Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today, my guests are A.H. Almaas and his teaching partner, Karen Johnson. A.H. Almaas is the pen name of Hameed Ali, who has written more than 14 books. His works with Sounds True include an audio learning course on The Diamond Approach, as well as a program called Realization Unfolds: A Dialogue with Adyashanti.
In 1976, he founded the Ridhwan School. Hameed’s interest in the truth of human nature and the true nature of reality resulted in the creation and unfoldment of what he calls “The Diamond Approach.” The Diamond Approach is a path to wisdom—an approach to the investigation of reality and work on oneself that leads to human maturity and liberation.
A.H. Almaas and Karen Johnson have written a new book [together] called The Power of Divine Eros, in which they invite the reader to connect to the pure energy behind their desire. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, I had the privilege to speak with both Hameed and Karen about the reason it can be difficult for people to connect with their desire, and how to work with the fear and longing that can come up when we do connect with our desire. We talked about what Karen and Hameed call “the fire of containment,” and how to step fully into that fire. We talked about working with four centers in the body—the belly, the heart, the head, and a center that is above the head—and how we can breathe into these centers as part of spiritual work. Finally, we talked about divine union and what it might mean to be “a sexy angel.”
Here’s my conversation. It was actually recorded in person at the home of Hameed Ali, with Hameed and Karen Johnson on The Power of Divine Eros:
I’m here with Karen Johnson and A.H. Almaas, the pen name for Hameed Ali. We have the pleasure of talking today—at least, I am experiencing it as being on the brink of pleasure—of talking about the topic of “divine Eros.” I want to start by asking each of you to let us know what this term means to you—divine Eros. How would you define it?
Karen Johnson: It’s a slight twist on the term “Eros,” which—as it reads in the book—the Greeks thought of it as the god of love. For me, the love and the energy of life are one in the same. In fact, life is one of the things that also the Greeks and the Romans thought of as “erotic.”
But it became sexualized. In our experience in the work, the kind of aliveness and energy that’s involved in the process of opening and the soul’s liberation into freedom brings a tremendous amount of aliveness, but also love. That there’s a love and an aliveness that brings in a fullness and an almost voluptuousness in relationship to God, true nature, and so on.
Then, as one becomes more and more imbued with it, one realizes that is one’s nature. Or it’s one way of experiencing one’s nature, particularly embodied in the world in the way that we are—to know our nature beyond the physical, but to be embodied in the world, and feel the fullness of that nature coming through and functioning through this physical vehicle and the individual consciousness. Then, [it is] backed up by the vastness or the immediacy of presence or true nature.
There’s an alive and erotic quality that—when you’re in interaction with another—really brings out the fullness of the contact. It can be sexual or it can just be the energy of interaction, but it’s got a live, playful full, voluptuous kind of feeling to it.
So, when we talk about “erotic” in the spiritual sphere, it means that the divine and the physical and the love [are] all one presence. It has all of those characteristics. It’s pleasurable and fun and full and beautiful. It doesn’t have to distinguish between physical and divine. It’s the animal nature of our body along with the divine of our liberated freedom. So, it purifies the animal and the animal brings the aliveness to the spirit.
So, no need to choose.
A.H. Almaas: Yes. I think it is that many teachings and traditions have difficulty discussing how to bring one’s understanding or a spiritual experience of realization into living—to actual life manifestation. You know—[one] discusses actualization.
But there isn’t a good language. Nobody goes in detail about what happens. So, this is our attempt to show that the realization or awakening or spiritual illumination flows into the world as action, activity, and interaction—bringing in new energies. In some sense, bringing energies that people are used to as a physical energy limited to a separate, particular area—but [with] more of a spiritual dimension to them.
So, the erotic usually—in our Western world—seems to mean the physical and the sexual. Which, as Karen said, is not the original meaning of Eros the god—the god of love.
So, use that [inaudible] called the erotic quality “divine Eros,” because this is the same energy whether it’s expressed physically, sexually, or not—but it has a divine quality. And the divine quality is outflow of selfless love.
It is love, but because it comes from illumination, the love is not simply, “I love you. I am in love with you.” It is really a magnetism. It is like life turned onto itself and is like a magnet who wants to come close to what’s like it. You see?
So, there is an attraction to what is beautiful, attraction to what is pure, attraction to what is awakened, and wanting to make it more so. [It’s] wanting to live life that ignites both people or a group or a community so that they’re all alive. And not alive just in the sense of just physically alive, but the aliveness of divine love.
Divine love means, basically, love that is not self-centered—which is your lover that you [enjoy], but you’re giving to them at the same time that you’re receiving something. Divine Eros doesn’t differentiate between giving and taking, and does not differentiate between desire and love.
That is one big thing in the spiritual sphere—that there is a division between desire and love. Divine Eros, as we said—that division, in the beginning, is there because there is no illumination. When illumination happens, the two things become one thing—one energy.
TS: So, this is really where my question comes in, because when I hear the word “desire” or hear you talking about our animal nature—and hear you talking about the sexual potential that there is in eroticism—what I notice is a concern that I have that the sexuality inside me is going to explode, take me over, and bring me into all kinds of territory that potentially isn’t connected to love—that isn’t connected to my heart.
TS: It’s going to be animal nature gone wild.
KJ: It can’t.
TS: So, how do you address that? How do we keep our Eros divine—especially when there’s so much energy potentially unleashed?
