Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tao of Psychology Part 5: The Diamond Approach

Woah. I posted a few comments yesterday on wikihyp which I also linked back here, and when I went to check my stats later that night I found I had as many views yesterday alone as I have since I started writing this. I'm not sure whether that's actually because there were that many people reading through, or if it was because individual posts were being counted as 'views' when they hadn't been from my previous traffic. Anyway, I was a bit skeptical of Joe at first, but after reading through a bit about what he's doing I find that I agree with the majority of everything he says. He seems to have a very solid grasp of what I consider to be the most important aspects of Erickson's technique and therapy, and puts the ASCH to shame in that regard. Joe and Craig Galvin and James Tripp are all doing awesome stuff, and I highly recommend checking them out. It seems there's an 'underground Ericksonian' movement that's much bigger than I was aware of. Previously, I left off talking a bit about the Diamond Approach and how it helped me to make sense of IFS. Today I want to cover that in some depth and hopefully leave you with a good sense of what it's all about.

Hameed Ali (pen name "AH Almaas") originally studied physics in college, and was working on his PhD when he happened to attend a class by Claudio Naranjo. Claudio had been working on synthesizing psychology and spirituality, which he saw as being one and the same. Mr. Ali had a profound spiritual experience which led him to question if he was really doing something meaningful with his life, and decided from then on that he would study psychology and spirituality.

He worked and studied with Claudio for several years, along with spiritual teachers from Sufism, Taoism, and Buddhism, developing himself spiritually and discovering parts of himself that he didn't even know existed. Shocked that nobody seemed to have an explanation for the things he was experiencing, he began recording his experiences and comparing them with people he worked with. Eventually he came together with a comprehensive theory and practice to explain and reproduce the profound revelations he had, which he called "The Diamond Approach".

EDIT 11/09/13: Since I've had quite a bit of experience with this stuff now, I've decided to edit this to include my own observations. I can now personally confirm the validity of most of the basic concepts within the diamond approach, as well as some things which I observed to be quite different.


Fundamental Narcissism

The heart of Mr. Ali's theory revolves around what he terms 'fundamental narcissism'. He realized that most people, including 'normal' people, mostly don't experience reality or themselves as they really are. Instead  they experience their identifications and beliefs about themselves and the world. In the early days of NLP, Richard Bandler often commented to that effect as well. Identifications and beliefs are rigid and "opaque" to the "true self" (as in IFS), which prevents people from experiencing their 'spiritual' nature - all the things we consider good and often idealize such as strength, will, love and compassion.

The sum of these beliefs and identifications make up our 'self-image', which we experience instead of our selves. The self-image can contain elements which we see as being bad, for example a person might say "I'm dumb" or "I'm shy" or "I'm unlovable". It can also contain elements which we are highly attached to and consider vital to who we are; "I'm an American" or "I'm a Christian" or even "I'm smart and good looking". The work in the Diamond Approach focuses on seeing through these fixations in order to reveal true nature or "essence". As the buddha often said, it is our attachments which cause our suffering. "Enlightenment" is merely the process of letting go of these attachments, and "realizing" the aspects of the true self. Seen in this way, "enlightenment" and "self-actualization" are two aspects of the same process.

The same dynamics as IFS apply (although I think Mr. Ali probably recognizes more things as being parts than IFS does) with exiles trying to get attention and managers and firefighters trying to stop them from manifesting. Mr. Ali also emphasizes that, whenever a part is being experienced internally we also project aspects of parts onto the world outside. Sometimes we project our parents onto other people, either by idealizing (projecting essence onto others) or re-enacting abuse, and sometimes we project an inner child onto someone else and act out the part of the parent (although both roles are played by inner children). Projection also occurs more subtly in the way we define our everyday reality; for example if you think of a spoon as "a small metal shovel used for transporting food to your mouth", you won't be able to experience the spoon as it really is in your hand in the moment. Words and analytical ideas are unable to capture even such a mundane experience.

The 'self-image' is said to often be experienced as an entity many times in therapy. It always appears as a sort of 'coating' or 'shell', blocking the person from the world, although the form changes each time it is encountered. It's often hard, sticky, or heavy, and at the highest levels, it's seen 'directly' as a sticky fluid that 'screens out' reality and prevents it from being seen clearly.

