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Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Despair?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Despair

Deep Despair Because Who He is, is Not Seen as Precious

Sometimes, however, instead of idealizing a particular quality, some people idealize who they truly are, and make the essential self into an ego ideal. People who idealize being authentic, original and spontaneous, for instance, are actually idealizing qualities of who they truly are. However, this idealization does not mean that they are actually being who they truly are. An idealization is always a distortion of one’s reality. Usually, though, a person idealizes a certain quality that he has, and wants to be admired, loved, recognized, and respected for that quality. But as I’ve said, deeper than this wish is the desire for who he simply is, regardless of what he does, to be seen as precious. And there is a deep despair because who he is is not seen as precious, and the ego ideal is one of the compensations for this.

Depths of Despair

At this point the soul may reach depths of despair about ever being released from the trap of isolation; whatever inner efforts she makes only dig her deeper into this dilemma. Eventually she begins to see the futility of doing anything to free herself, even the spiritual practices of meditation, prayer, concentration, contemplation, inquiry, attention, and so on. Whatever she does is her own individual action, exercising her own will and intention, and it is becoming clear that this is an expression of the dilemma itself. It is all based on her own individual desire. To desire is to be the individual she is, to long and yearn for her freedom is to be the same limited person, and it is this individual that does the spiritual practices and works on herself. This separate person is, in fact, the same individual who wants to surrender, and because she wants to surrender she cannot; for by wanting it she is being the individual who turns out to be inseparable from the separating boundaries of ego.

Existential Hopelessness

The self-identity structure is a dynamic structure comprised not only of self-representations, but also of inner activity (Kohut’s tension arc). This “dynamic essence of the self” is an automatic, compulsive and incessant activity, which is mostly unconscious. We saw in Chapter 8 that the main components of this activity are rejection, hope and desire. Repeated experience of the stillness of black emptiness exposes this activity as mental agitation, which now intensifies and reaches feverish proportions, as an obsessive inner activity whose ultimate purpose is to perpetuate itself. It becomes increasingly obvious that the details of this activity, the content of what the self rejects and what it hopes for, are immaterial. What matters is the activity itself. The notion of giving up this inner activity appears to the self as defeat, a surrender to hopelessness. The mental activity intensifies in an effort to avoid deep hopelessness and helplessness, despair and depression. These feelings are part of a narcissistic depression and deep hopelessness that the student feels about being her real self. This heavy and painful state is characterized by inertia, dullness, and self-hate. One feels existential hopelessness and despair about the possibility of existing authentically, and about receiving support for one’s authenticity.

Fearing Despair

A person might not see his idealization clearly. If it is unclear, then he might change it in this and that way. So it remains fuzzy. Sometimes we keep our ideals fuzzy to avoid the moment of truth, the moment of finding out that they don’t satisfy us. We fear the despair that we are sure will follow when we see that what we really wanted doesn’t satisfy us. Then you have to die in one way or another. That is why some people commit suicide when they seem to “have it all.” When your idealization is just a distant dream, there is still something to live for, and the idealization gives you hope. But from another point of view, that apparent zest for life is just a part of what is creating the deeper suffering. We want to arrive at the place where there is no hope, yet no despair. This rarely occurs naturally in our life situations without the work of understanding.

Giving Up Out of the Simple Recognition that You Can’t Do Anything

All kinds of issues might arise as we realize that even though we need to continually practice, we cannot do anything and all of reality is the self-illumination of true nature. We might feel that we are useless or helpless, that we don’t have the power or the capacity to do anything. And for a while, we might think this is a bad thing. But it is actually true illumination: The usual self that we ordinarily tend to take ourselves to be can’t do anything. And as we experience how helpless and incapable we are, true nature is waking up—its light is getting more intense and more brilliant. If we read about the lives of enlightened masters or mystics, we see that often their enlightenment or realization happens when they hit bottom, when they get to the point of being completely helpless and hopeless and incapable. They throw in the towel and completely and truly give up. You can’t fake this; it really has to happen. You have to exhaust all your capacities and truly give up, not out of cynicism or despair but out of the simple recognition that you can’t do anything. 

Giving Up, Not Out of Despair, but Out of Understanding

It’s a paradoxical situation, that the situation is completely hopeless, nothing can be done, and yet at the same time there is a school where you can work to bring about freedom. This situation can be understood. The understanding is that the school and the teaching exist, not so you’ll strengthen your hope, but so that in time, you will see that what I’m saying is true. The school is useful only for finally bringing about the perception and the certain understanding that it is hopeless. That is the function of the teaching. Only when you completely understand from your own observation of your mind and reality that it is hopeless, only then will you give up. When there’s complete hopelessness and you give up, not out of despair, but out of understanding, then the freedom will be there. The freedom will not come as a result of your achieving anything. The freedom will arise only as a result of understanding the situation. In fact, the freedom is not a result of understanding the situation, the freedom is the understanding of the situation.

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