It is so challenging to read about the outbreaks of violence around the world these days. The inhumanity and sadness of these events can make many of us feel overwhelmed. In an attempt to understand how the Diamond Approach can help us hold what seems so senseless, Diamond Approach founder Hameed Ali and Emerald Mountain student Jorge Arango sat down to talk about the June 12, 2016 shootings at Pulse, a gay club in Orlando, Florida, that killed 49 people and wounded 53.
JORGE: This is something that affected me personally as a gay man who is also Latino. But we seem to move at a breathless pace from tragedy to tragedy these days, so I don’t want to diminish what has recently happened with the shooting of unarmed black men in Minnesota and Louisiana, the police deaths in Dallas, the recent killings in Baghdad and other acts of violence. And this is a very complex issue since no one really knows what Omar Mateen’s motivations were in the Orlando shootings (racism, homophobia, radicalized beliefs or a combination of these). How can grappling with this kind of violence—our sense of loss, grief, injustice, fear—be part of our practice and our path?
HAMEED: In some sense, the Orlando shooting is no longer forefront, so it’s good that in our discussion we include all of them so we can be current that way. Our path includes all situations. We’re always grappling and working with our feelings and states and reactions about anything that affects us. The Orlando shooting affected you deeply because of your connection to that community. It was a big thing for the whole country. And it’s not understood yet. They’re still not sure whether to call it a hate crime or terrorism.
JORGE: How are you perceiving it? Was it terrorism or a hate crime? Part of his fundamentalism, his homophobia?
HAMEED: My general impression is that he was a deranged guy and was mixed up. I don’t know whether it was a hate crime, terrorism, whether he was killing his own feelings. This situation is more complex than many that have been happening around the world. Regardless of the reason, the impact on people was big. It was the largest massacre in recent history in the U.S., and it targeted a group of people just beginning to feel the ease of being accepted by the community. It made me feel sad and questioning about why he went there. It made me feel sorry for the group of people he targeted. But I feel sorry for everybody when they get hurt like that. Regardless, what happened was horrific and cruel and inhuman.
From the perspective of the work, our true humanity would not commit an act like that. There has to be a big distortion to make a person do something like that. Obviously this person distorted himself, the way he experienced himself. Many of the killings that are happening around the country—obviously there’s bias and racism and discrimination— but there is also general ignorance and distortion in the people who do the killing in terms of who they are and who the other human beings are.
It’s happening all around the world: the Paris attack, the Nice attack, the Istanbul attack, the Baghdad attack. All these are acts of cruelty. You imagine the people who committed them were some kind of robots; they can’t be human. I don’t understand it myself. How can someone be so out of touch with themselves?
JORGE: Would you say they are out of touch with their True Nature in an extreme way?
HAMEED: Yes, exactly. And not only that. They are out of touch in a major way and distorted in their understanding about what a human being is, who they are and who the other human beings they’re attacking are. They are completely in the dark and believe they are in the light. I feel sorry for the perpetrators too because they’re in ignorance and darkness.
JORGE: We learn in our work that everything is a manifestation of True Nature. Some people would be challenged to think of the killer or these events as manifestations of True Nature. How do we reconcile that?
HAMEED: Many people ask that, which is part of the general question: If True Nature is the goodness that is the nature of everything, how can there be suffering, all this trouble in the human sphere throughout history, not just now?
One way to understand this is if you think of the human body, which is made out of elementary particles. The elementary particles are always perfect, undistorted; nothing goes wrong with them. However the cells of the human body sometimes become distorted and diseased. They can develop cancer and autoimmune syndromes of various kinds. So the body can become sick and attack itself, even though its fundamental nature is perfect; there’s nothing wrong with it.
True Nature is the nature of everything but reality is layered and has dimension. At the deeper dimension, reality is harmony, love and goodness. But the outer dimension has both what we call good and what we call bad, what we call terrible and what we call beautiful. So what’s left then for human beings like you and me? How we feel and behave in the world depends on how open we are to the deeper levels. So the more in touch we are with our True Nature, the more kind and loving and tolerant. The less in touch we are, the more we’re controlled by our history, by our prejudices, our beliefs, our ideologies; then that’s what guides us—the external, usually mental and emotional part. The goodness is not available to everybody because they’re not open to it. When one is open to this goodness, they simply wouldn’t do things like that. It would be unthinkable.
JORGE: The FBI released a study that revealed that LGBTQ people are currently the most likely targets of hate crimes in America. Are the perpetrators of these crimes just not seeing the humanity of these other groups?
HAMEED: Yes, they’re not seeing that they have the same nature. When we are connected to our nature, we realize that other humans are just like us. It doesn’t matter what race, what gender, what sexual preference, what ethnic background. We’re all human beings, all souls. On the level of soul, of consciousness, there’s no difference, regardless of differences society makes or our biology makes.
JORGE: I had mentioned to you that I was on retreat when the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage come through and that our teacher had talked about how new truths about love, tolerance, openness and our True Nature are part of the natural unfoldment of the universe. She mentioned how part of that impulse takes shape in certain groups, and that LGBTQ people at this point are one of those conduits for a new level of awareness—just True Nature wanting to reveal itself. How do you see that?
