Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today my guest is Andrew Harvey. Andrew is a poet, writer, teacher, and mystic. He’s a former fellow at All Soul’s College at Oxford and is the founder for the Institute for Sacred Activism. He’s the author and editor of many books including The Direct Path, Son of Man, and most recently The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism. With Sounds True, Andrew has created many audio programs, including the new 13-part audio series called Divine Rebels: Saints, Mystics, Holy Change Agents—and You, a program that he co-created with Caroline Myss, where they give the listener a training course in finding the inspiration and courage to answer one’s own call and become a force of love in the world.
In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Andrew and I spoke about what is the whole mystical truth. We talked about the power of devotion and adoration, and why we need the fire of devotional practices as well as the coolness of contemplation. We also talked about the dark night of the soul and how, in classic mystical literature, there are actually two dark nights that we must pass through. We also talked about shadow work and how we need to do shadow work, no matter where we are on the path. Here’s my conversation with divine rebel Andrew Harvey.
To begin with Andrew, I’d love to know how you define a divine rebel. We all know about people who rebel because they’re stuck in adolescent behavior—you know, rebels without a cause. So what makes a rebel a divine rebel?
Andrew Harvey: Well, I think when you have a really authentic mind-blowing, gut-blowing, heart-blowing mystical experience, you connect with a world of shatteringly beautiful power and justice and truth and love and clarity. And then you look around, and you look at the ghastly troubled, chaotic, violent, awful world that the ego created, including of course your own ego and your shadow, and immediately you are engaged in a war against that side of yourself that prevents you from entering into the beauty that you have known.
So divine rebellion begins with authentic mystical experience, [and] continues through the rough and tumble working out of the path. And then what happens is the mystical experience becomes grounded in your heart and increasingly grounded in the living experience of your whole body and being. What happens is you become an agent of that fire, that light, and that clarity, and that inevitably turns you into an outlaw, into a marginal person, into someone who has glimpsed another world which needs to be created by your actions, by your whole being. That is what turns you into a divine rebel.
TS: Now, interestingly, this new series with Sounds True [that] you recorded along with Caroline Myss—who I know is a dear friend and a divine rebel compatriot. I’m curious how you see this relationship between two divine rebels and their capacity to co-create together. What [do] you see [as] the importance in that divine rebellion relationship?
AH: Well, I would love to talk about my relationship to Caroline because she’s been such a huge power in my life, such a dear friend, and such a soul friend. And I think perhaps the most significant part of our relationship is the way that we’ve constantly encouraged each other to be as fierce, and clear, and passionate as our hearts truly are. Caroline needs very little encouragement, I have to say, but sometimes I think she even shocks herself by the intensity of her divine fury at what’s happening in the world, how people are doing nothing, and how lazy and self-absorbed people are.
I have [increasingly] encouraged her to just accept that this is a divine gift that she has, this great sword of light that she can bring down—which is very often a great sword of light that cuts through a lot of the flower of the new age, a lot of the inherited dualism of the mystical, the patriarchal mystical traditions. So I think that what I’ve brought to her—as well as hope, tenderness, and compassion, and an infinite regard for her brilliance—is this encouragement to be completely herself, because I love it when she is completely herself. She’s so exciting and her perceptions are so thrilling.
I think what’s she’s done for me is in some ways the opposite, because I think I have been at home with my own veracity and my own fury and rebellion against the whole nightmare that they’re creating, which is now coming to be potentially terminal. And what she’s always encouraged me to do is to calm down, ground, become more pragmatic, practical, and focused in the way that I express myself. [She’s encouraged me to become] more truly compassionate and helpful in the way that I offer the advice that comes out of my molten pain at what’s going on, my heartbreak. And she totally honors that fury and that heartbreak, but one of her greatest gifts is that she is able to communicate so clearly and so down-home-y to people so that they can really get the truth of what she’s saying.
I have tended to be so obsessed with the grandeur of what I’m seeing that I’m sometimes not been able to ground it properly, and that’s Caroline’s tremendous contribution to me. So I think we both, in different ways, made each other more complete, more effective, and more powerful. And that I think is what sacred relationship between divine rebels can do. I think we’ve been modeling it for years. And I think what was so wonderful about making the
set was really experiencing that in a very rich way. Here we are talking about some of the greatest divine rebels of history, people so close to our own work, our own hearts, our own enterprise, our own mission, and talking about them together in ways that effortlessly overlapped each other. So it was a wonderful experience and a wonderful confirmation of the alchemy that we have both been working on.
TS: I think part of my curiosity about these divine rebel partnerships is that sometimes people think, you know, “I’ve had a huge mystical experience in my life and I feel somewhat alone, isolated, alienated in that. And yet here you are modeling and also creating from a place of divine rebel partnership.” I’m wondering what you would say to that person out there who perhaps feels somewhat on their own, isolated.
AH: Well, I would say three things, I think. I would say you can have the most extraordinary relationship outside time and beyond time with the great divine rebels of the past. Never underestimate those sacred relationships that stream to you towards eternity.
For example, I have found in my own life that I have a sacred relationship with Rumi and Jesus, in which my soul makes love to both of them and receives enormous help both of them. I know that they are both rays of the one fire, but they are rays with very subtly different textures, and radiances, and powers. I know that there’s an impersonal person behind this tremendous transmission. And so I would truly advise that person to start planting deeply into the mystic or prophet or teacher that truly inspires them the most.
