In 1984, when this article was written, Jeanne Hay had been practicing vipassana meditation for ten years, and for five years had been studying a new technique for working with the body, mind and spirit called The Diamond Approach, developed by A. H. Almaas. Jeanne had been both a client and trainee of Almaas’s technique and was using his approach in working with her own clients.
In this article I want to give a brief review of A. H. Almaas’s book, The Elixir of Enlightenment, and then talk about how his method, the Diamond Approach, helped me get through an impasse in my meditation practice.
A summary of this book is well stated by its editor, Alia Johnson. She writes:
This is a book for anyone on the path who remains frustrated by either the spiritual or psychological barriers that Westerners may encounter on the path. The “elixir” of which the title speaks is “essence,” the presence or substance which inspires and enables us to move toward enlightenment. The author discusses the values and shortcomings of spiritual training and explores reasons why an impasse may occur. The personal life needs to be combined in a harmonious way with the quest for spirituality. Almaas reveals how a precise understanding of your own personality can free your inner resources so that your essential being can lead you toward enlightenment.
In another book, Essence, Almaas goes into great detail about what essence is, how it is lost and how it is rediscovered. The author incorporates the heritage of Western psychology with the power and beauty of the traditional Eastern spiritual approach.
Until recent years students of Eastern meditation techniques and followers of Western psychology were either ignorant about each other or actively opposed to the other as inferior. That trend is changing as more and more people actually experience the benefits offered by each. People are seeing that rather than being in conflict, both traditions have aspects that can be used to deepen and enhance understanding of ourselves and the reality of our situation.
The Eastern view has long known the emptiness of personality, but has usually not worked directly with its content. On the other hand, the West has looked closely at how the personality is formed, and has worked to adjust its content, but without seeing its inherent emptiness. Almaas is one of the pioneers bridging these two approaches. With a deep understanding of both views, he has developed a way of working with issues of the personality which appear both in practice and our everyday life.
Of course it is impossible to go into great detail in this article, but I will give a brief description of Almaas’s method, called the Diamond Approach, then give an example from my own experience to show how it relates to the practice of vipassana. First of all, both methods have awareness and a sense of allowing as a basic premise.
In the Diamond Approach, body-oriented techniques such as Reichian breath work are used in order to free the flow of energy within the body. The barriers that make up the false personality, the barriers to understanding and development, are contained in our body armor and the tension patterns which that armor sets up. These tension patterns are the crystallized images which we take to be ourselves, and the breathing techniques stimulate and activate these patterns. The connections between the patterns and the person’s psychological states are then brought to awareness. Understanding of these patterns and their origin gradually dissolving them and awakening the energetic and subtle centers of the body. Deeper work with the subtle centers then brings about the discovery and realization of the long-buried aspects of essence, which in turn leads to the unfolding of insight and actualization of the human potential.
To illustrate how this method was pertinent to my own practice of vipassana, I will give an abbreviated version of an impasse that I encountered for years at retreats, which was finally understood and resolved in sessions with Almaas.
At the end of retreats most people I knew looked forward to the practice of metta—lovingkindness. But after a number of courses I came to dread this practice. Instead of lovingkindness, my heart was filled with rage and rebellion. No matter how much I tried, I could not fully accept my own negativity and kept pushing it away in both subtle and not so subtle ways. Rage was not the path to enlightenment.
Years later during a breath session with Almaas the physical and psychic constriction in my chest became quite apparent. First there was the feeling of being held down and much rage about that fact. With encouragement I allowed myself to experience the anger in a full way. Soon there appeared a feeling of deep hurt in my chest, which was both physical and emotional in its nature. As this too was allowed, images and memories from my childhood began to spontaneously appear. After some time, when I sensed the area around my heart there was a feeling of deep space and aloneness. When these too were fully accepted I was filled with a warm, light, alive substance that I recognized as compassion. It seemed more than an emotion—a real part of my nature. After this, the experience of compassion has been much more available to me both during my practice of metta as well as in my daily life.
The method I have described is not an overnight path to enlightenment, but it is an efficient and precise way of dealing with the content of the mind that we encounter both in practice and in daily life. For me, this content is no longer an obstacle to be overcome, but instead is a clue to my unfolding.
Throughout time, the truth of dharma has remained the same. As this truth has spread to different cultures and ages, techniques for its realization have expanded and developed. In my view, Almaas’s method is a vehicle that will help us understand and incorporate that truth into our lives.