KJ: You sound scared of it.
TS: Well, yes! It’s so huge!
KJ: Well, that’s why—
AHA: Sounds good! Good beginning.
KJ: Yes, really, that sounds good. Even fear is part of working through some of the feelings that are pent up and caught up in the energy of desire. There’s fear, there’s desire, there’s all kinds of feelings that we’re trapped by because we take ourselves to be individuals based on our body.
There’s all kinds of things there that are reasons why many spiritual traditions don’t venture into tantra or sexuality—some at all. But some, that’s considered the end of the road when you venture into those things because you need to know divinity first. You need to have some sense of presence and what that is that you are beyond the body—beyond one’s animal nature—so that you can work through the animal nature in a way that allows that explosion to occur.
Because it is an explosion—but not have it channeled through the usual ways that it’s channeled in terms of our self-preservation. Instincts or social instincts. It brings up a whole instinctual layer for people.
So, that means you have to really be able to practice and not act out at those times. Allow the explosion and the feelings and really have a container that isn’t holding back. The ego structure of personality holds those things in check so that we remain civilized.
But as we go along the spiritual journey, we feel that explosion. The container is presence itself. So, there doesn’t have to be a boundary there. But there’s an appropriateness where you can explode and let it rip through your entire being without going, “OK, I’ve got to have that. I’ve got to have that for me.” It doesn’t have to be the attaching and the taking-in of the object and the cathexis of all of that. So, it implies a certain level of moving through that.
In the tantric practices, they use the explosion as a means to bring out the attachment. So, if you don’t act out on it, it will naturally bring out the issues that need to be moved through. But the more it’s liberated, the more that energy has an intelligence on its own. It’s not stupid. It knows what it needs, what it wants. And on the physical level, that’s another person—but those are also very early ways we learn to relate to another person. This is about divinity and how we relate to the divine.
Then, that can be shared with another person. But it isn’t the same kind of [attachment]. It’s not the same kind of action. It’s an action that isn’t based on that self that is needing that. There’s nothing wrong with needing that. But it isn’t the same thing as letting the divine come through [and] becoming a conduit for it.
AHA: I think what divinizes the instincts of the animal is a collusion of the heart. The heart is the force that needs to be united with instinctual drive—whether for social contact or sexual contact or work and all that. But linking heart with it—this is a way of connecting the lower part of the body or the lower chakras or the heart chakra, you could say.
The heart brings in not just love, but selfless love. So, when there is love and the love is selfless, it means not just for me, it’s for everybody. And that infuses those instinctual forces—it transforms them, you see. So, Eros becomes a divine Eros.
TS: OK, but let’s say somebody’s listening and they have an experience historically—or a fear of an experience, or both—that once they really get into their sexual centers, their lower chakras, [and] the energy that’s there, that they won’t have their heart connected. They have experiences in the past where they had affairs—or what if their heart wasn’t there? They’re just—woo!—taken away.
AHA: Then it becomes a spiritual practice, then. You have to work on it. It doesn’t happen by itself.
TS: How does someone work on connecting the heart to that incredible force? How does one make sure the heart is connected and do that work?
AHA: Well, first of all, you need to—as Karen mentioned—be aware of those sexual forces. You need to feel the desire. Many people actually—when we did that in the seminar that saw this book—more people had difficulty with desire than with love. They couldn’t feel their desire—most people.
So, one of the first things is to freely feel desire. “I want!” I really want that. I really desire that strongly without inhibition. That’s a very difficult thing [out there] in Western culture.
KJ: And part of that—because it’s so wrapped up with need. The wanting, the desire, and the need all are things that go together. Particularly, in our earlier years, desire and need are the same thing. But they need to be decoupled also—looking at what the feeling of need is, letting the need be there, and finding out what it is that one needs.
So, it means working on historical kinds of things and then finding out that the energy of desire is a pure energy.
KJ: It’s not just an, “I want for me.” The desire energy is the energy of the universe being channeled in a particular way that has a grasping to it that’s stage-specific for human beings. Letting go of the grasping opens the hand and the heart to, “It’s just energy!” And that’s when the magnetism comes.
[As] Hameed was saying, that energy has an intelligence that goes toward what’s like it. Actually, I would go a little further with that: what is like that energy in me that is in you is not a separate energy. It’s the same energy moving through your individual consciousness, my individual consciousness. It has its own intelligence, and that is what drives two people together or somebody on a spiritual journey in a certain way.
You can’t make your heart do—like the song says—”what it won’t.” When you love somebody, you love them. You can’t help it. You can stop it. You can shut it down. You can pretend it doesn’t exist. But if you’re open, you’re going to attract some people—not to other people. Not because there’s anything wrong with somebody or right with somebody else. There’s an intelligence there that draws you.
So, the like draws like. But there’s also the individual consciousness where the differences create a kind of magnetism also. So, the differences and the likeness as a kind of blend and dance.
TS: Yes. So, there’s two things that I’m wanting to go into here about why it can be difficult for people to contact their desire in all of its power. One, you just mentioned—which is that then we have to feel this needy part of us that perhaps wasn’t met, and there’s grief potentially in that. Once again, I’m going to ask this question: if I do contact those feelings of, “God, it’s so painful for me to let myself want what I want.” How do I work with those feelings when they come up?
