Pioneer of the Spirit

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMosaic interior in Hagia Sophia at Istanbul TurkeyPha That Luang, Vientiane Laos

Full interview with Faisal Muqaddam by Dakini Lynn Marlow

Faisal Muqaddam is the co-originator and co-developer of the “Diamond Approach” to Liberation. He has been teaching in the Middle East and USA for the last twenty-three years. A trained Reichian therapist, with Dr. Phillip Curcuruto, Faisal has also studied different systems of growth with esteemed teachers such as Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche, Dr. Claudio Naranjo and Middle Eastern Sufi teachers. Currently he is practicing and teaching in California, Colorado and Hawaii.

Faisal was born in Kuwait. In an attempt to gain a sense of his roots, I began the interview with a question about his early life there.

Dakini  Can you describe your family and early childhood in Kuwait?

Faisal  My father was a businessman. He had three wives. My mother was a spiritual leader, a ceremonialist. She took women on pilgrimages and lead celebrations and lamentations. Women would come to our house for ten days at a time to mourn a loss. In some ways it was like a ten-day workshop where the women would release a lot of grief. My mother was a wonderful singer. She sang all the time. She was gutsy, one of the first women in Kuwait to lobby for more freedom, a “women’s libber.” Men would try to control her, but she wouldn’t let them. She did adhere to some traditions; for example, she wore a veil until she died. She was very passionate and loved life.

Dakini  What is your relationship with Islam?

Faisal  I was born a Muslim of course, but I rebelled. I saw how religion exploited people. I also wanted to be modern.

Dakini  When did you come to the US?

Faisal  I arrived in Berkeley in 1964. I came to study mathematics. My intention was to get my education, my degree, and return to Kuwait. I wanted to revolutionize the education system there since I saw it as being very limited and not giving students what they needed.

Dakini  How did you get involved with inner work?

Faisal  I got into the inner work in 1969. After pursuing mathematics, a very scientific, mental subject, for some years, I became stuck. The atmosphere of Berkeley in the sixties, and my own experiences led me to bioenergetics and then to Claudio Naranjo. I really had no intention of following a spiritual path. I just wanted to get grounded. In Kuwait, people considered Sufis crazy. Their attitude toward them was quite negative. There was, and probably still is, a lot of superstition about Sufis. It really was quite ironic, a cosmic joke in a way, that I learned about Sufism from a Chilean Jew!

Anyway, I started opening up and became aware of a deep thirst in my soul. I had hoped that the bioenergetics would help me ground but my consciousness started evolving. I began to open. I had kundalini experiences. Fear arose from these experiences. So, I went to Claudio. I went with a little question. I just wanted a little answer. How can I be normal? What can I do with these experiences? But, Claudio opened more doors. My soul started to unwind. It had been rattling around in the prison of my mind.

I did this work for some years. Then I went back to Kuwait in 1974. I wanted to share what I had experienced. At first, the people I connected with there thought I had gone crazy, that the West had gotten to me. But some responded. I started a men’s group. Then, the women who were with the men in the group wanted a group, so we started a women’s group. Of course, due to the social structure and societal norms, it was difficult to extend this work out into the lives of the participants. I continued my own inner work, traveling to England and the States. I also studied with Sufis in Iran. In 1976, I had a breakthrough in my work with Tartan Tulku. I realized the Absolute.

Dakini  Can you describe your experience of the Absolute?

Faisal  My experience of the Absolute, in simple terms, is the experience of our enlightened nature, our Buddha nature, as the basic ground of all reality, simplicity itself.

Dakini  That’s a very concise explanation. What happened then?

Faisal  In 1979 I decided to leave Kuwait. It was too much for one person to revolutionize the whole country. When I returned to the states I began doing Reichian therapy with Dr. Phillip Curcuruto, an osteopath and student of Wilhelm Reich.

Dakini  Please tell us a little bit about your relationship with Hameed (A.H. Almaas)?

Faisal  Hameed and I grew up together and have continued our friendship and explorations together. We began looking at every experience as real as opposed to judging some as spiritual and others as illusory. This began the work of the Diamond Approach. We worked closely for seven years, sharing our insights and experiences and developing a conceptual framework and orientation of the Work.

Dakini  How does your approach differ from Hameed’s and the Ridhwan (Diamond Heart) school?

Faisal  The difference is in emphasis. We use the same method with different emphasis. I emphasize the heart. I also integrate the Enneagram into the diamond approach.

Dakini  What do you see are the challenges we face as twentieth century westerners on a spiritual path?

Faisal  The emphasis on No Self is one of the biggest pitfalls we have fallen into. How can we let go of something we don’t have? We try to get rid of a Self that we have never experienced. It cannot work!

