Main Pages

By Region




Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Failure?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Failure

A Fundamental Failure of the Child’s Environment

When a child’s manifestations, actions, motives or expressions are interpreted incorrectly, this misunderstanding has a deep wounding effect on the child because he is not related to as who and what he is. The child will not only feel hurt and betrayed, but is likely to become confused and uncertain about his sense of himself. The child’s self not only needs to be seen and related to, but seen accurately and responded to accordingly, for his sense of self to develop accurately. Otherwise, some qualities will be incorporated into his sense of self in a distorted way because they will be integrated into his sense of self compounded with the misunderstanding. Clearly, this particular disturbance affects most children’s relation to essential presence, because even if the parent is open enough to see her child’s essence in a vague way (for instance, because of intense love), she is likely to misunderstand it. She may understand his expressions or motivations, but misunderstand who he is. This is a fundamental failure of the environment; it is not possible to estimate the extent of devastation to the growing self of the child as he becomes alienated from who and what he is, his inner preciousness and truth.

We cannot blame the parent in this instance; she might be a normal and healthy mother who loves her child and does her best to provide him with what he needs. Her limitation is part of a societal norm, and she will not know otherwise unless she is fortunate enough to see what Essence and self-realization are. The degree and kind of the parent’s misunderstanding affects the degree of the child’s alienation. She might interpret the wonderful qualities of her child, which are actually the visible qualities of his essence, to be a specialness unique to her particular child. It is true that these qualities are unique and special; Essence, and the Essential Identity in particular, are the special and precious elements in the self. However, they are common to all children. The parent believes that her child is special because she senses something about him that is different from other children. The fundamental narcissism of the parent is what gives her this perspective.

Emotional Pain Involved with Parental Failure to Support and Mirror the True Nature of the Child

Because the child experiences the parents’ expectations as different from who he actually is, he feels betrayed by the parents. Even the general narcissistic condition of the parents is perceived as a betrayal. Because the child is completely dependent on the parents, this situation leads to his betraying himself to avoid aloneness and the loss of love of the parents. This, the greatest of all betrayals, is an important part of the development of narcissism, and constitutes an emotional issue central to the resolution of narcissism. In general, this sense of betrayal is completely unconscious until later developments take place, for instance when a person is in the process of individuation and separation from the parents’ expectations, he may feel then the cost of his accommodation to the parents’ defining of him. Another level of development is the process of spiritual realization, in which glimpses of essential nature tend to reveal the emotional pain involved with the parents’ failure to support and mirror this true nature. Seeing one’s essential nature gives one a painful awareness of what was betrayed by the parents and by the self’s accommodation of the parents’ world.

Failures of the Environment Must be Numerous and Frequent or Intense for Her (Soul) to Lose the Capacity for Basic Trust

When her environment is not adequate in its holding of her—that is, it is unloving, rejecting, abandoning, inappropriate, unempathic, intrusive, unprotecting, harsh, abusive, non-nourishing, neglecting, or incompetent—her inner homeostasis is disrupted. She does not respond with basic trust, and does not implicitly feel things are all right or that her needs will be adequately met. Failures of the environment must be numerous and frequent, or intense for her to lose the capacity for basic trust. Because human environments are most often inadequate and sometimes grossly so, the soul slowly loses the innate trust she was born with, and learns not to implicitly trust reality. This developing basic distrust, this expectation that things will not be all right, that life will not turn out to the best, becomes slowly ingrained and impressed upon the receptive soul. But even before basic trust is lost, when she experiences that things are not going all right, the soul organismically feels the inadequacy as an inner disruption. She feels not held, and the loving enfolding presence does not arise. The result is a bigger disruption than we would imagine. It means she cannot just simply be, she cannot continue to be presence. The disruption annihilates her sense of presence. She feels threatened, as if the bottom has fallen out. She instinctively contracts in response to the loss of her ground, and her dynamism manifests more difficult forms of experience. She may feel frustration, fear, terror, disintegration, anger, rage, sadness and, so on, depending on the extent of the inadequacy, the intensity of the resulting disruption, and the stage of her development. When the environment is not taking care of her adequately, the soul tries to take things into her own hands, going into a sort of emergency overdrive. She manifests forms of behavior that aim to bring about the needed responses from the environment; when she grows up these become forms of behavior aimed at changing the environment directly or attempts to deal with her inner condition on her own. Now the soul is no longer simply being, she is reacting. Her experience is no longer a continuity of being. When the soul loses her inner balance and tries to take things into her own hands, especially at times when such attempts are futile, she has to leave her place of abiding. Reacting is specifically not being, and so the continuity of being is lost.

