions, mythology, intuitions, feelings, and a priori assumptions of all sorts tend to give away before the continuous onslaught of a posteriori knowledge, and that has certainly been the case for our understanding of the dream state. We now have a solid body of fact in all four quadrants about what dreaming is and is not.

For example, in the upper left quadrant of private and individual awareness, we know that almost all mammals dream, indicating that dreaming is an ancient, evolutionary state prior to thought and conceptualization, and is most likely a visual representation of recalled waking images, experiences, and emotions, but with highly malleable experiences of time, space, and identity.

In the upper right quadrant, we know that evolution has developed very specific and powerful neurological structures and physiological processes that are associated with dreaming, implying that it has important adaptive functions that are supportive of daily functioning and necessary for the development of higher level cognition.[1] In fact, cognitive science now makes a strong case that the metaphorical, image-based thought typical of dreaming is neurologically encoded as a result of our encounters with the outside world.[2] We know that we dream for approximately five years of our lives, which means that we spend an enormous amount of time in a state that we generally ignore or discount as irrelevant.

In the lower left, we know that the interpretations that we give to our dream experiences can evoke powerful feelings of fear, confusion, love, and peace, and therefore how we perceive dream experience, both while dreaming and later on, when awake, can generate hope or undo therapy and hard-won advances over addiction.

In the lower right, we know that the vast majority of dreaming deals with mundane everyday activities.[3] Patterns of interaction that occur in dreams can reinforce both drama and creativity. We know that this freedom of interaction has led to scientific breakthroughs, such as Kekule's understanding of the composition of organic molecules, discovery, such as Howe's invention of the sewing machine, and artistic genius, such as the creation of Paul McCartney's masterpiece, Yesterday.

Despite our large advances in knowledge about dreaming, it largely remains a non-integrated state. While our cognitive, self-system, and various auxiliary lines, such as those of spiritual intelligence, proprioception, musical, artistic, mathematical, and interpersonal competencies race ahead, there has been little change since Neolithic times in our day-to-day attitude with which most of us approach our dreams. We have conjured up all sorts of theories and meanings for why and how we dream, but on an everyday level, our relationship with dreaming remains fundamentally unaltered—occasional fascinating, amazing, disturbing, or threatening intrusions into our awareness punctuating a largely ignored and disregarded ongoing experience.

In a search for articles and essays on Wilber and dreaming I only found some seven references to dreaming in over two decades of essays on IntegralWorld.Net. There are multiple reasons why Integral has not demonstarted much interest in dreaming. Dreams can be confusing, seem pointless, irrational, frightening, and threaten not only our sense of control, but our identity. Such awarenesses work against the integration of our waking identity with dreaming.

Our failure to integrate the dream state means that dream experiences shape our waking thoughts, feelings, decision-making, and actions in unknown ways, perhaps on a daily, ongoing basis. Can we claim to have advanced in an overall and balanced way as a species while the dream state remains non-integrated? Is it realistic to assume that self-development reaches any post-primate level of authentic integration if the dream state has not been integrated into it? Can self-development just run off and leave dream experience non-integrated, without the evolution of humanity being effected? Even contemporary psychology recognizes there is a cost to ignoring dreams, in the form of the amplification of unrecognized internal conflicts that sabotage self-development. For example, we know that PTSD nightmares can destroy lives and lead to suicide. More commonly, typical dreams may be analogous to the effect of rain on mountains: individual occurrences show negligible erosion, but over time mighty peaks are entirely erased. Yet dreaming remains largely a “foreign country,” a strange and distant land, with which we rarely engage. As long as dreaming stays non-integrated, it serves as a sea anchor limiting the stability and progress of our overall development, both as individuals and as a species.

The dream state as heightened creativity

Wilber associates dreaming with heightened creativity.

Creativity researchers commonly refer to the “3 B's”—the bathroom, the bed, and the bus—all places where famous ideas have spontaneously emerged. All these places facilitate states other than normal waking consciousness, namely dream states and their corresponding alpha and theta brain wave patterns…The subtle dream state seems to free up inhibitions and make connections between seemingly dissimilar things.[4]

There is a great deal of evidence that dreaming is indeed a state of heightened creativity. We go to sleep with issues and challenges from our daily life on our minds; in our dreams ideas are associated in ways that do not follow the rules of rationality, thereby allowing creativity to enter our lives in important but often unrecognized ways. It seems likely that many of our creative ideas are first formed in our dreams and then jump into our awareness in waking moments that we do not associate with dreaming.

Dreams are delusions and life is like a dream

Wilber shares with many Eastern and Western mystical traditions a broad assumption that life is like a dream—delusional:

“It is often said in the great wisdom Traditions that typical, conventional life is like a dream, an illusion, a mistaken reality. And what it's mistaken for is the real Reality, an ultimate unity, oneness, infinite harmony and interconnectedness with the entire universe—the discovery of our real Self, Big Mind, the groundless Ground of all Being, the Supreme Identity, the Great Liberation in infinite Spirit.[5]

Here are some of the assumptions that are embedded in that world view:

  • The great wisdom Traditions provide an authoritative source of information about dreaming;
  • Dreaming is delusional;
  • Because life is like a dream, it is delusional;
  • Life, like dream realities are mistaken for Reality.

Let us see if we can unpack these assumptions a bit.

The great wisdom Traditions provide an authoritative source of information about dreaming

The problem with this statement becomes obvious when we change it to the following: “Donald Trump provides an authoritative source of information about dreaming.” That may be true, if we agree that life is a delusional dream, but we probably don't want it to be Trump's dream. Appeals to authority are a common logical fallacy. It doesn't matter who says what; what matters is the evidence that backs up what is claimed. In this case, the meditative accomplishments and mystical experiences recorded in Eastern Traditions are provided as an authoritative source for knowledge about dreaming. Meditation and mystical experiences may be conducive to the cultivation of objectivity in the dream state, or waking up within dreams, but is that equivalent to accessing accurate information about dreaming itself, or does it address one line of perception of dreaming - the ability to maintain objectivity while dreaming?

Dreaming is delusional

When we view a dream from perspectives that are embedded in it, the strangers, monsters, boats, and tea kettles, dream events are not delusional. Dreams are only delusional from three different perspectives of the dreamer: 1) while subjectively enmeshed in a dream, 2) objectively observing the dream and knowing one is dreaming (that is, lucid dreaming), and 3) after awakening, in reflecting on or interpreting a dream. In all three instances, there is a continuity of identity; you are identified with who you assume yourself to be in your waking life. That perspective in all three instances is delusional in its exclusivity. It does not contain the perspectives of others because it does not identify with them. Cognitive multi-perspectivalism, that is, the ability to understand multiple alternative perspectives, is a vision-logic/aperspectival-integral cognitive line competency provided by Integral AQAL. It is not the same as experiential multi-perspectivalism, which involves the movement from communion to unity to identification with other perspectives. While cognitive multi-perspectivalism is centered on self-development and the perspectives of the self, experiential multi-perspectivalism is centered on overall development and the perspectives of others, with whom we identify or become, including dream characters. The first is delusional due to its exclusivity; the second is relatively non-delusional.

We might rightly conclude that whatever dream perspective that we become is also delusional, and that would be true, but it would also ignore the relative absence of delusion provided by identification with alternative perspectives, while holding out for a mythological claim of a state of radical non-delusion. Such a claim is supported by the relative absence of delusion provided by lucid dreaming, mystical, and near death experiences. However, if we were to remain in those states long enough to habituate, their relative objectivity would begin to evaporate, as we begin to glimpse still larger holons, since it is velociraptors all the way up and all the way down.[6]

Because life is like a dream, it is delusional

Does self-development transcend and include dreaming? Self-development does indeed include dreaming, in that waking identity includes the physiological, experiential, and emotional foundations for cognition intrinsic to the dream state. However, self-development does not include the indifference to spatial and temporal definiteness common to dreaming or its inconsistency regarding identity. You can be shocked to find you are of the opposite gender, for instance. Normally, self-development rejects and rebels against distortions of time, space, and person, associating them with depersonalization, decompensation, and psychosis. It also has little interest in the mundane and “secular” aspects of dreaming, like walking or setting the table. While self-development includes aspects of dreaming, it excludes or ignores others.

Regarding transcendence, self-development transcends dreaming in its rationality, use of language, and emphasis on causal relationships, while dreaming transcends self-development in its creativity and freedom from physical, temporal, and socio-cultural laws. Regardless of how high one climbs on the developmental ladder, it appears that the creativity and transcending world views of interviewed dream characters will perpetually transcend self-development.

