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The Resonance of Integral Dialogue


The Resonance of Integral Dialogue


Dan Wheeler

May 2006



The answers we need lie in our own wholeness, and in our interconnections with each other and the world.  Maybe if we were to take our wholeness and interconnectedness seriously, engaging our full selves, together with each other and the world around us, we would discover wiser, greater truths and saner, more joyous ways of living.  And we could co-create a better future together.


                                                                                      Tom Atlee, The Tao of Democracy




     I would like to welcome you—the reader, into this conversation about wholeness through the unfolding awareness of mutual relationships.  The point of entry for this conversation is integral dialogue, a practice of inquiry revealing connections and flows of meaning within and between self, culture and the world.  This article welcomes you into the dialogue between three friends—Will, Maya and Oak. 


Will—Hey Maya, hi Oak, thanks for meeting with me.  I’ve been in the cave working on these ideas and I could use some sunshine and fresh air. 

Maya—Yeah, I know what you mean; it feels good to get out and soak up the world.

Oak—Welcome to my world—soaking is my specialty.  So Will, I hear bits and pieces of your inquiry.  Could you give us a picture of the vision you’re working with?

Will—I sure could!  How much time do you have?

Oak—I’ve got all the time in the world.

Maya—Yeah, just go for it and we’ll chime in.

Will—O.K. here goes…

     As you both know I’ve been working on these ideas of realizing greater wholeness through integral dialogue.  It’s an extension of the practice of dialogue beyond the typical human to human realm.  It invites two more perspectives into the relational dynamic.  The three realms include the intrapersonal (dialogue with self), interpersonal (dialogue with others) and ecopersonal (dialogue with nature).  The purpose of this exploration is to support greater health and wholeness through more conscious relationships with ourselves, each other and the world. 

Maya—Will, you like to go for the big picture don’t you?

Will—I guess so.  The funny thing is that I’m really just trying to figure myself out—trying to make sense of this adventure of life on Earth.  That’s how I stumbled onto the idea of intrapersonal dialogue.  I noticed I was having these conversations going on in my mind nearly all the time.  When I was a kid I thought it was just me, since I didn’t hear anybody else talking about the “voices in their head”. 

     In trying to make some sense of the complexity of life and consciousness, I’ve been reflecting and studying all kinds of ideas and theories about communication and wholeness.  A few of these include systems theory, integral theory, cultural studies, transpersonal psychology, ecopsychology, leadership development, intersections between spiritual traditions and science and on and on.  Now some things are starting to make some sense and more questions are coming up too.

Maya—What’s making sense for you Will?

Will—I’ve started—just barely—to grasp the human condition.  I’ve started to see how all the spiritual traditions and academic disciplines could fit together and learn from each other—and how they haven’t come together very well so far.  I’ve begun to notice my own psychological and spiritual process and where it fits in with the bio/social/cultural evolution.

Oak—It sounds like this has been a deep discovery process for you Will. 

Will—Yes, it really has.  Basically I started noticing these primary relationships.  Places where I was in deep communication or relationship.  These relationships kept showing up in the same ways.  One was with my self, and then there were the relationships with someone else or a group and also these deep connections with nature, or the external world.  There was something quite distinct about each one of these relationships and something very interconnected between them as well.

     Going back to those conversations in my head, I noticed that every once in a while when I was meditating or in some kind of flow state while climbing or cycling—in a place of deep listening, that I would sense the chatter in my mind begin to quiet.  The voices—of judgment, ego, confidence, frustration and more—would all seem to loosen and somehow suspend themselves.  Then it would just be still...  This stillness might last only for an instant, but I knew something different was going on.  In this stillness, where I was truly listening, I felt this incredible openness and I guess I would call it peace.  It was like everything had stopped, even though everything was still moving.  It’s kind of hard to explain, but it was a feeling of deep openness to everything that was arising…

This was a feeling of relationship with something beyond the “me” I usually knew.

Oak—It sounds like you’re talking about an awareness of connection to your Higher or True Self or to Spirit?

Will—Yes,  It’s kind of strange though because I have these moments once in a while of deep connection and then the feeling leaves as quickly as it came, and it can be pretty confusing afterward.  It rocks my world in an amazing way—that sense of relationship with the world and of myself in the world that is truly connected and then I feel dropped back into my old perception of self. 

Oak—I understand.