Many spiritual seekers are caught up in what I call the Prejudice of Enlightenment. Seekers become attached to the Absolute and slip into dualism, viewing everything else as phenomena and relating to the Absolute as real and phenomena as illusion. Many of the spiritual seekers in the West have fallen for this prejudice and this is what stops us from staying in a spiritual state.

Dakini  Please describe your theory of three Selves.

Faisal  The first is the worldly self, the ego, personality. It could be healthy or unhealthy. The second is the heavenly self. Some call it the soul, Individuated Self, or Higher Self. I call it the Inner Star, the point of light within. It is unique for each of us. It is our true identity. Without it the journey is incomplete. All humanity wants this. We are always in search of Self. The third self is the Cosmic Self. It is our Buddha Nature. God as Absolute Presence, like the Ocean and the point of light is a fish in that ocean.

Dakini  Say more about the point of light.

Faisal  The way I understand the Point of light is that it is God’s gift to us, the speck of the divine within each one of us. It is the seed syllable. It is the soul, the Nafs, some call it Higher Self, the individuated entity within us that journeys into infinite space and eternal time taking on infinite reincarnations to higher and higher evolution. It’s the part of us that never dies and that gives us a fulfilling sense of selfhood on an individual level. In poetic terms, it is the star of Bethlehem. Bethlehem in Arabic means house of flesh. It is the individuated Logos that settles in the house of flesh. The Christ of Jesus symbolizes the individuation. The story of the three magi seeing the great star above Bethlehem is symbolic of the point of light upon the house of flesh, which is the body. Each prophet is a guiding principle toward a certain state of our being.

Dakini  How can we work with this theory in a meaningful way?

Faisal  Liberating oneself to attain the point of light involves a continual process of disidentification from the personality and in-depth resolution of narcissistic (confusion of the ego identity and the true self) issues and gradually integrating the different attributes of the point of light, such as peace, love, joy, will, until the person ripens enough to unite with the Beloved self. We first need to integrate the attributes before we can integrate the point of light because integrating the point of light requires a big transformation in the mind, the body, and daily activity. It is not an easy thing to be the point of light because it is such a high state of being. So we first integrate the attributes of it little by little. Otherwise, the experience would be too dismantling of the personality and the psychic structure. The process is a gradual unfolDakinient of the attributes and resolution of the issues of identity.

Dakini  Can you describe the challenges that Westerners face in pursuing the Spiritual path and, in particular, trying to follow Eastern teachings?

Faisal  Practitioners of Eastern religions haven’t experienced the extreme alienation that Westerners have. Most of the teachers from the East don’t know where Westerners are. They cannot relate and because they are missing that, they don’t have the key to undo our structures that stand in the way of our spiritual evolution.

Easterners have not alienated from the point of light the way Westerners have. Westerners have alienated so much from the point of light that it is a big jump to go from ego to Cosmic Self. This is what the ancient Eastern traditions don’t know. Most teachers say, “let go of ego and dissolve into the Absolute.” But soul has to individuate. That is its nature, its natural inclination, and its purpose. So we try to jump over this area. The ego is the Fallen Angel. We need to really listen to the ego, not try to slaughter it! If we do this, the ego will lead us to the point of light. The ego, like Satan, is most devoted. Its desires are signs that guide us to the Self. When the ego finds the Self, it surrenders quite willingly.

Dakini  How would you describe the “goal” of spiritual work?

Faisal  The name of the game is evolution. The experience of enlightenment helps us to recognize how the universe is and then we can become co-creators. Enlightenment is the potentiality for individuality and the universe to reach higher and higher capacities. Human beings can be totally regressed. Enlightenment is knowing that you are divine and the whole world is too. Enlightenment brings us to individuation.

Dakini  Please comment on the relationship between psychology and spirituality?

Faisal  They are inseparable. Inner work brings us face to face with our psychological wounding and issues. In the process of experiencing ourselves as the point of light, the heaviest narcissistic issues arise.

Ego comes from deficiency, which begins in the womb. Christianity says we are born in sin. That sin is what we call the hole. For an individual to go into the experience of ego deficiency is one of the most terrifying because it is a pre-egoic experience. The ego is afraid of its own hole. It is always orbiting around the deficiency. We understand our deficiency by seeing what we idealize. The ego feels it is unworthy to go home unless it finds what’s missing. Each ego has a mission, which is part of the quest of soul.

Many of us try to amputate our egos because we judge them as unspiritual. This does not work. We need to open our heart to our ego. The ego is like our inner child. We need it to understand our quest and unravel our search. Ego comes from separation from the individuated self. If we fight it, it is a formidable enemy. Eastern religion tells us that there is something wrong with individuation.