We can conclude that self-development only transcends certain aspects of dreaming, while dreaming transcends certain aspects of self-development. Therefore, we cannot conclude that waking identity has successfully integrated the dream state into it or that the dream state has successfully integrated waking identity into it. While self-development has clearly run off and left the dream state on any number of lines, because dreaming is fundamentally an early and mid-prepersonal phenomena that has not yet been integrated by humanity, it is likely that overall development remains at prepersonal levels, regardless of advances in self-development, as long as the dream state remains non-integrated.

Life, like dream realities, are mistaken for Reality.

Instead of questing for Wilber's Self, Big Mind, I AM, Supreme Identity, or other forms of psychological heliocentrism, identification with multiple dream perspectives leads us to a world view that more closely resembles what we now know is the nature of the cosmos, as a reality not orbiting ourselves (Earth), not orbiting some inflated sense of Self (Sun), but limitless possibility in which every point is the center, every moment is timeless, and every “self” is a place-holder for every other possible self, a holographic worm-hole into all other possible perspectives and realities.

Interviewed dream characters do not share your identity. They generally are not in a state of self-delusion and do not view their participation in dreams as a delusion, “skill in means,” or covert. “They,” when interviewed, are not dreaming. You can interview the characters in your own dreams and validate this for yourself.[7] The implication is that the illusory appearance of waking life springs from psychological geocentrism and the focus on self-development, to the exclusion of observing life from multiple alternative perspectives in a form of experiential multi-perspectivalism. Delusion is a matter of perspective, not a matter of being in this or that state or at this or that level of development. For example, you can be as delusional at 3rd Tier as at mid-prepersonal, because development of the self-system and various lines are all done from the limited perspective of the self, which lacks the perspectives of others or collectives of others. We know this because 3rd Tier world views can be as misguided as any other. For example, if we take Wilber at face value and give him 3rd Tier standing, his view of “Eros as spirit-in-action,” a mystically-founded version of intelligent design, is delusional in that it refuses to refute contemporary evolutionary science.

Delusion is a function of identification, and in particular, self-development, not of this or that state. To project the source of delusion outward onto dreaming or waking life is not only to make us a powerless victim in the Drama Triangle, but to imply either escape or waking up out of the delusion as the solution.[8] The “solution” is created by the definition of the problem. Change the definition of the problem and you change the preferred solution. In this case, when you view the problem as psychological geocentrism itself rather than as mistaken perception by the self, then the solution changes from identifying with a self that is awake and sees clearly, in a non-delusional way, to a solution involving ongoing identification with a variety of non-self perspectives.

The dream state as equated with subtle energy and subtle body

Wilber follows Hinduism and Buddhism in associating dreaming with the mid-transpersonal “subtle” energy body and deep sleep with the causal. The gross waking state is relatively asleep, dreaming, and delusional in relationship to the subtle state, the subtle dream state is relatively asleep, dreaming, and delusional in comparison to the causal state, and the causal state is relatively asleep, dreaming, and delusional in relationship to the non-dual.

…when you fall asleep at night…your gross body disappears from your awareness. No more physical rocks, trees, or buildings. Instead, you're aware of emotions, images, visions, ideas, dream worlds, and archetypes.
In dream states, your energetic support vehicle is not a solid, gross body but a spectrum of relatively fine or dense energies of radiance, mind, sound, emotion, and life force. This is the subtle body. Bands of this spectrum have been traditionally associated with the chakras, and the subtle body is sometimes subdivided into different levels that are called by such names as vital, etheric, sexual, emotional, astral, mental, and psychic, referring to the Upper-Left states with which they are correlated.
The subtle is, in a sense, more free, because it is not bound by physical circumstances.[9]
In a special sense... the three great natural states of waking, dreaming, and deep sleep contain an entire spectrum of spiritual enlightenment.[10]

The causal state is subjective in comparison to the relative objectivity of the witnessing of the witness that occurs in non-dual states. This reflects Wilber's dialectic of proximal and distal selves up the developmental ladder.

The point of the overall meditative path is to have Wakefulness (or Consciousness as Such) transcend and include all state-realms, so it ceases to "black out" or "forget" various changes of state (such as dreaming and deep sleep), and instead recognizes a "constant Consciousness" or ever-present nondual Awareness, the union (and transcendence) of individual finite self and infinite Spirit.[11]

Here are some of the unspoken assumptions in the above formulation:

  • Your physical body is an energy body;
  • Your dream experience occurs within another energy body;
  • Your deep sleep occurs within another energy body;
  • Your dream energy body is associated with the chakras;
  • Your dream body is more free because it is not bound by physical circumstances;
  • All three states, waking, dreaming, and deep sleep contain spiritual enlightenment;
  • Witnessing witnessing, or turiyatita, is the height of self-development.

Let's see if we can take a closer look at each of these assumptions:

Your physical body is an energy body

This is undoubtedly true; matter is the manifestation of energy in various complex structures and processes.

Your dream experience occurs within another energy body

This may or may not be true. How is it to be proven? By what means is it falsifiable? More importantly, what are the implications of this assumption? Essentially, it is that dream reality exists on a different, seemingly independent, plane of reality from the physical. But dreams and dreaming is largely a product of the physical and early cognition, meaning it is a manifestation of anatomy, neurology, physiology, biochemistry, and various emotional and mental processes. Are these energies independent from the energy of the body? To believe so is to generate a mind-body dualism, with all sorts of conflictual implications. Do we want to create a world view that generates interior conflicts that may not otherwise exist? This is not so much an argument against the subtle body view of dreaming as it is to question its utility.

Your deep sleep occurs within another energy body

Generating a third energy body is subject to the same questions/concerns that apply to the supposition of a second one.

Your dream energy body is associated with the chakras

Is a belief in chakras falsifiable? Are there scientific studies that demonstrate their existence? Until such exist, chakras remain hypothetical and aspects of a mythological world view. If dreaming can be explained without recourse to such questionable systems, the law of parsimony means that it is not reductionistic to do so. What does a belief in chakras add to an explanation of dreaming?

Your dream body is more free because it is not bound by physical circumstances

One could as easily argue that we are less free while dreaming because while dreaming we are normally unaware that we are dreaming and therefore are a victim of our belief in a false reality, like prisoners in Plato's Cave. This perspective be extended to lucid dreaming, in that while in that state we remain prisoners of the preferences, priorities and world view of our waking identity, which we carry into our perception during a lucid dream. These conditioning influences, with which we are identified, may have nothing to do with emerging potentials and our life compass.

All three states, waking, dreaming, and deep sleep contain spiritual enlightenment

Ostriches dream. Does that mean that their dreams contain spiritual enlightenment? If that statement is true, it is also very close to meaningless, because it points to a reality that so broadly applies as to be negligible in its implications.[12] Dreaming is an involutionary state in which we recapitulate mammalian evolutionary consciousness. We are not more enlightened when we are dreaming. In fact, we are more subjectively enmeshed in delusion and drama in dreams than we are in our waking lives.

Witnessing witnessing, or turiyatita, is the height of self-development.

While different traditions define the highest state in different ways, this is one of the formulations that Wilber uses, as the height of self-development. It favors the objectivity of witnessing the witness over the subjectivity of identification, but the motor of both self-development and evolution in general is a dialectical process of identification and disidentification leading to higher orders of synthesis. Therefore, identification with alternative perspectives, not just through communion or unity, but through identity, is unlikely to stop at some “absolute” point. It is more likely that such access will give way to a realization of the need to identify with a broader evolutionary arc than self-development, what I am calling overall development. In so doing, the integration of the dream state, through the yoga of identification with a wide variety of dream characters, allows overall development to move ahead, beyond the mid-prepersonal level of the dream state.

Lucid dreaming

Wilber also references dreaming in terms of lucid dreaming, which is waking control over dream experience while dreaming. In Integral Life Practice, Wilber states that

Awareness during the dream state is called lucid dreaming, and those who can remain fully conscious during deep dreamless sleep have realized formless emptiness. You can train yourself to maintain full awareness through waking, dreaming, and deep sleep through practices such as meditation.[13]

In the dream state, the mind and soul are set free to create as they please, to imagine vast worlds not tied to gross sensory realities but reaching out, almost magically, to touch other souls, other people and far-off places, wild and radiant images cascading to the rhythm of the heart's desire.[14]

Wilber's treatment of lucid dreaming emphasizes the perspective of the dreamer and in particular, the number one agenda item for self-development: control. Wilber assumes control over the dream state is an advanced yogic practice.