In my experience, the personality usually appears as a sort of barrier which clouds my thoughts. At first it appeared hard and solid, very much like running into a brick wall. After dealing with many issues, getting knocked down and then recovering and getting back into things, it now feels more like a cloud of silly putty, thick and sticky. In all cases it has a character of unpleasantness, which I can only describe as being filthy and disgusting. It usually appears when I've had enough experience with an issue that I become fully aware of it.

Holes and Space

In his own work and in his work with other people, Mr. Ali noticed that once he managed to work through the defensive emotions, he often came across an experience which is described as being like an inner "black hole". A sort of deficient emptiness, a lacking, which when approached would bring on intense fear and disorientation. It was like if you 'fell in', you'd get lost down a bottomless pit mario style. This was also a recurring experience in therapy, each person inevitably had many of these which might appear in different places in the body, and they all seemed to mark the 'center' of a given cluster of issues.

He found that if the fear surrounding these 'holes' was dealt with, the hole itself would become less threatening. There might still be some disorientation, but mostly it just became a calm emptiness. When clients focused on this emptiness, reliably it would transform itself, becoming a spaciousness which began to expand until it became boundless. Sometimes this 'space' would be clear and open, sometimes it was full of presence, and sometimes it was more black and void-like. In every case, however, after the space had fully expanded, a profound state of the 'true self' would then emerge from it, revealing the source of the sense of lacking.

Once that point had been reached, the cluster of parts involved became 'fully understood' and no longer reappears. He also found that, following each such experience, the person would gain a subjective sense of having "more time" and having "more space", and over time they would gain an increasing 'general faith' in life which begets a realistically optimistic attitude.

He also mentions that most therapists stop before reaching that point. The fear and disorientation of the 'holes' tend to discourage them from trying. In 'self therapy', they even mention the phenomena, saying 'it's like there's nothing there, an emptiness where my self is supposed to be'. Because they avoid or miss the experience, the self never materializes (or at least not completely).

In my own experience, "holes" have usually always been associated with either fear, anger, jealousy and other personal emotional conflicts. The very issues which modern society would have us believe we should "compromise" on tend to be those most important to actually fight about. Furthermore, unlike Mr. Almaas's account, I find it rare to ever deal with a hole without a great deal of trauma and catharsis in the process, and other times I experienced essence without any particular "hole" identified with it. In general, "understanding" a hole for me has meant understanding the absurd limiting beliefs I had and acknowledging them.


The Aspects of the True Self

 One of the strongest aspects of the diamond approach is the extensive discrimination and description of the aspects of the 'self'. I have now had personal experience with most every aspect which Mr. Almaas described, and can relate them to their significance and to how I came to experience each.

Mr. Ali notes that the parts of the self-image are in imitation of the aspects of the true self which they ironically suppress. Anger mimics strength, compulsion and effort mimics will, neediness mimics love, pity and empathy mimic compassion and so on. The imitations never achieve the glory or the effectiveness of the real thing, however.
  • Strength

    Strength is warm, firey and energetic. Strength supports movement and action, and is the primary focus of Tummo. Strength is revealed by deciding on an action and taking it, even when it requires fighting against your worst fears, and by fighting against any imbalanced emotional exchange you come against. You could say it's developed by the practice of walking off of (emotional) cliffs.
  • Will

    Will is solid, supportive, secure and radiates certainty sort of like an inner mountain. Will also supports action, providing the steadfastness required to persist, and allowing you to act without efforting or nagging yourself. Will is also inextricably related to sexuality and sexual security. In the 'natural' school of 'pick up', will is referred to only as 'state', and Milton Erickson's 'anticipated response' drew heavily on will. Will, like strength, is gained through emotional "fighting", but comes through finding enjoyment in things that you are proud of, in spite of possible judgment from others. Will is also the antithesis of spoiled, bratty behavior, and can be used like an emotional demolition tool against such behavior.
  • Love

    Love is a warm, smooth melting feeling, like an embrace of liquid gold. This is, of course, what most people attempt to experience through a relationship. Usually, the need for the other person to provide that experience causes tensions which ultimately destroy the relationship. Nonetheless, most issues around love will require another person as an object of that love in order to clarify them, and issues surrounding any aspect of essence will tend to affect your perception of love first and foremost. I only experienced love after first having experienced strength (in a fight revolving around love), and thanks to the admiration of certain sweet persons who helped me out when I needed it.
  • Compassion