Maya—Will, I’ve had a similar experience to what you’re describing!  I was having this really hard morning a couple of weeks ago.  The relationship with this client was not going well and I took a walk in Washington Park during lunch to get out of the clinic.  I was just walking slowly along this path in the trees with my head down, wondering what my life is about and I turned toward the sun.  And suddenly I felt lifted...

     I felt this love from somewhere—or everywhere—and cried.  It seemed to come out of nowhere.  It wasn’t a sad feeling that made me cry, it was a release and an awareness.  It was me, recognizing the beauty of my own heart bursting open.  It was like I had just woken up from a loneliness and realized I was really alive and living a life with purpose and meaning—a life that was connected to a larger pulse.  Though it seems distant now, I can still feel it when I talk about it—the love…

Will—That’s it Maya—Yes, that’s it…

Oak—I know this feeling of Aliveness too and I’m curious how dialogue connects to these experiences for you Will.

Will—Yes, back to the inquiry.  Around the same time of these little “openings”, I had a couple of powerful experiences in group dialogue where I felt the same thing.  In these groups—one was a dialogue on organizational effectiveness and the other was an ecological audit for the University.  Both times there was this deep resonance I felt in my gut and heart during the dialogue.  It was like the kind of connection we just described feeling in ourselves, was present in the dialogue with others. 

     An interesting thing is that in both settings, just before I felt that sense of resonance in my self with the others, there was a moment of deep listening to someone who was speaking from the heart.  There was also a pause in the conversation right after the person spoke.  It was a pause filled with meaning and there was a Presence in the silence.  It was like an energy had moved into the room, into the silence and into me. 

     As one of the co-facilitators during the eco-audit dialogue I was trying to tap into and support this energy—trying to learn with it.  After the person shared their deep thoughts and feelings and others carried the energy even further, I thought to myself, “That was it!”  With that communication from the heart, a voice of truth was supporting the connection to the whole.  That was the connection we needed to bring members of the University together to foster more sustainable energy practices.  And this was part of a much bigger picture too.  It was the generative creation of new possibilities through clear, open and courageous communication with oneself and with others.

Maya—So you were feeling the same Presence in the group dialogue that you had felt in those moments in your own meditation or in moments of flow?  Is that right Will?

Will—Yes, completely.  And this is another thing—this was the same feeling of resonance that I would get sometimes guiding people in the wilderness.  But there it was also about the place—the connection with nature itself—with the world.  Sometimes I would be walking in the mountains and be startled by the beauty of the play of light on the rocks or see an animal—a hawk floating on the air currents twenty feet away, while I stood in awe—each of us looking into each others eyes…And that same sense of spaciousness, reverence, joy and love would flood over me and again there was the quality of stillness—like life was suspended and I could taste it, smell it and feel it.

Oak—Those were some of the most important moments in your life, weren’t they Will?

Will—Yes Oak.  In those moments, time seemed to stand still and a much larger perception of awareness arose.  And as I reflected on these moments of connection that I felt in my mind and body and in my heart, I started listening to the thread within and between them.  I felt that a connection between them was this process of dialogue—this creation of a flow of meaning through relationship.   I began to see that these experiences connected with my whole life and everything I had been studying.

Maya—How so?

Will—Part of it started with my immersion into integral philosophy.

The essence of integral theory is the movement toward wholeness through differentiation and integration—a process of inclusion, enfoldment and enactment.  Through experiencing the various perspectives of the quadrants—a part of integral theory, more of the world opened up to my awareness.   The quadrants include the intentional, behavioral, social and cultural dimensions of human beings (or any other being).  These perspectives are composed of the subjective “I” (first person perspective), intersubjective “we” (second person perspective) and objective/interobjective “it” and “it’s” (the third person perspective).  Ken Wilber describes how these views or perspectives represent the three primary value spheres of art, morals and science also described as self, culture and nature (the I, we, and It/Its). 

     As I contemplated the intricacies of integral theory and it’s usefulness as a social theory, I kept returning to an interest in bridging communication between groups or perspectives that tended to view the world from only one perspective—namely their own.  As Wilber describes in Integral Psychology (2000), the modern Western world went through a disassociation or fragmentation of the three value spheres.  And science—the objective worldview—gained a prominent role in how the world was viewed for the last few hundred years.  This was the view supported by the scientific revolution. 

Maya—So did the scientific worldview push aside the values of art and morality, or as you more often describe them, the perspectives of the self and culture?