The Yoga of the Dream State has always held to be one of the fastest, most efficient ways of reaching a plateau experience of subtle and causal realms, thus quickly opening the door to stable adaptation at - and transcendence of - those realms.[15]

“A person who has, while alive, practiced techniques such as dream yoga—and learned to “lucid dream”—will also, it is said, be able to control the events of the bardo realm, since it is basically the same subtle dream state, in the same subtle body, and possessing the same subtle energy. Just as somebody who is lucid dreaming can choose almost anything he or she wants and it will almost instantly materialize in the dream, likewise someone who is proficient at dream yoga can choose where and when they will be born, what their race and sex will be, who their parents will be, and so on, simply by holding that intention in mind. It's the same process, in the same subtle body, as a lucid dream.”[16]

Wilber's assumptions regarding lucid dreaming include:

  • Staying fully conscious while dreaming (and deep sleep) is a good thing, because realizing formless emptiness is a good thing;
  • Training oneself to maintain full awareness during dreaming and deep sleep is a good thing;
  • Control over the dream state is a good thing;
  • The dream state occurs in the subtle body and is a manifestation of subtle energy;
  • Control of the dream state implies control of life after death;
  • It is good to have control in a dream because you are able to do almost anything you want;
  • Control of the dream state implies control of your next incarnation.

Let us unpack these assumptions:

Staying fully conscious while dreaming (and deep sleep) is a good thing, because realizing formless emptiness is a good thing

Is extending control over the dream state is a good thing? Why? For whom? Within the Tibetan Buddhist world view in which this perspective originated, it made sense, because the doctrine of karma taught that your actions determine your present incarnation and your present actions will determine the nature of your existence after you die and in your next life. Once one accepts the assumption that you have a soul that survives death and that your choices determine your soul's destiny, this framework makes sense. It is only when one suspends these underlying assumptions that self-development no longer is paramount. The necessity of self-control collapses.

One can realize formless emptiness without lucid dreaming. Wilber is assuming that maintenance of dream (and deep sleep) lucidity stabilizes formless emptiness as a level of development. At most, this will stabilize a line of yogic control. How much we can generalize developmental stabilization beyond that one line is not clear. For example, does that mean that we have attained a high level on the line of spiritual intelligence? We know that criminals, children, and atheists can lucid dream. Lucid dreaming seems to have no necessary relationship to morality. Does the ability to lucid dream mean that we have attained a causal level of self-system development (since formless emptiness is at least causal, if not non-dual)? Housewives and businessmen can lucid dream. Are they experiencing formless emptiness?

Because formless emptiness can be achieved without lucid dreaming (by meditation, for example), it appears that the actual reason for lucid dreaming provided here is different, and has to do with control over life after death and one's next incarnation.

Training oneself to maintain full awareness during dreaming and deep sleep is a good thing

Maintaining full awareness implies maintaining control. In the dream state, it implies maintaining control over the dream state. A common secular argument for lucid dreaming is skull practice: overcoming your fears, whether of public speaking, heights, rejection, failure, and death by practicing in your dreams. Mental rehearsal in any state appears to generate desensitization, confidence, and greater proficiency, and one can do so while dreaming if they so desire. There is also no reason why practicing meditation while lucid dreaming would not be a good thing. The only issue is, “What about normal dreaming might one be ignoring, avoiding, or not benefitting from by insisting on focus on the self-control associated with lucid dreaming? Again, the underlying premise is that dreaming is a delusional state and that waking up out of it is a good thing. But is dreaming a delusional state or is our perception of it the issue? Is waking up out of dreaming a preferred strategy over respectfully listening to other perspectives embedded in the dream and practicing becoming them?

Control over the dream state is a good thing

Is colonization of other states by waking identity a good idea? To do so assumes that we know what is best for us in terms of dream experience, starting with the assumption that control of the dream state is wise. Is it? To control the dream state means to force our priorities on dreaming. Are we so certain that our priorities are healthy, balanced, and reflect evolutionary autopoiesis? On what evidence can we base that certainty? When we look back at our own lives and the flaws and limitations in our decision making, we can draw an analogy to why it is not wise to allow alcoholics to captain ships or planes. If we are ignorant or delusional, are we really in a position to control another state of consciousness? It might be wise to first practice deep listening to dream perspectives, by identifying with them and answering thoughtful questions from their perspectives, before we assume that we know better and that control of dreaming is superior to learning from dream experience.

The dream state occurs in the subtle body and is a manifestation of subtle energy

We know that dreaming is largely a limbically-mediated prepersonal process, as evidenced by its presence in almost all mammals. Are dreaming mammals in their subtle body? Is dreaming a manifestation of mammalian subtle energy? Are we willing to believe that kangaroos have subtle bodies that they inhabit when they dream? If so, what exactly does that mean? What does that imply about the nature of the subtle body and subtle energy? Do dreaming cats manifest transpersonal consciousness? While I have known quite a few cats who act as if they do, do they really? Mark Edwards addresses this issue succinctly:

The simple alternative (and integral) explanation is that we are not "accessing" the transpersonal psychic, subtle or causal states at night in any consistent or structured way. We are not evolving into the great psychic, subtle and causal stages of identity. What we are doing when we sleep is accessing involutionary pre-personal states that are concerned with our chemical and biochemical maintenance, our pre-egoic unconscious identity, our precognitive ruminations and anxieties and the drives and desires of our somatic, affective, sexual and early membership self. None of this has much to do with the transpersonal. It has much more, in fact, as the contents of our dreams show us, to do with the shadow of the rational-egoic world of fears, thrills, aspirations, worries, relationships, past history and personal desires than with any Kosmo-centric transpersonal concern.[17]

Control of the dream state implies control of life after death

To accept this assumption means that we first have to sign on to an entire host of assumptions that are associated with a belief in a soul and life after death. It is only after we work our way through all those assumptions that we arrive at the assumption that because we can lucid dream we will have control of our life after we die. Criminals and children can lucid dream; I have known quite a few lucid dreamers who did not believe in life after death, were atheists, or had no particular religious or spiritual inclinations. This implies that lucid dreaming is a specific aptitude or developmental line that is not necessarily correlated with religion, spirituality, or the idea of life after death.

It is good to have control in a dream because you are able to do almost anything you want

As noted above, lucid dreaming can indeed be used as skull practice for desensitization. Beyond that, being able to do almost anything one wants sounds remarkably like hedonism. How is it not an endorsement of amorality, that is, action that is free from consideration of what others might want or need? When we look at the lives of people who have attained great wealth, status, and power we do not find any correlation with goodness or empathy. In fact, such people are likely to use their attainment to wall themselves off from challenges to their wealth, status, and power. Similarly, lucid dreamers can use their attainment to wall themselves off from challenges to their belief in their high level of attainment.[18]

Control of the dream state implies control of your next incarnation

Even if this assumed correlation were correct, why would we want to have control over our next incarnation? The implication is that we have the wisdom to make wise choices about our cosmic destiny when we cannot even make wise choices about what to eat and drink. How is this not grandiosity on steroids?

How Wilber recommends dreams be interpreted

Wilber has another fundamental understanding of the dream state which is a product of developmental psychology, not Eastern religious traditions. In evolutionary framings, such as Wilber provides in Up from Eden, deep sleep, or pure subjectivity, is the initial or ground evolutionary state, followed by an intermediate, half-awake dream state (as in aboriginal “dream time”), followed by the objectified awareness of the waking state. Therefore, in an evolutionary sense, dream consciousness evolves before an objectified self-sense, as we can observe in the ubiquity of dreaming in mammals and their presence in the cognitive lives of small children. The Vedantic tradition, which originated the “three bodies” doctrine, possessed no knowledge of the prior evolution of dreaming.