    Compassion is a gentle, healing energy which makes pain easier to bear. Note that it doesn't make pain 'go away', nor does it do anything to try to. Instead, it helps you to 'stick with it' until the pain is healed. For me, compassion arose very easily when I did not expect it, simply acknowledging that I was attacking myself was sufficient.
  • Joy

    Joy is light, warm and energetic. Joy also includes the experience of curiosity and engagement, ie 'being in the zone'.
  • Peace

    Peace is empty, clear, silent, and well, peaceful. Peace allows you to 'cut through the noise' to get to the heart of things. I first experienced peace through practicing mindfulness meditation.
  • Value

    Value is royal, noble and holy. Value is a matter of feeling important, as though your existence is valid and meaningful, and was one of the most traumatic issues to work through.
  • Nourishment

    Nourishment is the experience of being filled with wholesomeness, literally as if you were drinking it. Nourishment is the only aspect of essence directly tied to the enjoyment of food, you could say it's literal 'chicken soup for the soul'.
  • Awareness

    Awareness is a clarity, developed by continuing to look and listen to everything that is said and done, even when it's unpleasant or scary, and responding to what is actually there. Conscious awareness begets greater awareness, and is a necessary practice for clarifying essence.
  • Knowingness

    Knowingness starts with acknowledging that there are things that you don't know. Until you acknowledge that you don't know something, you cannot begin to investigate it and find out. Knowingness is also developed by acknowledging that there are things that you know but don't know that you know (perhaps because you don't want to).
  • Brilliance

    Brilliance is something like a cross between a lightning bolt and liquid sunlight. Mr. Ali mentions that people often mistake it for god because it is so glorious, and it provides a liquid-like ability to seep through experience and reveal inner truth as though it were transparent. Brilliance is the source of major "aha!" moments where the common threads of different ideas come together. Most of my experience with brilliance has been indirect, I only realize after the fact that I've somehow outsmarted myself.
  • Personal Essence

    Personal essence is sort of the 'center' which integrates all of the aspects of the true self into a whole person. It adds a 'personal' character to all the aspects as this happens.
  • The Essential Self

    Also called 'the point'. It is like an infinitely small, but very bright point of pure beingness. It is like an individual, personal version of the absolute, and has a characteristic of indestructibility to it, too small to cut, too short lived to kill, and shining without light. I experienced this spontaneously shortly after strength and love.

You might notice that (some of) these sound familiar. They're the very traits which society venerates under various names: "courage", "kindness", and of course the #1 most cliche of all, 'love'. I don't believe that there is any coincidence that across a variety of cultures and religions around the world, the same basic values turn up consistently. Likewise, certain activities, whether they pay well or not, often become a 'calling' for people simply because they embody these characteristics in a physical form. On the other hand, there are careers such as being an advertising executive which no one would claim has any deep meaning. We even have words like "deep" and "shallow" which we use to describe them.

 The Process of Inquiry

The actual practice of the Diamond Approach incorporates elements of Object Relations Therapy and the Feldenkrais Method, although both have been modified to fit the DA framework. The primary practice of inner work is referred to as 'inquiry', and involves being mindful of your emotions while keeping an open and curious attitude towards them. By directing that open curiosity towards your emotions, and questioning them (even if it's just the attitude of a question) until they're fully understood, you work through your parts and reveal the 'holes', ultimately revealing the self. Feldenkrais is used often when a person gets 'stuck', or when the teacher notices tension in the student that they aren't aware of.

Mr. Ali does recognize the sort of paradox that occurs where, in order to work with parts and free the self, the aspects of the true self are necessary first. In IFS, this is explicitly recognized and managed by getting the parts to 'back off' so that the true self can be temporarily revealed and do the work. In DA, however, he only vaguely recognizes that sometimes the student is 'in sync' and work can happen, and when they take 'the wrong attitude', that they won't be able to get anywhere. He kind of runs around in circles with it, but never reaches a solid conclusion of how to get 'in sync' with any consistency. He also recommends using anger to access strength and to force your way through inner defenses, which causes many problems and has limited success.

There is another aspect of inquiry that has to do with giving things up. As Jesus (supposedly) said in the Bible, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven". In the process of revealing the self, you end up giving up your identity, your beliefs, your parents, your conceptions of reality, even the solid ground you think you're standing on. In contrast, the aspects of the self are fickle, fluid, ephemeral and constantly shifting. They offer nothing to grasp onto, and disappear into thin air if you try to fix them into place and build an identity from them. As the buddha pointed out, it is our attachments that stand between us and enlightenment.

