I first heard of Voice Dialogue, the work of Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone, in 2008, through the Buddhist community in Trinity County, California, where I lived for thirteen years. I moved to the dharma center in 1995, but in 2007, we entered a period of reflection. We began listening to more parts of ourselves, parts that needed to be heard. It was the beginning of a dramatic paradigm shift in our relationships—with spiritual practice and each other.
Now I’m not saying the dharma center was the Lowood School in Jane Eyre, but this paradigm shift was vastly overdue. We needed to find balance between how we meditated and how we related, between our spiritual sides and our human sides. In 2008, I moved off the property (just over the mountain to Weaverville, but it seemed farther). I continued to be involved in the process of finding balance, and Voice Dialogue has been a big part of that. Eventually, I studied Voice Dialogue facilitation with Christina Cross.
If you’ve ever struggled way too long to make a decision, you already know something about Voice Dialogue. Maybe you can’t choose between two options. You can agonize for months, maybe years. (In my case, I’ve often wanted both choices, as unpopular as that was…) You may feel as if part of you will die if you have to choose.
Voice Dialogue is the process of listening to these different parts within. It helps us find a way out of a stalemate. It helps us hear the voices of the psyche that are threatening to the selves that are “in charge.” We can hear the selves that don’t usually get the floor. When we finally allow more of ourselves to come forward, our lives become richer, more creative—we feel more alive. The energies of these selves are no longer trapped in their roles but are freed, their gifts included in the psyche as a whole.
While this may sound abstract, the process of facilitation is actually very down to earth. The selves have their own unique signatures—not just psychological and emotional but physical and energetic. Through “facilitation” (the process of listening to a self in Voice Dialogue), the more outwardly predominate “primary” selves (the ones that seem to be “driving the bus”) and the more buried “disowned” selves (the ones less known or accepted by us) can experience the relief of being met, understood, and appreciated. And importantly, this happens without the agenda of emphasizing or controlling certain selves at the expense of the others.
Crucially important: The ability to live more freely, from what we come to know as the “aware ego,” without certain selves acting as dictators, doesn’t happen by throwing any of the selves on the trash heap. On the contrary, the energy of a self that compulsively wants to please, to smooth over conflict even if it means lying—this energy is still available to us, without forcing us into a boring form of compliance. Conversely, the energy of a self that just may want to tell people to go to hell is still available—but is more often experienced as the ability to say no and mean it, without the emotional charge that leads to conflict.
Moreover, the instinctual selves that want physical pleasure (without being strangled by social convention) will no longer need to rise up from the basement and wreak havoc, but can be integrated into our lives. And the selves that believe spiritual practice is all that matters will still be there—not in a rigid, fundamentalist way that keeps us from knowing the freedom of a relaxed mind, but in a way that stays fresh by continuing to explore what it means to be alive.
We come to realize that it’s a full-time job to suppress the vulnerable or disowned selves. Getting that energy back is wonderful, as is also the fact that we regain the energy of the selves that have been suppressed.
Hal and Sidra Stone have a wonderful metaphor that describes how this works. The primary selves have the job of holding the disowned selves in check, in the same way that if someone has a large snake in a box, she will have to expend a lot of energy holding the lid down to keep the snake from getting out. Obviously, this is energy that could be used in other ways, but equally a problem (remember, this is a metaphor for the psyche), we lose the energy of the snake. Voice Dialogue is about regaining the energy and gifts from all sides.