Driving Asleep at the Wheel: Process Oriented Leadership Awareness

In this paper I will outline some of the concepts from Process Oriented Psychology, or Process Work, which are helpful in developing awareness in a leader. Many of us search our whole lives to find some sense of meaning, connection and purpose. Developed by Jungian analyst, physicist, author and facilitator Arnold Mindell, Process work is based on the premise that dreams and dreaming are not only happening at night. We're also dreaming when we are awake. The obstacles and challenges that we encounter during the day are all signals that are a part of our dreaming process. These signals, when unfolded are opportunities for awareness creativity, transformation and growth.


Barack Obama’s meteoric rise to president was an incredible achievement in a world still heavily influenced by racism. How was this possible? Process work identifies the 4 main sources of rank and power available to us as leaders: Social, Psychological, Structural and Spiritual. Spiritual rank is the one we get from the accumulation of life experiences, the difficulties, the hardships we have suffered and the ways in which we have overcome these.

Can we gain rank or are we born with it? Many people can transform adversity into a useful ally, a source of power and spiritual strength.

In this session I will explore how Process work assists us to access our own personal myth and dreaming; supports and challenges us to grow; embody our own power and access our leadership abilities.

These methods can be used effectively in leadership training and organisational development.

Process Oriented Psychology or Process Work is an innovative and creative awareness based psychological approach useful in working with individuals, teams, groups, families and organisations. It was first developed by Arnold Mindell in the 1970’s. He was a Jungian analyst in Zurich, also trained as a physicist and is strongly influenced by the idea of dreams and dreaming, modern physics, Eastern religions especially Taoism and Buddhism and the “gods” of spiritual traditions and philosophies.

Process work is cutting-edge philosophy and a highly developed set of skills and methods. Intrinsic to its framework is the idea that we can explore various levels of consciousness to facilitate change and growth. Our conscious mind and rational thinking are tools integral to the process. Mindell suggests we use our awareness and intelligence to explore other states of consciousness, night time dreams, physical symptoms and illness, relationship issues, synchronicities and world events, addictions and accidents. Dreams and dreaming don’t only happen at night but also during the day. Mindell (2000,p.14) suggests that “Every time you feel a bit sleepy, have what you might call an intuition or sudden fantasy, sense a slight moodiness, or feel strange sensations in your body, you are Dreaming in the daytime.” The Jungians talk about night time dreams and using them to develop our waking everyday mind, but Mindell discovered that we are, in fact, perpetually in “the dreaming process”, whether we are asleep or awake.

Our rational, everyday self is often disturbed by events that we identify as problems, obstacles and challenges. Process Work is based on the premise that the solution we are often searching for is contained within the problem itself. We can gain meaning, connection and purpose by understanding the dreaming behind an event and discovering that our worst obstacles can become our greatest allies. Mindell says that “.. who we really are is what we say we are and it’s what we’re doing that we’re not totally conscious of; everybody’s always know that. Process Work simply made an art and science out of it.” Mindell (2009,p.2)

Everyday reality can get overwhelming and exhausting. As leaders and managers we are encouraged to focus mostly on the details, the meetings, the staffing ratios, the budget, the relentless stream of emails, the immediate crisis at hand or the inevitable workplace conflicts and grievances. On top this we often feel time pressured which makes us stressed and moody, which makes it difficult to access the awareness necessary to give a creative or innovative response to the situations at hand. When things are going reasonably well, we tend to stay asleep. Our need for inner reflection is less urgent.

Tolle emphasizes this tendency. “When life is ok we are in a dream…we don’t tend to do the inner reflection. When the dream turns into a nightmare then we wake up…we want to wake up to stop the nightmare.” (2009)

Most of us know when we are not performing well and have ways of regaining our sense of internal balance and harmony. Mindell (2009) suggests that when we only focus on everyday or consensus reality and ignore our dreamlike perceptions, “something inside you goes into a mild form of shock because you have overlooked the spirit of life, your greatest potential power.”

But how do we access the “dreaming process”. How do we gain more awareness and insight? How do we move from “driving asleep at the wheel” to waking up?