AHA: That’s how you work with it. First of all, there are other reasons besides need—like some people who accuse or misuse or exploited, so they don’t want to go with those needs or desires. They suppress them and disassociate. All that needs to be unearthed and worked with. And there are different modalities of working with that.
KJ: That’s why, in our school, we have private sessions where people can address their history and the way their own consciousness unwinds, and how those obstacles arise for them personally. It’s very difficult to address everyone’s personal issues in a group setting, which is why private sessions became part of our work—whereas they weren’t at first.
AHA: Yes. And awakening by itself doesn’t do it. One can be awakened and not have their instinctual—
TS: Interesting! Well then, how are they finding—?
AHA: You know many examples of people [who are] very clear, awake, and—
TS: It depends. How are you defining it?
AHA: —when their sexuality is in most doubt.
TS: Yes. How are you defining—?
AHA: Because you have to work through that stuff.
TS: You’re defining “awakening,” though, in what manner?
AHA: Well, you know, [that] is your true nature—your non-dual condition. Or speaking as dharmakaya—or the Brahmin, or Satchidānanda, or divine love. Whatever [the] tradition considers their “enlightenment.”
KJ: You know that’s your identity. You’re clear that it is. You don’t move from that.
AHA: I mean, you can experience that. [They] can be [in] that condition most of the time, but their action betrays the fact that their instincts are not still worked out.
For the instincts to be worked out—both to be unearthed, recognized as a distortion, understood. And then they begin to develop [maturity]. [When] they develop [maturity], that’s when they begin to connect with the heart.
But in the process, the heart needs to be worked with—because some people, their heart is closed. They can’t feel their emotion, their feeling. That’s another area where people have to experience their emotion, their vulnerability, their fears, their hurts. All of that needs to be opened up and revealed so it’s not in the way of the love expressing itself.
When that happens, the instincts and the heart are naturally connected, because it’s the natural condition—that they’re all one thing.
So, [if] they’re not connected, it’s because there are barriers. And the barriers have a lot to do with those hidden patterns that come from our history or from our belief system.
TS: OK. Let’s say someone’s listening and they see themselves in what you’re saying. They say, “Well, I know my heart is actually kind of shut down in a lot of ways.” What does the Diamond Approach offer to help the heart open?
KJ: Inquiry. How do you feel in your chest? What’s happening there? What’s going on? What kind of feelings are there?
Very often, people come in with issues from their daily life that are really alive for them. “I encountered this person. I had a reaction. I couldn’t stop it. I’m still in it. I feel really angry, but I’m not really letting myself feel it.”
We just work with what’s there. People bring in live, burning questions from their life—not just, “Who am I? What am I?” That might actually help clarify something. Let’s say somebody’s listening, and you had the question of, “Well, how do you define illumination or awakening?”
For me, there’s the awakened state of knowing what I am—knowing whether it’s the vastness or the clarity or selflessness or whatever way I might know that. And then there’s, “How is that actualized in time and space?” When you’re beyond time and space, that’s not an issue. But then when you get off the zafu or get off your chair, or going into the world—there’s the actualization.
So, we have in our work—realization is one side of it. Actualization [is] another side of it, in which the individual consciousness is a conduit for that realization to come through and function. And so the functional element is what we’re talking about in terms of what develops, what needs to work through those issues—so that the actualization is not just the consciousness opening, but actually developing in a way like a muscle that actually is moved by that realization in the world relationally, mentally, physically, and all those ways.
AHA: It needs all those energies, all those centers—all open. The energy flows to express our realization.
So, I’m thinking that when somebody listening [to] or watching this interview hopefully will come out with some kind of inspiration—some kind of confirmation of their experience. But also the realization that there is work to be done.
KJ: A recognition of it.
AHA: There are areas that are stunted or unopened or limited or distorted. They know where they need to put their attention to work with it. And they do it by themself.
But some people—most people—need help. Somebody else.
Also, in terms of activating the emotions, we use, also, energetic methods—breathing methods. Breathing methods. We do what we call the breathing where you work on the body and what are the blocks in it. What are the various blocks in the heart and the pelvis or the head? Through breathing and movement and all that, but which exposes them and they become exposed, energized. They are revealed. What [are] the emotions or the emotional pattern? The history?
KJ: And then we inquire into those. But the breath is something that helps read. It’s like a medium that helps to read the body and where the body is stuck.
So, when you amplify the breath—allow the breath to come in in certain ways or move the body in certain ways—you see where it’s holding back. That structure is like a mapping of what is somewhat actualized and what is not. And it’s a way of reading it without just going with what someone is saying, because often what someone’s saying is just what they’re aware of. We can read the body like a map of somebody’s unconscious—and see what’s not moving, what’s moving. That helps to bring—it’s a whole language that can be read and help to bring out more of what the person is not aware of that’s related to the question they bring in or the reaction—
AHA: So, they have to deal with the question of actualization—which is how to bring your understanding, your deeper experience into the world. You need to liberate all those energies—the heart, the instincts, also the mind. The thinking mind and its capacity. All of them need to be really opened up and liberated so that the enlightened energy can flow through them.
Otherwise, it won’t flow. Or it will flow in a distorted way.
TS: One of the questions I wanted to ask you was about a belly-based breathing practice that you introduced as part of the teaching on divine Eros.
KJ: I just want to point to the fact that things are getting kind of exciting. You feel that?
