Robert Stamboliev is an internationally known psychologist, trainer, coach and relationship therapist with over 30 years of leadership in the Voice Dialogue and Psychology of Selves methods. He is inspired to enhance consciousness in individuals and organisations and combines a rational, creative and intuitive approach. He is the author of ‘The energetics of Voice Dialogue’, an important study book for Voice Dialogue facilitators.
Robert and I got to know each other 3 years ago, his work was recommended to me by a friend. He inspires me so much that I started a ‘voice dialogue’ learning journey under his guidance which is lasting until today. His ability of sensing energies and going with what’s needed in the very moment is awesome.
My conversation with Robert is about the connection between transformation and awareness of ourselves. He shares with a great openness his own transformation story. Enjoy the read!
Robert, thank you for taking the time to talk to me, I have been really looking forward to this conversation. So, let’s just dive in.
What does transformation mean for you?
It’s a very big question. For me, it has to do with energy and it’s something sustainable. So, transformation is not just having a one off fantastic spiritual or physical experience, it’s something ongoing. That brings me directly to my view of a person as human being. Let me illustrate this with my personal examples.
First of all, transformation takes place on the level of Awareness. One of my own first transformational experiences was when I was pretty young and I was asking myself the question, “who am I?” When I was 12, I had very lucid dreams of being part of a huge cosmic body. This was a weird experience. When I was 15, I was asking a lot like, “Why am I doing this? Why do I have to do this? Why do I have to be in school? Why do I have to learn Greek and Latin?” So, I was a bit of an annoying student. At that time, I also was playing the classical guitar and had a very nice guitar teacher. I don’t remember anything about the guitar lessons, but I remember that we had conversations and this guy was kind of stimulating me to think independently and not believe everything they would say at school. He was a great inspiration and father figure to me. Then at school there was a friend of mine, his mother was probably one of the first yoga teachers in the Netherlands. And so, I started doing yoga at age fifteen. Alongside the yoga practice, she recommended that I read Jiddu Krishnamurti, an Indian philosopher and spiritual teacher. Okay, so at age 15 I was reading Krishnamurti.I was getting fascinated with his way of thinking, his way of asking questions. He helped me in my exploration of Who am I? and what am I doing? I would spend hours by myself in bed in the weekend and trying to grasp what he’s talking about. And at some point, it just happened like this, I had this experience of Awareness, of witnessing my own thinking, which led to this very quiet place. It was very confusing at first, but then I was totally into it. It was a very transformational experience for me, but I didn’t speak about it with anyone.
At the same time, I was quite active in school. I was a representative of the more progressive students and we would go on the barricades. This was in the 70s. And I was elected as the student representative. It was the time of Vietnam War and I was very identified with the struggle against the war and the missiles. And at the same time, I was having this other life of introspection and increasing awareness.
I travelled every summer. I went for six weeks to Canada at age 16, I went to Bulgaria and Greece when I was 17. At the age of 18, I went to France sleeping in a church. This was the time of Carlos Castaneda and Jack Kerouac, and doing drugs was simply part of these times. I did a social study in the Netherlands, which was a lot of philosophy, sociology and psychology. But after three years, I quit because I felt I don’t know why I was doing this. I decided to just follow my heart. I started doing Tai Chi, which is all about energy. Tai Chi is very much about body grounding and breath work, which worked better for me than Yoga. I worked as a nightwatch for a crisis center for juveniles, so I could practice Tai Chi all night when it was quiet I was really having a good time. On the weekends, I did a Gestalt training which was very intuitive and leveraged all my emotional stuff. And I started doing Indian music. I played the sitar, which I’m doing again since a couple of years. So, I was doing this potpourri of different things that seemed to be, each in their own way, very interesting for different parts in me. I didn’t have a coherent plan, but it all has strengthened the awareness of different sides in me. I did voice work in India which was again about energy, expression, movement and poetry. I often went to the south of France to study with the Roy-Hart Theater, which is a group of people that works with the voice as a way to get into consciousness. They follow energy and voice, and it breaks open parts of yourself that lead you into deeper, archetypal levels. So, this whole period between 18 and 27 was a kind of surrender and learning period.
At the age 27, I was teaching Tai Chi in a place called the Kosmos in Amsterdam, I met Hal and Sidra Stone. They were giving a lecture about ‘voice dialogue’ in the Kosmos. I think it was their first trip to Europe at that time and I just came because I thought ‘voice dialogue’ sounded intriguing, it triggered something in me. And then I saw Hal doing a ‘voice dialogue’ demonstration session with a woman in the audience. I knew that person in real life. I was totally fascinated, “wow!”. One after the other, Hal was talking to five or six different voices, all being part of that woman. I also felt at home with Hal’s energy! And I felt the power of this concept, which suggested that you are one, and you are many. I had this sudden insight that this is what I was struggling with when I was at school. That was a big transformation.
I went to Hal and Sidra’ss workshop the next day in Den Haag, which was in another part of Holland. I had done my nightshift in the crisis center and normally I would go to sleep, but I couldn’t go to sleep. I simply was drawn to go the session. I missed the first part of the training in the morning and arrived in the afternoon. There were only six or seven people in that training. I got a session with Hal, which was another real transformational experience for me. He led me into my “vulnerability”, and I felt so much seen in that part of me. It’s like for the first time in my life, somebody could actually really connect with my vulnerability. Today, I understand it. But at that time, I didn’t understand it, I just experienced it. After having explored my vulnerability he led me into my “powerful self”, the opposite pole to my vulnerability. And after the exploration of the powerful self he asked me to sit in the middle between these two and just sense into what I just experienced in both poles. It gave me a lot of energy! When I went back in the train from Den Haag to Amsterdam and I was totally high, felt exhaltedI was in a totally altered state. And I told myself, “that’s it!” The next day I went back to the second part of the training. I felt that something had really shifted in me. Nowadays, I think a part of it was also some form of energy exchange with Hal Stone. It was something big and I knew that I needed to go on with voice dialogue. So, I decided I’m going to study with this man. I went to the United States for one year to learn from him. It was a blessing and turned out to be a pretty joyful transformation!