HAMEED: True Nature reveals itself uniquely through each individual. And of course, certain groups will allow True Nature to express itself in different ways. I think our society in general seems to be moving in a more liberal direction. There’s more acknowledgment and acceptance of different groupings of people now who were not tolerated or accepted before. That’s a good thing.
At the same time, as you know, it’s not universal. There are still people who are racist or homophobic—all these things. I think that one of the reasons that sexuality and gender has taken the foreground lately is because in the various societies, especially religions, those things were frowned on. Orthodox Catholics still don’t accept things like same-sex marriage because it was part of their old religion and so far from what people considered normal because people were ignorant about all the variations possible for a human being. This difference is a bigger difference than other things, so it’s taken people longer to come around, to recognize this is as real as other differences they’ve dealt with in the past. I think there is a movement happening here and Europe, but not around the world as a whole. So I think it will take time.
But from the perspective of the Work, it doesn’t matter really what race or ethnicity or biology you have. Every person is fundamentally part of consciousness. The soul comes through each one of us. So if we are clear about ourselves and transparent to our True Nature, we’ll all be manifestations of the same kind of essence, the same kind of goodness.
JORGE: In the aftermath of Orlando, many religious leaders condemned the crime. But they refused to acknowledge it as a hate crime and refused to pity the victims as gay people. One pastor said we should not be mourning the deaths of 50 sodomites. What response do you have for these people who consider themselves men of faith?
HAMEED: Those biases were part of their religion, and people who consider themselves people of faith still adhere to their religion. Whether it’s one of the original religions or it developed throughout time, they believe it and think that being gay is counter to their religion. It’s a mental perspective. It doesn’t come from the heart. It has nothing to do with faith. They may have faith in God, but they don’t know anything about human beings and their differences.
JORGE: Is there something incomplete in their response if they’re still adhering to those biases?
HAMEED: For them it isn’t incomplete. They feel they are God’s work. But who made them that way? They didn’t do it themselves. So I would ask them, ‘Why don’t you ask your god who made gay people that way?’ To me, reality creates people with different varieties like that, which means to me that it’s something we have to accept as reality. Our work is a matter of accepting the truth. If there is distortion or ignorance, that we can work through. But if it is just true, we just accept it and allow it and let ourselves be as we are.
JORGE: What tools does the DA offer that can help us give this context? What can universal experience teach us about what happened in Orlando?
HAMEED: It’s what I was saying—not just for the Diamond Approach, but for many spiritual teachings. It has to come from the heart, not the mind. Because to come from the mind you come from a belief system. If the heart is unbounded, there will naturally be tolerance, acceptance and equalization. Bias comes from the mind, and the mind can distort the heart so the heart can have anger and rejection and hatred…and hate crimes.
JORGE: Do you have questions yourself about this event, things you’re contemplating about it?
HAMEED: Being aware of it and how it scared a lot of people—many groups now feel scared of being attacked—that’s my concern. I don’t want people to think they’re going to be targeted because of their differences. That won’t be the kind of country or world we want to live in. It disappoints me that something like that happens. At the same time, I see it in the larger context. Even if [Mateen] targeted people because of their sexual makeup, it’s not really different from ISIS blowing up a big part of Baghdad because the people are from a different sect. It’s a very similar thing: ‘They’re different from us.’ Hundreds of people killed intentionally.
Difference is part of what’s good about human beings, actually. We can appreciate it. But much of humanity, as we can see, is far from that place.
JORGE: Of course, we can’t change people’s beliefs. But what is right action in the case of Orlando or Baghdad? What responsibility to we carry in all of that?
HAMEED: First of all we have to see if there is anything in us that can relate to that kind of attitude—any part of us that is hateful, narrow-minded—so we don’t do things like that ourselves, even in minor ways. Also, allowing our love and heart to spread around, expressing love and compassion to all people around us. The more we do that, and the more that more of us can do that, the more it will hopefully touch other people farther away from us. Some might be in a position to do more; they can be activists, send money, pick up a cause. But there is also the direct way, which is to be ourselves as fully as possible, as openly as possible, so that we ourselves are true model human beings and people around us can see they are meant to be that way too. We can spread the goodness through the immediacy of our experience. That is the approach of our school in general. And not just our school, but any true spiritual teaching.
JORGE: So just spread the love and goodness?
HAMEED: It’s not easy for people to be touched because they have to know themselves, deal with their own barriers. So that’s why being loving and kind with other people will not necessarily make them loving and kind. Spreading the goodness is not going to go like wildfire; it’s going to be slow and meandering.
JORGE: Anything else you want to emphasize?
HAMEED: I appreciate your bringing a up a particular situation like Orlando and focusing on it. But, obviously, we could focus in many places. Each one has different circumstances, different contexts that human beings have to grapple with. I hope we can see that the inner work we do transcends all of those differences, accepts all those differences, and sees that goodness comes through every one of us. From the perspective of the work, all of these things we’ve been discussing are acts of inhumanity, of inauthenticity, of a cruelty that don't fit mature human beings. So this makes us feel compassion for the perpetrators themselves. Our work is universal. When we say “universal,” we really mean it all the way through.