TS: Well, I have to say that, reading the book on divine Eros, I was heated up from start to finish. Literally like a fire inside of me.
So yes, I find this topic and the way the two of you talk about it intensely heat-creating.
KJ: I feel excited right now! [Laughs.]
AHA: This is why we decided to do it—because when people discuss spiritual work, they think about meditation, they think of oneness. Consciousness, emptiness, surrender—not really talked about being done.
KJ: What about fire?
AHA: What about being turned on—being hot? Hot about life—like those [inaudible]. And even the practice—there is a desire to it. There is a loving desire. Oh yes, great to practice upbeat more of myself. The world could be more life.
There is really a possibility. It [isn’t] always that way, but it doesn’t—
TS: One second. So, I want to talk about the belly meditation. I know we’re going to. But since we’re talking now about the fire and the heat, I want to circle back, because there’s one thread that I didn’t feel was really answered to my satisfaction.
Which is: in feeling that heat, what I feel is a certain danger. Danger—explosives ahead! You’re on fire! And you talked about containment, and that we need to have developed a certain capacity of containment. I’d like to understand more how to develop the confidence in that containment—how to help people do that, so that they can go into this heat with a sense of, “Yes, I can step right into it and burn up.”
Right! How do we do that? How do we develop that containment—?
AHA: It requires a certain maturity in one’s individual consciousness. You see, maturity doesn’t relate to pure awareness or grounded consciousness, because that’s already complete. But the human being has a consciousness—or an individual [consciousness]. People call it “mind” or whatever. That needs to mature.
And the maturity is what helps it contain. The more mature it is, the more energies it can contain without spilling over. If it is still not mature, it can’t handle it.
TS: So, tell me what you mean by “mature?” What is that?
AHA: “Mature” means how [one has] gone through experience, learned how to handle experiences. It grows.
The consciousness is similar to biological organisms. It develops. As the years pass, it actually has more capacity and more differentiated functioning and more intelligence and more discernment. And also more capacity to hold. It’s bigger. So, it has capacity to hold more—[it’s] how the nervous system itself was developed.
That’s what happened because the body’s included in it—through breathing or understanding. The whole nervous system is not only unlocked, but also the neural networks developed all over the brain and the whole body, which goes ahead with the development of the inner, individual consciousness itself. It reveals more of its possibilities.
So, in our work, that maturation is related to what we call the personal assets, or the “pearl beyond price.” Which is, to learn how to be a mature human being. As a person, you know who you are. You know your uniqueness. But you also know the other[’s] uniqueness. And you know what is the appropriate relationship between the two.
That’s the discernment that [has to do with] the personal, relational. It’s not easy. Universal consciousness doesn’t give you that. You want to hug everybody. You hug them, but what do you do next?
See what I mean? You’re there at the cash registers. You want to hug the guy behind the counter. They are wanting to slide your card!
AHA: But you just want to hug them because your enlightenment doesn’t do it. You know how to slide your card and sign. Maybe then you can hug them or not, but they might not want to.
But if you have the maturity, you know that. If you don’t have the maturity, you become more impulsive or you’re sort of overflowing through the seams in a way that many people call “blow-out” or inappropriate behavior.
So, maturity takes time. It takes experience. You have to come into a situation and learn how to deal with it adequately. You make mistakes, and from the mistakes you learn. If you are really illuminated, you learn from this mistakes. You’re aware of your limitation and you explore [what the] limitation is about.
As you see the limitation and you see what the mistake is, then true nature will present the qualities necessary. You see? Illumination has the freedom to bring up the necessary quality—whether it’s intelligence, or discrimination, or strength, or power, or love—what is it—will come through.
So, that’s a process of love and maturation.
KJ: I think one of the technical things is practice. Various kinds of practices we have in inquiry [are] part of learning about the issues—understanding why it’s coming through in that way. Like, just [explosive anger] and fury.
That’s one of the things that comes with people’s aggression—not just the sexual acting-out, but aggression. That anger. That hatred. All of those feelings that we think, “Oh, that’s not very spiritual! I’m not going there.”
Why not? It’s part of who we are.
So, to really be able to contain that means not, “OK, just feel it. Don’t do anything.” It’s like, “No! Get into it!” Show me your hatred. Become that creature. I want to see it. Invite it out. Become ugly, nasty, slimy—whatever it is. Inquire into those aggressive, down-at-the-bottom-of-the-muck feelings. It’s very useful to have somebody there who’s going, “Let’s look. I can deal with it. Let it happen.”
And that’s where the power of our nature—
AHA: That includes sexual energy. Erotica.
KJ: Yes. The sexual—
AHA: But this is what we call “the tantra of everyday life,” which is the topic of our next seminar. We’re moving on from divine Eros to the tantra of everyday life—which is, how do you work with the energies of life [that] come through all parts of us in a way that is more harmonious and more functional? [It] does what is good for the human being without contravening the good of the other.
KJ: So, by feeling all the different feelings that we think are dangerous when there’s someone there who’s not afraid of them and helps you to learn to move through them and the issues—that purifies them.
It’s not like it happens once. It comes around in various ways—more subtle ways. Those sometimes don’t get identified right away—until you hear something coming out your mouth that’s an attack on somebody. You go, “Oh boy. I didn’t know that was there.”
