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Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Potential?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Potential

Characteristics that Apply to the Soul But Not to Essence

The soul grows as she unfolds, actualizing her emerging potential. The soul does not stay the same. She is not primordially complete and mature, and hence she can have phases and stages of development. She can be primitive or advanced, simply organized or highly integrated, immature or adult and seasoned. She can be infantile, young, or ancient. She can be arrested in her development, underdeveloped, undeveloped, quite developed, or complete. All these are characteristics that apply to the soul, but not to Essence. For the presence of pure consciousness, these qualities do not make sense

Experiencing the Soul as Simply Potential

Pure knowledge is potential knowledge; experiencing it we understand how soul is the potential for all knowledge. This points to a property even more inclusive for the soul, potential itself. We can see the soul’s potential as knowledge, but not necessarily. It is always knowledge, but we can view it differently, from different angles, emphasizing different qualities. Therefore, another way of experiencing the soul is not as potential knowledge, but as simply potential. Again, this is an unusual and unexpected kind of experience. We do not ordinarily think that we can experience potential directly; we do not envision that potential is a category of direct experience, that it is a quality that can be experienced similarly to love or clarity. We normally think of potential as a concept that we know indirectly, implicitly, by recognizing there is more to us, that we have more possibilities than we have actualized and realized. We think of potential as a concept referring to the totality of our particular potentials. We may even intuitively sense the possibilities lying dormant in us, waiting to be awakened and actualized. However, when we finally experience potentiality directly and fully, we understand our soul, and our potential, in a completely new way, an unexpected and wonderful way. We learn something fundamental about soul, something we cannot see by knowing of our potential inferentially or intuitively. The experience here is of the conscious presence characterized by potentiality. The presence is the presence of potential. Just as potential knowledge is the presence of pure knowledge, potential is the presence of pure potential, as a category on its own, as a fundamental quality that we experience here explicitly and directly.

From the Perspective of Pure Potential, Human Potential is Infinite and Miraculously Free

Everything we experience is the forms this potential manifests, unfolding one after the other. All of our life is nothing but the unfoldment of this potential. Our potential is not only the gifts and special qualities and capacities that we have. This is the normal meaning of potential, but this is only part of our potential. Our potential is everything we have ever experienced, everything we will ever experience, everything we can ever experience. From the perspective of this pure potential we recognize that human potential is infinite, and miraculously free. We also can see that it is the potential of all human beings. Human beings are not different at this basic level of potentiality. We all have the same potential, which is the potential of humanity. Practically speaking, however, we are different in terms of how accessible it is to us. This depends on our environment, our circumstances, our history, our times and culture, our physical constitution, and many other factors. Our environment, including our bodies, may constrain us, not only by putting up barriers and difficulties in the way of our potential, but also in not eliciting our potential by providing the opportunities and the supports we need. Our potential arises mostly as a response to needs, and its unfoldment requires not only activation but also holding and support. 

It is Our Potential to Be Our Essence

Essential substance is so beautiful and magnificent that no imagination can conceive of its beauty, and no poetry can convey its magnificence. The way it moves us and teaches us is beyond the wildest dreams and imaginations of humanity. Its potentialities are staggering, its creativity is boundless, its depth is endless, and its intelligence is limitless. It is a wonder—a wonder beyond all miracles. It is our true nature, our most intimate identity. This wonder is not just for stories or poetry. It is not just to dream about or long for. It is not just to give us flashes of its magnificence, or fleeting tastes of its significance. It is actually our human essence. It is who we are: our very beingness. We are to be this essence, to exist and live as essence. It is our potential to be our essence, not just in occasional experiences but always and permanently. It is our essence that can and should be what lives, and what should be the center of our life. It can and should be inseparable from us. The work of inner development is not aimed only at having an experience of essence. It is aimed at the complete realization of essence and the permanent existence of us as essence. It is aimed at the eradication of our separation from essence. To be free is simply to be. And to be is simply to live as essence. In fact, when we are not consciously essence, we are not existing. The life of the personality is nonexistence, a wasted and useless life. There is life only when there is existence, and existence is essence.

Recognizing Reality as Infinite Potential

The more that we appreciate Total Being, the more we can recognize reality as infinite potential. There is infinite potential to be anything or not to be anything—to be a self, to be no self, to be dual, to be nondual, and also to be other things that are neither dual nor nondual. The understanding of Total Being liberates us from having to define ourselves in any particular way. And it liberates us from having to define reality in any particular way. But that doesn’t lead to chaos. Rather, it heralds freedom. Total Being indicates that reality is not encompassed by any one particular way of being or experiencing or perceiving. In this way, it reflects the view of totality, which allows many views and many perspectives at once. Each realization is real, each awakening is real, and each has its view. All these views are encompassed by the view of totality, which expresses Total Being. Of course, practicing from the perspective of Total Being will challenge your ideas of what realization is and what enlightenment is. This perspective will challenge whatever you are taking yourself to be at any moment. When I use that expression, “whatever you are taking yourself to be,” I don’t necessarily mean some particular self; I mean whatever the being is at that moment, whatever the consciousness recognizes itself to be at that moment, whether it recognizes itself as an individual or not. Because as Total Being, you are an individual and you are not; you are human and you are not; you are form and formlessness, and you are neither of those. Understanding that you are Total Being opens freedom totally, in all of its degrees.

