Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge.
Today I speak with Andrew Harvey. Andrew is a poet, teacher, writer, mystic and sacred activist. His work is deeply involved with the transformative nature of the spiritual path and the call in our time for mystics to become what Andrew calls, Sacred Activists – sacred activists in a world that needs us. He has created several powerful audio programs with Sounds True including, Radiant Heart – on the teachings of Jesus and other Christian mystics, Song of the Sun – on the life, poetry, and teachings of Rumi, and The Direct Path – the way in which we can uncover our own sacred purpose.
In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Andrew and I spoke about the birth of universal mysticism, the dark night of the soul, and the transfiguration of the body that occurs as we progress on the spiritual path.
Here’s my conversation with Andrew Harvey.
Tami Simon: Andrew, when I look at your body of work over the twenty-five books that you’ve written, and all of the teaching that you’ve done, the theme of mysticism—the life of the mystic—runs through everything. And just to begin, I’d love it if you could define for people what to you it means to be a mystic. What are the characteristics of a mystic?
Andrew Harvey: A mystic is someone who has direct permission of the Divine beyond thought, beyond reason, and beyond dogma. A mystic can take the mystical journey in terms of a great tradition, such as Tibetan Buddhism or Sufism or Christianity. But what is discovered through that journey is the essential nature of the self, of the divine consciousness with which everyone is born. And the essential nature of human nature, which is to recognize and know that divine consciousness living within you, and then embody it in your thoughts, in your emotions, and in actions prompted by sacred awareness.
TS: You know, there are two Sounds True authors who are friends of mine, Mariana Caplan and Mark Gaffney. And they’re both exploring this topic that they call “world spirituality.” And it’s the idea that we live in a time where there will be a new articulation where people from various traditions will come together in a different kind of way to see the unity in all the different world traditions—a new articulation might be formed. And first of all, I’m just curious what you think about this idea, of world spirituality, and what you think the qualities would be of a world spirituality that you would care about.
AH: Well, I think my whole life and all my work have been devoted to what I call the birth of a universal mysticism, a universal understanding of the grounding of human experience in divine consciousness. All the traditions are essentially speaking about a similar realization, and when you’ve had that realization through whatever path you take, you’re given the key to understanding just how in all of the traditions are hidden the same secrets, the same journey.
I think this universal mysticism is crucial now for the future of the world, because as we all know, religions in their exoteric aspect are tending toward a very damaging, tribalistic, dangerous, menacing fundamentalism. And the healing for that fundamentalism lies in people like myself and yourself and many others on the planet taking the deepest possible inner journey, and discovering what all the great universal mystics throughout history, such as Rumi and Ramakrishna and Aurobindo, have discovered, which is the essential nature of divine-light consciousness and the essential nature of the Path, which requires a death of the self into the Divine Self.
I think the danger of this birth at the moment is that it will be superficial, because the strength of the old traditions—and I know you know this from your experience of Tibetan Buddhism, and I know this from my experience of initiation into Sufism and into Christianity and into Hinduism—the strength of the old traditions was that they are very, very rigorous and disciplined, and require a tremendous and ceaseless dedication to practice.
So if we can have a birth of a universal mysticism with a comparable rigor and comparable dedication to practice, then what can be born on the earth is a wholly new kind of embodied divine human being. What can be born on the earth is in fact the divine human. And I believe that we’re in an evolutionary crisis in which it’s quite clear that we’ve come to the end of one kind of human consciousness, of what I would call the collective false human self, which is dominated by visions of separation, domination over nature, exploitation of the environment, addiction to power of all kinds, and a fantasy that human beings are separate from nature and the creation. This consciousness is doomed: it is illiterate spiritually; it is extremely cruel; it’s dissociated. And it’s creating a world crisis, which if we do not dive deeper into the essential divine human self and discover this divine human self, will result in our extinction and in the extinction of a great deal of nature.
But if we do take the challenge of this crisis, which shows very clearly the absolute bankruptcy of all of our previous ways of being and doing, then we can take the inspiration of the great mystics and the great mystical traditions to go on a profound, transformatory journey, which will reveal to anybody who does it sincerely and rigorously and dedicatedly and with true practice the nature of their divine consciousness and the nature of the task that that divine consciousness is now setting [before] us: which is to embody it at deeper and deeper levels in our minds, in our thoughts, and in our bodies themselves, and to start acting in balance, with harmony, and with a holy passion for justice in every realm, to transform the planet in the name of the Divine.
