by Tim J Sullivan, M.Sc. and John Davis, Ph.D.
[ from Common Ground Magazine, 2004 ]
“Whenever we do any work on ourselves, or engage in any way the inner journey, we are invariably working with our soul. There is nothing else to work on.”
-A. H. Almaas, The Inner Journey Home
A. H. Almaas’s Diamond Approach is a complete and unique path of realization, arising from, and appropriate to, our time, place, and culture. Developed over the last thirty years, this spiritual path arose from Almaas’s own experience, informed by his work with many students and groups in his Ridhwan School and enriched by his studies of psychology and spirituality. In two decades Almaas has elucidated many aspects of the Diamond Approach through nearly a dozen books. The most recent, The Inner Journey Home: Soul’s Realization of the Unity of Reality (Shambhala, 2004) presents the larger view of the Diamond Approach. Two main elements are emphasized: a detailed discussion of the nature of the self or soul and an overview of the path of the soul’s journey to the realization and embodiment of Being.
The Inner Journey Home is a book about the soul. Almaas uses the word soul as the best description of what a human being actually is: the individual consciousness that is aware, alive, and dynamic and the embodiment of the potential for awakening, transformation, and liberation. Consistent with its traditional use in the Western Gnostic wisdom, the word soul refers to the totality of our subjective experience, including both our familiar experience and the potential for full realization of our unity with the source.
The Inner Journey Home reveals Almaas as a cartographer of the soul’s inner landscape. But more, he shows us that we too are on that journey and can discover for ourselves the truth of our own nature. His detailed and careful descriptions are precise discriminations of his own experiences and understanding. These descriptions engage a sensing process in the reader that can bring similar experiences to awareness. There often arises a felt presence for the aspect, feature, or dimension he speaks about, or at the very least, an intuition or heart-felt longing to know more deeply. His writings function, therefore, as vehicles of invocation, inviting one’s own consciousness to respond immediately, to experience its unfolding more intimately, to step into the journey home.
What is most remarkable about Almaas’s work is how this understanding makes it so very transparent that the soul is not only who and what we are, but that its specific characteristics and properties are designed to reveal to us its own nature, and the nature of reality itself. The soul, as Almaas says, is the window into reality. And a window is designed, after all, to let the light in.
Almaas describes the soul as the organ of experience and the medium through which Being manifests in our consciousness. It is the soul that experiences. “The soul is literally the vessel that contains and hold all inner events,” say Almaas. Thus, the soul is the internal context for the work of realization. This is the starting point for inner investigation, and this understanding allows us to investigate the medium of experience, not just the contents of experience. Perceiving the soul directly allows us to deal effectively with the obstacles to its full and free experience of reality.
Typically, the soul is dulled, thickened, and obscured by the residue of old wounds and patterns. We live in a world dominated by this dullness, constricted and contracted. As we turn to inquire into these contractions, they open. The medium of consciousness, itself, is transformed, allowing us to experience ourselves and the world in a way that is richer, deeper, and more satisfying.
Knowing the soul’s properties means we will see more clearly which way to go, where we are going, and what tools will be needed. Guidance, one of the intrinsic properties of the soul, becomes available to our journey. Like the potter who must be intimately familiar with the clay in order to form the pot and ensure it will endure the firing to be both beautiful and functional, our intimacy with our own soul’s potential, substance, and characteristics will ensure we gain the most from our own transformation.
Almaas clearly shows that the soul is not an object or thing apart from reality and Being. Rather, it is the means through which Being perceives, knows, and transforms. Ultimately, the work on the soul reveals that the experiencer is not separate from the content of the experience. In this way, our deep longing for connection is satisfied. While the soul has the potential to know itself in a differentiated, even separated way, its journey is toward a unity with Being. Like a wave that can be distinguished but is never separate from the ocean, the soul can forget its true nature but never be completely disconnected from it. Exploring the soul directly, we begin to know the nonduality of subject and object and discover that we were never separated from our source. The soul, seemingly in exile from its source, returns.
The central and most important potential of the soul is her essence, for essence in its various aspects and dimensions forms the ground and provides the Platonic forms for all of our higher states of consciousness, and the higher faculties of experience and action. Soul and essence meet at the level of pure consciousness. They both come from the same ground, where essence constitutes the primordial ground and nature of the soul, her spiritual potential, the richness of her depth. Only with the actualization of essence can the soul be free, completely authentic and totally serene. Essence is her true nature, without which she is estranged, lost, inauthentic, empty, twisted. Regardless of how much of her potential she actualizes, regardless how much a genius she becomes, artistically or scientifically, if she does not recognize her essential nature her experience comes to be characterized by emptiness and strife, on the same level as most human beings.
The central path of the Diamond Approach is based on the practice of inquiry. As Almaas describes and teaches it, inquiry is the exploration of present experience. It is open-ended and goal-less. Inquiry is not intended to bring our experience into any particular state or condition. Rather, inquiry opens the soul to its experience in the present in a more complete way, whatever the nature of that experience. Inquiry is always present-centered and it always brings us into direct contact with our experience, at first through our feelings, body-centered experience, thoughts, memories, and associations, and then through direct knowing of presence or essence.
As we begin to practice inquiry, the true nature of the soul guides its unfolding. The unconscious is revealed more completely, and the barriers that limit the soul are exposed. This material is often difficult or painful to experience. Undigested wounds get calcified in the soul, defensive structures get fixated, and the result is rigidity, thickness, and a lack of aliveness in the soul. We fear the breakdown of our familiar structures and the exposure of the unconscious issues we have avoided. The rigid and fixated structuring of the soul that contains the sum total of these obscurations is what we call the ego. While these structures may have begun as necessary defenses to protect the soul and allow its functioning, they now block the soul from knowing and expressing its true nature.
At this point, the Diamond Approach’s understanding of the psychodynamic roots of the ego is extremely helpful. Knowing where, and how, to explore these obstacles, along with knowing the soul’s qualities, allows them to be explored, dissolved, and integrated. Almaas shows, in very detailed ways, how the soul’s properties, functions, and indeed, its very nature are oriented and designed to reveal the nature of reality and its own unity with reality. The process of open-ended inquiry allows these revelations.
Orienting ourselves to the soul helps demystify the more esoteric elements of the spiritual journey. Touching the soul directly, we find a profound settling and a contented simplicity. We have an immediate sense of our experience without the overlay of habits, history, and patterns. We are here, alive and awake in the present. Our experience flows in a smooth, harmonious way. The abiding fullness of presence and the quiet stillness of emptiness attend the soul. This sense of just being ourselves, as we truly are in the moment, cuts through our complicated ideas about spirituality.
Whether we are taking a walk, having tea with a friend, working at our jobs, taking care of the details of our lives, sitting in deep silence on a meditation cushion, or loving with passion -- regardless of the content of our experience -- the soul’s potential is to be present, alive, open, and satisfied. The soul’s potential is to transform itself on its journey. Equally important, our painful, contracted, defensive, judgmental, and avoidant experiences also hold potential for supporting the soul’s unfolding. By working with the emotional blockages, conditioned patterns of thought and feeling, and the internalized structures of self-image and concepts, the soul unfolds.
The soul’s natural tendency is toward freedom and realization. The Diamond Approach provides understanding, guidance, and support for this ongoing discovery. As we experience the soul with more clarity and more presence, it reveals the obstacles that need to be dealt with. As we open to the soul’s possibilities, it guides us by revealing precisely the qualities needed to continue its journey home. Finally, we realize that the soul’s potential is unlimited and boundless. The journey is never complete, and we are always home.