Seeing that the Substance of Presence is Made out of Potential

As in the experience of pure knowledge, we are not necessarily experiencing the specifics of potential. We cannot in this experience point to one thing or another, and say this is one of my potentials. We might be experiencing a particular element of our potential—we always are—but this is not what we mean here. The experience is more that the substance of the presence is made out of potential. We feel ourselves as a teeming fullness, recognizing that all this presence has implicit in it something that can grow and develop. We experience our consciousness as if composed of millions of living atoms, all in one space, with intuitive knowledge that each one of these atoms can become a million atoms, and each of these another million and so on, infinitely. Each one of these is an experience, an insight, a discovery, a function, a state, a form, and so on. We also have the sense that the awareness or aliveness of each of these atoms can develop and multiply in various and infinite ways. There is an exploding sense, an unfolding sense, for each little part of it, each infinitesimal region in the field. Yet the field is not composed of discrete atoms. It is a continuous unified medium. It is a very dynamic, seething, pulsing medium, with an endless possibility of unfoldment, expansion, and experience. 

Soul Has the Potential to Become an Individual Replica of the Personal Being

The soul is not only an expression of coemergent Being, for everything is an expression; she is a special kind of expression. She has the potential to consciously experience herself as an expression of Being and to consciously experience and know Being in its totality; hence she is the only individual manifest form we know that has such potential. Also, she has the potential to become an individual replica of the personal Being, as an integrated totality, an individuated soul, a real person. Furthermore, this development is always unique. No two souls develop identically, though they begin with fundamentally the same potential. Because of this each soul possesses a unique function in the totality of Reality, with a specific contribution, and an original combination of qualities

Soul Unfolds by Integrating Old Forms Into a More Complex Organization

As the soul unfolds her potential she changes not by disposing of the old forms, but by integrating them into a more complex organization, in which more elements and levels are integrated into a functional whole. As forms emerge and develop they subsume the previous ones, creating a more complex organism. This process happens in all the sectors and manifestations of the soul. Mental development is a clear example of the appearance of increasingly complex forms. At first we are capable of perception, then recognition, then we can use images and symbols, then concepts, then complex thought. This again points to a basic property of the soul, a property implicit in its unfolding dynamism that we can understand and experience explicitly: the property of growth.

The Potential of the Soul is a Dynamic Potential Similar to the Potential of the Seed

Our perception of the soul’s changeability and unfoldment helps us to recognize this dynamic dimension of the soul. All these manifestations of dynamism are nothing but the various ways it expresses itself. In other words, the pure conscious presence that constitutes the field of the soul is a dynamic presence, where dynamism is completely pervasive of, and absolutely inseparable from, this presence. The essential ground of the soul is not only her ontological dimension but also this pressure to manifest her potential. The potential of the soul, in other words, is a dynamic potential, similar to the potential of the seed. We can also experience this dynamism directly, as a pure quality, independent of its ways of expressing itself. This experience of the soul indicates that we are experiencing the soul herself, not only one of her forms. We can experience ourselves not only as a field of consciousness, but as an organism of consciousness, with an organismic sense of presence. We feel ourselves as a writhing, moving, pulsating, convulsing organism. The presence is full of pulsating energy, exploding power, dynamic momentum. The sense of writhing movement and convulsing activity is similar to how a healthy muscle feels when contracting and flexing. It is like the feeling of our body when it is full of life and vigor, and is moving in a robust, powerful way, as during intense exercise. The soul also feels both organismic and orgiastic the way genitals can feel during lovemaking, especially the pulsating movement and flow at the peak of orgasm. In the experience of dynamism there is fullness, robustness, power, energy, aliveness, movement, flow, but all as one integrated movement or action. There is a complete flexibility and flow to the movement, like a jellyfish moving in water.

The Power of Psychodynamic Understanding Beyond its Therapeutic Uses

Psychodynamic understanding has, then, an extraordinary power and potential far beyond its therapeutic uses. The existing body of knowledge in the field of psychology, and especially in psychoanalysis, can be very effectively used for essential development. And the nature of psychodynamic understanding allows us to work directly with the present experience of the student without following any particular progression or gradation. We can simply understand what is there in the moment, and this will lead us naturally to a particular aspect of essence: space, the personal aspect, the universal aspect, or any of several others. Using understanding in this way, we can avoid the awkwardness and inefficiency of many traditional techniques, such as giving all students the same meditations, the same physical exercises, or the same advice on the value of surrender regardless of the specific situation or state of the student. Psychodynamic understanding deals exactly with whatever situation the student presents, with what is actually of vital interest to him and his life. And from this real situation, understanding will lead him to the particular aspect of essence that is actually relevant to him at the time. As he continues the process of self-understanding, now with awareness of his own essence, the other aspects will appear and develop. This will happen naturally and spontaneously if the person looks at the truth in his experience. The essence is gradually freed from the grip of the unconscious and assumes its rightful place as the conscious center of one’s life.

