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Inner Work

Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Inner Work?

We have to love being genuine to go through the trouble and the discipline of inner work.

— A. H. Almaas

Inner work is a process of remembering what we have forgotten and learning what we still don’t know. We can’t do one without the other. If we only remember what we have forgotten, it won’t be enough. If we simply learn what we don’t know, it’s not enough. There has to be an interaction between the two. Remembering what we have forgotten largely means working with the personality, the ego structure of the soul. Knowing what we don’t know involves learning about essence, being, reality, and truth.

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Inner Work

All the Levels of Realization are Ultimately Seen to be Distractions

We need to see that all of our inner work, all the understanding and insight we gain, is a matter of recognizing what distracts us. Each time we understand something new, we need to sacrifice it, to let it go. We need to learn not to be attached to any object, any form, any insight we can know in our minds. We need to learn not to be attached to anything we can remember, whether it’s an issue we’re exploring, part of our personality, or an essential state. Everything is to be explored, to be understood objectively, and, at the moment it is understood, to be sacrificed completely, absolutely, and willingly at the door of the heart. That is exactly what understanding something means. To understand something means ultimately to sacrifice it, to let it go, to be done with it. If we do not let it go, if we keep holding on to it, we have not fully understood it. When we thoroughly understand something, it’s gone—whether it’s an aspect of the personality or an aspect of essence. We’re attached to it only when we haven’t completely understood it. The path of the heart shows us that everything we become attached to remains in our heart, filling the abode of the Guest. Our attachments become idols filling the sacred space of the Kaaba, the holy place of the absolute Beloved. We need to recognize all our attachments, even to spiritual states, as distractions. All the levels of realization—even though they’re good, wonderful, and useful, and inevitably we fall in love with them—are ultimately seen to be distractions.

Beginning Stages of Inner Work

The inner work normally begins with some of these component self-images and their object relations, moving gradually to larger and more general structures, but also sometimes to smaller subunits of structure. This work can take several years, and constitutes the initial stages of the liberation of the soul and the discovery of essence in some of its aspects. This stage culminates in the work on the major structures of the ego, those of self-identity and self-entity. These foundational structures in turn have their supports in the primitive and other types of structures. What we call ego structures are the normal identifications of the self. Since they are the final and most highly structured outcomes of ego development, they are usually quite distant from the soul’s ground of presence. As a result, when we explore these structures they always reveal themselves to be empty, devoid of inner reality. They are the most external structures, where the sense of inner medium of the soul is completely obscured from view, and her sense of agency is vague. We are a subject who observes and experiences objects, inner or outer. This is the conventional dimension of experience, the totally egoic realm of duality. All these structures can be seen to compose a segment of the soul that we refer to as the central ego, meaning the central identification system that develops through normal ego development and that the individual soul identifies with consciously. It is the final outcome of integrating the various object relations and their associated images into an overall self-image. It is the ordinary, normal, familiar sense of self and identity. We are not here dealing with deep instinctual structures, but with the normal level of object relations: for example, “I am a bad boy who angers his father,” or “I am a frustrated girl because my mother does not pay attention to me.” This is why when we penetrate these ego structures they reveal themselves as empty shells, devoid of substance and reality.

Can We Become Conscious of Nonconceptual Awareness?

This is consciousness with no mind involved, awareness with no knowing of any kind. There is merely the awareness of shapes, colors, movements, qualities; there is no recognition, knowing, or understanding of what one is perceiving. There is differentiation but not discrimination. We refer to this perception without recognition as nonconceptual awareness, for recognition and knowing require concepts. There is awareness of content but no recognition of it; recognition requires a further step in the functioning of consciousness. The traditional metaphor for this pure perceptivity is the mirror. The mirror analogy describes the soul’s primordial and original condition, which is the pure nonconceptual awareness of experience. This is the fundamental ground of any experience, which is the pure nonconceptual bare awareness of experience before recognition, reaction, categorization, or any such phenomena occur. Becoming conscious of this nonconceptual awareness is an important aspect of inner work, and something we begin to understand from the first glimpses of recognizing the soul. Simply understanding that the soul is a medium that is aware of experience within its own field, we begin to understand the mirror-like quality of the soul. A mirror reflects forms without adding anything to them. It merely registers the shapes, colors, and movements of the forms. Our consciousness functions like a mirror with respect to the forms that arise within it. This nonconceptual awareness is fundamental to the soul, a function that underlies and precedes all other functions of consciousness.