Start up a sacred relationship beyond time, in time, that the Catholics call the communion of saints. Look at the way in which Teresa of Avila loved Jesus. Jesus was the one who gave her the courage to be the rebel that she needed to be, because she was tremendously alone until she found John of the Cross. Look at the way in which Ramakrishna was tremendously inspired by the 18th-century poet Ramprasad, which he quotes again and again, and I’m sure had a very deep eternal relationship with.
Look at the way in which Rumi had a relationship with Shams. At its most intense, perhaps, after Shams died, when Shams arrived in him and spoke through him in these extraordinary poems—which he often signed with Shams’ name, or with the name Khamosh, which means the silent one, which implies that who is speaking is this tremendous force that arise from Shams and has Shams’ face inside him. This mystical relationship beyond time is a very important discovery for all people who want to go forward. So plunge into it.
The second thing I would say to anybody who is alone is that they aren’t alone. Part of the path is meant to be [traveled] alone in this way so that they can go deeper and deeper and deeper into sacred practice. So that they can travel deeper and deeper into the intensity and the abandon of adoration of the beloved, so that the greatest miracle of all can be revealed to them—that they are, as Rumi said, “the beloved’s beloved.” And then you realize you are never alone.
There was a wonderful poem of Rumi’s when he talks about that: know that whenever you are in a bed of pain, the beloved is right by your bedside. “Love’s companion stays hidden in secret,” and the true lover is never alone. So loneliness comes to drive you deeper into authentic practice, which reveals over time if you stay in there, if you work hard, that the beloved is with you always and the whole universe is revealing that connection through synchronicity, through amazing small things that continually give you signs that this protecting, all embracing, all nourishing presence.
And the third thing that I would say to anyone who was alone and yearning for this kind of sacred partnership that Caroline and I have been privileged to have—and don’t forget that we didn’t find each other until we were in our 50s. We’re the same age—actually I’m older than her, which I immensely enjoy. I’m six months older than her, so she always tells me that I’m her elder brother. She doesn’t act like my younger sister, but she does tell me that I’m her older brother. But we didn’t find each other until our 50s.
The other thing that somebody can do is to truly pray for it—really, really pray. Pray that you will find the person that you need to complete your soul’s journey. I think that there are so many examples in mystical history of people who have found their soul’s companion, and you must be encouraged by that, like Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and Jesus and John. You must be encouraged by that and long for that. And then let God choose the right one, because in my experience, I choose people before Caroline who weren’t really soul-level partners, companions, because I was so desperate to find people with whom I could have this kind of communion.
So you have to be patient, you have to pray, you have to long, and at exactly the right moment in your evolution, through the grace of God, exactly the right person will appear. And I think this is the mystical role.
TS: I’m curious, Andrew, to know more about this first type of relationship that you mentioned, which is a relationship with a mystical force from history. I know this has been a big part of your life, [these] deep relationships with Rumi, with Jesus, with other figures. How would you suggest to somebody, who maybe feels drawn to a mystical figure but isn’t sure how to deepen that relationship—I mean, is it just their imagination? I mean, am I relating to something I’m making up? How does it become real in my life?
AH: It’s a wonderful question, a very difficult question to answer. But I’d like to begin just by talking about my own relationship with the person that I’ve had the most transcendent love affair on this level with, apart from Rumi and Jesus. Somebody I actually met and adored when he was alive, and was adored by: Father Bede Griffiths. And I want to tell a story, which really changed my whole understanding and initiated me, really, at the deepest level into the amazing blessing of such a relationship.
When I heard that Bede had died, I’d only known him for three weeks, when we made a film about his life and he and I felt spiritually in love together. Then I went back when he was dying to be with him. It was a momentous and shattering and extraordinary experience. Then I went back to America because I had to teach, and in May, four months later, I heard that he had died. I was in Big Sur, which was where I had met him originally, and I was just devastated by this, because it was terrible to think that I would never see this amazingly beautiful and holy man again, and never enjoy the rapture and the peace and the clarity of our communion.
I went down to the sea at Big Sur and I starting crying and then I heard a voice. I don’t hear voices very often, but I heard a voice, and it was unmistakably his voice because it was gentle and it was English and it said, “Look up.” And the sun was bursting over the sea, and this ray of sunlight [was] coming toward me and I heard him say, “I am a ray of eternal sun, and I will always be with you. Just turn to me when you need me. I am always, always with you.”
Then about seven month [later], in Paris, I met an incredibly gifted clairvoyant, one of the few that I’ve really found authentic. And she works with the police forces of Europe and she was personally trained by Padre Pio, who considered her to be amongst the two or three people he thought of his successors. So she was trained by one of the greatest clairvoyants and psychics of all time. And she became a very, very close friend.
One day she said, “It’s so extraordinary, there’s this man in what looks like orange curtains”—he wore the robes of a Sannyasa. “He’s very old, and he’s British, and he has white hair. And he’s saying something to me that I don’t at all understand, but I’ll report it to you. He’s saying, ‘The experience that you had by the sea in California is more than illusion.’” The great joke in that was that More Than Illusion was the name of the film company that had made the biography about Bede, so he was transmitting to me, through her, from the eternal, the secret of immortality. And he was also transmitting to me the secret of this transcendent union of souls that had met in the deepest kind of love and how it continues beyond time, beyond space, beyond what we call life, and how it is one of the great sources of nourishment and protection.