In Wilber's 2017 work, The Religion of Tomorrow, he notes that people experience dreams differently depending on their level of development. Children have different dream content than adolescents who have different content from adults, who have different content from meditation adepts.[19] Wilber notes that most states are not inherently prepersonal, personal or transpersonal, but that structures, which interpret and experience states, are. This means that dreaming is not inherently a manifestation of one level or another, but that prepersonal structures, that is, prepersonal self-system developmental lines, will most likely experience dreams prepersonally, while personal structures will interpret them in personal framings or world views, while transpersonal structures will interpret dreams as transpersonal states. “The actual content and contours of the subtle dream state are provided by the particular structure that is experiencing the dream.”[20]

So, which is it? Is dreaming a regressed state, one of higher enlightenment, or both? Wilber's answer appears to be that, from a prepersonal or personal perspective, dreaming is a regressed state, disclosing “shadow” elements of self. However, in the realm of the transpersonal, viewed as a manifestation of subtle energy and body, dreaming is a more awakened state than waking. If this answer is confusing or seems even contradictory to you, do not feel lonely.[21]

Wilber has recommended interpreting dreams from prepersonal, personal, and transpersonal perspectives. In his 1986 essay on Treatment Modalities in Transformations of Consciousness, Wilber provides his clearest description of his “spectrum approach” to dream interpretation.[22] Because it is worth quoting at length, we will take each section at a time and after each, we will consider the assumptions underlying Wilber's approach.

The practical theory of dreamwork that I have developed suggests the following: the manifest dream can be the latent carrier of pathology (or simply benign messages) from any and all levels, and perhaps the best way to work with the dream is to begin its interpretation at the lowest levels and progressively work upward. The same dream symbol in a single dream sequence could carry equally important material (pathological or healthy) from several different levels, and it is necessary to seek interpretations from all levels and see which ones elicit a responsive recognition in the individual. The therapist or analyst starts at the lowest levels—F-1 or F-2—and interprets significant dream symbols according to the meanings they might have on those levels. He/she watches for those interpretations that resonate with the client (usually by being emotionally charged), and then works through the charge surrounding each symbol. The dream is thus decathected or relieved of its emotional charge at that level (we “get its message”), and the interpretation then moves to the next level, reinterpreting each significant symbol according to its possible meanings on this new level and so on up the spectrum.

Here are some of the assumptions Wilber makes in the above description to his spectrum approach to a practical theory of dreamwork. I do not presume that this is a full list of assumptions implied by Wilber's approach, only a representative sample.

  • Following Freud, there is a manifest and latent distinction to be made regarding dream content;
  • The manifest dream can transmit or communicate pathology, since it is a “carrier” of same;
  • Dreams are messages in addition to in some cases being carriers of pathology;
  • This pathology (or benign message) can come from any and all levels of self development;
  • It is best to interpret from all levels, beginning with the lowest;
  • Dreams contain symbols;
  • Correct interpretations “elicit a responsive recognition in the individual;”
  • Therapists are most qualified to interpret dreams;
  • A further unspoken assumption would be that therapists would best be Integrally-trained;
  • There are significant and insignificant dream symbols;
  • Dream symbols are to be interpreted “according to the meanings they might have on those levels.”
  • A correct interpretation is indicated by a “resonance” with the client, “usually by being emotionally charged;)
  • A working through of the charge surrounding each symbol is dream therapy, following symbol interpretation at this or that level;
  • Dream therapy involves the reinterpretation of a symbol in such a way that it is “decathected,” or relieved of its emotional charge for the dreamer, at any level at which there is an emotional resonance;
  • Relieving the emotional charge of a symbol means “we get its message.”
  • Proper interpretations involve reinterpreting symbols according to their possible meanings for each level;
  • The meanings for each level follow associations to major characteristics and issues that are themselves associated by Integral AQAL with each level of the developmental spectrum.

Let us now take each of these assumptions, unpack them, and consider their viability and usefulness.

Following Freud, there is a manifest and latent distinction to be made regarding dream content

This is a distinction made by observers of dreams but not by interviewed perspectives that are themselves embedded in dreams. Also, this is a distinction made by some observers of dreams; not all dream theorists make or accept the distinction between manifest and latent dream content.

The manifest dream can transmit or communicate pathology, since it is a “carrier” of same

What is pathological and what is not is our projection onto dreams. For example, most of us would view a dream rapist as pathological or a sign of pathology. However, when the rapist himself is interviewed, and when other characters and objects in the same dream are interviewed, the rapist is unlikely to be perceived as pathological. Instead, it is more likely to be viewed as a vivid wake-up call, expressing imbalances that the dreamer is ignoring or unaware of. This is a major difference. To view something as pathological means that it creates illness and is a threat to health and life. To view something as a wake up call eliminates the oppositional, conflictual framing created by the label “pathological.”

Dreams are messages, in addition to in some cases being carriers of pathology

The implication of viewing a dream as a message is that it is a communication, something to be read, interpreted, or understood. We do not view breathing, blood pressure, or our heart beat as “messages,” although that does not mean that we do not recognize that they carry useful information that, when recognized and understood, can be used to reduce disequilibrium and enhance health and well-being. Messages also have “senders,” implying that there is some source of consciousness attempting to communicate with us in dreams. However, dreaming is a totally natural, physiological process, like breathing. We don't normally view our pulse and blood pressure as “messages” from a “sender;” why should we so approach dreams?

This pathology (or benign message) can come from any and all levels of self-development

Are dreams a reflection of our level of self-development? This would be a difficult theory to prove. For example, children and criminals can lucid dream and master meditators can have dreams of monsters and abuse. While dream content has been shown to be age and culturally determined, as well as heavily influenced by our particular and individual waking experiences and frames of reference, it does not follow that dream content is reflective of the level of development of the dreamer. It may be, but it may instead be a presentation of life contexts within the world view assumed by the dreamer. Another possibility is that dreams reflect the priorities of multiple perspectives. Another is that they are spontaneous crystallizations of interdependently co-originating factors of the moment, some personal, some collective and non-personal. Another is that we project our own level of development and our own world view onto the dream and then mistakenly assume that the dream itself is “about” that level and world view.

It is best to interpret from all levels, beginning with the lowest

The assumption Wilber makes here is that dreams are to be interpreted. Perhaps they are not. Perhaps it is best to listen to the interpretations of interviewed perspectives embedded in the dream themselves first, rather than offering our own interpretations. Perhaps our interpretations and those of others, including therapists, should come after listening to the interpretations of perspectives that are embedded in the dream.

When we listen to the perspectives of dream characters, they may speak from this or that level, but this is difficult to determine. Like a psychograph, they may reflect several levels of development, and determining the average level of each is both difficult and generally unnecessary. In my experience of some forty years listening to the perspectives of interviewed dream characters, the level that they represent is much less significant than the perspective they provide, regardless of level.

Dreams contain symbols

Words are symbols, but experiences and entities are generally not instrinsically symbols. Are you a symbol? Well, yes and no. You symbolize different things to different people, but you are not a symbol to yourself. Symbols and symbology are derivative, interpretive projections onto a person, experience, or object. Is a sunrise symbolic? We certainly can make symbolic associations of the sunrise to rebirth, awakening, and enlightenment, but these are our projections and not the way the “sun,” when interviewed, views itself. From the perspective of the interviewed sun, it may neither rise nor set and therefore it is a symbol of neither. Like ourselves, the interviewed sun is fundamentally its experience of itself, which is present, moment-to-moment, rather than symbolic.

Dreams contain experiences, objects, and entities. They do not contain symbols unless a character says it is symbolic or symbolizes this or that. In the interviewing format I use, interviewed characters are routinely asked what aspect of the dreamer they most closely personify or represent. However, they may not represent any aspect of the dreamer. Sometimes the opposite question is asked: What aspect of the interviewed character does the dreamer represent or personify? This is a difficult question for many people, because it requires them to abandon their habitual psychological geocentrism and view themselves as a “symbol” of a dream character. It is enough for our discussion here to emphasize that to view dream characters or actions as symbolic is a waking projection onto a dream and not an aspect of the inherent reality of the dream itself.

When a dream character is not viewed as a symbol it is granted a degree of autonomy similar to that we give ourselves. Dream characters are not assumed to be dependent self aspects nor or they assumed to be autonomous “others.” Instead, they are viewed as possessing an indefinite ontology and are allowed to define their own nature.

Correct interpretations “elicit a responsive recognition in the individual”

A responsive recognition in an individual can be triggered by any number of stimuli. One can certainly use dream interpretation for that purpose. However, a “responsive recognition” says a great deal more about the approach one is taking and the motivations behind it than it does about the nature of dreaming itself. We cannot say that a dream is properly or clearly understood because a responsive recognition has been elicited in the dreamer, but only that the dream has been used as a tool to elicit a responsive recognition.

