An Interview by Enzo Dal Verme
“External changes happen as a side effect of our inner maturation,” says A. H. Almaas.
When Hameed Ali was close to graduating in physics and mathematics from the University of California at Berkeley (where he had moved from Kuwait when he was 18), he realized these studies were not going to satisfy his thirst for knowledge.
He switched his focus to psychology and went on to explore related teachings, experiencing a profound spiritual transformation. Now 76, Hameed has written 18 books under the pen name A. H. Almaas. His last book, Love Unveiled, has just been released by Shambhala.
The school he founded, The Ridhwan School, integrates modern knowledge of psychology with ancient spiritual paths. It offers courses in the United States, Europe, Canada, Asia, South Africa and Australia.
His lectures are compelling. He brings together seemingly unrelated topics and produces surprising perspectives. No wonder many of the students are psychotherapists who draw from his lectures a wealth of material they can't find in academic texts.
"Western psychology,” he explains, "has developed mainly by ignoring the spiritual dimension, while spiritual tradition tends to disregard the life of the mind and how it can hinder the path of the soul. The result is that we have psychological knowledge that is unable to liberate our hearts while spiritual knowledge rarely penetrates the psychological barriers.”
The current coronavirus pandemic has called many former certainties into question. As we wonder about our post-pandemic life, many of us feel a transformation is inevitable.
In this special interview, I ask Hameed if he thinks we will come out as better people…
No matter what side you’re on, the general consensus is that the world is deeply polarized and broken. Some people see it as a major wake-up call. What is your take on this?
It is not new that human beings experience such suffering, but it is the first time that all of humanity is suffering from the same thing. Most will see it as a wake-up call to be ready for future pandemics or disasters. Waking up can be to something deeper. It can be to the truth that humanity is one, that we are all one family. I think many will wake up to this truth, not the majority. And it is very unlikely that governments will have this waking up.
What are the positive changes that we might see arise after this global crisis?
This pandemic has brought out the true human spirit in many areas and in many people. Even in some politicians and powerful people in the world. This human spirit is appearing as generosity, as caring for others, as resilience and courage, even self-sacrifice for the safety and health of others. These qualities might remain after the pandemic is over in some of the people who have experienced and lived them, for they can recognize they can be this way, and feel good about it. Some might awaken to the truth that what makes us truly human is our spiritual nature, with its inherent goodness, which appears as heart and love.
What do you think someone could do to make a contribution to bettering the world?
The best contribution is to seek the truth within oneself, to open oneself to love and inner knowledge, to reconnect to the source, to our deepest nature, which many of us have forgotten. External changes happen as a side effect of our inner maturation.
This crisis seems to bring up and magnify what was previously hidden. What do you think the long-term effects might be of all this coming out into the open?
I see movements both towards unity and division. The fact that polarization was at a high degree in many places before this pandemic does not help. Some of the divisions seem to be bridged for now. But many still continue [divisive thought and behaviors], and actually complicate the response to the crisis. It would be wonderful if the world nations would see the importance of such unity. I am not that optimistic about it.
This virus is very democratic and could infect anyone. As a result, the health of each individual is essential for the health of the entire population. What are your thoughts on this?
It is one of the rare occasions where the well-being of an individual is essential to that of all people. This is actually a spiritual principle, that we see here appearing physically. It can have a good impact on the consciousness of humanity. I think it is only the minority that will grasp it. It will be a movement forward, not a truly global fundamental change. Most will only think of their own survival. People are governed by deep instinctual and emotional fears and inner conflicts that function unconsciously regardless of what their mind sees logically or thinks of as reasonable. This is especially true of governments and corporations, which are full of very rigid egos that will refuse a fundamental change, for it means some kind of loss, even death.
I also think that this present crisis is so different from other times, that more people will get this principle. The present challenge is an opportunity, and because it is a physical fact that the good of the many is the good of the one and the good of the one is good for the many, makes it a compelling opportunity.
The Black Death pandemic devastated Europe and Asia in the mid-1300s. But at the same time, it somehow made the Renaissance possible. How do you envision our post-pandemic world?
The present situation could be an important factor for a new Renaissance. We will have to see how things develop, for we are still in the middle of the pandemic, and we don’t know what might happen. I see the world order reforming and trying to get back to the old normal. It will not be the old normal, but not necessarily a better normal. Will society have a Renaissance? That would be wonderful.
Your new book Love Unveiled has been released in the middle of this pandemic crisis. Do you think the current situation might bring some people closer to love? And what do you mean by “love? ”
It is already happening that many people are being more loving than usual. The human spirit that is showing up is mostly the expression of love, for love appears as caring for others, as seeing that others are important and precious. Many people know love as emotional, and as loving people we know whom we like or who likes us. But love has deeper dimensions. Love is essentially a spiritual quality. When we know love in the spiritual dimension, we see that emotional love is a reflection of it, a pale and incomplete reflection. In the book, I try to show what the essence of love feels like. Not how it expresses itself as good action, but what it is like in our hearts.
There are many kinds of love. There is loving as appreciation and liking. And there is loving that brings us closer to each other, and we feel connected. There is love that is passionate and ecstatic for that which is termed the inner beloved. The main point is to know the essence of love, with its textures and tastes, which are heavenly and divine. And this is a way to see what makes us truly human, what gives us that which is good in being human.
The book also explores the barriers to accessing this essence of love, and how to work with them.
What recommendations would you give for coping with daily life to those who have never read one of your books or attended a seminar at your school?
First of all, observe yourself and do not be afraid of what you feel. It is important to be aware of one’s own personal experience at a given time. Not in the past or in the future, or elaborated by one’s mind and filtered by evaluations and comparisons. Cultivate curiosity towards life, your experiences and towards other human beings. Appreciate knowledge. Do not try to change yourself at all costs, but be yourself at the present time. Acknowledge the fact that we love the truth for the love of truth itself. Believe that there is something which is bigger than us that we can call as we wish: nature, truth, reality…
I came away from my conversation with Hameed feeling that the pandemic will very likely lead us towards fundamental and lasting changes. Perhaps a lot worse in many ways but in others probably a lot better. It’s up to us to determine how our societies will look once we come out of the health crisis and the economic devastation.
As Almaas says, this could be a wake-up call “to the truth that humanity is one, that we are all one family.”