The Three Stages of "The Journey"

Mr. Ali uses the metaphor of a journey to describe the process of self-realization. In this journey, the soul is both the guide and the destination. He recognizes three main 'phases' of this journey, each with its own unique focus and revelations.

 The First Phase

 During the first phase, a person basically has little or no access to their self. Most of the focus of this phase is learning to access the self and free some of the aspects of it in their basic form. At this point, the self is experienced as bits of greatness here and there scattered within a sea of parts.

The Second Phase

After the first phase, students now have much greater access to the basic aspects of the self. This makes the work much easier and allows it to proceed more quickly; simply becoming aware of a part is enough to heal it very quickly. However, the parts become more subtle and difficult to detect. They try to cling to the newly revealed self and its aspects, and become possessive of them.

In the second phase, working through parts does not usually reveal new aspects. Instead the aspects are transformed into a purer manifestation. While most people have heard of 'unconditional love', here it is revealed that strength, will, compassion and so on can also become unconditional. "Unconditional" in this sense does not mean for me, all the time, without me having to do anything. That is the egoic idea of 'unconditional'. In this sense, 'unconditional' means the intrinsic nature of everything and everyone, everywhere, always. The experience of unconditional aspects is clearer, brighter, and more profound, and you begin to see the character of those aspects reflected in each other as well. Mr. Ali calls these "diamond essences"; ie "diamond strength" "diamond will" and so on, however I find this to be a bit gimmicky and confusing. The second phase is also usually when the aspect of brilliance is revealed.

Towards the end of the second phase, you begin to see that parts are actually manifestations of the self as well. It is as though the self was an infinite ocean, and parts are like individual waves. This is something which can't be experienced when parts make up the majority of conscious attention. At the end of the second phase, once all the aspects have been 'upgraded' to their unconditional forms, this culminates in the 'supreme self'. The "supreme self" is the highest experience which has the attribute of being 'personal' or individuated. All higher aspects are 'universal' and impersonal by comparison.

The Third Phase

The third phase is quite different from the other two. There is no longer anything to do with the primary aspects of the self, and instead the focus is on the very act of conceptualizing. The experience of you knee, for instance, without the concept of 'knee' and 'location', becomes formless and dimensionless. The same could be said for holding a spoon, feeling the 'coldness' and so on, or in regards to people who you feel 'familiar' with and have a stable of idea of who you think they are and how they should act. When these things are experienced as an experience in and of itself, they lose their stable familiarity and become new and wondrous, and you become explicitly aware of their nature as thought.

He offers an interesting meta-exercise related to this. In the exercise, you pay attention to your experience, and notice what you think of as 'self'. If you can point to it or name it, you know it isn't the self (including the body), since then what is it that's doing the pointing or naming? The self includes those things, but because it includes them it must also be greater. As you strip away and include all the things that aren't self, you find yourself in more inclusive, more expansive states until you include everything and everything is seen as thought; timeless, dimensionless and formless.

It is in the third phase that you experience a direct connection to the universe, including it and manifesting from the same contiguous 'stuff'. You no longer feel bounded by the limits of your body; that is not where you end or all that you include. The states of the third phase tend to transcend concepts, and include universal consciousness, pure being, absence, non-conceptual awareness and the supreme ultimate (known as "taiji" in taoism). The "supreme ultimate" in particular is a non-conceptual experience of reality in which you experience your (selfless) self as an observer of this reality. Attempting to introspect at this point results in looking back outwards, as if there is nowhere further 'back' that you can go, and inside and out are one.

The Source

 At the end of the journey, upon casting away everything that is left of you, you find The Source, although it sometimes manifests earlier than this. The Source is described as being the ultimate unmanifest, like pure unknowable mystery and wonder. Once The Source has been experienced and recognized, you start to see it in everything. It's as though everything you see manifesting is the 'front' of the universe, and The Source is the back. Everything seems less real, less substantial and transparent, with 'the light of the void' shining through. It's kind of like the universe is a movie; lights dancing on a non-existant screen. The light has no real substance, and when you try to see the 'back' of the pictures it makes there is nothing.