So I wanted to tell that story just to give people [out there] real hope that this is not something that only happens to rarified souls. It’s something that anybody who turns to a saint, a prophet, or someone who has realized unity with the divine in any way, can experience and will experience. So you asked me how somebody can actually do this. First, if they want this kind of relationship, the person should ask him or herself, “Who are the spiritual poets, or teachers, or great composers, or great mystical poets and artists that I truly feel most resonate with my own deepest temperament?” And make a short list. It will be a short list, because you can truly, truly admire many great teachers and many great revelations.
In my own experience, I find that the deep emotional and spiritual bond between you and another [comes from the fact] that there are very few who really resonate at that deepest level—[that level] where you recognize the most fundamental passion of your life explored and exposed in a much more glorious form, and amazingly open form, in the other. You’re just a little rose trying to open, but they are the great rich, red rose streaming their wild perfume. I’m talking about my own temperament. But you could have a very much cooler spiritual temperament and find it in the Buddha, for example. I love the Buddha and revere the Buddha, but Buddha has never been, for me, somebody that I yearned to have this union with beyond time.
So you make this list, and then what I suggest is that you truly read about them, you explore their lives. You read the best sources about them. Read their work again and again. Take phrases from it that truly leap out at you and truly haunt you and truly make you drunk. And then you get some kind of representation of them, perhaps a photograph of an image, or statue, or a painting, and you start speaking inwardly, in the heart, to that photograph.
I remember when I was going through my first big awakening, I was [looking] in the mirror and I was seeing the divine light all the time. I was in a state of ecstasy for many, many months. I had, on my desk, a photograph of two people that were very crucial for me: Ramana Maharshi and Ramakrishna. My father was the policeman in charge of Ramana Maharshi for two years, so I’ve always had this extraordinary personal link with him. And Ramakrishna, [I was] completely destroyed, in the best way, when I first read The Gospel of Ramakrishna. So I had these two photographs on my desk, and as I was deepening this experience, I would gaze into the eyes of Ramana Maharshi and Ramakrishna, looking at them in adoration. Their whole presence seemed to pour into me. This is an experience that I think many seekers at a certain level have had, and it’s the most amazing experience.
So start that kind of relationship, risk it, and you’ll find that the forces which emanate from these beings, which are all rays of the one, will start operating on you and in you in ways that are both extremely impersonal—because in the end, they’re like the emanations that we’re encouraged to create in Buddhist meditation, in some meditations. They are forms of the void and also go back into the void, but they also have a very personal rasa, a very personal taste. And that’s the taste of their particular realization and that will be given to you and infused into you.
If you don’t believe me, try it. You’ll find that it’s an extraordinary experience, and it really gives one great faith in two things: It gives one great faith in the power of divine realization to transcend time and space, which is a huge encouragement; and it gives you great faith in the mercy of the divine itself, which allows you to have this relationship with faces of it so that you can come more and more into the formless and into the void itself, the void into shunyata. It’s a very, very extraordinary dance.
TS: Now, Andrew, in my own experience, I can testify that what you’re saying is true—that these kinds of relationships can be developed with mystical figures, and that they feel like a two-way experience. It doesn’t just feel like me in a mirror, it feels like I’m actually relating with something. Yet it defies rationality. I can’t quite understand what’s going on here.
AH: Well, you’ll never understand it totally.
TS: You won’t? I thought maybe you could explain it to me, brother Andrew. I was hoping—but anyway, go ahead.
AH: Well, I can make an explanation, and I’ll try, but I don’t think, in the end—perhaps it’s something like this: Perhaps it is that when someone achieves divine realization and unifies themselves in the one, they birth a face of the one. The one appears in them in a new way, because the one is both totally static and endlessly dynamic. So [it’s] endlessly reproducing itself in subtly different ways, just as it does in reality—every moment is a different configuration of the absolute. When this happens, there’s this sort of smile of the heart of the divine, because now there’s one more being for people struggling to realize their true identity to relate to. So that being can then become a vehicle of the one’s mercy and magic. And that can’t be explained rationally, but it can be experienced.
I think what also happens—I don’t know whether this happened to you, Tami, but when I was in the heat of my love for Ramakrishna, which was never abated, there was a period in which I couldn’t stop reading his work because it was so brilliant and so clear, so soaked with wisdom of the mother, which I desperately craved. He would appear to me in dreams. Once he appeared and he really berated me, he said, “The problem with your teaching is that you’re speaking to the fish. Speak to the sea! Don’t worry about what they’re thinking. Some of them won’t get. Some of them will half get it. Some of them will get it completely. But that’s not your business. Your business is to speak to your beloved, to speak out towards the one from the depths of your love of the one. And those who will resonate, will resonate. Those who won’t, that’s not your job. God will look after that.”
It was huge help, because being a natural people-pleaser can deeply, deeply topple you if you’re trying to tell the full mystical truth, which I’ve been trying to tell since I really started teaching. I mean, not always successfully, obviously. So that was a tremendous revelation, that if you dare this kind of relationship, it will permeate your psyche, and sometimes it will come in visions and dreams.
I’ve had two meetings with Rumi, and the last one, I didn’t see his face, but he was holding the world and he showed it tremendously darkened by the horror that’s spreading everywhere. He also then lifted it and it became gold. What I understood, [what] he was showing me, is that this tremendous darkness that we’re going through is a necessary purification. It’s a necessary ordeal. It’s a necessary shattering of the false human ego. And that it could potentially prepare a wholly new way of being and doing anything. I realized that [the reason] why he is so central to so many people now is that he is coming to us with the full information of the death/rebirth process, the crucifixion/resurrection process.
