The Theory of Holes

"There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own Soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” – Carl Gustav Jung

Our normal self is full of existential holes.

We live in a world where basic human activity is attempting to fill or avoid a sense of emptiness, deficiency or meaninglessness. 

In the 1970s and ’80s Hameed Ali (A. H. Almaas) and Faisal Muqaddam, working with Karen Johnson, explored the psychology of the spiritual journey. The “Theory of Holes” they developed, provides a deep, highly specific map of the way psychology and spirituality relate. Later, Muqaddam left to teach on his own.

The Theory of Holes is a unique understanding of the relationship between the psychological and the spiritual. It describes how development in childhood disconnects us from our true nature which results in a sense of missing “parts” of ourselves. Experientially, the missing part creates a sense deficient space in us psychologically and physically, a sense of existential emptiness which is quite challenging to experience.

In the Open Up approach we practice inquiry as part of the preparation or integration in deep breathwork journeys. Breathwork and inquiry have the potential to open the shadow, the ‘hole’. and fuel it with energy that is transformative.

What is the Theory of Holes?

It can be roughly summarized as follows:

A person’s essence — their fundamental being or true nature — rests unacknowledged underneath all the psychological content of the ego. A “hole” is the absence of a specific aspect of our essence. For example, we may have a hole in the area of love or joy or kindness. The hole is created during childhood by the development of ego structure over the initial, simple, precognitive, open awareness experienced by the infant during infancy and childhood.

Usually we are unaware of the “hole” in its full sense. We are only aware of the defensive or compensatory psychological structures which block the hole from awareness. We can become conscious of the “hole” by increasing our awareness, that is by being present and engaging in certain forms of inquiry. At that point, if we can remain present with the hole, the part of us that is lost can be retrieved, or more precisely, it surfaces spontaneously from the depth of the hole.

A. H. Almaas says about holes: A “hole” leaves its residue and signature within the body. A hole refers to any part of you that has been lost, meaning any part of you that you have lost consciousness of. Ultimately what we have lost awareness of is our essence. When we are not aware of our essence, it stops manifesting. Then we feel a sense of deficiency. So a hole is nothing but the absence of a certain part of our essence.

It could be the loss of love, loss of value, loss of capacity for contact, loss of strength, any of the qualities of Essence. There are many of them. However to say we have lost parts of Essence does not mean they are gone forever; they are never gone forever. You are simply cut off from them.

How to recognise the hole?

A. H. Almaas continues: Let’s take, for example, the quality of value or self-esteem. When you are cut off from your value, the actual experience is a sense that there is a hole inside that feels empty. You feel a sense of deficiency, a sense of inferiority, and you want to fill this hole with value from the outside. You may try to use approval, praise, whatever. You try to fill the hole with fake value. We walk around with lots of holes, but we usually aren’t aware of them. We’re usually aware of desires: “I want praise. I want to be successful. I want this person to love me. I want this or that experience.” The presence of desires and needs indicates the presence of holes. 

Another example, is around compassion where issues and ignorance can block your essence. All essential qualities provide a certain set of qualities. Compassion for instance provides guidance, understanding, listening, and real action for the appropriate situation. How we are being compassionate relates to our conditioning and misunderstanding between compassion and hurt.

The ego's version of compassion is: Make the hurt go away.

Compassion as an essence is a state of being - to be present "with" the pain and understand the underlying suffering of the pain.

In the Theory of Holes, through the clarifying work of Inquiry, somatic awareness, and breathwork, we distill the truth and make it visible. It may be possible to recover awareness of the hole through awareness of the body.

When compassion is blocked in our field of consciousness through our relation with it, we block ourselves from feeling it and use all sorts of compensating behaviours. If for instance you are as a boy often told not to show your feelings, to go to your room in times of difficulty - to 'man up", you will start to block that essence and develop an intelligent structure to survive from the environment you grew up in. It is not uncommon for men to have been told that 'big boys don't cry'. To be told "go to your room" or even worse, "don't cry or I'll give you something to cry about."

When not being allowed to move through our emotions, compassion can't get through the body armour, to function in our consciousness - let alone in the situation in front of us. Your support as a result for someone else's pain might be "get over it", "let's see a movie" - or "It's not that bad".

When we are taught a certain way to deal with pain - we will handle situations for others the same. As soon as we are given space to gradually let go of the body armour, and get in touch with our feelings, we become more whole.

I define our work at Open Up as an invitation to become curious about the unfelt, unexpressed and unacknowledged parts of ourselves in the aftermath of unprocessed trauma, grief or conflict. Parts of 'time' that left a memory in the body that formed and shaped itself into blocking our essence. Dealing with suffering is a doorway to the real. As the great Sufi poet Rumi said 'the remedy for pain, is the pain'.

Katrien Franken is trained in the Theory of Holes and Essence work by Rafia Morgan and Turiya Hannover, and accredited as Holistic Counsellor by SIAF and approved by the CRKBO by the Dutch government and within the European Union guidelines for quality vocational education.

Want to learn how to use these methods to develop emotional capacity in yourself, your organisation or community? Reach out to us at

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© Open Up 2021