One of the pitfalls for Westerners is idealizing depersonalization. If we look around, we see that “high” beings (e.g. the Dalai Lama) are very warm and really personal. It is important to remember that we don’t need to throw the baby out with the bath water. We can mine the riches of both East and West and use them both. We are pioneers weaving the two.

Dakini  It seems to me that many people think that when one is spiritually advanced that there is no more discomfort, “negative” thoughts, or emotions that one lives in a continual state of bliss. If one has a negative thought or emotion than obviously one is not very spiritual and has not worked out all their unresolved issues. Do you think this is true?

Faisal  No. I do not think this is true. Enlightenment, in my understanding, is a series of gradual stages. There’s kindergarten enlightenment, enlightenment 101, all the way through PhD enlightenment. We begin with realizing our perfect nature. From that, a new life starts, a new life of awakening, then more awakening, more maturity, more refinement of our process. With each stage, there is more resolution of our deeper issues, issues that we would not have seen if we had not been awakened. So, we could have realization of enlightenment of one level and it excavates another bundle of issues and then deepens and another layer of issues comes up. So enlightened people do work with their issues. The idea that enlightenment is going to erase those issues is one of the pitfalls that we have fallen into in the West and created an unrealistic grandiose demand on ourselves.

Dakini  In the Sufi Order we talk about Nafs. How would you describe Nafs and how you work with them?

Faisal  Nafs in Arabic means self. As we discussed earlier, there is the ego self, the heavenly self, and the cosmic self. So there is Nafs on an ego level, heavenly, or cosmic level. With each level there is a whole cluster of issues that arise. So as we work on realizing these states, we work on the issues that obscure them.

Dakini  How do you work with the Divine Qualities?

Faisal  Just as each state has a particular cluster of issues around it, so does each quality have a particular cluster of issues around it. Compassion is usually blocked by hurt. Will is blocked by lack of support. Peace and clarity are blocked by hate, and so forth. By working with those issues and understanding their roots, how they originated, in our childhood, we create an inner room (an accommodation) for the essential state to emerge. We need to work with the shadow aspects of the qualities. There are very specific issues for each aspect of the Divine. Specificity is the Diamond approach. There are very specific keys to the rooms of the Palace of Being, to put it poetically. The diamond guidance has brought the insight of the precision between issues and states of being.

Dakini  Can you say something about Being and Essence?

Faisal  Being in general is a boundless state. Essence is the differentiated aspect of Being.

Dakini  Could you talk about the body and your use of bodywork in your approach?

Faisal  The recent knowledge that has been developed in the West, such as bioenergetics and Reichian work, has enabled us to use the body in a very precise and effective way in order to unravel the psychological and essential states in a direct way. Working with and through the body makes the issues more accessible, and therefore the essential states more accessible. The body is a storage house of our unconscious and our being. The diamond guidance has made it clear how the different clusters of issues and essential states are located in different parts of the body. By undoing the body armor, we can release the psychological and spiritual content that is being held. The human body is the most miraculous instrument that we know of so far. It is not what we think it is. It is a grand vehicle that contains within it different layers of consciousness within the body. There are so many spiritual centers that can connect us to all of the layers of existence. Many think that in order to be spiritual we have to leave the body. I believe that through our body we can merge with the Infinite. Our body is fully equipped with every possible capacity of perceiving the universe.

Using different modern approaches such as Reichian breath work, in-depth massages, cranial sacral work, and other techniques help us attain spiritual fulfillment much faster than if we just work on it analytically.

Dakini  How would you describe the role of a spiritual guide?

Faisal  The spiritual guide is a catalyst, which can impart knowledge, guidance, and states of being. Yet, the work is in the hands of the student. Some teachers may fall into the role of being a supplier for the student due to the teacher’s unresolved narcissistic needs, which results in having “followers”, rather than students who are pioneering spirits, trying to fulfill their purpose. So there is a limit to the guidance. Yet it is necessary to have guides who are embodying Being. When a human being embodies Essence it is easier for other people to pick it up. It works like a magnet. It draws essence from others to come out. However, it is ultimately the student’s personal work that makes the difference. The more work the student does on him/herself the more the universe mirrors it back. We cannot depend on the guide to be the source.

Dakini  In our time, we’ve seen students being too dependent on the guide, inappropriately giving up their own knowing, and the guide, due to his/her narcissistic needs falling into counter-transference. This can be a difficult, confusing call. In the old tradition, it was taught that the student follow whatever the teacher said. So, its very important how a student chooses a guide. What are your thoughts on this?

Faisal  It is very important how a student chooses a guide. At some points, it is really needed for the student to follow the teachings and instructions of the teacher, but not blindly. Blind faith is where most of the students have fallen into problems. It is where teachers have fallen into problems too.