The Void, pg. 77

The Presence of Pure Potential

When we finally experience potentiality directly and fully, we understand our soul, and our potential, in a completely new way, an unexpected and wonderful way. We learn something fundamental about soul, something we cannot see by knowing of our potential inferentially or intuitively. The experience here is of the conscious presence characterized by potentiality. The presence is the presence of potential. Just as potential knowledge is the presence of pure knowledge, potential is the presence of pure potential, as a category on its own, as a fundamental quality that we experience here explicitly and directly. We experience ourselves as pure potentiality. We do not experience ourselves as having potential; we experience ourselves as potential. We are the potential for all experience, all perception, all knowledge, all qualities, all capacities, all functions, all processes, and all developments. In this experience we do not surmise that we are potential; we know we are potential by being potential. Our presence is the presence of potentiality. Here, presence and potential are the same thing. This shows that when we recognize that a particular individual has a great deal of potential, we are actually recognizing that person’s soul, seeing its potentiality. 

The Realization of Essence Throws the Soul Wide Open for the Development of Her Potential

Understanding soul and essence, and the relation between them, clarifies such confusion. Soul grows and develops. She does this by actualizing her potential. The central potential she needs to actualize is her essence. Realizing her essential nature she is enlightened. Her essence is her deepest and most central potential, but it is a particular potential, one of the elements that constitute her potential. Essence does not have potential, for it is the ground of all potential, the ultimate nature. Realizing essence we recognize we are primordially and fundamentally immaculate and complete. The soul develops, and her spiritual development is the actualization and realization of essence. But in the state of self-realization, development does not make sense, for we are then essence, which is perfection and completeness itself. By realizing and actualizing essence the soul is enlightened, but this does not mean she has no more potential to actualize. Her potential is infinite, in terms of forms of experience, capacities, functions, knowledge, contribution, action, and so on. The realization of essence, however, throws the soul wide open for the development of her potential. There are then no inner inhibitions to the arising and development of her potentialities, but this development depends on actual and particular needs felt by oneself and others. It depends on opportunities and situations in life. 

The Soul Potential Includes All Possible Forms of Manifestation

Our observation corresponds with this Sufi knowledge, that the soul potential includes all possible forms of manifestation, whether organic or not, regardless of size and shape. So the soul can experience herself, as happens frequently on the spiritual journey, as a star, a planet, a galaxy, a universe, a rock or mountain, rain or clouds, an ocean or a river, a jewel or a crystal, a metallic or an organic form, and so on. The experience is not physical, but feels similar to the physical. It is an inner experience, and the forms are forms of consciousness, but they are the closest a human being can experientially know these manifestations.

Two Kinds of the Soul’s Potential

This situation reflects the total potential of the soul. The soul’s potential includes far more than the essential dimension. In addition to the capacities and faculties of action, imagination, expression, communication, conceptualizing, thinking, remembering, integrating, synthesizing, creativity, and so on, the soul possesses a whole other range of potential for experience. Qualitatively, her potential can be divided into two kinds: the essential-spiritual and the animal-primitive. We have been discussing the essential side of her potential, but the wretched qualities so well known to us are mostly due to the animal side, and the interaction between it and the essential. What do we mean by the animal side of the soul’s potential? It is inherent to the human soul that she can be like an angel, with all the purity of essence and its beautiful aspects, but she can also be like an animal, with all the primitiveness and irrational instinctuality characterizing the animal kingdom. We humans can be loving and selfless because this is part of our inherent potential, but we can also be driven by instinctual needs and drives to extremes of destructiveness, possessiveness, and self-centeredness; this is also inherent to our potential. 

Unrealized Potential of Humanity

Perhaps it is obvious that humanity is still at the beginning of actualizing its potential. We can see that we are not that far into the process of maturation. As part of our human potential, we can be completely transparent, like air; a feeling or inner experience can arise in a completely free way, totally unimpeded, unrestricted, undistorted. The spontaneity, transparency, and fullness of our experience can be present whatever experience we have—whatever emotion, whatever thought, whatever perception—for when we are in a completely natural condition, experiences arise as manifestations of our radiance, of our true light. However, we often have difficulty experiencing much of what arises in our experience as clearly as we might and seeing things for what they are—even things we feel very deeply about. This has had profound consequences for human beings throughout our history, and has caused much suffering and pain.

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