There are a number of Process Work techniques and methods that are useful in assisting us to develop our awareness; shed light on our internal and external conflicts and support in discovering who we truly are. There are three levels of focus:

  1. Consensus Reality. Associated with “real: events, everyday problems, and issues connected with the development of individuals, teams, organizations and countries. This would include conflicts, issues or problems. 
  2. Dreamland; at this level process work employs night time dreams, deep feelings, unspoken truths, “double” or unintentional body signals, “ghosts” (unrepresented figures) and ghost roles in the stories and myths of individuals and organisations.
  3. At the “essence” or nondualistic level, Process Work deals with tendencies that can be sentiently felt to move us, “dreamlike” tendencies that are not yet easily expressed in words. This area of life can sometimes be felt as a subtle atmosphere. Taoism speaks of the essence level in terms of the “the Tao which cannot be said.” In quantum physics, David Bohm spoke of this area in terms of a system’s quantum waves or “pilot waves”. This level seems to manifest a non-dualistic intelligence, we call, the “Processmind”. Spiritual and religious traditions speak of the omnipresence of the gods. Mindell, A & A (2009)

Some of Mindell’s books, writings and interviews are listed in the reference section for those who wish to explore this vast and inspiring area further.

I have outlined, certainly only in brief, the philosophy of Process Work and now will explore three concepts that are useful and relevant to leadership; firstly, Life Myth, secondly the Path of Heart and finally, Rank & Power. The theory and practice of Process Work is constantly evolving, developing and changing, this is only a glimpse of how it is beneficial for making connections to our inner and outer life, discovering our deeper life purpose, living more harmoniously with our authentic selves, training leaders and developing organisations.

1. Life Myth and Dreaming

“Life Myth” is used in Process Work to give us a framework for who we are and who we are trying to become. As leaders in organizations greater awareness of our deeper purpose can help us understand meaning behind the challenges we are experiencing.

The term Life Myth was coined by Jung to describe all the various long-term tendencies and influences that together weave the unique texture of each individual’s life. Some of these tendencies belong to the person’s innate nature while others are related to cultural and family contexts, historical background and personal experiences. It’s what makes you unique and different from every other person. In this way each one of us has our own challenges and our own talents. Each one of us will meet life’s challenges in our own unique way.

This idea of having a background organizing principle also appears in “Aboriginal” culture, where a person is sometimes referred to as a dream song. “Life is a time when a person can sing her song and live her dream. An expression of that song gives meaning to one’s life and one’s community.” Mudroororoo (1994,p.64)

Jung noticed in his work that there’s a tendency in each person’s life to revisit certain archetypes / figures in our lives and dreams. One way of discovering our Life Myth is to focus on our earliest childhood dreams or memories. There are certain tendencies and patterns that come around again and again. And it’s through our repeated encounters with these patterns again that we can grow and develop and connect with our creative potential.

As a Process Work facilitator, it would be fascinating to work with Barack Obama on his Life Myth. In “Dreams from my Father”, he talks about this concept of repeating patterns and questions that are perennial and also personal to himself and his father;

..I have heard all of these voices clamoring for recognition, all of them asking the very same questions that have come to shape my life, the same questions that I sometimes, late at night, find myself asking the Old Man. What is our community, and how might that community be reconciled with our freedom? How far do our obligations reach? How do we transform more power into justice, mere sentiment into love? The answers I find in law books don’t always satisfy me. (Obama 2004,p.438)

This powerful statement describes his internal dialogue, hints at his history and gives some insight into his dreaming process.

So the concept of the Life Myth is that there’s a background blueprint or dreaming process patterning our lives. In one sense there are structures that are unchanging facts ie. where we were born, what happened to us in the early years of our life, certain innate traits of personality etc , but to think of these as purely deterministic is far too limiting. We are dreaming, imaginative and creative beings able to actively engage with our fate and use it as the canvas on which to paint an amazing picture. Through actively engaging with the patterns in our life they become powers we can learn to use co-creatively. Baker and Edmunds (2009)

This is the idea of the Life Myth. If we become aware of the key influences and difficulties that crop up again and again in our lives we can consciously harness those powers for our own growth and development rather than feel that we at the mercy of them. Process work has a number of methods and techniques for discovering our Life Myth and unfolding its meaning and purpose. As leaders it’s useful for us to know what our underlying patterns are, what our deeper dreaming is and where it is evident in organisational life.