TS: Now, Andrew, you made an interesting comment, that one of the potential pitfalls of this universal mysticism or new kind of world spirituality is that it will be surface-like. That unlike the old traditions that were so rigorous, that perhaps people will [have] some idea, like, “I’m already connected to God right now in this moment, so there you have it! My spiritual path is complete. I’m fulfilled. End of story.” And I’m curious to know more—I mean, you mentioned practice, but I’m curious to know more [about] what do you think would be the sort of litmus test so that someone who says, “You know, I’m not interested in just being part of one tradition; I’m interested in more of this universalism,” what’s the litmus test to know if they’re going deep enough?
AH: I think that there are three litmus tests. The first is, does this universal mysticism you are espousing make you radically humble in the way that all the ancient traditions stress? Does it make you truly humble in the core of your life, truly aware that you do not know, and that knowledge is an endless journey? That is the first litmus test.
The second litmus test is, are you prepared to do what all the old traditions say must be done —and this is a universal truth—are you prepared to go through the grueling process of the dark night, which is known in all of the different traditions as a necessary stage of the death of the false self, so as to be born in the freedom and spaciousness and exhilaration [and] power, and creativity of divine consciousness? If you are, you will be taking the serious journey, which will involve a death of the ego. If you’re not, all you’ll be doing is decorating your ego’s subtle self-love with all kinds of quotations and visions and revelations [that] you haven’t earned and are simply repeating to cheer yourself up.
The third litmus test will be, does your universal mysticism drive you to become a servant of love in the real world? All the old traditions say with one thunderous voice that the test of someone who has awoken is that they are awake to two things simultaneously: to the glory and joy and power of what you could call divine consciousness, and to the agony of a world trapped in illusion, ignorance, burning, as the Buddha said, in the fires of greed. And that the only sacred and illumined and mature response, having realized this, is to put your life into service using all of your gifts and resources and passions and energies to participate in the great birth of the divine human that is struggling in this chaos, and through this chaos, to take place.
And if you keep these three litmus tests very clearly in mind—the test of an ever-deepening, ever-more radical humility; the test of the commitment really to die before self and to the ego, so as to be born into authentic divine consciousness; and the test of an ever-deeper commitment of your self and of your whole being and of all your resources to radical service, what I call “sacred activism”—then I think with the grace of God, you are on the authentic path. Without those three things, you are not.
TS: Um-hmm. Wonderful answer! Let’s go into the second litmus test that you mentioned, which is this willingness to die, going through something like the dark night of the soul. You know, sometimes people talk about, “I’m going through a dark night of the soul.” Well, are you going through a dark night of the soul, or do you have a hormonal problem? Are you grumpy? I mean, what’s actually happening? So how do you make those distinctions in one’s own life? Is this a dark night, or is this just a three-month bad mood?
AH: Well, I think there is an absolute distinction to be made—and, again, the old traditions are very helpful—between great difficulty, trauma, passages of tremendous depression, and the real, authentic dark night. The real, authentic dark night happens quite late on the Path, and it happens after you have had certain basic and tremendous initiations into divine consciousness. It happens at the moment when your full self has appropriated those revelations for itself, and is in tremendous danger of using them not for God but for its own glory, for its own power.
And at this moment, all the traditions tell us you are tempted—you’re tempted by your beloved, by the Divine—you’re tempted to go forward for yourself, for your subtle ego. Or you are given the chance to go through a massive and tormenting and menacing and deeply grueling ordeal, which can sometimes last for a very long time, in which the Divine systematically and with total precise ruthlessness dissolves all of the fantasies and agendas of that false self and reveals to you two related things: the absolute bankruptcy of the human ego even in its most subtle form, and the glory of the life that’s available when you truly live on your knees in surrender to the Divine.
So the contemporary use of the phrase “dark night” to cover trauma or depression or heartbreak or bankruptcy or any kind of personal depression is yet one more sign of the “tofu-ization” of spirituality, the way in which our very un-new New Age can take the deepest concepts and turn them into tofu. This is the time [that] could make a Muppet musical of the Sermon on the Mount, and turn the Bhagavad Gita into a cartoon.
The authentic dark night, which is what I think the world is now going to go through and is going through and many people are going through, is a profoundly terrifying experience, but a profoundly beautiful one. Because when it takes you over and takes your life over, it does so with remorseless ruthlessness while opening you up increasingly to divine consciousness. That’s how you know you are going through an authentic dark night and not just another dark day in the life of the ego.