Each Teaching Orients to Reality Through a Different Logos

Throughout history, human beings have felt the need for intentional, focused work and guidance, to be able to advance beyond the average human development known in most societies. Much of our human potential lies in realms not accessible or even visible to normal consciousness. This is specifically the case for humanity’s spiritual potential, which is the ground of human consciousness and the source of true and lasting fulfillment, peace, and liberation. This situation has led to the arising and development of many teaching schools throughout the ages, inner work schools that specialize in the development of the total human being—particularly the actualization of the depth of human potential. Such a spiritual school is usually built on a teaching that emerges from a specific logos—a direct understanding of reality and the situation of human beings within that reality. Through the teaching, the logos reveals a path toward the actualization of our human potential. The methodology of the path also reflects the wisdom arising from this direct understanding. It is not just a haphazard collection of techniques aimed at helping students to arrive at certain inner states. The methodology will be successful in unfolding the path when it is a faithful expression of the particular logos of that teaching. You could say that practicing the methodology of a teaching is the specific key needed to open the door of this teaching’s logos of experience and wisdom. This understanding of the relationship between logos, teaching, method, and reality has another important implication. As a methodology is practiced within the logos of a particular teaching, objective reality will reveal itself in forms relevant for the journey of self-realization undertaken through that teaching. In other words, a profound and fundamental manifestation of reality characteristic of one teaching may never arise for followers of a different teaching, because each teaching orients to reality through a different logos.

Existential Issues Brought Forth Intensely Due to Inner Work

Existential issues are related to the normal limitations of being a human being living in a world with others. These issues include questions, conflicts, and suffering in relation to desire and desirelessness, gratification and frustration, intimacy and isolation, relatedness and aloneness, love and aggression, instinct and morality, limitation and finitude, transistorizes and mortality, choice and accident, meaning and emptiness, being and nothingness, fear and dread, and so on. These issues reflect the fact that the soul has both animal and essential potential, that she is unrealized without knowing it or knowing that there is any alternative. The soul lives an embodied life with its normal limitations and frustrations, which are compounded by her ignorance of her true nature. These issues tend to arise naturally in life, especially during transitions and intense events, but they also are brought forth intensely due to the inner work. They arise especially as the soul learns to penetrate and transcend her ego structure. To follow our example, when the soul begins to see the limitation of structure and experiences herself as presence, the structure begins to reveal its nature as a mental construct characterized by past conditioning, ideas, memories, etc. The soul begins to experience an inner emptiness, a meaninglessness, a dread of falling apart, and terror of death and annihilation. These experiences of falling apart or being annihilated actually come to pass as the structures dissolve. The soul experiences disintegration and dissolution, disorientation, and a loss of identity; she feels lost and despondent. These existential crises are actually elements of some stages of working through ego structures that then lead to deeper realizations of true nature, moving to timelessness and formlessness.

Inner Work is Much More Complex, Much More Vast, than We Usually Imagine It to Be

Inner work is much more complex, much more vast than we usually imagine it to be. Waking up to the truth of reality is not a matter of having certain experiences or resolving certain issues. Although those experiences are important, actualizing the true human life involves much more of an objective knowledge. It’s unlikely that one of these days we’re going to have one experience and then become free and live as a complete human being. Many schools and teachings emphasize generating spiritual experiences, which for us is an easy part of inner work. For a work system like ours, the generation of spiritual experiences is not the be-all and end-all of our path; it’s only one aspect of the path and has to be understood in relationship to the whole. Some teachings construe one or another aspect of the three realms of knowledge—of soul, of Essence, and of objective reality—to be the final truth. As we explore the knowledge of the soul, we learn that it is an infinite ocean that no one single individual can encompass. The soul, considered the organ of evolution, has infinite realms and facets. Sometimes the soul is called the organ of experience, the organ of perception, or the organ of action. The evolution of the human soul is the evolution of the human being. The soul’s evolution is inextricably linked with the experiential knowledge of Essence, which is inextricably linked with the experiential knowledge of the cosmic realms, what I refer to sometimes as the ground dimensions. The knowledge of the soul does not mean only experience of the various states and conditions and transformations of the soul, which is the personal consciousness. It also includes the various capacities and functions. To know the capacities and functions of the soul means to know how to operate as human beings should or can operate. The knowledge of the soul includes knowing how to live correctly. The soul evolves through some kind of education. Frequently, while some parts of the soul develop, others remain untouched. Often the development of the soul is not balanced, is askew in various ways. So we tend to go around in circles instead of going straight because of this imbalance in development. But with the development of balance, we learn to move forward, toward greater evolution and expansion.