Therapists are most qualified to interpret dreams

Therapists have the advantage of providing objectivity that the dreamer lacks. It is also presumed that the therapist works from a broader and deeper contextual framing than does the dreamer. This may or may not in fact be true. Therapists are not dreamers. They have not lived their lives, nor have they experienced their successes, failures, and traumas. Therefore, their interpretations are likely to be based on a combination of clinical experiences and personal world view and history. Therapists are likely to project clinical generalities about what they have learned about what this sort of symptom indicates or what that sort of dream symbol “means.” Therapists are most likely to shape the telling and working through of a dream based on their own assumptions and interpretations, which may or may not have anything to do with the dream itself.

It is a simple matter to find out. One only need to interview this or that dream character and ask it, “Character, what do you think of this therapist's interpretation of this dream?” Answers are often shocking and may discredit the interpretation of the therapist, which could explain why such an approach is not often implemented by therapists.

A further unspoken assumption would be that therapists would best be Integrally-trained

If dreams are assumed to deal with self-development and what can go wrong at this or that stage of self-development, those who are trained to differentiate out the different stages, understand the psychopathology of each, and know something about how dream symbols correlate with different stages are the most capable dream interpreters. However, if dreams are approached phenomenologically, they are not assumed to deal with self-development. Consequently, training regarding the various levels of development, what can go wrong at each, and how to interpret dreams as related to this or that level, becomes unnecessary.

There are significant and insignificant dream symbols

In addition to assuming that dreams are symbolic, a further assumption Wilber makes in the above approach is that some symbols are significant while some are not. Just who is to determine this, and on what basis? These are assumptions that may or may not be correct. Is a dream Madonna more significant than the cloud on which she is standing? Making such assumptions creates a structure into which only some aspects of the dream will fit, those which are deemed “significant.” Those perspectives that do not are lost or ignored, meaning we do not access perspectives that may radically change how the dream as a whole is framing experience.

Dream symbols are to be interpreted “according to the meanings they might have on those levels”

“Might” is the operative word here. Who is to say? Who knows? Wilber is admitting that the therapist is playing a guessing game, based on issues that might be related to this or that level and that might be relevant to someone's dream. The responses of interviewed dream characters may or may not relate to meanings we project onto different levels of development. Interviewed characters are more definite. Their perceptions are their own. It is not as if they might or might not have this or that perception.

A correct interpretation is indicated by a “resonance” with the client, “usually by being emotionally charged”

The problem with cathexis and decathexis is that feelings of relief and release do not reliably translate into lasting improvement in mental health or physical conditions. State access does not translate into stable stage access. Drugs, sex, vacations, and eating provide feelings of relief and release but do not translate into lasting improvement in life. Dreamwork for “decathexis” does not necessarily translate into a more constructive life framing or the reduction of symptoms.

A working through of the charge surrounding each symbol is dream therapy, following symbol interpretation at this or that level

Working through any charge associated with any dream image does not imply the dream has been clearly understood, respected, or listened to; it merely indicates that the dream has been used as a medium by which feelings could be accessed and released, or resolved.

Dream therapy involves the reinterpretation of a symbol in such a way that it is “decathected,” or relieved of its emotional charge for the dreamer, at any level at which there is an emotional resonance

The implication of Wilber's “spectrum” approach to dream interpretation is that dreams exist for waking identity and that self-development is the purpose of human evolution. Both of these assumptions are suspect, for similar reasons to why weather does not exist for plants and animals and evolution does not occur to fulfill the wants, needs, or priorities of any organism.

Relieving the emotional charge of a symbol means “we get its message.”

Relieving the emotional charge associated with a dream character that one assumes is a symbol means that the association has been used as a tool or vehicle for emotional catharsis. It does not indicate that the dream itself has been understood, only that the subject resonates with some projected interpretation.

Proper interpretations involve reinterpreting symbols according to their possible meanings for each level

Proper interpretations take into account the interpretations of perspectives that are embedded in the dream, because they are in a position to have a more relevant framing than those perspectives which are not enmeshed in the context of the dream. While the dreamer is definitely enmeshed in the context of the dream, he or she lacks the objectivity to see beyond his or her world view, expectations, assumptions, and preferences. Consulted embedded perspectives provide interpretations that may or may not have anything to do with each level. However, one could ask one or more interviewed perspective if it has a relationship with this or that developmental level, and if it does, how that relates to the dreamer's life issues.

The meanings for each level involve associations to major characteristics and issues of each level that are themselves associated by Integral AQAL with each level of the developmental spectrum

This approach assumes self-development, the priority of the dreamer and the therapist, is the priority for the dream itself. Many interviews with a wide variety of dream characters indicate that these perspectives have their own priorities that may have nothing to do with self-development. For instance, some may want to be left alone; others may want to supplant self-development with their own agenda. While you don't know until you ask, it is certainly presumptuous to assume that our concerns about self-development at this or that level are going to be the interest, concern, or priority of this or that interviewed dream character.

Wilber continues:

Obviously in practice every single dream symbol cannot be interpreted from every single level -it would take hours or even days to do so. Rather, working from a general knowledge of the individual's overall self-structure and level of overall development, the therapist selects a few key symbols for each of say, three or four most-suspected levels, and focuses on those. The more highly developed a person is, the higher the level of interpretation that is most likely to strike a responsive chord, although even the most highly developed individuals are by no means immune from lower level messages (and frequently just the contrary—the lower levels are sometimes ones that they have tended to ignore in their otherwise admirable ascent, a deficiency that their dreams will not let them forget!)

The only way to indicate the apparent richness of this approach would be to present several cases with parallel interpretations across the various levels. Since that is beyond the scope of this short section, the following simple example may suffice to indicate the general thrust of this spectrum approach. A middle-aged woman presents a dream which contains a highly-charged scenario composed of these central images: she is in a cave (associations: “hell,” “death”); there is a silver-luminous pole leading from the cave to the sky (“heaven,” “home”); she meets her son in the cave and together they climb the pole (“release,” “safety,” “eternity”).

What, for example, does the pole represent? From an F-1/F-2 level, it might represent a denial of the “all bad” mother and a fusion or “umbilicus” to the symbiotic safety of the “all good” mother (splitting). From an F-3 level it might represent phallic/incestuous wishes. From an F-4 level, it might symbolize the means of more closely communicating with her son. From F-6, an escape or avoidance of existential death. And from F-7 the silver-lined kundalini sushumna (which is said to be the central channel in the spine leading from the first chakra of the physical-hell realms to the seventh chakra of liberation and release in the transcendental Self).
My point is that the pole might have simultaneously represented all of those. The dream symbol, being plastic, is apparently invaded and informed by any pressing issue or level of insistent pathology. Thus the way one might best work with dreams is to start at the bottom and work up, resonating with the dream at each significant level. (We start at the bottom to make sure we don't take an unrealistic or “elevationist” stance, overlooking the unpleasant lower-level messages that might be involved; we don't stop with the lower levels, however, because we also want to avoid the “reductionist” stance, which violates the existential and spiritual dimensions of the human condition.)[23]

Here is a list of assumptions Wilber makes in the above paragraph:

  • The therapist provides the perspective which is most qualified or competent to choose what to interview;
  • More highly developed individuals require interpretations that address higher levels of self-development;
  • Dreams can provide lower-level messages regarding issues with lower levels that have been ignored in self-development;
  • Dreamer associations reveal what dream images symbolize for the dreamer;
  • What the dreamer associates with a dream image may not be what the therapist associates with the image, since he or she is familiar with meanings related to the various levels of development;
  • The therapist's associations to meanings associated with different developmental levels provide the most salient interpretations of dream symbols;
  • Dream symbols may represent more than one level at once, but it is not assumed that they may not be symbols or that they may not be associated with any level at all;
  • Interpretation from the lower levels avoids elevationism while interpretation of the higher levels avoids reductionism.

Here are comments regarding each of the above assumptions:

The therapist provides the perspective which is most qualified or competent to choose what to interview

As noted above, subjectively embedded perspectives provide sources of objectivity that know the dreamer at least as well as the dreamer knows himself, a claim no therapist can make. Interviewed dream elements are therefore more informed sources of dream interpretation.

More highly developed individuals require interpretations that address higher levels of self-development

More highly developed individuals require interpretations that address their particular life issues, which may address early, mid, or late developmental issues, or involve the recognition of emerging potentials that are not associated with any level. In my experience, the perspectives provided by interviewed dream characters are eerily appropriate for the subject, regardless of their level of development. Therefore, one does not have to be concerned about offering interpretations that match the subject's level of development.