TS: Yeah. Now you said something interesting, that the world is going through a dark night of the soul right now. What do you mean by that?
AH: I mean that we are in an evolutionary crisis in which the collective false human self, which has become gorged on power divorced from responsibility, is now being subjected to a series of interrelated ordeals, which are destined, if we allow them to, to destroy the four myths of this collective false human self.
These four myths are: Myth number one, that the human species is distinct from the natural system and does not have to live by its laws, while in fact we are interwoven into the fabric of all life, and all of our actions have consequences.
Myth number two is that we can through technology and our scientific wisdom tame the forces of nature, harness them, control them, and subject them to our will. This is of course a complete fantasy as we now see so clearly in the oil spill and in our increasingly desolate and desperate degradation of the entire environment, with potentially suicidal consequences.
The third myth of the collective false self is that the economic growth and technological advancement of the civilized world create a better life. But we can see now, I think, from the epidemics of obesity, sexual cruelty, addiction of all kinds, the epidemics of distraction, of cultural loss on every level, that this so-called glorious life that we’ve created through economic growth and technological advancement is not glorious at all, and is for the benefit of a very few, very rich, very powerful people whose values essentially are extremely negative.
And the fourth myth that is going to be destroyed is that we can continue to grow, in a fantasy of endless growth, and that there are no ecological, environmental, social, psychic, [or] spiritual limits to this growth—it is our birthright to devour and consume more and more in the name of an entire fantastic idea of progress.
All of these four myths are now being shown to be matricidal in the sense that they kill the environment, suicidal in the sense that killing the environment kills us, and deeply, deeply destructive in the sense that the world that we are creating from these four myths—for all the propaganda of progress, for all the propaganda of limitless growth, for all the propaganda of a better life for everyone—is actually an ADD-ridden, horrible nightmare of flatland.
TS: A mystery there at the end: “an ADD-ridden nightmare of flatland.” What do you mean by that?
AH: I mean that all of these four myths are rooted profoundly in a deep ignorance of, or a rejection of, the sacred laws of interconnection with nature, with each other.
AH: And they cannot lead to happiness or to joy, because true happiness and true joy are born only out of a divine, sacred connection, and out of knowing that you are divine and that the creation is divine and all people are divine and all animals are divine and all stones are materializations of the Divine Light. This is the only realization that can lead to true empowerment, true joy, true happiness, [and] true inner peace. And any worldview and any world created out of ignorance of those laws and ignorance of the responsibilities that those laws demand will inevitably be what Ken Wilber calls a “flatland”—a vast mall in which we wander distracted, lonely, anxious, depressed, haunted by bad dreams, and increasingly separated from each other and from nature, and increasingly desperate and violent.
TS: Now I want to see, are you making a parallel between an individual [who’s] on a journey [who] goes though a dark night and then is born as an illuminated being through that passage, to what we’re going through as a world? I mean, do you think that we’re going to make that kind of passage as a collective?
AH: I’d like to answer that question slowly. The great revelation of my work and of my life was the meeting with the man who really did change my soul and change my journey, which was Father Bede Griffiths. I met him when he was eighty-five and he was living in South India about fifty miles from where I was born, and he was on an extraordinary journey of transfiguration himself, quite visibly being quested. And one morning at the end of the ten days in which I was making a documentary with him, he sat me down and he said, “I think that there are three possibilities for the human race at this moment. The first is that it will fall on its knees, beg for forgiveness and transformation before God, and will change immediately.” And he said, “This is totally unlikely for obvious reasons.
“The second is that it will not change; it will continue in its blind, suicidal vanity, in its hubris, in its addiction to power, and will create a situation [that] will destroy it and a large part of nature. And there are many days on which I,” he said, “and you, I am sure, feel that this horrible vanity and hubris are not going to be turned around, because we’ve become so addicted that we can’t change.”
Then he said, “I do not believe that this will happen, because the Divine that I have met in my deepest mystical experience has three qualities [that] will always be real for the Divine. The first is boundless mercy and forgiveness—the Divine is mercy and forgiveness in its deepest nature, and so will go on trying to help, trying to awaken. The second is that the Divine is extremely resourceful and can use the deepest ordeals to birth the greatest advancement. The third is that the Divine is supremely intelligent, and to those who open to it, even in hell, even in final desolation, that supreme intelligence will offer what seem to be miraculous ways out.”