Making True Nature an Object

One of the difficulties that can arise in our experience—not only in this teaching but in inner work in general—is the tendency to objectify true nature, the tendency to make it into a something. As we have encounters with true nature, whether we come into contact with it or we are it, true nature can appear as something different from other things, as a distinct particular. Its particularity and its difference give rise to the possibility of setting it apart; and by setting it apart, we objectify it, which begins a process of reification that feeds our sense of being an isolated self. As we objectify true nature, we both misconstrue it and support a sense of self that is disconnected from it. This tends to solidify the shell of the self, which means that we don’t recognize that true nature is what we are. All of us have had the experience of reifying true nature. Anytime we think, “I am experiencing personal presence” or “I’ve realized boundless love,” we are making true nature a something. Our language does this all the time. Some of us use spiritual lingo as if we were talking about our grocery list of kale and orange juice and organic granola. We tend to talk about our spiritual life in the same way that we talk about the rest of our life—what we’ve got, what we need, who’s got what, what’s next. It’s good to recognize that this happens and also how it can lead to the objectification and reification of true nature.

Practicing the Work Diligently, We Will Have to Question All of Our Assumptions

When we begin any path of inner work, we question certain assumptions about self and about life and reality. As we continue the work, we question more and more assumptions. If we practice the work diligently, we will have to question all of our assumptions. Questioning all of your assumptions means questioning all that you know, and it also means questioning all that you perceive. When we first begin to pay attention to ourselves, we become aware of our mental and emotional patterns, our past and the effects of the past on our present experience. We begin to recognize how we were loved or not loved, our need for love, and we may feel unhappy and unwanted. We may become aware of how we don’t have real will and how we need to develop real will; how we need to learn to be compassionate toward ourselves and others. We question the aims we have in our life, our goals and dreams, whatever they may be. All of this really is only part of the mind I refer to in the poem. All of this is your personal mind, your small mind. This mind does need to be annihilated to behold the world of the night, but that annihilation is the easy part of the path, even though everyone believes it is the difficult part. Most work schools don’t even deal with the personal mind, because they assume you already know how to work with it. As we continue the inner journey, we learn a little more. We learn about essence and true self. We learn about God and divinity, God’s will, and surrender to God’s will. As we examine our experience more deeply, we discover that we still adhere to basic assumptions that we have not yet confronted. Do you believe your mother didn’t love you and you need to be loved? Do you believe you don’t have will and you need to actualize your will? Do you believe you haven’t surrendered to God and you need to surrender to God? Do you believe your awareness is either limited or expanded? As you work through these issues, you realize that these beliefs imply basic things that you have learned somewhere, whether from your mother or from school or some other place. These beliefs are not certain, direct perceptions but still assumptions about reality.

Rebirth of an Essential Aspect is the Beginning of Its Life

The rebirth of an essential aspect is the beginning of its life. It does not yet mean that this aspect is completely established. In fact, the rebirth might just be an isolated experience that fills the heart with joy for some time and then disappears. Or the aspect might show up once in a while, under certain circumstances, but not every time it is actually needed. This means that this aspect of essence is not completely freed; it is not yet made one's own. The appearance or the experience of essence can happen sometimes without the individual going through the inner work of understanding and without experiencing the deficiency. This happens in isolated instances and usually has no lasting effect on the personality. It also can happen if the individual is associating with another who embodies the essence. This is the customary situation of disciples with their teachers and guides. If the disciple is open enough or is capable of empathic identification with his or her teacher, or most likely when the disciple is able to merge with the consciousness of the teacher, he or she might at certain times experience essence in some of its aspects. This is, in fact, one of the main methods of transmission used by many teachers. It is sometimes referred to as initiation. However, as we have already pointed out, this is an isolated instance and does not mean the disciple has made the essence his own yet. Usually, the personality comes back and clamps down on the new openness.

