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Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Defense?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Defense

A Few Key Points About Defensiveness

Let’s review a few key points about defensiveness and then see what we can understand about the process of its transformation. This process includes encountering the vulnerability that inevitably comes up as we become aware of how we defend ourselves:

* As we practice—which entails inquiring into what is going on, recognizing our experience, being where we are, abiding in it, and learning to be ourselves—we encounter a stance of defensiveness that we become more and more conscious of.

* That defensiveness is a barrier against our unconscious, but also against much of our potential, because it is a defense against experience, a defense against the expansion of awareness, a defense against being present, a defense against being real.

* When a defense is pushed against or challenged, it changes from a passive wall to an active resistance against what is arising, a resistance against recognizing what we think is—or could become—dangerous or threatening.

* The defensiveness is a hardening and a thickening of our consciousness, creating walls within us.

* If we recognize those walls and are able to understand them, they begin to transform and start to come down.

* As those defenses gradually dissolve, as those walls come down, we will have the feeling of no protection for a while. Without the walls, when we still do not feel the security of being ourselves, we will experience that as defenselessness. And that defenselessness will feel like a kind of vulnerability, a trembling emotional condition of the heart that makes us feel quite delicate.

* That delicacy, that trembling, means that we are open but we still believe that there is danger. So we are still tentative, a little cautious, a little reactive. That is because as we are approaching the delicacy of being ourselves, the delicacy of intimacy; we are approaching it by letting go of the walls, and we are still not used to being in that openness.

* Our defensiveness at some point becomes a wall against vulnerability. So to learn to be real, to learn to be ourselves, we need to come to terms with our vulnerability.

All Your Defense Mechanisms and Resistances are Valued Highly

From this perspective, what governs most valuing is seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Anything that helps you avoid pain is valued. That means that all your defense mechanisms and resistances are valued highly. At the beginning of the Work, you put up a big fight to keep them. You’ve spent years building up all your ideas of how you are, how you should be, and how the world should be. These long-cherished dreams are based mostly on experiences of deficiency in childhood. As you understand yourself more through the Work and as you see what is really of value to you, these desires and expectations will change.

Certain Defenses which are Generally Associated with Psychopathology Do Not Completely Disappear in Normal Ego Development

The extreme of the defense of detachment leads to the development of the schizoid character, as Guntrip has amply shown. We have observed that these defenses, which are generally associated with psychopathology—regressive refusion with psychosis, grandiosity with pathological narcissism, defensive detachment with schizoidism, and splitting with borderline conditions—do not really completely disappear in normal ego development. Our exploration of the deeper layers of the normal personality reveals that these defenses are still present and are in fact employed extensively. They become more active, or rather more consciously active, in the deeper stages of inner realization, revealing, in the presence of every ego individuality, structures that are, or are similar to, psychotic, borderline, narcissistic and schizoid structures. The individual does not usually become pathological when these structures emerge in consciousness, indicating that they are not the dominant structures in the personality, but they do cause considerable distress and anxiety. Thus we see that, although in the normal individual the well-adapted or “conflict-free” segment of ego predominates, the structure actually contains all the forms of the major pathologies, both structural and neurotic.

Consequence of Defending Against Space

This illustrates the primary reason for the extreme difficulty encountered when an individual attempts to achieve a clear experience of open space through meditation techniques, as in Eastern spiritual schools; for the experience of space, because it involves the dissolving of defenses, will bring into consciousness any distortions in body-image. The defense mechanisms of the ego will then automatically mobilize to prevent consciousness of the affective experiences associated with these distortions. This mobilization of defenses in effect amounts to the repression of space. Space not only reveals distortions, but because it exposes self-boundaries, it naturally brings into consciousness all the identifications making up these boundaries, as well as any affects and memories connected to them. Naturally then, space will be vehemently defended against. Space is actually dynamically repressed; and this fact, besides explaining the difficulty in experiencing space, indicates the usefulness of psychodynamic techniques to those seeking this experience. Our experience is that the psychodynamic method does allow greater success than simple meditation in eliciting the perception of space, especially when it is used in understanding and eliminating the difficulties that arise in response to the experience of space.