So it was a tremendous help and tremendous consolation and comfort. And it came to me from the divine in terms of the one that I love. But if, for example, you love Shanti Deva, or the great Mahan Buddhist teachers who have such unique personalities—I think Shanti Deva is a good example, he has all the usual forms of Buddhist teaching in his work but he has a unique intensity of pain, the pain of the world, the horror of the ego, and the terrible suffering that’s created with it. If you resonate with him, then I bet he will come to you. The one, the formless void will emanate him [to you] out of mercy, to take you deeper into that part of you that resonates so deeply with him so that it can be taken to another level.
TS: Now, Andrew, you said something, you used a phrase and it went right into me. You said that throughout your whole teaching life, what you’ve been wanting to do—although you haven’t always been successful—is tell the full mystical truth. So what does that mean? What is the full mystical truth?
AH: I think the full mystical truth is that human beings are divine. And that we have a divine identity with the self or with the one, or whatever you call it. All words are inadequate. That is the fundamental truth of our nature. The other truth is that the divine is absolute love at its core—absolute knowledge, absolute love, absolute bliss, all fused in a tremendous mystery. And that whatever happens to us is a reflection of that.
Even the harshest things, when seen in that perspective and endured with that perspective, can become revelatory of new levels of consciousness in you, and new levels of surrender which lead to much higher levels of wisdom. And I think that that’s what all the great mystical traditions are telling us. It’s a source of tremendous hope and tremendous joy.
TS: Now, when we started our conversation, I asked you how to define a divine rebel, and you talked about this experience of mystical union that leaves someone forever changed. And over the course and maturation of their life, after you’ve had that kind of taste, a process unfolds, and eventually you’re working for that love and justice in the world. I’m curious more about that process and path, because I think a lot of people have a taste of mystical union but they don’t become “divine rebels.” So talk a little bit about that maturation process and why someone would or maybe would not grow into a divine rebel.
AH: Well, I want to make a distinction in the beginning between what I would call—and this a coarse distinction, but it can be helpful—between the path of knowledge, the path of jnana, the path of union with clarity, clarity of the divine, which is a very holy path. The path, say, of Ramana Maharshi. The path of a great many Buddhists. The path of Advaita Vedanta. The path of certain very, very austere and noble Christian mystics, like Ruysbroeck, for example. This path will lead to a union with one part of the divine, the clear, eternal, calm, spacious, peaceful part of the divine.
There is another path, and that is the path of divine love. In this path, the ego is burnt away by adoration. Ego is burned away by ecstasy. The ego is burnt away by heartbreak, great, great heartbreak. And it’s this path that tends to produce more than the first path, the rebels because love is a fierce fire.
And as you go deeper and deeper into that fire, that fire possess you, instructs you, shows you the agony and horror of the world, and basically says to you, “How dare you continue to just feast of your ecstatic experience! What the hell are you doing with the power I’ve given you? Why aren’t you using this power to go out into the burning well and do something for me, really establish my love and justice in the world?”
This is the path of the great Jewish prophets, this is the path of the prophet Mohammed, this is the path, of course, of Jesus, this is path of Rumi. This is the path of all of the tremendously potent sacred activists that have risen up in those traditions. I’m not saying that one is good and one is bad. I’m saying that the path of jnana tends to produce people whose awakening is gentle, whose awakening is spacious. The path of love produces people who have jnana, because you can’t love without knowing, and the more you know, the more you love. But the emphasis of that path is in bringing out the fire, the fire of divine passion. And that passion is united with peace. It’s not an hysterical emotion, but it is an agent of transformation within and it demands of you, when you’ve gone deeply into it, that you become an agent of its transforming intensity of the world.
I think that’s also the path of the Mahayana. One of the great things about the Mahayana, the Buddhist path, is that it refuses the separation, the subtle dualism that you find, I think, in the Advaita Vendanta. It says that being separate in awakening from the burning world is, in the end, a cop-out, because the world is suffering so intensely, you must plunge in. You must take the bodhisattva vows.
And that is such a noble and amazing path. It’s the path of fire, and the path of absolute surrender to love. It’s my path, so I speak about it with tremendous awe, and I really honor the path of someone like Ramana Maharshi. I lust in awe at him because I know that he’s in super-consciousness, and I know that I have everything to learn from the great peace that emanates from him. I know that I need more and more of that peace, but it’s the path of love that I love. It’s the path of love that I have surrendered to, and the part that drives me to do the work of sacred activism as well. So that’s the first thing I’d like to say.
The second thing is that I think that everything depends, in the end, on the sincerity of the seeker. A lot of people stop very early on on the path at the beginning of the mystical experiences. They have these flashy lights. They see the archangel Gabriel. They feel blissful and peaceful. Very often they think, “That’s it. I’ve got it. It’s here. Now I am a mystic.” And they can integrate that quite easily, really, into their previous lives. And so if you’re not truly sincere, and truly driven by a deep hunger to go deeper and deeper and deeper, whatever it may cost at the core of your life, however it may threaten the actual structures of your previous life, your realization will be frozen there.
But if, by the grace of God, or through the grace of your previous life turns, or whatever it is, you have inside of you that will not let you rest, that will always drive you deeper and deeper and deeper, you will find that that path will open onto the path of radical rebellion against the structures of the world.
