Dimitri Bilgere (pronounced bil-GAIR) was one of Shadow Work®’s first facilitators. “I was always one of those people who was looking for the most effective kind of healing,” he remembers, so was in his mid-twenties when he started doing men’s work and met Shadow Work founder Cliff Barry.
Dmitri is a Certified Group Facilitator living in Madison, Wisconsin, where he has a coaching practice and runs facilitator trainings. He also co-leads the Inner King Training. I caught up with Dmitri on his cell phone, and our conversation touched on these topics among others.
December 8, 2005, by Alyce Barry
Dmitri: I’d always had a pretty strong interest in gender issues. In junior high school, I wrote essays for fun about personal development and gender issues. Then in 1986, I heard about the New Warrior Training Adventure (NWTA), better known as the Warrior weekend. Someone mentioned that there was this workshop where guys run around in the woods and drum. And I remember thinking, That’s not for me just yet. I was probably 22 at the time. And then when I was 24, I heard about it again. Someone I knew went through it, and he said good things about it, and I said, You know, that is for me now, and I remember having that thought.And that was where I met Cliff, in 1988, well before Shadow Work existed. He had gone through the NWTA a few months earlier and was on staff when I went through. Afterward, one of the leaders, Bill Kauth or Rich Tosi, had said to Cliff, Take this integration group, it’s your job to run it. I’m certain he didn’t get paid for that. There was no protocol, so there wasn’t that much “running it” to do. We got together, there were about five other guys from Madison, and we did whatever came to mind to do. Now there’s an eight-week protocol after you do the weekend, but there was nothing like that then. We immediately became the laboratory where Cliff started testing out ideas that would later become Shadow Work. To some extent, I did as well. That group went on for three or four years. It was something I looked forward to every week.
AB: What was the laboratory like?
Dmitri: It was pretty free-for-all in a lot of ways, a lot of experimentation. Cliff had started working with Ron Hering, one of the founders of the NWTA, who had introduced the carpet work piece — what he called “guts work.”
Ron was a brilliant facilitator. Not actually that good a teacher, dare I say it, but an amazing guy in many, many ways. He was running a program called ABC, which people said stood for a variety of things, including Accelerated Behavior Change. It was all very intuitive. Ron was an incredibly intuitive person but not very good at systematizing things.
It was in one of those groups, like an ABC group or something like that, where Cliff first had the idea and did a Shadow Reversal on someone. It was the first time anyone in that community had ever seen someone take a participant and have them step into the big, mean, Dad part. No one had ever done that before. And in fact, it was heresy, it was crazy. I remember thinking, “This is nuts, this is insane!” And so was everyone else. And it worked!
AB: That’s a process that helps empower a person who feels small and weak as he confronts a big, “bad” part of himself. We have him trade places with the “bad” part, locate its power in his body, then bring that power back to the small, weak part to help it accomplish a goal.
Dmitri: Another concept that didn’t exist early on was getting support. A man named Bruce Boehlen said one day, “If the guy’s crying, why don’t we give him an ideal parent, and let that empower him to do his work?” We see support as incredibly basic and completely obvious now. Then, it was just in its formation stages.
A lot of people contributed ideas, although the big ideas tended to come from the bigger players.
AB: The Shadow Reversal seems like a precursor of what we now call predator work, where we step into the big, bad part and let it run until the wheels fall off.
Dmitri: It definitely was a precursor. It took a while before someone had the thought, What if we just leave them in the energy until they break into grief, or break into blessing? And it was about three years before someone had the idea of the Switch.
AB: That’s a process in which you visualize having a switch on an energy, so you can switch it from the feeling you’re having to the feeling you want.
Dmitri: In the early 90s, I was doing something similar by stepping somebody into the shaming voice in their head and interviewing it until we got to the love. “What do you want for them? Why do you want this for them? How long have you been giving this to them? Is there a blessing you could give them that would enable them to do what they need to do?” That was one way of transforming the energy. Cliff was doing something a little different, based on the work of David Groves, where you find the switch in your body.
AB: Did any of the big books from the men’s movement have an impact on you?