2. Path of Heart

Getting to know and understand ourselves as a person and a leader in consensus reality is incredibly valuable. In his more recent work on path awareness, Mindell expands upon the ideas of Jung and incorporates the teachings of Don Juan, Richard Feyman and Lao Tse. He is interested is how we relate to the world we live in, the consensus reality, the earth that we are walking on and where our lives are flowing.

An integral part of living on the earth is finding our way or path in the world.

“Because any path is just a path, …one must find & walk a unique ‘path of heart’. It is your task to find that path & turn reality into magic”. Mindell (2007,p.4) As well as using our inner awareness of our reactions and feelings, he suggests we focus on a mixture of consensus reality, dreamlike experiences and mystical experiences as guides to where we are headed. He encourages us to connect with our deepest selves and notice how our bodies and hearts react when we feel confused about what to do or where to go. The “Path of Heart” is also accessible to organisations that wish to connect with their creative and spiritual dreaming and potential.

Bringing more heart into our lives and our organizations is a sentiment echoed by Scotty McLennan. In his classroom as Harvard Business School he talks about love as being the thing most essential to people on their deathbeds was the amount of love they’d given and received. He emphasizes that the “move toward integrating spirituality and work is also fundamentally about how to bring more love into our lives.” In the current realm of the triple bottom line love seems to be worth contemplating. Rigoglioso (1999).

3. Rank and Power

As leaders, rank & power form an unspoken background to every interaction we have. It is there between individuals, teams, organisations and even manifests in our global business transactions. We begin learning about power and rank from an early age.

Our first experiences of how powerful we are happen when we are babies and children. Most parents will be aware that even though they are larger and physically stronger than their offspring they can feel totally disempowered at 3am when their baby is screaming at full pitch. Early childhood is an important stage for both parents and children as we learn how to use our power base and rank in the world. As we get older we start to realise our power and rank depends on our situation and circumstance. The same power base we used at primary school might not serve as well in high school or in the workplace.

By the time we have reached adulthood we have had many interactions and experiences in using our power, feeling disempowered and noticing our rank in the world. Learning about how we interact with other people’s power and rank is a part of understanding the culture we grow up in and surviving and thriving within it.

We all have power and rank. It is present in all people and in all situations. We are often more aware of others power than our own. We have all noticed that our sense of power changes depending on whom we are talking to and what the circumstances are of this interaction. Some situations can make us feel like we are important “somebody” and others like an insignificant nobody. Diamond (2004)

Power can help us to actualise the deepest potential in ourselves, in our organisations and in the world around us. As leaders we need to feel empowered to achieve our goals, to keep our teams functioning well and to develop and use the skills we have in our professional lives. Diamond 2004

We can be hesitant to use our power to its fullest or rise too high. There are a number of reasons for this. Sometimes this is because we are unsure of how to use it; we can suffer under the “tall poppy” syndrome and/or be fearful of potential backlash or jealousies from our colleagues. Many of us have felt oppressed by others use of power and may not want to be like “them”. This can stifle our creativity and sometimes impede our career path. For example, some people don’t want to apply for positions with more responsibility because they think, consciously or unconsciously, that senior managers they know use their power abusively or inappropriately.

Interestingly, there are numerous types of power and rank at our disposal that we are often not fully accessing and utilising. It may based on our various skills and abilities such as; our standing in society, our level of awareness, our sense of humour, our relationships; our sense of community belonging, our compassion, our self esteem, our eldership and connection to the earth.

3.1 What is rank?

Process work is interested in different types or categories of rank, rather than a one-dimensional approach than only views social rank as significant. This is useful in helping to understand the complexities of communication and interaction.

Mindell defines rank as “a conscious or unconscious, social or personal ability arising form culture, community support, personal psychology, and/or spiritual power” (1995, p.42) He sees rank as being “the sum of a person’s power and privileges” (1995,p.28). The more we understand our own sources of power and privilege the better equipped we are to deal with its dynamics in our interactions with others.

There are 4 categories of rank:

Structural Rank: This is the rank given by the organization to certain positions of power. Doctors, directors and managers all have structural rank. People tend to more or less listen to what they say. Patients, cleaners & clerks have less structural rank. The organizational hierarchy and structure elevates certain positions over others.

Social Rank: has to do with the social status one receives based on what the mainstream culture values and supports. Some factors that determine social rank are gender, race, religion, education, health, class, age and sexual orientation. For example, in most parts of the world, an English speaking, Christian person with white skin, of good health inherits a higher level of social rank and privileges.