Mr. Ali notes that people who reach the 'ultimate' level of attainment generally shift between the supreme self, the supreme ultimate, and the void. This is automatic, and whatever aspect of the supreme self or whatever level of awareness is most appropriate for the situation is what manifests at that time.


 While the Diamond Approach is quite advanced in some ways, it has several features which are less than attractive. Mr. Ali has some serious guru-itis, and through his books he beats you over the head with 'my way is the only way', 'you have to stick with the spiritual practice forever' and 'you need to fully dedicate yourself to finding (my) truth'.

While some of the methods he uses (like feldenkrais) are interesting and effective, many of them are not. I already mentioned the problems with 'inquiry' relative to IFS, although the generally non-verbal approach in inquiry is very interesting.

The Diamond approach also includes a lot of small group and large group meetings. While I can appreciate the possible value of a small group session, I don't see the value in anything they do in the large group meetings, especially given what they usually do there. In this video you can see Mr. Ali spout some random irrelevant gibberish about love, followed by 5 minutes or so of clicking his prayer beads, as though he's said something so awesomely profound that it deserves 5 whole minutes of meditation to understand it. Compared to that idea of 'meditation', Ericksonian hypnosis is orders of magnitude more effective and engaging.

Speaking of effectiveness, the Diamond Approach seems to have very little overall, at least in terms of consistency. He expects a 7 year commitment in his organization (the Ridwan School, sounds like jedi to me) before most people reach a high level of attainment. On the plus side, that's the requirement for becoming an instructor in the school, which ensures thorough training and development amongst their teachers. Overall, the organization is rather cult-like, and they arrogantly tout their methods as best without experimenting with other possible approaches. He readily admits that most people who enter the school drop out before reaching a high level of attainment, and considers that to be the students' problem rather than something for the organization itself to improve upon.

Closing Thoughts

Mr. Ali had a fascinating parable which he relates to the attitude people tend to take towards 'therapy'. It goes something like this:
One day an elephant came to see the great shah, looking very troubled indeed. He said to the shah, "Oh great shah, I can't understand it at all. I can't seem to eat the right mosquito foods, they make me feel sick. I can't find a suitable mosquito mate. I can't do the right mosquito things. I'm just not a good enough mosquito, can you help me?" and the shah said "I would be happy to help you, but you're not a mosquito at all". The elephant, however, was quite skeptical. He pointed his trunk and said "Look at my long, pointy nose! What besides a mosquito has such a nose?" then he flapped his ears and said "See? What else besides a mosquito has such flappy wings?". The shah replied, "Well, perhaps you're a bird. If the food of a mosquito makes you ill, perhaps you should try the food of a bird to see if it fits." The elephant sat thoughtfully, and then said "Alright, I'll do as you suggest, and try some bird food to see if that doesn't fit better."
 So too with clients. They come in wanting all their mosquito problems solved, ie they want an even better, grander self-image, when all along they are truly elephants, the true self, which is something completely different.

I hope these articles have been both revealing and inspiring to at least some of the people who read them. I still have a bit more that I want to write on this subject before I put it down, but for now what that will be about is a secret :).


I just found out that Jay Early (who's interpretation of IFS I heavily critiqued) originally practiced the diamond approach (and still does). Life is full of surprises. I had previously thought there had been no contact between the two, but it seems I was mistaken.


  1. I've read you article debunking the Diamond Approach teaching written in 2012. I have been a student of this path for 12+ years. It seems to me that you speak from your intellect only. Complete and clear understanding can only happen from a full bodied understanding that includes the intellect yet is directly felt by the 3 organs of perception which are much more subtle than the one dimensional egoic mind. Therefore, from this perspective, your conclusions are half baked at the very least. I'm not judging you, I'm only saying what's true for me and many of the thousands on students and hundreds of teachers of this particular teaching. I could go on almost long as your well articulated article here about your distorted view but I won't. If you are interested in having a mature discussion that might give you more clarity, email me at

  2. Interesting response and a touch of outrage as well as a narcissistic assertion that you know the truth and others do not...

    1. Ha. Looking back now this wasn't really all that well written, but I guess that's about the gist of where I was 5 years ago (give or take) when I wrote it.

  3. I found this very helpful. Recently having had a very negative set of experiences with one of these Spiritual teachers that involved theft, loss of property. I started searching around to see what kind of spiritual teacher belongs to this group. The teachers responses sound hostile and defensive. What's spiritual about that?