And then he said what he really believed would happen, because he himself had been through a very deep, dark night, and he had learned that that dark night that seemed absolutely intractable, impassable, was in fact the birth canal of a wholly new level of consciousness, awareness, power, of nondual identity with the Divine and all the sacred powers that flow from that. And he said, “What I believe will now happen is that the entire planet will be plunged into a dark night, and that this dark night will seem like the end. It will seem and be horrible, menacing, dangerous, prone to all kinds of violence, prone to all kinds of meaninglessness, despair, and madness.”
But [he said] that this is not the end; this is a process that the human race has to go through to be purified of its fantasies and illusions and false agendas. And if there are enough people on the earth who themselves have been through their own individual dark night and who recognize the dark night that the whole human race is being put through, and if these people can come together in humility and in co-creative joy, and if they can organize themselves, then what they can be is midwives to the birth—holding the birth, allowing the birth to happen within themselves, and giving hope and inspiration and energy to a world that otherwise would go mad.
And I think that this is exactly what is in fact happening. And I think that there are two ways of looking at it: one is from the position of the ego, the human ego. And when you’re in that position, you’re paralyzed, you’re deeply afraid, you realize that everything that you hold dear is precarious. You realize that all your fantasies of a comfortable old age, of financial security, are just that—fantasies. And you realize that the world is in the charge of crazy, corrupt corporations and the politicians who are bought by them, and so is the media, and so is a great deal of the so-called spiritual world.
When you look at it from that position, there is only darkness ahead. But when you stand in the power and in the peace and in the knowledge of the Divine Self that knows that such a death is now necessary for our evolutionary progress, and knows that that birth is happening inside you, because you’ve surrendered and because you’re doing the work and because you’re practicing and because you feel the revelations being born in your mind and in your heart and in your body, then you can become a beacon of energy and joy and light to others.
And you can be the equivalent of one of those fish [that] got out of the over-salinated swamp fourteen million years ago, and started to evolve the new organs for flight that they would need on land. And you can model that, and you can speak from that, and you can help people stay calm and become more and more dedicated and focused so that this birth can take place on a large scale.
And that is the meaning of my work. That is the meaning of my life. That is the meaning of the vision of sacred activism that I’ve given to the world in my book The Hope. And that is the meaning, I think, of all the authentic teachers on the planet.
I had a marvelous weekend with His Holiness the Dalai Lama two weeks ago along with four thousand other people when he gave teachings on emptiness and on service and patience in New York, in Radio City Music Hall. And because I was at last able to see clearly, I think, I really saw just how he is sitting down in the middle of this raging fire and saying to the whole of humanity, “Yes, it will be very, very difficult. Yes, there are many forces that threaten total destruction. Yes, we are addicted. Yes, we are in tremendous danger. Yes, we are menaced. But there is a way through, and it is the way through a deepening divine consciousness in yourself, and then putting that deepening divine consciousness into action in the core of your life. This is the way through.”
TS: Andrew, it’s really meaningful to me that you brought up Father Bede Griffiths and talked about the transfiguration process. You said that he was being “Christ-ed.” And what I’d love to hear more about, because I have this, I guess you would call it hypothesis, that something incredibly powerful happens when we meet beings who are in such a process. Something happens to us because we see it and it awakens something in us. So I’m curious in your relationship with Bede Griffiths what that was like for you—what you saw and what that meant for you.
AH: Well, when I use the word “Christ-ed,” I use it just because he was in the Christian mystical traditional, although radically open to the great mystical truths of all the traditions. What I really mean by that word “Christ-ed” is [that he was] increasingly embodied with full divine consciousness. And I think this kind of radical embodiment can happen in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition—clearly it’s happening in amazing ways in the Dalai Lama. It can happen in the Tantric Hindu tradition. It can happen in the Taoist tradition. It can happen in Islam; I think Rumi lived and embodied divine human life.
What happened to me when I met Bede fifty miles from where I was born—I was born in a place called Coimbatore in South India, and Bede’s ashram by the Cauvery River was fifty miles from that birthplace—what happened to me is that I met and saw and recognized someone who was illumined in his intellect, utterly tender, compassionate, and wise in his heart, and also undergoing quite clearly a transfiguration of the body, which is known in the Christian mystical tradition—the orthodox tradition—as theosis, transfiguration.