Recognizing that Learned Knowledge is Really a Learned Ignorance

As you have seen, much of the inner work consists of seeing through all our identifications, our structures, our beliefs, our positions, and our self-images that we have taken to be real. For example, we believe that we are this individual with this history who is interacting with other individuals with their histories. We believe we’re physical bodies that move through time and space, and we take that to be knowledge because it can be scientifically verified. But through the work of inner realization, we recognize at some point that this is a learned knowledge, which is really a learned ignorance, an accumulated ignorance. We come to recognize that what we take to be true is false, is not the whole truth, or holds a meaning different from what we think it is.

Unclarified Subtle Senses Will Not be Available or Trustworthy for Any Purpose

The deepest subtle capacity is the capacity of direct knowing, which is a function of the Diamond Guidance itself. You don’t go through a process, you don’t even perceive anything—you just know with certainty. All of us experience that sometimes, but this capacity can be expanded and developed. We are beginning to appreciate how far the capacity of inquiry can go. An individual with these capacities can inquire into medicine, philosophy, physics, or human relationships—any field—and have at their disposal a tremendous capacity for investigation. Unless one does the inner work that is needed to clarify these subtle senses, however, they will not be available or trustworthy for any purpose. This does not mean, though, that we all have to develop every one of them in order to inquire deeply. We are fortunate if even one is developed. To develop all of them is rare; most people will develop one fairly well, and a second one partially. But the more subtle capacities we develop, the better, because they will make our discrimination deeper, more precise, and more complete. And our field of experience will then be more available to our soul and to inquiry.

What is the Point of Entry Into the Diamond Approach?

To know and appreciate the soul is the point of entry into the Diamond Approach, but it is also useful in undergoing any path of inner transformation. In this book we will see how what arises in the path of realization is intricately connected with the qualities of the soul. With this knowledge, we have a clear orientation for inner work, in particular an integration of the many developments and experiences, short and long-term, that are involved in the path of realization. Knowing the properties of the soul also informs the seeker how to skillfully approach what can and cannot be done in a given situation when confronting certain issues and situations. We are able to understand what methods will work best and how these methods work. We are able to appreciate the rationale behind various methods of inner work; for example, understanding the ground of soul as awareness whose essence can be known to be emptiness helps us to understand how to work with methods which involve space and emptiness. On another level, understanding ego development helps us to understand the particular issues that arise as ego structures are challenged by meditation and other spiritual practices. In addition, even a partial experience and understanding of the soul brings us to an appreciation of the rich, beautiful potential of the soul’s development, realization, and liberation. This direct knowledge of what is possible for our soul is tremendously inspiring and orienting.

You Already Appreciate Being Real if You Genuinely Want to do Inner Work for its Own Sake

On the other hand, you already appreciate being real if you genuinely want to do inner work for its own sake. Being real means being the way you are when you are by yourself and quiet: “I know this is me and I know what that is like and I am comfortable being it. I have no conflict about it. And when I am interacting with someone, it is that reality of who I am that is interacting.” People don’t generally make the effort to do inner work if they don’t want to be real, if they don’t feel that being real is something good, something they want, something they appreciate. There is something precious about being real in an interaction, something that cannot be analyzed. Being real has nothing to do with getting something or giving something, being seen or making the other feel seen—none of that. It is just me, as what I am, actually being the one who is doing or saying something. But it would be missing the point to want to be real so that we will feel satisfied or happy or accomplished. No, we want to be real because in fact we love being real. We love reality and we love to feel it, to see it, and to be it as much as possible. Only when we can slow down and rest in the simple, precious moments of living, can we recognize that we love this quality of realness for its own sake and not because of what it does for us.

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