Dreams can provide lower-level messages regarding issues with lower levels that have been ignored in self-development

This is the principle of dreams disclosing “shadow,” or the repressed or denied of some developmental level. But dreams do not have as a motivation or priority undoing our repressions or denials. A more broad-based and realistic assumption is that dreams provide wake-up calls to acknowledge previously unrecognized emerging potentials. Our psychologically geocentric interpretations, focused on our self-development, keep us from recognizing this reality. For example, in PTSD nightmares dreamers are so focused on their own experience that they are oblivious to alternative framings provided by other embedded perspectives.

Dreamer associations reveal what dream images symbolize for the dreamer

Dreamer associations reveal and clarify the meanings the dreamer is projecting onto the dream. These projections, if unrecognized and set aside, largely block hearing and internalizing the meanings that are embedded in the perspectives of other characters and objects in the dream.

What the dreamer associates with a dream image may not be what the therapist associates with the image, since he or she is familiar with meanings related to the various levels of development

Both the dreamer and the therapist are projecting meanings based on their own frames of reference. Neither the dreamer or the therapist is likely to offer interpretations that are validated by interviewed characters until and unless they are interviewed. It is not that character perspectives are more accurate than the interpretations of therapists or the dreamer; they may or may not be. This is because there is no standard by which accuracy can be determined, since the dreamer is only one subholon of the dream holon and therefore in no position to say what is the “accurate” or “true meaning” of a dream. The value of the perspectives of interviewed characters and dream objects is not based on their validity, but on their authenticity and usefulness, both criteria that the dreamer can assess.

The therapist's associations to meanings associated with different developmental levels provide the most salient interpretations of dream symbols

The most salient interpretations are provided by subjective sources of objectivity - interviewed dream characters and objects. The interpretations of the dreamer and therapist are supplementary to that. Together, these three different broad perspectives are more likely to arrive at reframings that are not only meaningful but useful for the dreamer.

Dream symbols may represent more than one level at once

Wilber does not consider that dream images may not be symbols or that they may not be associated with any level at all.

Interpretation from the lower levels avoids elevationism while interpretation of the higher levels avoids reductionism

Interpretation by dream characters and objects avoids both elevationism and reductionism because waking identities are not providing the interpretations. Can the perspectives of interviewed characters be elevationistic or reductionistic? Yes, they can, but then again, what is the frame of reference? Who decides? I would recommend focusing on the pragmatic value of what is offered rather than using a yardstick that is based on self-development, a hierarchy with which interviewed perspectives may have no relationship.

Dreamwork as integrating “shadow”

In other writings Wilber sometimes follows Freud, Jung, and Perls, as he does when he views dream imagery as self-aspects in Integral Life Practice. His goal is the same as with traditional psychology, the integration of “shadow” or “parts” or “sub-personalities” into a broader, deeper, more integrated self, as a form of healing within the larger project of self-development. Wilber states that “This engenders a shift in awareness, emotion, and subtle energy that frees up the energy and attention that was taken up by your denial.”[24] This is a classical, mainstream approach to dream therapy as role play to incorporate non-integrated aspects of self into your greater identity.

Wilber applies his 3-2-1 shadow work, outlined in Integral Life Practice, to dream content.[25] Its three steps are to “face it,” “talk to it,” and “be it.” For example, a dream monster may be viewed as a threatening, unincorporated self-aspect, as it is for Jung or Perls. Facing the monster refers to a process of describing or journaling about one's experience of it. Talking to the monster involves entering into a simulated dialogue with the monster, asking it a variety of questions that are designed to evoke the meaning of its presence in the dream. “Being it” involves fully reowning one's shadow by making “I statements” regarding who and what you are as the monster.

Again, let's list some of the underlying assumptions of the 3-2-1 Shadow Work approach:

  • A goal of working with dreams is to integrate “shadow” into self;
  • “Shadow” is broken off or dissociated and needs to be re-integrated and re-incorporated into the self;
  • Dream characters are “parts” or “sub-personalities”;
  • These “parts” are “shadow,” either of one's current, or some lower level of development;
  • “Shadow” is broken off or dissociated and needs to be re-integrated and re-incorporated into the self;
  • One cause of shadow is denial;
  • The object is to free up energy and attention;
  • Role play incorporates non-integrated self-aspects into identity;
  • It does so through a three-step process of “face it,” “talk to it,” and “be it”;
  • “Talking to it” is relatively unstructured.
“Shadow” is broken off or dissociated and needs to be re-integrated and re-incorporated into the self

The underlying assumption of this approach is not that dream images are symbol (they may or not be), but that they are “shadow.” Are they?[26]with personifications of divinity, are tabled Are dream images unincorporated aspects of the self? The assumption of “shadow” makes dream images secondary to psychological geocentrism. Like moons orbiting around a planet, their existence is secondary to, and dependent upon, the meaning and reality that waking identity gives them. But dreams exist prior to and independently of waking awareness, strongly implying that they have a prior claim to relatively independent and autonomous existence from the interests, priorities, and control of waking identity. This in turn implies that while dreaming, our sense of who we are is dependent upon them, and the self is more realistically conceived as a “shadow” of the dream state, rather than the other way around. However, we are so addicted to psychological geocentrism that this is a difficult concept for many people to grasp, much less accept.

Broken off or dissociated “parts” are to subsumed within a broader, deeper, more inclusive sense of self, as if self-development were an end in itself, or as if overall development did not exist as a process with a different set of priorities. When self-integration occurs at the expense of the priorities of emerging potentials, as represented by dream characters and objects, overall development can be sacrificed and prevented for the sake of self-development.

Dream characters are “parts” or “sub-personalities”

This very common assumption is a waking projection. How do we know that it is true? How can we know if we do not consult characters themselves and discover how they view themselves? If we do not, is this not an unverified assumption that waking identity knows best? Is that not grandiose, displaying both a lack of respect and empathy? What we generally discover is that yes, dream characters do typically personify some aspect or part of the dreamer. However, we also discover that dream characters typically display autonomy and a degree of creativity of perspective that transcends and includes the dreamer. While dreams are involutionary, the perspectives of interviewed dream elements are often evolutionary, reflecting emerging potentials that are not realistically consigned to personal or collective unconscious, subconscious, or some completely interior and subjective state.

These “parts” are “shadow,” either of one's current, or some lower level of development

Like calling dream characters and objects “symbols,” assuming they are “shadow” indicates they are derivative of that which they are a shadow of—the self. This is a psychologically geocentric assumption, in that it assumes the reality of dreaming and dream characters revolves around the self and its priorities. It never considers that such perspectives might have priorities of their own that are not centered on the self and its interests, or have priorities that transcend those of the self.

“Shadow” is broken off or dissociated and needs to be re-integrated and re-incorporated into the self

By definition, this is true. Like a conspiracy theory or manufactured collective narrative, once the underlying premise and assumptions are accepted, delusion and distortion can follow logically. The concept of “shadow,” while having utility in re-integrating conflictual feelings and thoughts, is a premise that may or may not apply to individual, specific dream characters. Interviewed characters themselves rarely define themselves as “shadow.” If that is the case, why should we?

One cause of shadow is denial

Denial is a Freudian, psychodynamically-based defense mechanism, and it implies that dream images (as well as every other source of internal conflict) are fundamentally expressions of unincorporated “parts” of oneself. Denial frames dream content as oppositional when it may simply be unknown. To begin with the assumption of opposition and conflict is to generate a combative frame where one may not exist. This is why it is wise to suspend such assumptions, respectfully listen to the perspective of this or that dream character, and then make a determination as to whether it is a manifestation of denial or not.

The object is to free up energy and attention

We can approach dreaming and dreamwork with any number of objectives. If we assume dream elements are “shadow” then we may assume dreamwork is for the purpose of freeing up energy and attention. However, how do we know those are the objectives of other dream perspectives? We do not, unless we ask them. And, if we persist with our own agenda, to free up energy and attention, we risk missing what is attempting to be born within us.

Role play incorporates non-integrated self-aspects into identity

Beginning with J.L. Moreno and elaborated by Perls and his Gestalt therapy, role play has the function of incorporating non-integrated self-aspects into identity. While both roles and interviewing characters involve identification, the function of the identification in each case is different. These are further examples of projected psychologically geocentric assumptions that may have nothing at all to do with the world views of the perspectives themselves. Dream images are not inherently or intrinsically “roles.” We can treat them as roles, but to do so makes them personas or masks that waking identity takes on. That framing is psychologically geocentric; the self is the center and those images that we identify with are “roles” that the self takes on. Do dream perspectives consider themselves roles? If you ask them, you will find that at least some of them do not, and that difference is reflected by the relative independence and autonomy of their thoughts, feelings, world views, and perspectives. We “act out” roles; we become interviewed characters. Roles are assimilated into us while we are assimilated into the identities and perspectives of interviewed dream characters. While identification is often explained as incorporating elements from the personal or collective unconscious or superconscious, this is not how these interviewed characters describe themselves or their existence. How we frame our experience, what assumptions we make regarding our practice, frames what we will see, what we will discover, and whether transformation occurs or not.