And this seeing of someone who was going through this triple transformation together awoke in me rapture, wonder, profound, devoted love, and also brought together all of the different aspects of the search that I had been on, and showed me very clearly what was the next stage for my own evolution. I knew that by seeing him in his glory, I was also being given a mirror of the glory and power and humility and tenderness and deep commitment to the world that I was being challenged to.
And I knew, too, that in meeting him near my birthplace and in meeting him within the Christian tradition—although as I said he was a universal mystic open to all the truths—I was having a transmission from the deepest levels of the Christ consciousness, the deepest levels of this consciousness that seeks to embody itself in us and then radiate out through sacred action. And that this was a huge healing for me, because like so many seekers I had become radically disillusioned with all of the Christian churches, radically heartbroken at their betrayal of the intense revolutionary fervor of Christ to transform the world. But indeed I met the authentic Christ tradition—the unbroken, authentic Christ tradition [that] came from the disciples, to the Desert Fathers, to the great mystics of the medieval age, through Merton in the twentieth century, and culminated in Bede’s absolute embrace of transfiguration.
And that was a great healing to me because in that I could reintegrate into my search—which had taken me to Hinduism, which had taken me to Sufism, which had taken me to Buddhism, which had taken me to Taoism—the deep, great love I had never lost for Jesus, but now could reclaim in a much more fundamental, radiant, mystical way.
TS: Andrew, you use this term that I’m unfamiliar with: “theosis,” the transfiguration of the body. What is that? What is the transfiguration of the body?
AH: In all the great traditions, there is a secret teaching. It’s in Tibetan Buddhism, as you know. It’s in Tantric Hinduism. It’s in Taoist alchemy. It’s in the vision of the insan al-kamil in Sufism—of the universal man. And this secret tradition can be summed up in this way: when someone is surrendered to the Divine Light and knows the Divine Light as the foundation of their consciousness and as the creator of all things, all worlds, all universes, then that Divine Light does not merely illumine the mind or break the heart open to radical compassion; it also awakens the actual, hidden Divine Light in the cells of the body itself.
This is known as theosis in the Greek Orthodox tradition, because the radical mystics like Gregory Palamas and others, who really went through a radical experience of Christ’s consciousness, discovered through this process that they were not only being transformed in the intellect, not only being transformed in the heart center; but that through the opening of the heart center, the light—the Divine Light—was being pumped around their psychospiritual body, around all the chakras and deep into the cells, to illumine the entirety of matter. In the deep Christian tradition, this is experienced as the real message of the Resurrection: the real message of the Resurrection is the transfiguration of matter into spirit matter, light matter. Jesus showed that, and by incarnating it he released that resurrection energy into the human universe to give people access to it.
But I think the same energy is found in Tantric Buddhism, in Tantric Hinduism, in Tantric Taoism, in the alchemical traditions in the Kabbalah, and it’s the clue to the birth that is trying to take place on the planet at the moment. Which is why nearly all the major visionaries of our time, whatever tradition they are coming from, are stumbling onto this great secret. And of course it was made most obvious, most open, in the twentieth century in the great dynasty of evolutionary mystics that begins of course with the Everest of them all, Sri Aurobindo, and goes through Jean Gebser, and in a certain way Ken Wilber and others.
So this birth is taking place now, and the journey that I’ve been on is increasingly a journey of conscious embodiment. But this journey has two very, very great difficulties, and I think everyone who is on this journey knows these two great difficulties, and they are interrelated.
The first is that most of the ancient traditions in their more obvious forms are addicted to transcendence, are addicted to a privileging of the light over the forms that are born out of the light. So [they] are fundamentally concerned with helping us get into radical connection with the light, with the danger of dropping relationships, the world, justice, our relationship with all other creatures, in the process. And I think you and I have talked about this a lot, and we know perfectly well that this radical addiction to transcendence is a very great subtle temptation [that] most people on the Path do not avoid.
The second great danger that is opened up by the very grueling descent from Divine Light consciousness into a marrying of the Divine Light consciousness with the mind and the heart and the body, is that it cannot be done without an immersion in the shadow. In the shadow of the mystical traditions’ addiction to transcendence, in the shadow of the body hatred [and] sexual shame that have been engendered from that, and of course now in our time in the shadow of our collective defeat—a shadow which has tremendous dread, tremendous denial, radical disbelief, total disillusion [with] humanity, and a profound desire to die; and into our own personal shadow, the ways in which the traumas of our past, the traumas of our lust for comfort, [and] the traumas of our addiction to an addicted society that promises us false promises collude with the collective shadow to keep the Death Machine going. So the descent of the light into the mind, the heart, and the body can only be accomplished by a surrender to this very difficult, very grueling process.