TS: I’m curious, Andrew, how you would respond to this person: This is someone I was speaking with over the weekend, who has recently been deeply tuning into expanded states of awareness, and said, “I feel afraid of how my life might change right now. I feel afraid of what’s going to be asked of me in terms of my family, and changes, and other things. I’m starting to really feel this call and connect with this greater expanse of being, but I have tell you, Tami, I’m afraid.”
AH: I would say I completely understand, first of all. I think anybody who is on an authentic mystical path has felt this very, very often. So I would validate that fear and say, “Don’t be afraid of your fear and don’t be ashamed of your fear, because it’s the natural reaction of the ego being expanded beyond its comfort zone.”
The second thing I would say to that person is, “If you are truly terrified and if you are really tempted to shut down, then take that as a sign that you need to go more slowly, that you need to be gentle with yourself. You will find that if you calm down and ground, and really start appreciating the divine truth of your life as it is, your life itself will provide you a calm foundation for your ego to expand into this larger truth, and you’ll be guided subtly, sweetly, gently, step by step, into being able to integrate what you are coming to know with what you are living.”
Then I would say, “You do, in the end, if you truly want to be one with God, have to find in yourself courage to let go of everything you’ve arranged for yourself, every kind of structure of life that you have made for yourself. The way to do this is to really deepen your practice of surrender, to really pray deeply and meditate deeply, and awaken deep trust through practices—in my case, of adoration, and in other people’s cases, of profound immersion in meditation. What that will do is create a kind of mother container for you in which you will find that the terrible lesson, because you’ll realize that what you’re coming more and more into contact with is divine truth, divine love, divine peace, that you can trust it. It will guide you, and it will allow whatever has to happen to happen in a way that might be jagged at times, but will reveal beauty after beauty, astonishment after astonishment.”
TS: Now, you just said something that I thought was really interesting to me, that in your own practice—the practice of adoration, and for some people it might be immersion in meditation or some other form of practice. You know, it’s interesting Andrew, I think that adoration or devotion is a practice that isn’t all that well respected. I mean, that’s a strong word to use, but in a contemporary context, it’s seen as people who cry a lot and get on their knees. It’s not considered sophisticated in certain circles, the practice of adoration. I’m curious what you think about that.
AH: I think it’s a catastrophe. I think it’s one of the reasons why many people on the so-called spiritual path are doing absolutely nothing while the world burns to death, and the crisis is potentially terminal. Because I think we have a very great problem now, which is that by and large, the patriarchal mystical tradition, which has made huge discoveries that are very noble in very many ways, talks about enlightenment as a profound peace and separation from reality. And there is, of course, a great truth in this, but it’s a half-truth. What I’m finding is that true awakening contains a dance of opposites. It’s a dance between great peace and tremendous passion.
You access the great peace through the calm practices, through what I call the “cool practices.” But doing the cool practices alone could turn you—as it has turned so many people that are now a very un-new New Age—into people who don’t seem to care. Antarctica is melting, the forests are burning, 2 billion people live on less than a dollar a day, but there’s a global financial elite creating all sorts appalling structures that are really strangling life. And [they] actually talk about, then, “not caring” as if it were enlightenment, when in fact it’s a very subtle psychosis.
I believe that everyone—and I would like to stress this because I believe this deeply—needs very profound cool practices that can unite them with divine peace, shanti, and the formlessness, shunia, the spacious, spacious detached radiant calm of the divine from which everything flows. But [they] also [need to] be very sure to have a very deep devotional aspect, because that’s when you connect with the love nature of the divine, what I would call the mother side of God. And that’s where you are transformed to become connected to the world from an awakened place. That’s where you can become focused on radical action that expresses your sacred experience, which is now essential for the future of the planet.
So I think one of the great problems of our time, and it’s something that is being talked about far too little, is the inadequacy of a patriarchal vision of enlightenment that doesn’t include the mother passion, the mother engagement, the mother compassion, and the mother action on behalf of suffering beings.
To me, Mahayana at its best is obviously someone like His Holiness. The Dalai Lama shows that marriage of opposites very, very beautifully. But a lot of Buddhists, for example, a lot of enlightened Vedantians have really gone overboard into the cool side and are not doing nearly enough work on building the love nature that they need to reflect the full nature of the full divine. [They’re] privileging their coolness as if it were a kind of total awakening. It isn’t. Awakening is that dance of opposites, that mystery between the deep peace and the great, great holy passion. And that’s what you see, of course, in the greatest mystics of all. You see that very much in Jesus, for example, you see it in Ramakrishna, in the ones who have a deep knowledge of the great peace, but are passionately concerned about all humans and sentient beings.
TS: One of the parts of the program on divine rebels—that you and Caroline created together—that I really loved was the section on the dark night of the soul and the idea that these great divine rebels all went through. And this is something you underscored—not just one dark night, but a second dark night. I’d never heard it talked about in terms of the first and then a second dark night. I wonder if you can explain that for our listeners?
AH: This is a very important point. And it really comes from both of our lovers of John of the Cross. And it’s also in Islamic tradition actually, this understanding. If you really see the unfolding of the path as having distinct stages, as I think I and Caroline do, then you see that the first dark night is really, as Saint John says, a purification of the senses. This is important at the beginning, because when you have mystical experiences, for a moment the ego sense is clear, and you see the full beauty of the full glory of the real world, of the reality. But you can’t sustain that glimpse unless you do a massive work of purification and a vigorous spiritual discipline.