It does so through a three-step process of “face it,” “talk to it,” and “be it”

These three steps can be equated with the movement toward identification that Wilber mentions in The Religion of Tomorrow: communion, unity, and identity. They are useful and practical, and are much more so if the baggage of assumptions, such as “shadow” and “self-aspects,” or, in Tibetan Deity Yoga, that enlightenment can only come from identification with personifications of divinity, are tabled.[27] Wilber's methodology here is sound, but it is limited by the preconceptions in which it is framed. It becomes much more useful when those underlying assumptions are unearthed, evaluated, and tabled, if they are not essential to the process.

“Talking to it” is relatively unstructured.

The problem with relatively unstructured “talking” to this or that role with which you identify is that it includes statements that may not elicit responses, while random questions do not bring focus to the questioning process. Every statement and question carries underlying assumptions; a structured questioning protocol allows the underlying assumptions behind and beneath every question to be answered. It also provides a much more thorough and directed approach to interviewing, which is therefore more likely to generate useful information that can not only reframe important life issues but provide recommendations to both improve life and test the methodology. This is why IDL uses structured protocols for interviewing both dream characters and the personifications of life issues.[28]


All of Wilber's underlying assumptions regarding dreams and dreaming assume that the self (whether of the dreamer, the therapist, or both) provides the proper perspectives to interpret dreams. They further assume the proper relationship of self to dream is as witness of dreaming. These assumptions reinforce psychological geo- and heliocentrism. This is a consequence of viewing dream content from the perspective of the dreamer, self, or Self, as if that is the perspective that is most important, or the only one that needs to be consulted or considered. Wilber's discussion of dreams and dreaming occurs within the context of self-development, not in the context of overall development or that of intrasocial multi-perspectivalism, which Dream Sociometry explicates.[29]

Any approach to dreamwork that is centered on self-development is going to be intrinsically psychologically geocentric and at best, psychologically heliocentric, with the latter indicating a grandiose inflation of normal self-centered frames of reference. Because we humans are intrinsically self-centered, focused on our own development and maintenance of our own control, conceiving of an approach that is not centered on these assumptions is difficult. Non-self-centered approaches easily appear to be meaningless because they do not orbit around our priorities for growth and development, nor do they make God, deity, or some metaphysical, a priori principle central to dreaming. Approaches that do not center on maintaining or increasing our sense of self-control are threatening.

The best humans have been able to do to date regarding dreaming is to either substitute an inflated, psychologically heliocentric “Atman is Brahman” or anatma, on the one hand, or to give up the attempt and simply focus on the acquisition of a posteriori knowledge, on the other.[30] Neither of these approaches integrate the waking and dream states. Interviewed perspectives ado not differentiate states. The implication is that while dreaming, the characters in dreams are not, from their perspective, either dreaming or in a dream. Their reality is state independent, partially taking on the state we are in while we are interviewing them. We take on the absence of our state to the extent that we identify with them.

An experientially-based multi-perspectivalism does not reference any particular self as the locus of experience; its goal is not to develop the self-system line or to have some self climb some developmental ladder, regardless of how that ladder might be color-coded. Nor is overall development, as differentiated from self-development and psychologically geo/heliocentrism, to be misunderstood as an emphasis on collective communion at this or that level of self-development rather than an emphasis on agency. Overall development emphasizes the perspective of a superordinate holon which contains all levels of self-development of all “real” and “imaginary” possible individual holons capable of being identified with, regardless of state—waking, dreaming, deep sleep, witnessing (turiya), or witnessing the witness (turiyatita). It contains all levels of self-development, whether emphasizing agency or communion.

We all make assumptions; in fact, assumptions are not optional. They are guiding premises, working hypotheses, or function as rules that direct not only our behavior, but how we think and what we feel. Assumptions underlie and validate our world views. Therefore, assumptions are extremely powerful, shaping the course of our lives. We can see from an analysis of Wilber's assumptions regarding dreamwork how unquestioned assumptions direct and limit what we see and hear from a dream, with the result that we often will find what we either expect or fear, rather than the assumptions behind whatever dream character, object, or experience is presenting itself. Our assumptions make dreamwork about us and our priorities rather than about the dream and what it is apart from our interests and priorities.

To the extent that life can be viewed as a waking dream, the same conclusion holds true for life in general. If we are unaware of the assumptions we project onto our life issues we will lack the objectivity and clarity to see them for what they are. This is why Integral Deep Listening (IDL) takes a phenomenalistic approach both to dreamwork and to life: the more of our assumptions that we can recognize and suspend, the more likely we are to reduce our filtering, get out of the way, and hear what is present rather than to simply have reflected back to us our own hopes and fears. The result is that we remain stuck in a subjective Matrix due to our own unquestioning allegiance to our unrecognized assumptions.[31] Here are some assumptions about assumptions:

  • Unquestioned assumptions direct and control our lives and our destinies out of our awareness;
  • In order to not be taken in directions that impede our self-development or that keep us out of alignment from the priorities of our life compass, we need to recognize our assumptions and evaluate their purpose and usefulness;
  • Perceiving in less limited or filtered ways makes it more likely we will hear and see what is there instead of what is predicted or required by our assumptions;
  • We can “drop,” “suspend,” or temporarily “table” our assumptions once we are aware of them;
  • Tabling allows us to perceive in ways that are not limited or filtered by our assumptions;
  • The suspension of our assumptions is a core aspect of a phenomenalistic approach;
  • Phenomenalistic approaches are one type of UL approach to dreams, (with other approaches native to each of the four quadrants, such as interpretation (LL), interactional (LR), and behavioral (UR).

As long as we are willing to suspend our assumptions and world view while interviewing dream characters, we can continue to believe anything we wish. We do not have to doubt or reject these assumptions in order to test their accuracy against the perspectival framings of interviewed dream characters. but merely suspend them in order to follow this interviewing methodology, IDL.[32] IDL is non-doctrinaire, neither idealistic or materialistic, spiritual or secular, but instead a methodology that anyone can use to support their own development and to allow their own world view to evolve organically, based on authentic emerging potentials, rather than personal scripting or collective groupthink.

We now know what happens when humans emphasize excellence over balance: we focus on our strong lines, ignore our weak ones, and the imbalances create eventual collapse of one sort or another. But beyond and beneath uneven line development is uneven state development. The next step in human evolution is to go “back” and integrate the dream state. Unless and until the waking self-line (which includes our sense of self in dreams, lucid dreams, and deep sleep) is integrated with the dream state, which is centered at an early to mid-prepersonal level of development, overall development, from a species evolutionary perspective, is going to remain at that level.


[1] “The conventional medical model for the sleep stages has found, within each cycle of sleep a progressive deepening of the sleep experience. This is evidenced in all the various sources of data that researchers have developed and includes brain activity, subjective experience, and physiological data. It is interesting to note that the physiological changes of deep sleep are associated with several fundamental aspects of development such as organ growth, muscle development, accelerated body growth, hormonal secretion, blood cells and body tissues rebuilding and repair (especially the skin) and the restoration of physical energy levels. All these changes are obviously also associated with early childhood development. All this supports my contention that sleep is an involutionary process that aids and rejuvenates the very fundamental stages of development. The famous graph of the average nocturnal sleep cycle also supports my involutionary view of sleep. I refer back to Figure 9 which presents this classic depiction of the sleep cycle pattern as an involutionary process. The sleep cycle pattern is precisely the pattern that would be expected of an involutionary process. Interestingly, this cycle also closely resembles that of the recovery of an individual from a involutionary/regressive mental health disorder (very often during adolescence or early adulthood). The sharp dive into very fundamental stages of identity followed by cycles of gradual recovery into more adaptive stages with relapses into further involutionary/regressive episodes all suggest this involutionary pattern. The findings and explanatory framework of the medical model is also confirmed by evolutionary psychology and comparative psychology.�

Apart from the basic physiological benefits that flow from the sleep stages there are also many cognitive benefits. It is very well documented that dream sleep is an essential requirement for basic mental health. The sleep deprivation experiments of the 1970's found that extreme psychological distress is caused by the deprivation of REM state of dreaming sleep. Prisoners are routinely tortured by such techniques and during the Stalinist period, particularly after World War 2, many prisoners were driven to suicide and psychosis through the impact, at least in part, of sleep deprivation. Animals also respond to sleep deprivation in the same way. There is very strong evidence that sleep in general, and dreaming sleep in particular, are essential factors in the sustenance of our rational-egoic sense of identity, our emotional-affect sense of balance and control and our somatic and physiological health. All these are involutionary aspects of health. The integrative dynamic inherent in the transcend-and-include configuration of developmental stages means that involutionary process such as dreaming and sleeping are essential for maintaining a stable and healthy sense of personal identity.