But the beautiful news is that this process is known in the mystical traditions that have, [that] are essentially sciences of transfiguration. It’s known in the tradition of alchemy, which is a very subtle and very profound tradition that deals at great depth with all of these interlinked shadows. It’s known in the Tantric Buddhist and Hindu tradition[s], which have incomparable subtlety of understanding of the very, very deep ways in which illusion, ignorance, delusion, and greed hide in the recesses of our entire being. And it’s known in the work of Sri Aurobindo, who did this tremendous battle for forty years and left us the most precise account that we could possibly have of what we are going to meet—the monsters and dark forces and desolations and depressions that we are going to meet in this work of marrying the light and matter.
And it’s known to a certain extent in Jung’s tremendous work of individuation and in the great understanding of the different levels of the task of individuation, which eventually of course in his late work opens onto the alchemical process, the creation of the philosopher’s stone. And what the philosopher’s stone is, is the embodied divine human; someone whose whole being is radiant with Divine Light, and therefore [is] able to radiate effective sacred action both in prayer and in sacred actions throughout the world. It’s also known in the Sufi tradition, because the height of illumination for the Sufi tradition was expressed beautifully by a ninth century mystic, al-Kubra, when he said the illumined being—the perfect being—experiences the light in his or her feet. And that everything that they are and everything that they do, in the mind, in the heart, in the body, is in radical, humble harmony with the divine source.
This is the birth that is trying to take place now. It is taking place; I’m at the very fringes of it—my work is describing it for those who really want to listen. And there is a way for all beings to experience it, and that is if they really combine five kinds of practice in the core of their lives:
(1) Cool practices that establish you in the peace of divine being;
(2) Warm or hot practices that allow you to experience the radical, ecstatic, flowing, passionate nature of divine compassion—and Tonglen would be a wonderful example of that;
(3) Prayer practice that enables you to keep aligned with the Divine through everything;
(4) Body practices such as the hot yoga that I’ve just written about in my new book, which marries yoga to the light practices of evolutionary mysticism and is having an enormous response. Because I think the yoga world is ready to take the next step, and I’m also working with Gabrielle Roth to align her wonderful 5Rhythms with the divine ascent to divine love as expressed through Rumi’s great journey;
And fifthly, really intense, daily, constant shadow work both into the collective shadow, into the shadow of the religions and their addiction to transcendence, and to the shadow of the collective that is addicted to those four myths that I’ve described, and into the ways in which our personal learned helplessness, our personal addictions, [and] our personal traumas keep us enslaved to that shadow.
If you can do these five kinds of practice in the core of your life—and I think we are all challenged to do them now—then you will experience the subtle ecstasy and extraordinary empowerment of the descent of the light into your mind to illumine your mind and give it deep wisdom and deep joy, into your heart to give it radical interrelated compassion through all beings and things, and into your body so that you will feel these great awakenings in the body.
I’ll never forget the morning that changed my life, when I went with Bede to a hut that he used to meditate in, which was a broken-down hut. And he lay on the dirty old bed in the hut, with vines glowing in the sunlight behind him, and he just described this process just as I described it to you right now. And he described it very humbly, very simply, and with total authority, and I knew that I was being given the deepest instruction of my life. And I knew that the aim of being on the earth at this moment wasn’t simply to experience the transcendent—that is wonderful enough—but to go on this amazing, grueling, radical journey of transfiguration to embody the transcendent, and then to act from that embodiment to be part of the divine will of evolution to preserve and transform the planet.
TS: Andrew, I’m curious how this cellular transfiguration is playing out in your life—how you experience it. And, you know, specifically you mentioned this shadow work and the need to do shadow work on a daily basis—also how that looks for you. Both of those things.
AH: Well, I wish I could say that I was far advanced in this birth process, but one of the things that you really learn if you undertake it is that you are always on the fringes of a greater discovery. You cannot have any illusions about your own complete enlightenment when you go on the journey of trying to embody the Divine Light, because you will always be meeting obstacles, always have more darkness and difficulty to work on in yourself. It’s very grueling work.