So the first dark night happens when you’ve really entered into the cauldron of that purification. And usually you go through very, very intense experiences of suffering and burning and yearning and of longing and a deep, deep meditation and aberration. [These experiences] serve to purify your whole being so that you can be given the great experience that begins the second part of the path: the experience of seeing the divine light and seeing the whole universe radiant with it. This begins a wholly new process.
Sufis have a wonderful way of describing it. They say that there are two journeys. There’s the journey to God, which is this experience of knowing that the divine light consciousness is creating everything. [It] is the awakening experience, but it’s not in any way the end of the path, because the subtle ego remains intact. You still remain identified at subtle levels with the person having this experience. So the work at the second part of the path is to dissolve that subtle ego so that the more extraordinary levels of union can appear at the causal level. This can only happen, unfortunately, by an annihilation of that subtle ego through an organized set of disasters and catastrophes that the divine organizes perfectly to kill the subtle ego in its deepest hiding places.
This is the second dark night, which is a terrible experience, but an amazing experience, because it has two different facets. On the one hand you are burning to death. The you is burning to death in this organized guerilla warfare that the divine sent against you. Everybody has it in terms of their own temperament, their own addictions, their own fantasies, their own vanities, their own subtle, subtle addictions and vanities. But on the other hand, as this process is going through [you], you’re not abandoned by the divine at all. As it progresses deeper, wilder, and holier, and more ecstatic visions are given to you, far beyond anything that you’ve experienced on that first path, which ends with the first subtle death—when this process is complete, and not very many people have ever really completed it, but when this process is complete, you are crucified and resurrected at the same time. [This is] what the classic texts both in Islam and Christianity tell us, and what I myself experienced. And I think this is probably the same experience in the higher reaches of Vajrayana.
That whole second dark night ends with an enormous realization, which far transcends the first one, in which you really know that, at the very deepest levels, you are the beloved and you are the beloved’s beloved. In my case it was a vision of Christ, because I’ve always loved Christ the most of all the teachers and all the revelations. I saw him for 15 minutes in [a] church, and I knew, because I studied the Islamic, Christian, Shamanic, and Vajrayana traditions, what I was being given was a sign. [It was a sign] that a very long and very grueling dark night that I myself had to been through was now over and a holy new kind of life was beginning, a much more consciously divine life, which has enormous problems because you have to continue to work on your shadow. In fact, you work on your shadow in more and more profound ways after this has happened, [and you know] that you never have to go through that terrible burning again because something has really been eliminated.
TS: Now, Andrew, you’re saying a lot here, so I want to slow down and unpack it a little bit. How is it that one goes through this second stripping, and yet, as you say, there’s still so much shadow work yet to be done? How would we know what the demarcation is? “Oh, I’ve gone through this second dark night.” I mean, let’s take it even slower. How do I know the difference between the first dark night and the second? And then, if shadow work is continuing, isn’t this just some long gradual process? What are the real demarcations here?
AH: Well, I think this is a very complex subject, but in my experience it’s like this: How you know that the first dark night is over is by the first experience of the divine consciousness that I described. That is an overwhelming experience, but it does leave the subtle ego intact. What happens out of that first experience is that you’re flooded with new powers, and there’s still tremendous danger because you can be very inflated at that moment. You can have clairvoyant powers and use them for your own glory and not for the glory of God. Very many gurus, in fact most gurus I think, have had the first dark night and then that first immense realization, and then they think that they are divine. But the problem is that the subtle ego has appropriated that experience for the glory of itself, not for the divine.
So another divine attack has to be mounted. I think you know the second—well, I know you know the second dark night, because it’s unbelievably atrocious. Its pain cannot really be described because it’s not trauma, it’s not intense suffering even. It is a crucifixion of the soul. It’s when you have to face just how to despotic and serial killer-ish your desire for power is even after you’ve grasped the divine nature of your true self. And you can’t hear yourself on your own because you simply don’t know, nobody knows just how diseased their true ego—the inappropriate, power drunk ego—is. Then the dark night works on you, and usually it’s a long process. Then you really do know when its fundamental work has been done by an infusion of much deeper, greater, more radiant divine consciousness, and that becomes another station, another level of how you live your life, how you experience life.
If you are on a path of radiant embodiment—which I’m on, which is the path of divine love in the body—you still have to deal with the life that you created comically before this experience. You still have to deal with the experiences of the body, you still have to deal with the ever deeper and ever more revealing and ever more difficult shadow of your own relationship to the world. That goes on, but you have a much, much greater force in you to help you deal with it. In fact, the revelations of your own shadow and the danger of it and the danger of the shadow of the world become almost unbearably intense after the second dark night. What you are then engaged in doing is more and more deeply embodying the divine in your mind, heart, and cells, and in your actions. And you will still find that from your previous self, and from your comic self, all kinds of activities, all kinds of samskaras continue in a ghostly way, which you need to work on and, of course, the clearer your eyesight becomes, the more dangerous the dark that you ignored appears.