If You Did Not Believe that You are an Independent Doer . . .

The loss or inadequacy of holding in childhood, reflected through this delusion of vanity, leads to the specific difficulty of ennea-type Three. The specific difficulty, as we have seen with each ennea-type, is how the environmental inadequacy in holding in early childhood is reflected in one’s personal experience. Here, there is the belief that one is a separate and independent doer, and at the same time, the experience that the environment is inadequate and unsupportive. You feel abandoned, rather than held and supported, and you have the sense that no one is taking care of you adequately. While feeling the deficiency, difficulty, and suffering of your experience, there is the growing conviction that you are a doer, that you can act. In other words, the inadequacy of the environment cuts you off from the experience that everything is occurring harmoniously without having to do anything yourself, while at the same time, you begin to believe in yourself as a separate doer. You take the inadequacy in the environment on yourself, believing that you should be able to take care of yourself, since through the delusion, you take yourself to be a center of action. So instead of seeing that the inadequacy is in the environment, you come to believe that it is within yourself. Since you aren’t able to provide for and take care of yourself, you not only take it to mean that you can’t do these things on your own, but you also take it as a failure, and feel unable, inadequate, and incompetent. If you did not believe that you are an independent doer, it wouldn’t make sense to believe that you are inadequate or a failure.

Facets of Unity, pg. 272

In the World of Appearance there is Suffering, Strife, Success and Failure etc; True Reality is the Absence of All These.

The shift of perspective from conventional reality to fundamental reality is a huge, quantum jump from one universe to another. No wonder this Work is difficult! When we see just how difficult, we understand more why we need to be patient and compassionate with ourselves. We are not here simply to become free of the inner critic, or free from the emotional conditioning, nor simply to be successful. These things—the content of the world of appearance —are all part of life. Without appearance, there would be no life. But we want to move towards something more fundamental, which is to work with the ultimate basis of suffering, not the relative suffering that comes from our history. We are beings who exist in two worlds at the same time, while believing that we exist in one world, the world we know. But the way we need to live is with one foot in each world all the time. With one foot in the appearance and the other in the reality, we will never forget one or the other. In the world of appearance there is suffering, strife, success and failure, pain and pleasure, life and death. The true reality of things is the absence of all these. There is no birth, no death, no you, no not-you, neither pleasure nor pain. There is complete freedom, complete release. However, when we realize the reality and see that it is actually the ground without which the appearance could not exist, then the world of appearance transforms. It becomes more harmonious. It becomes the world of appearance rather than the world of suffering, success, and failure. It becomes a world which is an expression of love and compassion and goodness and value. The appearance then is an expression of the beauty of reality. When this happens, the two worlds are connected, and the connection is a human being. Who we actually are is the bridge between the two worlds. We are both worlds and we are also the connection. But we cannot be this connection when we take one of the worlds to be reality, and forget about the other.