AH: But what I do experience now are three things. I experience my body in a completely different way; I am very much more conscious of it being alive in every realm. My heart center is alive, my genitals are consciously soaked in this sweet power. My thighs are alive. I feel the presence of the Divine Light at the bottom of my toes. I know that my body is a living creation of light and a living temple of light.
I don’t know it all the time; I forget it. But the experience is sufficiently deeply rooted for me to be aware that I am being transformed often very much against my will into a being who is one with the One, and a being in whom the light is burning softly in the mind, in the heart, and in the cells of the body.
As for shadow work, I think it’s been the greatest revelation for me, because I had very extreme transcendental realizations very young, in my late thirties, and I went through a very long, terrible dark night in my forties, which ended in the birth of very, very bland and high, what I could call the old standard enlightenment experience of really knowing and seeing that the entire world is a play of Divine Light.
But I also was brought to understand through the death of my marriage and through illness and through continuing dissociation from my own body that that work was very far from complete, and that I had to undergo a real journey into the shadow. And, through the offices of friends I found an amazing analyst who’s also an alchemist, who is also a genius, Nathan Schwartz-Salant, and for the last three and a half years I have been working with him essentially on three things: on my own addiction to transcendence; on my own dissociation from my body because I was abandoned as a child by my mother; and on my own rage, the rage that comes when you see the wantonness of the destruction of the world and that can easily deform the message that I’m trying to give, and has deformed it in the past. And I’ve had to work on these three things very deeply and continually.
First, I’ve had to work on the addiction to transcendence and continually bring the light down consciously into my body.
Secondly, I’ve really had to face how dissociated I have been in my mystical journey from my body, how I’ve done to myself exactly what my mother did to me, which is she threw me away. She made me feel like unnecessary garbage—and this wasn’t her fault; she was trapped in her own trauma. But it resulted in me going through all kinds of addictions, including the addiction to transcendence, so as not to have to face [that] I was in the body. And actually learning how to care for my body, how to love my body, how to look after my body, how to rest, how not to become overstressed in a martyrdom complex to try and “save the world.” All of this has had to be analyzed and experienced at a very great depth.
And thirdly, I’ve really had to go through a radical transformation of what I used to think of as justified, a kind of righteous sacred indignation, which was one of my favorite things and which I was addicted to, but which covered over great levels of fear and even deeper levels of grief. So in really facing the fear that the world could be destroyed by the dark forces that we’ve unleashed in ourselves and in our institutions, and really facing the horrible, agonizing, terrible grief, the heartbreak that that level brings, I’ve slowly and rather unwillingly found myself being born into a deeper and deeper unconditional compassion, which I recognize as the, potentially [as] the compassion of the bodhisattva.
TS: Now, Andrew, you mentioned “rather unwillingly,” and even when you were talking about the transformation of the body—
AH: Well, I think that that’s the truth for all of us, and true in these great transformations. I think that once you see where you’re being dragged to, and that it’s going to leave no part of you unchanged, and that it’s going to entail the most fundamental, radical commitment to other beings, that there is a part of you that continually rebels, because as long the ego is there it will rebel against that. So I have to be honest about the unwillingness.
TS: No, I’ve very grateful for it, yeah.
AH: And I think all the pioneers are.
TS: Yeah. Now I just want to underscore one thing, because as—
AH: Don’t you think so?
TS: I totally think so, and I think it’s a really important point, that I’m kicking and screaming the whole way . . . most of the time, often.”
AH: We all are. I think the test of an authentic transformation—maybe this is the fourth litmus test—if you think that being one with God and one with reality is going to be a walk through the park, and that you can just simply claim it and not have to undergo a massive and continual and nearly always pretty grueling process, you are totally deluding yourself.
TS: Yeah. I mean, I think this is one of the most important points of our conversation, and something I really would like to see stressed in terms of people who are engaging in spiritual life, having that reflected back to them, so that when the grueling times come, there’s not some idea that something wrong is happening.
AH: Well, this is it. This is what I’ve been trying to transmit in my work: if you have a cheesy, spiritually materialistic, consumeristic, happy-go-lucky, rah-rah-rah vision of the spiritual life, you are like a person going into a forest fire dressed in a tutu. You are not going to hack it if by chance it becomes real.