Dmitri: We read King, Warrior, Magician, Lover by Robert Moore and Doug Gillette, and Iron John by Robert Bly. Before that, the guys in my Warrior integration group, especially us young guys, would get audio cassettes of Robert Bly’s talks. We would listen to them and listen to them, obsessively, to the point where when Iron John came out, we recognized a lot of chunks of that from talks he’d given. We were just so hungry for these ideas.
AB: At what point did you decide you wanted to facilitate?
Dmitri: It was within the first hour or so [of seeing process work] at my Warrior weekend. I had the thought, This is what my life is about. I was talking to a friend of mine the other day who’s a videographer and she said the first time she picked up a video camera, she knew that was what she was going to do with her life. And the first time I saw carpet work, I knew that that was the most important thing to my life. I took a long time to accept that, but I knew it right away. And I started facilitating as quickly as humanly possible.
Dmitri: That took a while. I got involved in an ABC group that Cliff was running, where you paid to play. Cliff would run a series of four weekends, with evening meetings in between. And all four weekends, including room and board and the evening meetings, cost $250 total. That’s it! We were chuckling about that the other day. How would you even break even on that? But that would get people into the laboratory, men and women Cliff could work with. He and Ron stopped working together, so the leadership team was Cliff and his wife at the time, Wendy, and Erva Baden and Kathy Brown and me. At that point, I think it was called the Life Force Training Network.
I went thru one cycle of those ABC weekends as a participant, and then he made me an assistant. I remember that first time, I got paid $224. I could not believe it, it just blew my mind. They say that the first money you make in some new venture is always the most satisfying, and that was really a dream come true.
AB: When did you get involved with the Inner King Training (IKT)?
Dmitri: I remember Bill Kauth having the idea for that training back in 1988, and by the early 1990s, he and Cliff and Tom Daly had started running it. In 1994, they invited me to come do it for free. Some of the facilitation they were doing was fairly sophisticated, and at that time there wasn’t that long a list of people who were trained in this style of work. So I got involved and quickly became quite committed to it. I’ve run it maybe 31 or 32 times. Even when I wasn’t doing Shadow Work, IKT has always been a part of my life, which I’m very grateful for.
AB: What do you get out of that?
Dmitri: People who know me who have gone through the IKT have told me, You were born to run this kind of work. It’s a great fit for what I most love to do. While I got tons out of the NWTA, I tend to facilitate in a slightly different way than they do there. I tend to be more methodical, tend to worry more about psychological safety. The two weekends are not redundant in any way.
AB: You worked with the Emissaries, too, didn’t you?
Dmitri: Yes, a man named Norm Smokler from the Emissaries of Divine Light came to one of our ABC weekends. The Emissaries are a network of intentional communities, and they’re really good people. They live together and do good in the world, and they started hiring us to run workshops in their communities. This was at about the time that Mary Ellen Whalen came on board, and Life Force was renamed Shadow Work. I worked mostly with Erva Baden, and Cliff worked mostly with Mary Ellen. I’m pretty sure our first week-long facilitation training was held at an Emissaries community, either Sunrise Ranch in Colorado or Hundred Mile House in British Columbia. I also worked in their communities in England and South Africa.
AB: What was it like working in South Africa?
Dmitri: I went there twice. In 1995, Erva and I spent a couple of months running Shadow Work seminars almost every weekend, which was a pretty amazing experience. Shadow Work is about owning the parts of yourself that you don’t want to look at, and South Africa had a huge shadow that was showing up as apartheid. It was fascinating to bring that technology into that culture. We had to change things a fair amount, to slow it down enough, because it was very risky for them to look at that shadow.
I went to South Africa again in 1996, at the invitation of a therapist who had experienced Shadow Work, and spent three months there. I ran a men’s weekend there, in the mountains, and it probably was the first thing of that type that happened there.
AB: And then you took a break from Shadow Work for a while.
Dmitri: Yes, although I continued running the IKT about three times a year. I got tired of the unpredictability of the income. It dawned on me one day that if I ever wanted to have a family or retire or follow the more traditional life path, I needed to not live so hand-to-mouth. Being financially successful with Shadow Work is a hard thing to do. It’s not like we’re selling something that’s very easy to explain. In fact, it’s extremely difficult to explain what the heck it is.