Dakini  This is where some wounding has happened for some seekers. So trust is important, but discrimination is important too. What attitude is helpful for the seeker to cultivate in this work?

Faisal  It is like the Sufis say, pray to Allah but we need to tie the camel. Regarding the Diamond work, my attitude about it, which is different from Hameed’s, is that it is a particular guidance that enables the individuals to find their own soul’s purpose rather than adapt a system of teaching or views of the universe. Each soul has a purpose and the work is to guide the student to find his/her individuated soul and unfold its purpose in its sphere of enlightenment. The difference is that there is so much emphasis on the Diamond approach and it has become a system. To me, the system is full of holes. If we let go of attachment to the system, the diamond guidance will bring much more knowledge through many enlightened individuals.

Dakini  Can you say more about the holes in the approach?

Faisal  Yes. For example I think that the guidance will come through music. The Diamond Heart School doesn’t have this knowledge. I believe that a musician will come and express the different essential states and the different gradations of reaching them through music. Others will come and express this through art, movement, diet, medical research, ecology. I see a whole caravan arriving and unfolding. If I limit the students to the books of the Diamond Approach, I have limited the guidance that their soul will add to the work.

Dakini  So you are talking about empowering each individual.

Faisal  And opening the Diamond approach to integrate a lot more than what it already has.

Dakini  … to say here is a body of knowledge that we have discovered so far and run with it like in a relay race.

Faisal  Yes that to me is the blessing of how I understand the diamond guidance. It came that way to me and Hameed, but the school has become regimented and limited.

Dakini  So there is a certain amount of structure and if it becomes too rigid it is not helpful.

Faisal  Yes, I would like it more spacious. I want to kindle the spirits to carry the flame rather than follow me. This is true for other schools too. This will enable students to move further. This makes the way for spirit in the work and continual unfolDakinient in our work. The guidance continues to come through many people in unique ways.

I am a pioneer, a benefactor (I can transmit some of the essential states) and thirdly, a teacher. I do train students, but that is secondary. Primarily I am really in love with being and I view the whole universe as my home and I am always discovering more and more and more what this magnificent home is.

Dakini  Object Relations Theory is a major aspect of the Diamond Approach. Can you describe it and how you work with this?

Faisal  Object relation’s theory speaks of how human beings perpetuate our past relationships with our parents in our daily life. We rarely live what is present. We are almost always relating from the past. So people and objects that we run into now and our relationship to them is a repetition of what happened to us in the past. By seeing that we can see what we are trying to find in those object relations.

Dakini  You say that you also incorporate the Enneagram into the work. Can you describe the Enneagram?

Faisal  The Enneagram has to do with nine different modalities of personalities that we fall into. Each type is a representation of an essential domain that we have separated from and still seeks but don’t know how to reach.

Dakini  What approach would you suggest for an individual searching for a “method,” an orientation and means of achieving Self-actualization?

Faisal  The simplest way of describing the means of seeking the divine is that it requires both grace and hard work. We need to really deal with our issues, with an attitude of inquiry and curiosity. We need to seek understanding rather than high states. We want to orient ourselves toward truth (practicing presence by being in our body moment by moment) rather than gratification. We also want to offer the blessings and whatever arises from our work for the well being of all.

Dakini  When you say orienting to truth, you mean whatever you are experiencing in the moment.

Faisal  I am talking about the relative and absolute truth in the moment. We want to know whatever truth arises in every situation. The diamond approach in my understanding emphasizes objectivity and understanding our psychological structure because it rules over us. Honoring these complexities through any path will simplify the process rather than making it philosophical or mystical. It is a very down to earth process, a personal process

Dakini  In the Sufi Order and other schools, we often see two different orientations. One suggests to identify with our eternal nature and not to go into negative feelings. The other suggests that we go into whatever our experience is in the moment and investigate the personal and inter- personal discomforts and dilemmas that arise during the course of our lives. Could you please comment on these two approaches?

Faisal  Balance is important. We want to allow negative feelings if they arise, to allow them but not to milk them. Some people become issue oriented and fall into the pitfall of never ending issues. Others fall into denial, disassociating from their actual experience. Disassociation is not enlightenment.

Dakini  Is there anything else that we haven’t covered here that you think would be helpful to the readers?

Faisal  The diamond guidance is an inherent quality of each individual being; it does not belong to any individual or school or system. So please seek it within yourself. It is fine to take advantage of all available resources and to work with the help of a teacher or friend. However, remember that what you are seeking is within you. You have your own uniqueness to unfold and that is the challenge and the joy of the journey. Thank you for this opportunity and I hope that what I have shared here has been nourishing and supportive of your work. With all my blessings.

Originally published in Heart & Wings.