So the process of embodiment, the process of the path unfolds, the process of the Christ, the process of birthing the divine in matter is an endless process, but after the second dark night, you’ve got much more to work with. Much more is working in you to help you endure the great, great difficulties [and the] grueling shadow work and tremendous suffering that you still have to endure. If you read into Aurobindo, for example, who had both dark nights and extraordinary divine experiences, you’ll see that right to the end of his life, he was still talking about the grueling demands of this process of embodiment. He’s not talking about it esthetically, he’s just saying this is how this is. This is how the process is, and you just have to been strong enough to do it. And you will be strong enough, because by then you’ll know that your whole foundation is divine consciousness.
TS: So, Andrew, you know, I hear people use a term like “shadow work,” and I’m curious what that actually looks like for you? How do you, Andrew Harvey, do shadow work as this divine being in a human body? How do you work with your own shadow?
AH: Well, I wouldn’t ever claim that, Tami. My God, I’d be struck by lightning!
TS: I claimed it. I’m allowed to say what I want to, Andrew. You say your part and I say mine.
TS: [Laughs] The truth is that in the last six years, I have understood that I needed help. And I’ve had an amazing journey with a very, very great and ruthless and astonishing Jungian analyst Nathan Schwartz-Salant, who’s written tremendous books, but much more importantly is an absolute master of humility and who knows the embodiment process because he has himself engaged in it and he’s further on. He’s in his early 70s and he’s absolutely ruthless. Every single week, I just open my life to him and he helps me see where I’m still falling into traps that come from my relationship with my past, mistakes that I’ve made, and from exaggerations, mysteries, misunderstandings of spiritual awakenings that I’m still wrestling with.
And I have really loved this journey. It’s something that keeps me constantly aware of how I can even stage [ph] that God has given me, and I’m so grateful that 60, which I will be next month, I have been given so much. But even with all of what I’ve been given I still remain a fool, and capable of being blinded. And I think [that’s] very important, because I think we have to be both in the Tibetan sense, divinely powered. We have to train the majesty of what has been given to us, but we also constantly have to be aware of the infinite subtly of the secret trickster within in us and of the ghostly hangovers from the past.
There’s a wonderful story [about] Rumi [when he was] in his late 60s, which always moves me and grounds me and is really something that I consider to be definitive about authentic realization. A young man came to see him from Constantinople who had heard about the great king of mystics. He had walked all the way from Constantinople to Konya, and when he came to Konya he saw Rumi, this wonderful, astounding old man, coming towards him, and he fell on the ground in prostration before Rumi. He got up and he saw Rumi prostrating to him 32 times, and he freaked out, as you can imagine. He said, “What the hell are you doing? I thought you were the sultan of mystics and I’m nobody.”
Rumi said three things: He said, “Why wouldn’t I bow down before one of the servants of God?” And then the prophet said, “Blessed is the being who is just in his honor and humble in his wealth and chaste in his beauty.” And then he said something completely astonishing that I think is the key. He said, “If I did not show my lovingness, what would I be useful for?” And he was doing so many things by this series of actions and quotations. He was really saying, “Look, this is a golden shadow you are projecting on to me, but you are everything that you see in me. Get real about your own work, your own realization, and the majesty of your own divine consciousness.” That was the first thing.
And then he was also pointing out that if you don’t constantly, constantly know your nothingness, your emptiness, your poverty, your stupidity—which belong to you as a human being and don’t go away, are a constant companion, a constant reminder to be ever humbler, ever more radically awake to the slightest nuance or missed judgment or hysteria, or cruelty or arrogance—the very thing that ennobles you will become your greatest enemy. You think that you’re so much. You think you’re God. And you’re not God. You’re divine in the human, in this strange mystery of a dance of opposites.
So the one side that is divine rejoices, laughs, and celebrates. And the other side, which is human, is very, very canny indeed and very shrewd and very tough-minded with itself. And in the greatest human beings I think you see that magnificent combo. You see it in the Dalai Lama, because the Dalai Lama is at a very high level of realization, and yet he’s so constantly humble. It’s not an act. He [holds] his balance perfectly, this mystical balance. I think he’s a supreme example to us all.
Bede had it because Bede used to radiate divine light. I once asked him, thinking that he’d give me some interesting extraordinary answer—you know, I was still a young seeker, I wanted something with flashing lights. I asked him, “What is truly holiness?” And he said, “True holiness is knowing just how much your shadow can sabotage you at any moment.” And that is the definitive answer to me. It doesn’t mean that you deny the divine living in you, but it means that you keep constantly awake to the ways in which you can betray that [with] your human madness. Like Carl said, and it’s an amazing phrase, he said that great wisdom is to know how limited by your madness you are.
That’s one side of it. The other side of it is to know how unlimited by your divine identity you are. And if you can bring the knowledge of the limitation by your karmic madness, together in union with the wisdom of the knowledge of your divine identity, then you’ll always be humble enough and awake enough to be taken deeper and deeper and deeper in the endless process of transformation.
TS: Well, I love that answer, but I’m going to take it just a little bit further, in one sense. You know, I asked you how you do shadow work in your life. And you said, “I’ve been working with this analyst.”
AH: I do it by just looking at my reactions to people in my life. You know, who do I love too much or too intensely? Who is it that I’m obsessing with? Who is it that I can’t stand? And more and more, I’m understanding that when I become obsessed with somebody’s beauty or somebody’s splendor—for example, I’m always so overwhelmed when I see the Dalai Lama. But nowadays, instead of protecting my golden shadow onto him, I take back the projection and I try and really, really work on the aspects of myself that are like him instead of projecting onto him all the work I don’t want to do on myself.