So, you have a chance over time to look at those. But those energies are incredibly powerful. I think our fear of them is justified. If we just let ‘em rip without learning—without actually understanding their actual, real place—then they can be damaging. And they can be destructive. So, the fear—
AHA: That’s why our work has some years of work. Some people say, “Well, you’re using the law of psychology.” The thing is that people [have] got this stuff. It doesn’t go away by having spiritual illumination. In fact, it can be magnified. All these distortions can be magnified.
So, that’s why we spend time working with students, and have teachers and guides to navigate all this terrain of life.
KJ: Yes. And in our teaching, too. Our teaching of realization includes the barriers and the emotions and all of the skewed perspective we have. So, it’s an interweaving. It’s not like, “Oh, OK, we deal with the emotions,” and then there’s the illumination behind that door.
No—there’s an intertwining in our consciousness and a mix of those things. It’s like it’s there now. Just decouple them. But how do you do that? It’s by discernment.
So, for us the realization and the actualization is a dance that we have all the way through. It’s not like we get realizeD and then we start working on the actualization. That’s the beauty of it.
AHA: Yes. Like you experience love. Some people, their heart [is] open. They feel love—a golden nectar for us. And they feel full. Their heart is full of it. And if they love it, whatever.
The question, then, for the teacher is, when you feel this golden nectar, does it go down to your pelvis? Or does it just stay in the heart? If afterward, they realize it wouldn’t go down. And they explore, “Why won’t it go down? Am I encountering fear or some kind of desire gone unacknowledged?
AHA: You see? After they become aware of that, they work through the nectar’s descent. So, after a while, the love goes through the whole pelvis and that begins to connect it through [our heart].
KJ: And the love—let it go to your head.
No? Why not? Because it will take away my discrimination. I’ll get all fuzzy and muddled. So, there’s a disconnect from here to here also. So, the clarity or the searing brilliance that’s possible in the mind—the belief is that the love is just going to melt everything, and it won’t be there, and I won’t be able to discriminate—when actually that’s not the case at all.
When you really understand love, that clarity is more so. When the love and the mind function together, that enables an entire center to develop that can have a liberated dance of loving the truth for its own sake—and having the searing clarity and discrimination that takes you there without discerning prior to getting wherever you’re getting. So, you don’t have a preconceived idea.
So, the centers in life—the more we connect the head and the heart, the heart and the belly, and the head and the belly. Being clear in your pelvis and clear in your sexuality and your presentation of who you are in that liberated energy—that just becomes a dance. Everything gets clearer, brighter, more discerning. That’s part of the process of maturing.
AHA: It happens in practical situations in one’s relationship to work, one’s relationship to friends, one’s relationship to the lovers or family. This area needs to express one’s realness—but those ways are the difficult ones to bring one’s realness.
So, when we work, we ask them what it’s like with your wife. What’s it like with your new job?
TS: I bet there’s plenty of opportunity for inquiry there.
AHA: Yes. There is always [an opportunity] because—even living their life, we don’t have students that live in monasteries. So, they’re interacting with life or are political or are activists. All kinds of things. Doctors and lawyers are having challenges. Sometimes, it’s difficult to bring all this kind of illumination to those challenges. It takes time for them to mature and develop.
TS: Now, you’ve talked about the three centers—the belly, the heart, and the head. I wanted to focus on the belly for a moment, because in this teaching on divine Eros, you start with the belly. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what the practice is for breathing into the belly and how it relates to the liberation of divine Eros.
KJ: Well, we start with the practice of breathing into the belly as a concentration kind of meditation. Which is, in many traditions, where you begin is to concentrate at the Kath Point and that helps with embodiment.
TS: And the Kath Point being . . .?
KJ: Being the belly center.
AHA: It’s a dantian or hara.
TS: So, a few inches below the navel—
KJ: That helps to develop a center there that helps to ground. It helps to bring in embodiment. It brings you closer to your physical sensations at first. But over time, that can help you be in contact with presence as a palpable, sensate experience.
So, we start with that because presence is what’s [also] needed to become the container for those energies to get liberated. So, we’re kind of doing two things at once. We’re waking up the pelvis, but we’re also developing a center that can help be the containment.
TS: Can you tell me very specifically how you instruct people in breathing into the belly? Meaning: is the breath coming in from, like, a feeling of it coming in a few inches in front of the belly or down through the belly—
AHA: Yes. We describe it in the book, I think. It said that focus on the breath and the belly. They’re aware of how they’re breathing and the belly, and so do the chest. The belly down, in and out. And then they focus their attention on a spot in the belly—go below the navel inside the belly, because that’s where the center is. There’s no physical counterpart to it.
So, it’s a focusing of attention and sensation, not thinking about it. And in time, if you keep that focus, first you learn how to concentrate. But something is activated and grows and develops in the center of energy. You feel a throbbing heat, an intensity, and what you bring to this kind of capacity.
It is the center, actually, that organizes the three lower chakras. Like all of the three chakras. The lowest one at the perineum. The one in the root of the spine. One in the solar plexus. All feed into the center. So, three liberated centers means also opening up all those chakras.
So, this is a meditation practice to work with it. But the inquiry, then, is that as you really focus, that brings up things—stirs up things there.
And that’s when the inquiry comes in. Not during the meditation part, but later on. You know—with one’s teacher or by oneself or generally. You look into all the feeling and sensation, all the difficulties or anxiety that come up. You try to understand them—what they’re about, what they feel like. How come they are that way? And as you understand them—usually, understanding means to experientially get the meaning of them, the import of them.