Life Stops being the Life of Strife and Frustration, the Wish for Success and the Fear of Failure

Life is no longer the exclusive domain of the personality. As essence unfolds and expands, it exposes deeper and more basic sectors of the personality, bringing about knowledge and objectivity. And these in turn allow essence to displace the personality on more and more dimensions. The discovery of essence is the beginning of the true life. Essence, as we have seen, is not a state experienced once and then always experienced in the same way afterward. Essence is rich and endless in its aspects, qualities, dimensions, capacities, and possibilities. All of this richness starts unfolding, bringing surprise, delight, beauty, value, and fulfillment. Life stops being the life of strife and frustration, the wish for success and the fear of failure. More than anything else, life becomes a process of creative discovery. Discovery itself becomes the heart of life. Life becomes a continual creation because essence is the creative element in us. Suffering and problems become less important, and creative discovery becomes the actual process of living. The unfolding of essence becomes the process of living. Life is no longer a string of disconnected experiences of pleasure and pain but a flow, a stream of aliveness. One aspect manifests after another, one dimension after another, one capacity after another. There is a constant flow of understanding, insight, knowledge, and states of being. As this unfolding proceeds, it affects the mind, the personality, and the external life. When conflicts arise, inner or outer, it is the expression of the lack of understanding of incoming essential aspects and dimensions. It is part of the creative process of living. Every new insight or knowledge is preceded by its absence. This absence is seen from the perspective of the ego as a conflict or a problem. However, if the individual is interested in the truth, the conflict is seen for what it is, an absence of a certain understanding. The presence of this understanding is the same as the presence of a certain aspect or dimension of essence, with its qualities, capacities, insights, and mode of living.

Narcissistic Shame is an Intense Pain Related to Social Failure, Failure to be a True Human Being

The narcissistic emptiness and its associated feelings are difficult to tolerate both because of its own phenomenological properties and because of the reactions to it. It is difficult for the student not to take it as an actual deficiency of the self and react accordingly—with judgment and rejection. We always find the student struggling with painful reactions to the emptiness as it is exposed. She feels deficient and inadequate, worthless and unimportant, weak and inferior, a failure, a loser, a nothing. She feels fake and unreal, lacking substance or value. She feels that she is a liar and a deceiver, an impostor. She feels her life has been a hoax, a waste. These feelings and reactions bring up the most painful affect of them all, shame. The student feels ashamed of herself, embarrassed about herself; she wants to hide. The shame is a specific painful feeling of deficiency, exposure and judgment, all related to a sense of inadequacy in being oneself. What makes this shame specifically a narcissistic manifestation is that one feels inadequate in being oneself, or judges oneself as such. She judges herself as unable to be real. She feels also the emotions associated with the “great betrayal”: she is a traitor to herself, she has sold out; she has been too weak and dependent to stand her ground. Narcissistic shame is an intense pain related to social failure, failure to be a true human being. It is a sense of being an inferior human being, exposed to social judgment in the midst of severe disintegration of the self. When experienced fully, the affect is very painful. The affect itself has a disintegrating effect on the self. The defenses against the shame and the other painful reactions to emptiness make these painful affects difficult to experience fully, and hence to understand completely. All of these painful affects must be dealt with for the student to have a chance of transforming her narcissism. She needs to separate the state of emptiness itself from the reactions to it. To do this, she needs to become aware of her judgments of the emptiness and of her reactions. She needs to learn how to deal successfully with these judgments, until they fall away.

Paradoxically, It’s Through Such Repeated Experiences of Failure that I’ve Developed a Kind of Trust, Some Kind of Faith, Some Kind of Inner Confidence in My Process

Now, I’ve said before that the notion of the individual “surrendering” is only an approximation— that it’s just an attempt to describe a process in a way that makes sense to us at certain stages of our journey. In truth, I wouldn't call it surrender. I couldn't surrender. I never surrendered and no one ever surrenders. You see, to believe I'm surrendering means I still believe I can do something. But I can’t let go. All that happens is I quit, and that’s because I recognize that I can't do it. It’s the grace, the blessing—it’s that energy that does it. This dynamic has happened to me many, many times and that’s how it’s become clear to me that there is something else there that does it. There is a source, an energy, a presence, a consciousness, and that is what really does the work. It’s only this that can bring about the release and it’s this that brings the resolution and the letting go. So paradoxically, it’s through such repeated experiences of failure that I’ve developed a kind of trust, some kind of faith, some kind of inner confidence in my process. It comes from a knowingness that it is not up to me. I'm not the one who does it and if it wasn't for this other force, if it wasn't for this grace that can happen, I would never be released and no development would happen. No true and lasting awakening can arise and no transformation is possible without this grace. And this has continued to be the major theme, the main thrust of my process. There came a time during some of the main discoveries of the diamond approach, such as the discovery of the aspects and the dimensions, when there was a complete trust that it's all happening on its own. And it’s not only happening on its own, it's pushing me and pulling me and showing me and releasing me and confronting me and melting me. This is one way grace works.