So I did what I think many people do in that situation — I said to myself, I followed my dream, and it’s worked to a certain extent, but it’s not good enough, so I’m going to do something really different.
I found a niche market working with men who have extreme shyness and social anxiety with women. It’s only been in the last couple of years that I was willing to step back into Shadow Work and start believing in this again. I kind of threw out the baby with the bath water.
AB: How has life changed for you as a result of doing Shadow Work? I ask that knowing it’s a very different question for you, who’s been involved almost your entire adult life, than it is for people like me who came to it later in life.
Dmitri: One of the things we do during the IKT is a 30-40 minute visualization that guides you through reliving your entire life. Your life flashes before your eyes manually, as it were.
One of the first times I did that visualization, I realized that before I got involved in carpet work, I measured my life by what woman I was dating at the time. When I got involved in process work, I took on an identity as an adult man for the first time. That was where I grew up.
Since then, my life has been measured by my mission, and how much of this I’m doing, and how much I’m impacting people’s lives with it. The trick for me has been the willingness to trust the influence of this work in my life. Anything you idealize is eventually going to betray you, and when I took a break for a few years, it was because I felt betrayed by that belief. And it took me a while to trust that my life was better doing this work on a regular basis than without it. We sort of broke up for a while and then had to get back together.
AB: You’ve been adding free mini-courses to your website, livethelifeyoulongfor.com.
Dmitri: There’s a gift culture in the Warriors and Woman Within communities, where your value is based on how much you give away. I really like that. I give things away because I like people to know this stuff. I certainly want to make money to pay my bills, but if you can’t come to my trainings, I want to give you something that you can utilize in your life right away. That makes me very happy.
If I’m going to run a workshop, I create a mini-course about it and give that away. If you want to spend time with me one-on-one, then you’re going to pay for that. But if you want to get the meat of the workshop, I don’t hold back. It’s my observation that getting this stuff out there works better than believing you have to closely guard your secrets. I wrote an essay on this on my website, drawing an analogy between the NWTA community and Linux, with its open-source software. I get a lot of good feedback about that article, people really like it.
On my website, I’ve created free mini-courses for my facilitation trainings, for my sexuality workshop, and for my self-facilitation training. I did them as a labor of love, especially for people in the NWTA and Woman Within communities. If you sign up for the facilitation mini-course, you get both facilitation tips and personal growth tips via email. I’ve received a lot of good feedback on that, people seem to really like it.
Similarly, for the IKT, you’ll find a mini-course at InnerKing.com.
AB: What are you most excited about right now?
Dmitri: The cutting edge idea that’s in my mind right now is noticing that what I call Anger Work and Grief-and-Blessing Work — what in Shadow Work we call the basic processes, which are taught at the Basic Facilitator Training — tend to take you from being a victim to being an empowered victim. You blow mean Dad out of the room, or you get loved by the Dad who wasn’t there for you. Those processes leave you more likely to forgive your parents for what they did to you.
What we call the advanced processes — the Tombstone, the God-Split, the Predator, which we teach at the Advanced Facilitator Training — are more likely to lead you to realizing how you’ve been holding onto the pain of your past. And that can lead you to see things you’ve done to punish your parents for what happened, and then to apologize for them. Try that on! I tried that in a group recently, and it created some conversation! That’s the most controversial way of putting it.
What I’m seeing more in the advanced processes now is the way in which they can give you responsibility for your own life in a way that really is not shaming. You’re past the shame by that point, and you’re into the compassion. You’re into the good reasons why you did it. And so tacking those things onto the end of advanced processes has left people in an even more empowered place. They are empowered adults who have chosen their life who may even have some regrets for what they’ve done but [are] willing to live with that. That’s way more powerful than, Well, now I’m willing to forgive my parents for what they did to me. Which is a good thing to do, but there’s a step beyond it, that’s what I’m seeing now.
See also Dmitri’s facilitator page. Dmitri’s own site is livethelifeyoulongfor.com
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