Will—Not entirely, as there has always been expression of all of them in some way.  The dilemma is that in recent times there has been this tendency to look externally for “truth”, but as I have come to see it, any truth or wholeness is realized when one is willing to recognize all the known views of being in the world—and to even be open to views that we can’t see, because we haven’t allowed a opening for them—yet. 

Oak—This modern western worldview notably differs from an indigenous worldview doesn’t it?  Many of the indigenous cultures were based on community with nature rather than western cultures that tended to objectify the natural world.  From what I’ve seen, many indigenous groups used “talking circles” that look very much like the western concept of dialogue to work through differences and to come to decisions. 

Will—You’re so right Oak.  I’ve talked with people who work with Native American groups that describe the ancient history of the council process which welcomes diverse views into the group.  Many Native Americans were known to hold an awareness that every one and every thing is valued and that there is a greater intelligence at work than can be perceive through the five senses.  Indigenous cultures have often had a deep reverence for the Earth as well.  That is the reverence or relationship I’m referring to when I suggest the idea of ecopersonal dialogue.  It’s a new languaging of a perspective that brings the relationship with all of nature—of the entire world, into awareness.  It’s a perspective that ancient peoples have been nurturing from the beginning of humanity.  Again, it goes back to the idea of wholeness.  It’s a relearning of the capacity for deep listening—and for holding or suspending beliefs that allows for the generative creation of meaning within and between perspectives to arise. 

Maya—The way I’m coming to understand your inquiry is that through recognizing multiple relationships through integral dialogue, you’re intention is to see more views—even if they differ from your own.  And that supporting the connections and visions born out of these dialogues could lead to healthier action in the world.  Is that right Will?

Will—Yes!  And in recognizing the connected wholeness within human nature, part of the process of differentiation and integration includes recognizing developmental lines or intelligences that each of us possess.  It takes awareness and practice to actualize these intelligences.  The lines of development germane to multi-relational dialogue include the intrapersonal (personal relationship with self), interpersonal (personal relationship with others) and ecopersonal (personal relationship with nature).  Interconnecting these three lines of development cultivates an integral dialogue, and the capacity to bridge the perspectives of self, culture and nature.  As awareness and enactment of these competencies is revealed, more wholeness is experienced. 

Oak—The way I’m hearing you, the interconnections between these perspectives become more obvious as one’s awareness or skills in relating with oneself, others and nature is practiced.


Maya—Will, you mentioned a thread that goes through intrapersonal, interpersonal and ecopersonal dialogue.  I’m still trying to see the thread of connection.  It might help to say more about this.

Will—Yes of course.  As I researched the topic of dialogue and reflected on my own experience with lots of time walking in the mountains, I adopted a structure to frame multi-relational or integral dialogue.  This structure is the thread that I’ve come up with.  It includes the characteristics of freedom, observation and resonance.  Freedom suggests a way of being allowing for all perspectives to unfold.  Observation highlights the act of awareness arising within an observer.  And Resonance refers to the felt sense of connection, energy, rhythm or intuition within an observer (who is coming from a place of freedom)[1]. 

     What I was noticing in the traditional interpersonal dialogue process was an environment of equality, deep listening and the felt sense of connection in the heart, mind and body, when the spirit of dialogue was present.  In taking these themes forward—it made a lot of sense to encourage the idea of dialogue in the realms of self and nature as well.  Others, like David Bohm and Martin Buber, have alluded to these contexts in their writing.  Like the stories we talked about earlier, there was recognition that meaning was unfolding in any relationship where resonance or deep connection was felt by the observer.  For this process to unfold, freedom must be observed for resonance to arise. 

Oak—The use of the word freedom is interesting to me.  How did this come up for you as a guiding principle of integral dialogue? 

Will—In my investigation of dialogue I started to use this process called the U-model for supporting awareness and moving toward a quality of Presence in relationships.  The U-model is described by Peter Senge, Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski and Betty Sue Flowers in their book titled Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future (2004).  In the movement of the U, where “Presencing from Source” lies at the bottom of the U, an initial gesture is made in order to suspend perspectives and to see from the whole.  As I worked with the process of the U-model and the concepts of integral theory, I noticed a challenge in my inquiry.  This challenge arose regardless of the context.  The issue was in creating an atmosphere allowing the connections or relationships to unfold.  In order to suspend perspectives, there needs to be a permission field created that is capable of holding the new possibilities or perspectives.  This permission field is born out of freedom—freedom within the individual and freedom within a group.