The brain structures associated with sleep in an organic sense lie deep within the structure of the organ. The brainstem, the portion of the brain just above the spinal cord, is critical in REM sleep control, while the forebrain, which lies just in front of the brainstem, is particularly important in NREM sleep control. The neurons most critical to NREM sleep control are in the basal forebrain, the region of the brain lying in front of the hypothalamus. The anatomy of brain structures involved in instigating and controlling the sleep process also suggests that relatively primitive functions are being carried out in the sleeping states. The activation-synthesis theory of sleep is, in many ways, the behaviourist approach to understanding dreams. This model is based on explaining dreams via the activation of the reticular formation/brainstem and the input from the cortex in "interpreting" and synthesising that neural activation through dreams. This theory believes dreaming functions as a cleansing process for the immense input and stimulation that the brain receives during the day. In this rather unimaginative approach dreams are considered to be, what Phillips Adams rather disdainfully calls, the "bowel actions of the mind". Edwards, M..

[2] See Lakoff, G., How Metaphor Structures Dreams: The Theory of Conceptual Metaphor Applied to Dream Analysis. Dreaming, Volume 3, Number 2, June 1993, p. 77.

[3] “The continuity between dream content and waking life is one of the most striking findings from the most comprehensive content studies of dreams done by Calvin S. Hall, and G. William Domhoff. For example, people dream most often about the individuals and interests that preoccupy them in waking life. (As Domhoff says, "The results are so consistent for these kinds of continuities that Hall adopted the term "continuity hypothesis" to contrast his findings with Jung's "compensation hypothesis.") Archetypes and mythologies play very little part in the need to interpret these dreams. They are often repetitive and concerned solely with the working out of the emotional load of the day. Domhoff says that there is "considerable evidence that adults ... are consistent in what they dream about over months, years, or decades." The Jungian focus on transpersonal interpretations does not seem to be supported by such very stable and largely mundane content that dreams almost always contain.” Edwards, M.,

[4] Wilber, K., et. al., Integral Life Practice. Boston: Integral Books, 2008 p. 307.

[5] Wilber, K. Wake up, Grow up—Enlightenment in the 21st Century.

[6] Or is it turtles all the way up and all the way down?

[7] Here is a link to the dream character interviewing format used by Integral Deep Listening.

[8] Dillard, J. Escaping the Drama Triangle in the Three Realms: Relationships, Thinking, Dreaming. Berlin: Deep listening Press, 2016.

[9] Wilber, K., et. al., Integral Life Practice. Boston: Integral Books, 2008 p. 130.


[11] Ken Wilber (2014). “The Fourth Turning: Imagining the Evolution of an Integral Buddhism”, p.41, Shambhala Publications

[12] Edwards believes Wilber “elevates pre-personal aspects of being and knowing to transpersonal aspects of being and knowing.” I do too, specifically, in the context of this essay, regarding the dream state. He adds, “Ken believes that the dreaming and deep sleep states are providing access to and intimately connected with the trans-rational spiritual states. He believes this to be the case for the ordinary person as well the spiritual sage. He believes this is the case for adult, infants and neonates. He believes that a baby, child, adolescent or adult who is dreaming or in deep sleep is accessing the spiritual realms of savikalpa samadhi or nirvana/nirvikalpa samadhi. This is clearly a PTF-2 (elevationistic pre/trans fallacy) of major proportions.” Edwards, M., "An Alternative View on States", Part One. IntegralWorld.Net

[13] Wilber, K., et. al., Integral Life Practice. Boston: Integral Books, 2008 p. 103.

[14] Ken Wilber (2007). “Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World”, p.16, Shambhala Publications

[15] Ken Wilber (2000). “One Taste”, p.295, Shambhala Publications

[16] Wilber, The Religion of Tomorrow, Boston: Shambhala, 2017, p. 138-9.

[17] Edwards, M., "An Alternative View on States", Part One. IntegralWorld.Net

[18] “My view on lucid dreaming as a transpersonal practice is, therefore, rather different to ken's. For me lucid dreaming is primarily an integrative healing practice rather than a transformative one. Many studies on lucid dreaming say that the skill can be acquired after "a one-hour individual session, which consisted of lucid dreaming exercises". This suggest to me that whatever the individuals were experiencing in their dreams it wasn't a transpersonal one. The contemplative disciplines are notoriously arduous and prolonged paths of transformation and a one-hour training session won't do the trick usually. Report of spontaneous lucidity in dreams are also very common. Survey studies have shown that the majority of college students report having experienced at least one lucid dream and that about 20 percent report lucid dreams once a month or more (Snyder & Gackenbach, 1988). In the same way that pointing out exercises can give a rational sense of the Witnessing state, lucid dreaming might give a flavour of the transitory nature of the rational egoic self. But this is hardly a transpersonal state or state of any variety. So, I am yet to be convinced that lucid dreaming by itself will promote transformation to the transpersonal.” Edwards, M., An Alternative View on States. IntegralWorld.Net

[19] Wilber, The Religion of Tomorrow, Boston: Shambala, 2017, pp. 141-2.

[20] Wilber, The Religion of Tomorrow, Boston: Shambala, 2017, p. 137.

[21] Back in 2003, it was confusing to Mark Edwards too, when he wrote “An Alternative View on States” on IntegralWorld.Net. He noted that Wilber proposed contradictory positions regarding dreaming: “All individuals have access to the three great realms/states of gross, subtle, and causal, simply because everybody wakes, dreams, and sleeps. Thus, even an infant has access to these three great realms (Wilber, (2003) Waves, Streams, States, and Self--A Summary of My Psychological Model, p. 277).” Yet Wilber also writes that “The early infantile fusion is not trans-personal, it is pre-personal; not trans-rational, but pre-rational; not supramental, but inframental. (Wilber, (1999) The collected works of Ken Wilber: Volume one. Boston: Shambhala, p. 6.) Edwards believes that “The current integral theory model of states is committing a category error, the Pre-trans Fallacy #2 to be precise (elevationism), when it proposes that individuals access transpersonal states and/or realms when they enter into the natural states of dream sleep and deep sleep.”

[22] Wilber, K., Treatment Modalities. In Transformations of Consciousness: Conventional and Contemplative Perspectives on Development (co-authors: Jack Engler, Daniel Brown), 1986

[23] Wilber, K. Healing Modalities. In Transformations of Consciousness. Collected Works, Vol. 4, pp- 154-5.

[24] Wilber, K., et. al., Integral Life Practice. Boston: Integral Books, 2008 pp. 50-1.

[25] Wilber, K., et. al., Integral Life Practice. Boston: Integral Books, 2008.

[26] For more on shadow and its relationship to integral see Dillard, J., The Shadow, Carl Jung, and Integral Deep Listening, August 2017 and Problematic Aspects of Wilber's 3-2-1 Shadow Work, September 2017

[27] For an assessment of the relationship of Tibetan Deity Yoga and Integral Deep Listening, see Dillard, J. Tibetan Dream Yoga.

[28] For the IDL life issue interviewing protocol, see

[29] Dillard, J. Dream Sociometry. London: Routledge, 2018.

[30] How is anatma psychologically heliocentric? Who is the experiencer of “no-self?” An unconditioned, formless non-self is still an opposition to a self. Even if we apply Nagarjuna's tetralemma, leaving us with no identity in which to center ourselves, there remains an identification with being and non-being, with nirvana as samsara. This is not the same as multiple non-local identifications, none of which have priority, but all of which are the priority during identification.

[31] This is a partial explanation why IDL interviews the personifications of life issues. From the perspectives of interviewed characters, there is no difference between dream and waking experience. One is not more delusional than the other.

[32] IntegralDeepListening.Com; DreamYoga.Com

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