Psychological Rank: is related to our awareness and how we feel about ourselves. It includes how we reflect on the experiences that have happen to us, including childhood traumas and family situations. Having a good sense of self-esteem and understanding of ourselves gives us higher psychological rank than if we are stuck in the marsh of our early experiences.

Spiritual Rank: is a often a feeling of connectedness and inner conviction. We can have a sense of an affirming experience somewhere in the background that sustains us in difficult moments. This sense may have a religious base but “comes from a relationship to something divine or transcendent-gods, goddesses or spirits”. Mindell (1995,p.62). Spiritual rank can we gained from the hardships we have suffered and the ways in which we have overcome these. We can see it in Nelson Mandala. He was imprisoned for years but still managed to emerge as somewhere with a sense of wisdom and eldership about him. He has a detachment, a sense of knowing that we would call spiritual rank.

The different forms of rank shape our sense of personal power and ability to be effective both in our personal life and as leaders in a work context. It may be difficult to have much influence over our structural and social rank but we can develop and change our psychological and spiritual rank.

3.2 Developing Psychological and Spiritual Rank.

Process work is all about developing self awareness and gaining meaning from disturbances. Here is a short exercise that will give a “taster”, which will hopefully wet your appetite to explore process oriented awareness techniques further.

Exploring leadership awareness

  1. Think of a leadership problem that you, or a colleague are currently experiencing. Jot that down
  2. Think of a leader or mentor that you admire. Can you visualise them? What do you notice about them?
  3. This person has something special about them. Write down what are the qualities you see in them.
  4. Draw a quick energy sketch that represents them. It can be a squiggle, circle etc Take a moment to meditate on the sketch. Try to get to the essence of it. Notice any movements, body sensations or sounds i.e. a song or rhythm that come as you do this.
  5. Share this with a partner. If this sketch had a message for you what might it be?
  6. How is this somehow an answer to the leadership problem you identified initially?

3.3 Recognising and Utilising Rank and Power

Rank and power are facts of life on a personal level and in organisations. Most of us are aware of the misuse of power and rank by leaders and managers. There are many cases where low self esteem and a lack of awareness leads to poor decision making, ineffectual outcomes and poor morale. The challenge for all of us is understand rank and use it well.

How can we do this?

  1. Be aware of the kind of rank we have. You may be low on structural rank but high on psychological rank.
  2. Celebrate the privileges you have. The more we acknowledge that we have advantages and privileges the less likely we are to use these unconsciously. Do you have your own parking space when others may have to walk or catch public transport
  3. Use you awareness to notice your own feelings and signals of rank in various situations. Do you take stationary freely from the storeroom and feel comfortable about that?
  4. When you are in a position of authority how do you get others to follow your leadership? Do you get the best out of others by including their ideas and feedback?

There are many stories of leaders and elders who were able to use the rank they have to bring their vision to fruition. Bringing in rank wisely, and using awareness is often part of what their skill is. Many inspirational people such as Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and Mahatma Ghandi have been able to use detachment and their own personal suffering and pain to be an inspiration to those around them. Schuitevoerder (2007)

Barack Obama had been able to rise to the highest office in the USA by utilizing and embracing the rank he has in a very powerful and effective way. His social rank was complex, he described the adversity he dealt with as a black man growing up in Hawaii, a state that was largely white, Asian and Hawaiian. His colour was always obvious to those around him and something he had to learn to deal with on a daily basis. His high school education was in a private school but he often felt he was an outsider, at his school with white grandparents and a white mother. Obama (2004)

His years at Harvard gave him more social rank and he had significant positions of structural rank as the editor and then president of the “Harvard Law Review”. There have been many explanations for this meteoric rise to power but it is seems clear that his structural and social rank alone would not have been sufficient to catapult him to victory in 2008.

His psychological and spiritual rank has been important in developing and influencing his personal power.

Collett highlights:

the processes of coming to terms with differing expectations and assumptions, developing adequate understanding of the rules of engagement and expressing ones self appropriately are all instrumental in the development of personal psychological rank…Those with spiritual rank bring to interactions an understanding of interconnectedness that values all perspectives for their contribution to the whole”. (2007,p.22)

It appears that Obama has this combination of psychological and spiritual rank.