To feel the full understanding of these things—feeling the meaning of them while you are in touch palpably with them—in time will reveal some qualities of being. [This is] because they’re all distortions or coverings of being and its qualities. Because being is inseparable from the surface manifestation. They’re all unified.
So, if you really follow it, it will take you to a quality of being. And we focus [on] the belly center in the beginning because we work with presence. We don’t work with awareness or consciousness or knowing. We work with presence.
And presence is most strongly recognized in the [developed] belly center. Because awareness is like light. It has to do with the head center. Love is like fluid—like a nectar of the heart. In the belly center, [there is] presence like a fullness or palpableness. It has almost a substantiality, but not a physical substance—
KJ: But we work with all of them. We work with—
AHA: We work with all [of them]. We start with this. We think of it as the roots of the tree. You’re growing a tree, you want its root to be deep and strong so that tree doesn’t topple or something. If we develop the higher centers first, without strong roots, it’s wobbly. It’s not certain. So, we do have the belly center first.
TS: Now, in the book on divine Eros, you talk about four centers. The three that you mentioned—the belly, the heart, and the head—but also a fourth center above the head. So, I was curious about that—if you could say more about that. And, most importantly, how do I activate or open it ASAP?
KJ: [Laughs.] That one is activated, really, when the other three are harmonized. So, what is it you think you would get if your fourth center were open?
TS: The purity of my soul would pour through me beautifully and fabulously and unimpeded!
. . . That’s my guess. But I’d like to hear more about it.
AHA: People with frequent experience of the sense—of forces, of sense of presence, the sense of grace, and all of that. And through that center.
KJ: And it’s not all at once.
AHA: Many traditions talk about a center above here.
TS: How far above the head?
AHA: Two inches above the head or so?
But when you experience the center, there is visually something you see that looks like balls of light. So, those would look like a ball of light. Those all look like a ball of light above the head.
That’s one of the ways. The other way of experiencing them is that they actually feel like brains. Like they have gray matter and curves and all that. That shows them that they have intelligence, authority to them.
These are specific ways of experiencing them. Not necessarily everybody will experience them. Most people will experience the qualities that come through those areas that are opened up and not clogged.
But the four centers—basically, the three centers are developed and aligned, are balanced. When they’re balanced, the fourth center automatically opens up. It needs the balance of the three centers. We call it “the Center of Life” because these are the components of life. Sensation [and] action in the belly. Heart feeling in response to the heart. Thinking, knowing—just imagine that. All of them together is life.
KJ: Also, it indicates a consciousness beyond the individual, bounded consciousness. It’s above the head. It’s not above the individual consciousness. So, there has to be a recognition that what you are is not bound by the boundaries of your body or the boundaries of an entity. What’s alive and what is living is the located consciousness that is inseparable from consciousness in general. There isn’t a boundedness—it’s like a current in ocean.
So, to live from that is a full and complete life that is continually completing itself. Maturation continues. It’s not like, oh, you get mature and then you walk around mature. Yet, maturity means you’re interfacing in a mature way with the world, new situations, new learning. But you’re not bounded.
So, for this center to actually be open and functional—for it to be actually open—means there is a recognition that it is not the individual in the usual sense of the word—as a bounded history. A bounded, separated person.
That’s another one of the necessary elements of opening that center. [It is] not about you.
AHA: So we’ll talk about that. This is sort of technical language—we’re talking about actual, specific technicalities of the teaching. But divine Eros—how we present it in the book—you don’t need to know all of these things. You just need to know that there are these energies and they need to liberated and allowed to evolve, develop, and harmonize.
KJ: And that will develop the centers by themselves without—
TS: So, specifically—and you’ve said a few things about this, but I want to be more explicit. Which is: if someone still has the experience of a separation between their divine nature and their sexy nature—so, here you talk about the “sexy angel.” I get that, but I feel sexy in one moment and like an angel in another moment, but I don’t feel in the same moment like a sexy angel. They’re separate inside me.
What can I do if I have that experience of, “I certainly know what it means to be turned on sexually. And I know what it means to have my heart open. But I don’t experience those things at the same time. In fact, often when I feel really sexually turned on, I can’t feel my heart at all. I’m just woo!” You know? Or when heart’s open, my sexuality is—
AHA: This is how it is for many people. It is a piece of work to do, to work with that.
First, you recognize that they are separate. Then you explore how come. What is the separation? What’s creating the separation? Usually, you find all kinds of difficult emotions and feelings and patterns and history. As you work through that, that brings things together.
KJ: But there also may be assumptions of what it means to have your heart open when you’re feeling sexy—that you would feel a certain way. Certainly, one of the things would be to sense your heart area when you’re feeling sexy. What’s going on there? It means bringing your practice to that moment.
Or when you feel angelic and pure. What’s going on in the pelvis? How do you feel? How does it change your state when you sense your genitals? And does it? Do you feel, “Well, actually I feel very pure there.”
You might [also] be just assuming what it would be like, since it would new or different.
Explore when you’re in those states. Know, “Well, what is going on?” rather than, “I want my heart to open now! Come on!” It’s like, “Well, what do I feel there?” What’s happening there? It’s empty. OK—
AHA: Yes. You start with the question you had and try to answer it experientially. That feeling separate. And then that question, “How come?”