Seeing Narcissism as a Failure of Self-Realization

One such assumption, for instance, is that a human being is an entity fundamentally separate from other entities, which are also fundamentally separate from each other. Another, related, assumption is that the dimension of solid physical reality is the most—or even the only—fundamentally real existence. Another assumption is that one’s concepts about the world, about other people, and about oneself are actually objective, accurate representations. This category of assumptions constitutes what we are calling phenomenological barriers to self-realization. It is these barriers which are addressed in most traditional spiritual practices, which use methods that are specifically designed to confront them. From the point of view of seeing narcissism as a failure of self-realization, one could say that the mistaken assumption is the very stubborn belief that the concept of the self is who one is. Besides the body of exploration in spiritual tradition, a central thread in the field of Western philosophical thought concerns epistemological questions regarding the experience of the self. This body of thought has penetrated the naive assumptions of conventional thought regarding the nature of self and world, and brought profound appreciation of the difference between mental constructs and more fundamental reality. However, this tradition does not focus on actual methods of transforming the experience of the self. Existentialist psychology is the field that most clearly addresses these epistemological questions in the context of a philosophical understanding integrated with psychological knowledge.

Some People Believe that Who They are is a Failure So Completely that they Don’t Do Anything Successful People Do

Let’s take the example of self-image. You discover you have difficulties and conflicts because you have a certain inner image or concept of yourself. You may see yourself as a weak person, or an ugly person. And if you believe you’re a weak person, you will behave like a weak person. You won’t do things you think only strong people do. So when we identify a previously taken for granted self-image, we are able to see that it is just an image, it is not true. Some people believe that who they really are is a failure. They believe this so completely that they don’t do anything successful people do. The moment they have some success, they become terrified. They feel it’s not them; it’s someone else taking over. If you identify the self-image and understand it, you’ll have some freedom from it. For example, suppose your self-image is that you’re ugly. Your therapist says, “Look in the mirror.” You look in the mirror, and you’re not really sure. “Maybe it’s not as bad as I thought. Maybe if my nose were a little bit shorter then I wouldn’t be ugly.” But even if you can see the belief in the self-image, you won’t be free of it, because on the emotional level you know this is a self-image only by comparing it with something else, another self-image. What is ugly? What is beautiful? You have your standard of beauty and according to that standard, you’re not beautiful. Your superego tells you a beautiful woman is a woman with a small nose and that’s it. If everyone tells you that your nose is fine maybe you won’t think you’re so ugly. But whenever you’re feeling bad about yourself, you always remember that nose. If someone rejects you, you’re sure it’s because of your nose. The understanding that will release you from that self-image will come from a place that is not on the emotional level. A certain understanding is needed to eliminate the belief in self-image. This knowledge is that ultimately, you are not the self-image, you are not a concept; you are something else. And your nose, short or big, whatever it is, has nothing to do with who you are.