His Life Myth also seems to be a part of his personal power. He was able to tap into the dreaming process of the USA. In an interview with Newsweek he speaks of himself as part of this bigger dreaming. Obama states:

it was more ... that I had become a symbol for the next thing. So some of it was undeserved, but what it told me was that people really were looking for something different. I joked with my team—and it wasn't entirely a joke, it's something I still think about—that the country was looking for a Barack Obama. Now, I'm not sure that I am Barack Obama, right? But they were looking for an idea like that. Biscoe (2008)


There are many more challenges to come but it feels as if his Life Myth and own personal power and rank have so far proven to be an effective combination. His own ability to use the adversity of his upbringing and effectively and eloquently harness the skills and abilities he has will surely place him in the history books with other inspirational leaders.

Can we gain power and rank or are we born with it? Becoming aware of what rank and power we already have is an important step. Understanding our own Life Myth and path is useful for seeing our own dreaming process and the areas where we are struggling with archetypal power dynamics. It‘s possible to transform adversity and obstacles into useful allies, sources of power and spiritual strength. “All of us have the possibility of following our dreams and visions for the world and becoming elders in our small circles as well as at times in larger spheres of influence”. Schuitevoerder (2007)

Leadership awareness can be developed by working on “yourself”, either alone on with the support of colleagues, friends or facilitators. We are all spiritual beings, looking for a “path of heart”, but this part of us is often not supported by a society that values economic rationalism, bottom lines and social rank. Process work provides a powerful set of tools and a comprehensive framework for supporting and developing awareness in leaders and assisting organisations in growing to embrace a Path of Heart.


Baker, L. & Edmunds, S. 2009 Life Myth as a Compass, presented in “Walking the Earth Softly” Intensive Workshop, Byron Bay, July.

Biscoe, D. 2008, “An Interview with Barack Obama”, May 2008 <http://newsweek.com/id/178417/page/2

Collett, D. 2007, ‘Coming Together: Power, rank and Intercultural Interaction: developing inclusive approaches in higher education’, The International Journal of Diversity, vol.7, no.5, pp. 17-25

Diamond, J. 2004, ‘Where Roles, Rank and Relationship Meet: A framework for working with multiple role relationships in Process Work Learning Communities’, viewed 14th Dec. 2009, <http://www.juliediamond.net/docs/MRR_article_PW_.rtf>

Mindell, A. 1995, Sitting in the Fire, Lao Tse Press. Portland, OR.

Mindell, A. 2000, Dreaming While Awake: Techniques for 24-hour lucid dreaming, Hampton Roads Publishing Charlottesville, VA

Mindell, A. 2007, Earth-Based Psychology: Path Awareness from the Teachings of Don Juan, Richard Feynman & Lao Tse, LaoTse Press, Portland, OR.

Mindell, A. 2009, Interview with Prengel, S. Somatic Perspectives on Psychotherapy Series, March, <htttp://www.somaticperspectives.com/conversations/2009-03-mindell.htm

Mindell, A & A. 2009 What is Process Work? viewed 20 Dec. 2009 <http://www.aamindell.net.

Mudrooroo, 1994 Aboriginal Mythology: an A-Z spanning the history Australian Aboriginal People of the, Aquarian London, UK

Obama, B. 2004, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, Text Publishing Company, Melbourne, VIC.

Riglioso, M. 1999, Spirit at Work: The search for deeper meaning in the workplace. Harvard Business School Bulletin April 1999, <http://bbswk.bbs.edu/archive/644.html

Schuitevoerder, S. 2007, Process Work Contributions to the Theory of Power, <http://www.processconsulting.org/publications

Tolle, E. 2009, Mornings with Kerri-Anne Kennerley, television program, Nine Network Sydney 16 December.

Lynne Baker is a psychologist, management consultant and filmmaker. Her research has dealt with diverse themes such as death and dying, terrorism, work values, organizational change and sacred places. Developing leaders and managers and organizations had been has been of significant focus in her working life. An avid traveler she is passionate about exploring nature and following her own path of heart.

This paper was presented at Leadership for the Emerging World: Spirituality, Leadership and Management 7th National Conference in February 2010, Baulkham Hills, Sydney.

Lynne Baker BA MBA Dipl. PW

Copyright 2010

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