Maya—That makes sense in a way.  What you’re suggesting is the capacity to differentiate opinions or perspectives from one’s personhood.   And this is a big challenge, since all of us are prone to this human tendency to see and feel the world as the one WE are experiencing.  Giving up one’s perspective, even for a moment to hear someone else’s, may be the hardest act of humanity.  When I think about conflicts I’ve been in, like the one at work that day I took the walk in the park, I was really upset and freedom was the last thing I was thinking about…until I “woke up” that is…

Oak—I can see that step of allowing freedom—especially giving oneself the freedom or permission to see the world differently—it’s huge.  Yes, the idea of freedom is really crucial…

Maya—And it’s a letting go, isn’t it?  It’s learning to take oneself less seriously and to be less attached to our ego—to the way we individually see the world.  I think I’m getting it now—a lot of it’s about acceptance.  We have these perspectives that we use to see the world.  The views of others as different, views of ourselves that are clouded by judgment and the view we have of nature—that the plants and animals and the Earth aren’t worthy of having a voice.  I can see how that could lead to so much separation.

Oak—That is sad.  All the separation that I see in humanity all around me…We need to see the freedom that we all have—we need to allow ourselves freedom and give freedom and acceptance to others and to all life on Earth.

Will—Yes, it can be sad.  This deeper awareness is about a grieving process too—feeling the disconnection that has gone on. Though I can’t help feeling too, that supporting the awareness of the disconnection and lack of freedom, is an aspect of “health” revealing itself to the whole.  This is a big change process we are involved in, but through seeing change as a process of regeneration, a new view of relationships may be possible.

Oak—I keep seeing the different ways freedom reveals itself.  It’s not just about allowing the freedom in oneself, but the creation of an atmosphere like you mentioned.   If we can see the freedom that we all need—and develop trust and respect for the differences between us that limits freedom, then maybe we can dialogue together.  I just wonder how to support all this.

Will—I think it comes back to inviting awareness and facing the challenge with grace and courage—it comes back to observing who we really are—what we are made of and what we are made from.  The idea of interconnection that comes up is part of it.  We have to see—to really see and listen deeply; we have to foster the stillness for awareness, connection and relationships to be noticed.

Maya—When it happens, it just happens.  You feel it, like I felt it that day in the sun and the trees; feeling the Presence and connection with all life.

Will—That’s the resonance.  I think Renee Levi’s research on collective resonance[2], can help illuminate an individual’s resonance within the Self and with nature too—with the whole world.  The experience of resonance is like hearing the unifying thread of the Cosmos and having it pierce straight into your heart… It’s nearly ineffable, but I have felt it and heard it in those moments of Presence.  When that happens I know it’s a message knocking on the door of my awareness…Opening that door is the closest thing to “truth” I have known.

Oak—When it all comes together in a moment—that is all there IS…

Maya—I guess the work of all this is in bridging to the awareness—in supporting ways for people to connect with themselves, each other and with the world.  It’s almost like whatever needs to happen, will happen, when we hold this intention in mind.

Oak—It sounds kind of simple when you say it like that Maya.

Will—I like the idea of it being simple.  It helps me relax into the process a little more easily…I guess now it’s time to support these ideas out in the world, like all those before us have done in their own ways.  Thank you my friends for listening and helping me clarify what these ideas mean to me.  Let’s talk again soon.  I have a feeling this is just the beginning of the conversation.

Maya—Thanks Will.  This time together has been very rich.  We’ll talk soon.

Oak—Yes Will and Maya, I look forward to more time together beneath my outstretched limbs here in the sun, take care friends.


This article is part of the Naropa University Master’s Thesis. The Resonance of Integral Dialogue: Expanding and Uniting the Views of Ourselves and Our World.


Copyright Dan Wheeler, 2006, all rights reserved.

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[1] This definition is based on the work of Renee Levi.  See her work at: The Resonance Project,

Renee A. Levi, Ph.D. Group Magic: An Inquiry Into Experiences of Collective
Resonance. Doctoral Dissertation (2003). Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center. San Francisco, California.



Renee A. Levi, Ph.D. Group Magic: An Inquiry Into Experiences of Collective
Resonance. Doctoral Dissertation (2003). Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center. San Francisco, California.


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