What are the emotions you generally associate with transformation?
I think more in terms of the parts who are feeling an emotion, than the emotion itself. An emotion is a form of energy. So, who is having the emotion and what emotion comes with it?
If we look at it my way, the connection with the “vulnerable child” is super important. Let me give you some story to demonstrate what I mean by “vulnerable child”.
I was doing this session with Hal. I don’t remember the exact setting, but I do remember that when he asked me if he could talk to my vulnerable part, I experienced this part as if I was a child. It came spontaneously, I totally went into that feeling and became much younger. He had invited this state, which turned out to be a child-like “vulnerable child”, to manifest and be present. And so, I became that energy, the vulnerable child. I felt from inside out. And although it didn’t feel normal, it somehow felt familiar. But it had never been out in the open in such a way. And because of the questions Hal asked and the way he connected so deeply, it became even more a child. So, I later realized, “wow, I have a child in me.” This very soft, vulnerable and sensitive part. And because it could be there in its full energy, it became from very vulnerable and scared, to very sensitive and even very relaxed and happy. So, the emotions shifted when the vulnerable child could be there fully.
Actually, this is how I see the link between the different parts in ourselves and emotions, there are emotional shifts happening when I allow my parts to show up fully.
What would be your most important recommendations to people facing a transformation process?
Again, if I follow my way of seeing things, Awareness is important to identify and see the different parts in us.The best way to get this awareness about the different parts of yourself is through a conversation with a facilitator. It’s much more difficult to do it on your own because you’re at the same time identified with these parts. A part can be so strong that it dominates the personality without the person knowing it, e.g. a controller. A person needs to become aware of it and then has to experience it. He/she needs to fully experience the controller in the body and sense the energy of it. With the help of a facilitator, the part can manifest and then it can transform. It can transform from a rigid controller to a more relaxed controller.
How would you describe the essence of your work today?
The essence of my work is energy movement. Let me tell you another story.
For some people, “energy” work is maybe more of a spiritual fiction. But for me, it’s quite concrete. In my mid-thirties I had a period when I was again questioning myself. I had set up my business, was doing lots of trainings and it was extremely tiring. I took a two-month break for reflection. “Why am I doing this?” I wanted to gain clarity.
I went to friends of mine in Tuscany. They had a house there at that time and I spent two weeks with them. So, I was down there enjoying the Italian life. Cooking, enjoying rides, going to the sea, working the mountains, and much more. At the very end of these two weeks in Tuscany, with the good Italian life, I had a dream.
And this dream clarified everything for me for the rest of my life. In this dream I was energy. I was just a ball of energy. And I was conscious. It was a lucid dream. This ball of energy was moving over the planet, and it would just land somewhere at some point. The energy vibration in my ball was pretty high. There were other people around and I would just hang in there long enough until the vibration shifted and everybody would be in the same high vibration. That would be harmony. And then the ball would lift again and would go to another part of the world. And the same process would happen.
When I woke up I was super energized. I realized that this was my essence. This is ball of energy. And it might sound very vague to you, but for me it was an experience. My subjective experience of energy and that this is my talent and I am aware of it.
When working with groups I feel these energy shifts, the whole atmosphere in the group and I go with it. I work with it in the moment. It’s like steering a sailing boat. I know where to go, this way or that way. All the other things, the theories, processes, frameworks, even the trainers are all just a means for moving energy. This is what transformation is about and this is my essence: moving energy.
If we meet again for another conversation in a year from now – in the meanwhile you have been super happy and satisfied with your contribution to the world – what are you telling me that you did?
For me, ideally, it’s a continuation of my work. I feel very strongly committed to it and I think it’s really good to bring this work into the world. I will definitely focus more on the work itself rather than the organization around it, which is neither my talent nor my passion. There might be other people whose talent is to organize.
I like the notion of talent. Talent is when you are in your element. And it gives energy rather than draining it, even if you can do something very well. Let’s say you’re a very good organizer, but you’ll get tired of it. It means that it’s not your real talent. Your talent is when you feel nurtured. Ideally everyone in this world would be working from their talent.
What do you believe in?
I believe life is good. The universe is friendly and there is guidance. I believe in following your heart. Liberate yourself from anything that stops you from following your heart. And let’s be very radical about that. I believe that it’s very important to take care of your vulnerability, to embrace it and to not be afraid of any experience. Don’t try to avoid anything. If you feel fearful, go into the fear. If you feel anger, go into the anger. And by doing that you already start a shift because you are aware and choose to do it. That’s lovely.
What are you grateful for?
What a big question. I’m grateful that the universe sends all the nice people on my path in the right moment.
Your personal characteristics, likes, dislikes, uniqueness?
I absolutely enjoy the part of me that’s totally not into consciousness. So, being with some friends watching football or sharing our opinions about everything. I simply love it!
Robert, thank you so much for your openness and insightful stories, it was a pleasure having this conversation with you.