KJ: Or what’s happening there?
AHA: Do they need to be separate? What’s separating them? Do I want it [to be] OK for me to be that way? Or do I want it to be different?
KJ: And also, just by sensing your heart when you’re turned on can start to bring the issues. You don’t have to think about it. It’s just sensing there and putting your attention there as you’re feeling that kind of energy [it] can start to bring out. You might get teary.
So, you just let the feelings come up. You can spend some time later inquiring into what happened.
But just by having your attention on both, that’ll start the process.
TS: I’d like to ask you both a personal question. Which is: to know how this teaching and investigation of divine Eros potentially changed or matured you in the process of really investigating and teaching this material. What [were] the growth developments for each of you?
AHA: Yes. So that [is an] ongoing thing from the beginning. It is part of this path—that we work with the centers and the various life situations—one’s marriage, one’s work, one’s relationship. [It’s] part of what each one of us had to go through.
Karen is married. I’m married. We have friends. We have home relationships.
So, just clarifying those and making sure that we know how to handle them in way that works—that is appropriate. It brings up those things that we got through our conduct.
Also, the spiritual realization itself as it arises—the present as it arises—manifests as possibilities. [The work] pushes on those areas because once [we] go into it all of it, you want to fill in the whole consciousness—we want to fill in the whole field.
So, it encounters those areas that are not open and would appear as tension or issues or fear or conflict. And those—we look into them. As that happens, those areas become clarified, dissolved, and spiritual energy flows more freely—and brings out the possibilities of those areas in life.
KJ: It also, for us—
AHA: Then you continue the process.
KJ: For me, it brought out all of those things that needed to be clarified. It’s continuing, as well.
But for Hameed and I, there was a very specific shift in the teaching itself that brought this out. It took a while to recognize because we’re friends. And when this energy showed up and we started to feel like we wanted to spend more time together and inquire together—feeling like we didn’t want to be apart. We didn’t know what was going on.
And that actually brought quite an upheaval for me. What we realized was in our friendship, there was more and more of an equalizing in terms of the teaching and what was coming through. This energy was necessary for the next step in the teaching to happen—that we had to unlock other secrets that one person could not do alone.
That was one of the biggest realizations that we had—that our friendship had this component, and that’s why we spent time in the book talking about [how] this isn’t just about your marriage, partnership, whatever. This is about friendships [or] any relationship. Life.
And so on, because this came about within the context of our friendship. So, for us it became something that was instrumental and in service of the teaching itself.
AHA: So, the friendship and the development of the teaching became intertwined.
KJ: Which it had always been, but this was much more of a step into an equilibrium—where we saw how, that there was more of a mutuality, more of a symmetry happening at that time. That stepped up our responsibility to be honorable about the energy and to use it for the teaching.
AHA: So, being developed became a practice in that way.
KJ: Yes. So we—
AHA: Spending time together is always a practice. It is always discoveries of new realms.
TS: Is there a sense of why a teaching like the Diamond Approach needs to come through two people—needs to come through a relational experience versus just one person?
AHA: Parts of it. Not all of it. For a long time, we didn’t need to—but certain parts of it. To move on to different areas, it seemed that’s how it happened.
We don’t know that it has to be that way—or any teaching. But that’s how it happened.
KJ: One of the things that I’ve thought of is because the area we got into was so subtle and so beyond—it was such a twist in the paradigm in the Diamond Approach. [It] was very hierarchical for some time. It was very progressive toward the absolute and realization of the absolute. Then, that became a wormhole to a whole other way of looking at reality.
That particular shift in paradigm needed some kind of very strong energy—just like a spaceship leaving the universe to another universe. Literally a whole shift.
And I think there was something about that that needed both of us to come at it from a different way. We always have come at the teaching from a slightly different way, given different facets in someone. But this was like a shift that had to really shake things up and move it.
AHA: It reminds me of some of the Eastern teachings, like some of the Tibetan Buddhist teachings. Like some of the higher tantra, [such as] some Vajrayana. They say to make the final step or some of the major steps, there are only two yogas that can do it: sexual tantra or death yoga—to practice at the time of death. Most of them think death yoga is easy.
AHA: That’s what they believe—because sexual tantra is hard to control. But they believe those tantras—you have to practice one of those to [really] go into some of the deeper steps.
For us, we didn’t do any of those—these two things. It happened through the interaction. That’s what brought in the erotic. Instead of sexual, it became [an] erotic energy that unified us—made us become like one being.
TS: To end our conversation, I want to actually talk about that becoming one being or not being one being. What I mean by that is this call or this longing for divine union that so many people feel with whoever they have this magnetic call to. “I want to experience our oneness.” And maybe, for most people, there’s an experience of touching it. Maybe it’s in the moment of sexual embrace. Or maybe it’s a moment of staring into your partner’s eyes, and you melt.
But then, for most people, [I think] there’s this sense of, “Now I feel separate again.” Maybe even only one percent of me feels separate again.
AHA: Some people experience it with their teachers sometimes.
TS: Or with their teacher. Yes.
AHA: Their spiritual teachers.
KJ: Yes. And there’s many levels of unity. Like the kind of sweetness that one can experience, where you feel melted together. Or you feel united in a deeper way—where you feel like there’s a union beyond the two. Then you can actually feel—so, there’s the vastness and the both of you are just arising out of that. You feel united in that.