And I’m very aware of my tendency to [project] a golden shadow, because my deep gift is adoration, but it has the shadow of projecting onto others like Rumi and Jesus and the Dalai Lama. Now, at this stage in my life, I should be owning for myself and be responsible for myself, because I’ve been given enough to get going in that way, so I can no longer indulge in that kind of projection without feeling dirty or feeling shameful. Really, it’s one of the most dangerous of the shadows.
When I find myself reacting tremendously, scathingly to people as I do—God, I find myself outraged at this CEO of this strip mine in Ecuador or outraged at the idiocy of the Republicans or outraged at the slothful, narcissistic, self-absorbed, endlessly boring, awful garbage that’s out there in the name of God in the New Age, The Secret for example. I really examine myself. I really ask myself, “Why am I so angry? Why does this hurt me so much? What is behind this anger and this hurt?”
More and more I’m uncovering, first of all, that I’d done all of this, that I can’t stand outside, I’ve been guilty of magical thinking. I’m like an alcoholic who’s given up drink [and] who’s tremendously puritanical about other alcoholics, and [I find] this side of my nature repulsive. And I’m working on it, because it could very much the damage the clarity and purity of the teaching that I’m trying to bring through, as well as limit whatever realization I’m trying for. Because unless I can embrace the pain and the dissociation of the CEO, the denial or the suffering behind the denial of global warming of the Republican, etc., how will I ever be able to have the skillful means of kindness to help those people unless I don’t recognize them in myself?
It’s very, very difficult work. It’s very demanding work. I’ll give an example from this last weekend, because I’ve had one of the great weekends of my life. I was international and I was invited to teach on all the things I care about the most: Rumi, the mother, sacred activism, and Christ consciousness. I mean, my God, they laid a table and a feast, and I was thrilled to go and it was a thrilling time. And I really gave the very best that I’ve ever done. But I found myself sort of raging at The Secret and saying, “My God, how could we [even] begin to tolerate this absurdity in the name of the divine?”
And a woman got up and said, “I understand what you’re saying, but I was tremendously empowered by certain things in The Secret.” She was completely sincere. And I had a choice at that moment. I think the old Andrew would say, “Why don’t read you read the authentic mystics and get off this idiocy and realize that what you think of as empowerment is just the beginning?” That kind of scornful—which might have been, in a way, accurate, but would have been incredibly unhelpful. But instead—because I really tried to work on that side of myself and continue to work on it because I know it is a really important area—I found myself saying, “Thank you so much. I must never forget that there were people who were woken up to the truths that are hidden in this. Thank you so much for being brave enough to say that. I’ll try and temper whatever I say about it and be wiser about how I present it.” So that’s how I do shadow work.
TS: Thank you. That’s what I was looking to hear about. That’s very helpful. Helpful to me, and I think helpful to our listeners.
AH: Do you find that it’s very difficult, isn’t it? But I think that those are the two areas that all of us need to look at the most—ones where we project the qualities in us that we don’t want to do the work on unto others, and rest in the kind of narcissistic stupor before the brilliance and beauty and realization of others and just dump over to do the work ourselves. And that’s why it’s the genius of the Buddha saying, you know, go out and work on your actual own salvation but don’t revere me, right? And then [there’s] our extraordinary emotional reactivity, the afflicted emotions [that] don’t go away, but I think are always there. But you become much more skillful, through rigorous shadow work, in being able to deal with them.
TS: And, Andrew, I just want to end on this one note. There was one sentence form the Divine Rebels recording that I wrote down and underlined. It was just so beautiful and I want to end on this note, which is the statement, “love is the ultimate rebellion.” How do you understand that?
AH: Yes. That was Caroline wasn’t it? Yes, I remember it was Caroline who said that. I remembered I’d written it out in red letters in my own book. It was such a wonderful, wonderful statement. I think that that’s one of the great statements, because the choice to go forward in fear or in love, in rejection, or in deep unconditional compassionate embrace is something that every moment poses. So love is the ultimate rebellion against the whole structure of separation that keeps us trapped from the great unity of reality.
And, of course, it’s the ultimate rebellion because if you truly follow that love—as we said, the distinction between the path of knowledge and the path of love—you will be driven by that love to be aghast at what’s going on in the world and you will hunger and thirst after righteousness. Then you will have to do something about it. You will have to step forward and witness those things. And let the chips fall where they may. That would be your rebellion or your life will be rebellion, as I hope mine is and hope it will continue to be.
TS: I’ve been speaking with Andrew Harvey. Along with Caroline Myss, he has created a new 13-session series called Divine Rebels: Saints, Mystics, Holy Change Agents—and You. This is a series that includes a training on how to be a divine rebel in our world today. Andrew has also recorded with Sounds True a program called Song of the Sun, a beautiful series on the life, poetry, and teachings of Rumi, along with an audio program called The Direct Path: How to Walk the Mystical Path in Your Life Using Contemplation, Prayer, and Service. Andrew, as always, it’s wonderful to talk with you and to grow with you in walking the path of divine rebels together. It’s a great joy for me.
AH: It’s amazing. Thank you for your wonderful questions. It’s always extraordinary to work with you because you’re so precise. You’ve got such a surgeon’s scalpel and I always love that in you. It’s thrilling to talk to you and I hope we have many, many chances to continue this beautiful, holy conversation between ourselves.
TS: SoundsTrue.com. Many voices, one journey. Thanks for listening.