The Void, pg. 49

Defending Ourselves Internally

But when we are trying to defend ourselves internally, we are in some sense trying to run away. We are trying to hide. We are trying to isolate, to separate ourselves, to put a distance between us and the danger. And that happens in many ways. One strategy is to create a passive structure of defense. We can do this by erecting inner walls against our experience of fear, against our perception of danger, against feeling the possibility of threat or attack or pain. Those walls can be inside of us separating different parts of us—such as our heart and our genitals, our consciousness and our unconscious—or they can be between us and what we perceive as the outside. But the walls are just one manifestation of the ego’s defensive tendency. Ego-defensiveness also manifests in other ways, such as hiding, running away, isolating oneself, contracting, or restraining oneself from showing up fully. These are all ways of resisting what is present in our experience. The intent is to avoid being open because being open means leaving oneself undefended and unprotected. Being open means being ourselves, and we believe that being ourselves is dangerous because then we are vulnerable to all kinds of threats.

Development of Defenses

The child cannot try to defend against his experience in the present moment and at the same time remain in touch with his present essential nature. Thus, all ego defenses, necessary though they are for the psychological balance of the inadequately cared-for child, contribute to his disconnection from his essential core, and thus to his narcissism… Not only defenses, but many kinds of structures develop in defensive ways. Some ego structures actually develop specifically for defense, for example, those which constitute the schizoid character. In attempting to avoid dealing with very painful object relations the child defends by isolating himself from his felt experience in general. This defensive detachment isolates him not only from his emotions, but also from his essential Presence, characterized by vivid affects and qualities of aliveness. If he were in touch with the essential Presence, he would lose his capacity to isolate himself from his emotions, because the Presence would open him to his present experience, whatever its content. (The Point of Existence, pg 187) From our perspective, however, just as it is known in psychoanalysis that some identification systems are defenses against other systems, or against id impulses, they (all identification systems) are usually defenses against the various aspects of Being. Being is always there; it is what we are in the most fundamental way. That it is not in conscious experience indicates the presence of defenses against it; it becomes part of the content of the unconscious. And any identification system taken to give the individual a sense of self or individuality is bound to function as a defense against Being because Being is who one is, it is the true self.

Identification Systems are Usually Defenses Against Various Aspects of Being

From our perspective, however, just as it is known in psychoanalysis that some identification systems are defenses against other systems, or against id impulses, they (all identification systems) are usually defenses against the various aspects of Being. Being is always there; it is what we are in the most fundamental way. That it is not in conscious experience indicates the presence of defenses against it; it becomes part of the content of the unconscious. And any identification system taken to give the individual a sense of self or individuality is bound to function as a defense against Being because Being is who one is, is the true self. The identification systems are, at the least, in rivalry with Being and its aspects, and will always function defensively to ward off the deficiency resulting from loss of contact with Being. This defensiveness becomes apparent in the early stages of work on inner realization.

Identification with Defensive Structures Cuts Off Essential Will

The moment one identifies with a defensive structure one cuts himself off from the Will of Essence. Understanding this can bring a precise understanding of the difference between the beingness of Being and the activity of ego. Castration anxiety is a direct consequence of being cut off from the Will Essence. The Oedipal situation augments the situation, but does not create it.

Old Defenses Constitute Much of the Unclarity and Dullness of the Personality

The personality, however, does not usually discard old defenses that are no longer needed, and these old defenses constitute much of the unclarity and dullness of the personality. At different points in your work you experience different aspects of this unclarity, depending on what area you are working on, and the previous level of clarification of your personality. For example, you might be working for some time on material in the personality that has to do with security and the essential aspect of Will, and another time you might be working on defenses regarding Strength. Also, the deeper you go into your work, the more the subtle structures in the personality are experienced as false. We call this unclarity the “false pearl,” contrasting it to the true person, which we call the Pearl.

Origin of Adult Defenses

As children, we were open and delicate and gentle, which meant that we lacked hardness, we lacked defenses, and we lacked a shield around us. But when we felt exposed and afraid, we learned to build those shields to protect ourselves, to defend ourselves from the environment around us. So now, as adults, we continue to put up walls and shields to stop the environment from affecting us. In order to protect ourselves from outside dangers, we stop ourselves from feeling vulnerable by closing down our own feelings, our own sensations, our own imagination.