And then there’s the feeling that you’re inseparable in any way, no matter what you’re doing—whether you’re feeling low or feeling it’s like—so, there’s many, many different levels of what one would call “unity.”
I don’t know that it’s something you can make happen, but the love is instrumental in bringing that closeness together. Love has to be very clear and very open to whatever is really in front of you. The union can’t happen out of, “I desire it for myself.”
TS: So, I think my question, though, is: what do you do with that longing? Someone feels longing—
KJ: That’s the conduit for it. When you feel the longing and you allow yourself to completely feel it 100 percent—
AHA: It becomes the love.
KJ: —[and] decouple it from the object you’re longing for, that opens up to: you don’t long for something you don’t love.
So, the love is inherent in longing. The heart is saying, “That’s where I want to be. That’s what I want.” There’s a wanting to it. So, the longing opens up to the intimacy, and that intimacy will show you what you are in fact intimate with.
The way to the divine through divine tantra is partly—for us—allowing the longing and not acting out on it, and finding that your nature is hidden within that treasure. Longing is a treasure.
AHA: See, it’s inherent to reality and to the true nature of reality—[which] is single, unified, indivisible. There is an inherent unity underlying all of reality.
So, when we’re longing for union, [it’s] really our deeper nature asserting itself. The deeper nature is [that] there is no separation—and many ways, and many kinds, and many levels.
So, it asserts itself, and one of the ways it asserts itself is we become aware of the force of that union. We feel it as a yearning, a longing. [When] we’re closer to the force, we feel it as a love—as a love that’s inseparable from desire. It’s like what we call “magnetic love”—love that wants to bring the two as close as possible.
Some can become sexual love. But if you really feel the love fully, you realize that even the sexual union won’t do it. It’s closer than that.
KJ: It’s an inner penetration that can’t be satisfied.
AHA: The union will bring a deeper realization [as to] what reality is—a characteristic of awareness that many people don’t talk about. Everybody says, “Awareness is one.” But what does that mean?
Most people think, “Awareness is one,” means it is one, infinite expanse. Actually, that is not the case. True nature is not infinite expanse. True nature doesn’t have a size. It’s not an expanse. It’s not big. It’s not small. It could be like a point, or it could be infinite. Or neither of those.
So, as a result, the fact of its unity that has no size or shape appears as a love that wants to bring things together. And we feel it in human relationship as the love people have with each other.
KJ: So, that longing is part of the language of the heart that says, “Feel me. Feel me totally. Let me consume you.” And being consumed in the longing doesn’t mean just [sticking] to the longing. Let it develop. Let it take you where it will. It has a draw to it.
At first, the draw is inward. It takes you into it. You’re consumed by it, and that lets you dissolve in it. And then you [sometimes] find out what you actually have been longing for.
AHA: Through the heart, this draw toward reality—“What is the nature of reality?”—that appears as longing or love. In the mind, it appears as a desire for enlightenment—wanting to know.
But it is the same force.
KJ: And by liberating this desire and letting it speak through the heart and the mind, that can be a complete and total union that allows yourself to feel yourself as a singularity really beyond time and space—really beyond the vastness.
That’s that paradigm shift that had to happen for us—that this desire allowed the energy to build to the point that allowed us to leave the universe of the Diamond Approach and add a whole other level to the Diamond Approach. But we actually thought we were leaving the teaching. We had to let go of everything.
And that’s the other part of this. It’s that everything dies. You have to let your partner die and let the object of your desire die. You don’t know what’s there. And then you find out what’s there. You find out what’s really true about what’s there.
But first, it means you really have to enter into the unknown. You have to go fully into the unknown, and the unknown gets more and more complete.
AHA: So, it’s really the drive of reality to realize inherent unity. It can manifest between people in different kinds of relationship. And we’re noticing [it] in our school, because it’s emerging in the school.
Some people mistake it to mean that they should be lovers. But not necessarily! That’s the experience of union. It may be that they’re supposed to be lovers. Maybe not. It’s just learning about the unity.
So, we’re happy to educate a lot of people. People don’t know how to explain it, when they feel that drive, that magnetic force. They think it means they should get married, they should leave their marriages, they should leave their jobs.
It does not necessarily mean that. It is an inner force that’s revealing some kind of a deep truth. And first, you need to recognize what this deep truth [is] before you decide about your life—how it should stay the same or change.
KJ: That can actually hamper it—trying to explain it away or take action that might thwart the realization. Does that answer your question?
TS: Let the longing turn into love and stay with that energy. Let it flower and grow and—
AHA: Longing can turn to love, but love turns to union.
KJ: Or something else might happen. Who knows?
TS: My thanks to Hameed Ali—who writes under the pen name A.H. Almaas—and Karen Johnson for being with me in person for this conversation on The Power of Divine Eros. With Sounds True, A.H. Almaas has created an audio learning course on The Diamond Approach, as well as the program Realization Unfolds: A Dialogue with Adyashanti. He’s also created with Sounds True a dialogue with Cynthia Bourgeault [Conscious Love: The Power of Revelation], and Dan Siegel [A Conversation Between A.H. Almaas and Daniel Siegel]—all available at SoundsTrue.com.
SoundsTrue.com. Many voices, one journey. Thank you for listening.