If you do have humility and if you have real learning and really look at the deep journeys of the true pioneers of all of the traditions, then when the difficulties come up, when the fears arise, when you’ve faced your radical hatred of transformation, when you’ve faced your addictions, when you’ve faced your unbelievable vanity, when you’ve faced your lust for power, when you’ve faced your cruelty—the terrible cruelty that we all have—then you will not fall on the floor and be paralyzed. You will realize this is part of the journey, this is necessary, this has been faced before; other greater human beings have gone through this, and they can help me, and that this journey is charted.
Why I’ve devoted myself so deeply to the traditional mystical systems and also to the evolutionary mystics and to what I call a very profound mystic realism is that the crisis that we are going through, the crisis of embodiment that we are now called upon and challenged to rise to, is a crisis that’s going to have to call out our wisest, deepest intellect, our most passionate heart, and our most astute and shrewd and unshrinking realism about the real truth of the real transformation. Not the rubbish that is sold in the bazaar of the New Age, which is a kind of catastrophic Babylonian chaos of superficiality. But the real truth of the real transformation as known by the real pioneers of divine embodiment.
TS: One thing I want to underscore is that when you are describing your own life path and you talked about early realizations of unity consciousness and then a further dark night, but then that this embodiment and shadow work and working out this kind of deep rage happened actually further and beyond. Once you actually—you knew who you were as a being of eternal-ness, but yet this material was still waiting for you to work through.
AH: Yes, and this is what Aurobindo was so brilliant in describing in his own journals and letters. Aurobindo had a series of absolutely massive transcendental experiences in his late twenties and thirties. But then he undertook the real business, the business of embodiment, and he discovered that you have those transcendental experiences to give you the guts, to give you the strength, to give you the hope, to give you the peace, to give you the energy to undertake the really difficult stuff, which is not the ascent. That’s difficult enough; it’s difficult enough to purify your senses, to be able to allow them or to have them become mirrors of the transcendent; that is a very difficult journey in itself. It’s the first dark night in St. John’s tabulation of it, the purification of the senses so that the light can dawn.
The second dark night is an ongoing process, I think, in which you have a series of very extreme ordeals at the beginning to birth the divine consciousness in another intensity. But then you have go to through the labor, the alchemical labor of marrying this consciousness to all of the aspects of your being. And all of the pioneers of this embodiment process have described the same thing. They’ve all described that there is something very dark, very intractable, very painful, very horrifying, at the core of our embodiment which cannot be fled from.
One of the ways in which the transcendental mystics have really been selling us a kind of heroin is that, if [you] take that heroin you can drop your body, you can drop relationships, you can drop the world, and you can imagine that you are a being of light and that all of this is an illusion. You can’t afford that vision if you take the journey into embodiment, because what you have to do is to take on the darkness and difficulty and shadow of every aspect of your being, and work with it [with] very grueling, patient humility over years and years and years. The work never stops and it never goes away.
And I saw that very much when Bede was dying, because here was a being who was transfigured, I saw the Divine Light breaking from his body, but I also saw that in the agony of dying he was also working at a very great depth to purify himself of what remained in him of the shadow, what remained in him of rage, what remained in him of illusion. And that this commitment to this patient, grueling work—the alchemical work—is really the sign of true awakening, I think.
TS: Very, very good. I’ve been speaking with Andrew Harvey. Thank you so much, Andrew. Andrew is the author of a new book called The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism, as well as several audio programs with Sounds True: a program on the “Radiant Heart: The Radical Teachings of Jesus and the Christian Mystics”; “Song of the Sun: The Life, Poetry, & Teachings of Rumi”; and an audio program based on Andrew’s book called “The Direct Path,” which is on the mystical journey.
Andrew, now I know, just to conclude, that you’re working with an institute for sacred activism and that this is a way that people can connect with you and your work. And maybe you could just briefly, as we conclude, tell us about that and how people can be in contact with you.
AH: Well, people can go to my website, andrewharvey.net. I created last year in Oak Park, where I live, an institute for sacred activism. And I’m opening a center of origin in the Rift Valley, at the place where human life began, where sacred activism is going to be reborn in Africa and therefore spread out towards others, because Africa is the place where I think we see the darkness and the possibility most intensely.
So this is a very exciting moment in this work, and I will be very honored if all of you listening and all of you who have been potentially excited by the possibilities of what I have been saying, and properly sobered by the account of what I have been saying, would join in.
TS: Wonderful. Thank you, Andrew. SoundsTrue.com. Many voices, one journey.