Reaction Formation to the State of Deficiency

Our understanding is that to continue identifying with the particular ego structure is to continue the defense. In all the cases of an individual going from an ego state to a Being state, the main defensive maneuver is the identification with an ego structure, a self-image or an object relation. While it is true that one must deal with other defense mechanisms, like repression, reaction formation, projection and so on, ultimately one comes to face the identification systems themselves as the ultimate and most subtle defense. It is true that the identifications give the individual a sense of self or individuality, which is taken by object relations theory to be needed for adaptation and development, but they are exactly what constitute the defense against the particular state of deficiency related to the Personal Essence In relation to the Personal Essence, the experience is always as follows: One is cut off from the Personal Essence. There results a sense of lack and deficiency. Since the Personal Essence is the feeling of being a real and rounded individual, the deficiency is experienced as an affect of a lack of this sense of oneself. One feels weak, lacking his own sense of beingness. One feels one is really not a person, cannot be personal and cannot make contact Now, what is the best defense against such a painful state? Clearly, the best defense is the belief and feeling that one is a person who is strong and able to make contact. This is exactly what is provided by identifying with the ego structure or with part of it. We can call this function adaptive, but even if we admit this possibility, we cannot deny that it is also defensive. It is, in fact, a reaction formation to the state of deficiency.

Rejecting Yourself

The moment you become aware of the vicious cycle of the activity of defensiveness, you will see clearly that what you have been rejecting is yourself, and that the rejection is useless and unnecessary. Then you will relax and stop. The complete perception of this cycle is the stopping of the wheels. Then the personality is dissolved by clarity. There is clarity because there is no movement in the personality separating it from Being.

Splitting and Projection

The first defensive operations are those of splitting and projection. The negative merging is split off, seen as separate and unrelated to the positive merging, and projected outside; thus it is perceived as part of the environment.

The Schizoid Defense Against Personal Contact

However, when we are confronted with impersonality in the course of letting go of ego identifications, if we neither posit it as the ultimate reality, nor reject it, but genuinely investigate the truth, we will ultimately come upon the personal element. The absence of the personal element, which is felt as an impersonality, can be seen at such times either as an emptiness in the chest, or the presence of a hard impersonal shield over it. The emptiness is felt as almost physical, as an empty hole or cavity in the chest. The emptiness affects the individual by making him feel that he doesn’t have what it takes for him to relate in a personal way. He is impersonal because he lacks the personal element. He feels the emptiness as a deficiency, a lack in who he is. This deficient emptiness is simply the state of the absence of the Personal Essence. The rigid shield is a defense against this deficiency, which gives the individual a sense of being a person that is not personal. In fact, it is what is usually referred to in depth psychology as a schizoid defense. It is a defense against personal contact, because of the vulnerability that it might expose. So the individual employs this impersonal defense of isolation and emotional detachment so that he does not feel either the vulnerability of personal involvement, or the sadness about the lack of it. This condition is much more common than is normally acknowledged, for it is usually hidden by the ego’s fake sense of being personal.

The Ultimate Defense is a Resistance that Keeps the Personality Separate from Being

Working through this sector of the personality, which involves dealing with very primitive ego identification systems, ultimately reveals the most elementary form of the personality. It is the regressed, at the same time undeveloped, part of the ego that forms the basic and most rudimentary sense of self and personality. One sees here that splitting, isolation and withdrawal are in a sense the same thing; they meet in one manifestation. One experiences one’s identity in a form of consciousness that is very subtle and delicate, but is characterized by being separate from Being, the nondifferentiated reality. One sees that the final, or conversely the most primitive, resistance is against Being, remaining separate from nondifferentiated Pure Being. The personality has an autonomous and differentiated existence, and hence the ultimate defense is a resistance that keeps the personality separate from Being. This defense is a withdrawal from contact with Being, which creates an isolation from it, with the final result being a primary splitting of Being and personality.

We Defend Against Being Completely Aware

Defenses have become so institutionalized, so much a part of our character and personality, that at some point we don’t recognize that they are there. They have become part of our internal structure. But in our attempts to protect ourselves from real or imagined danger, our awareness becomes diminished. That is because being completely aware would mean being aware of all the things that scare us or might hurt us or that we are ashamed of. So we defend against them and stop being aware. Much of the time, we are defending ourselves against reality; and it is not against reality as much as it is against our own experience. The implication for our practice is that we can recognize and understand this and be aware that we will encounter these things as we continue to practice being where we are.

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