The Attitude where there is No Fear of Failure, No Anxiety About Doing It Right

But inquiry is not a test. It’s not a matter of passing or failing. It’s a matter of finding out. Let’s say you find yourself crying a lot. If you don’t take a position about what that means about you, then after a while, what you will naturally start to think is: “That’s very interesting. I have to open this up and find out where all this crying is coming from.” Not because you want to stop it, but just because you’re curious. You look at other people and they don’t seem to be crying all the time. So you want to know what makes that happen in you. You’re not investigating this to get enlightened; you just can’t help wanting to know what is really happening. When you have this attitude, there is no fear of failure, no anxiety about doing it right—because you have no ideas or beliefs about what is right and what is wrong. You don’t know what the result of your exploration is going to be. So with a playful attitude, one isn’t afraid of making mistakes. Interestingly enough, when we take this kind of lighthearted approach, when we are playful, the entire process not only happens more easily, but things open up more effectively and we begin to see the truth more precisely. Our experience becomes optimized, maximized. If we understand that inquiry springs out of the lightness and openness of joyful curiosity, we begin to see that the heaviness and seriousness are not characteristic of inquiry itself. They are only characteristic of some of the content that arises in inquiry and from the beliefs we have about it. So the content can be very happy or very painful, but the attitude of the inquiry itself doesn’t have to be influenced by the content. The inquiry itself is an expression of openness, lightness, curiosity and love. When it doesn’t have that sense of really wanting to know, of feeling so excited that you can’t wait to find out, then the inquiry is not coming from that openness. It’s coming from more of a fixed position, with a certain aim or a specific goal. But you could inquire into that. Instead of saying, “Uh-oh, things are heavy—let’s stop,” or “Let’s get away from that,” you can inquire into that attitude of heaviness: “Where is that coming from?”

The Sense of Incompetence and Failure Being Helplessness Characterized by Self-Judgement

So the painful emotional state of abandonment and isolation is compounded by feelings of inadequacy, incompetence, ineptness, and failure, all of which crystallizes during the first five or six years of life. The core of this complex of painful emotions is the specific difficulty itself, the very difficult feeling of helplessness. The sense of incompetence and failure is the helplessness characterized by self-judgment. Without this characterization, the helplessness is simply the existential predicament resulting from inadequate holding, filtered through this delusion. Without judgment, you wouldn’t feel like a failure, but simply helpless. This sense of helplessness is different from other states of helplessness that result when you cannot do something because of opposition in the environment: when you want to do something and you can’t. This helplessness is not specific to one incident, but is inherent in egoic experience. It is true of any ego, whether one is aware of it or not, and is the felt sense of oneself when one is subscribing to the delusion of independent doership. It is a deep inner feeling of helplessness that arises not because the situation is not right, but because you recognize that you just can’t do in a much more intrinsic and fundamental way. It becomes especially obvious and severe when the environment is not holding the individual, as happens in early childhood. However, this helplessness is nonsensical if one does not believe that one is an independent doer.

Facets of Unity, pg. 273

Without Much Basic Trust You are Paralyzed with Fear of Failure and Fear of Rejection

When you have a lot of basic trust, you are courageous and authentic. You take risks. You don’t sit on your capacities. You engage in life wholeheartedly, doing what feels appropriate to you with the confidence that it will work out. Without much basic trust, you are paralyzed with fear of failure and fear of rejection. If you’re looking for a mate, basic trust means taking the risk of talking with someone you’re attracted to. You may be a little frightened, but the fear is not a big deal and you act anyway. If she rejects you, so what? You feel resilient. After all, there are millions of people in the world. But without basic trust, rejection can feel like the end of the world. You feel hopeless. So basic trust implies real hope, which we will discuss when we get to the Holy Idea of Holy Hope. When your basic trust deepens, you have an inner sense of relaxation that allows your soul to unfold spontaneously and naturally. The trust affects your mind in such a way that you begin to see that whatever happens is right even if it’s painful, and things that you had thought were bad turn out not to be bad. You have a different outlook, seeing a more fundamentally true view of the universe. You see that everything that exists in the world is just right and that whatever happens is just right, that what is can’t be added to or subtracted from. This is the Idea of Holy Perfection. To see this truth, you have to trust the universe. When there is a depth of basic trust, you perceive the universe through the Holy Ideas. If there is little basic trust, you see the universe through a closed mind, through the filter of the fixated structure of the ego.

Facets of Unity, pg. 28

Subscribe to the Diamond Approach