Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today, my guest is Andrew Harvey. Andrew Harvey is a poet, writer, teacher, and mystic. He’s a former fellow at All Souls College at Oxford, and has written or edited 28 books, including Hidden Journey, The Return of the Mother, A Journey in Ladakh, The Essential Mystics, The Son of Man, and The Hope. With Sounds True, Andrew Harvey, along with author and teacher Caroline Myss, have created a new, eight-week transformational online learning course called [The Shadow Course]: An Eight-Week Journey to Know Yourself and Bring Light to the World. In this in-depth journey with Andrew and Caroline, you’re guided to uncovering what you don’t know about yourself so you can come into alignment with your true power and purpose.
In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Andrew and I spoke about the connection between individual Shadow work and what’s happening at the collective level, and how such Shadow work requires that we address three core forces in us—our greed, our fear, and our lack of conscience. We also talked about how we can live today courageously, facing things as they really are, which includes the threat of human extinction, and how being conscious of this threat can lead to a type of broken-hearted joy and compassion. We talked about Shadow Work, the body, and sexuality; how we can project our best qualities onto others—what Andrew calls “the golden shadow”; and finally, what it means to know ourselves so well that we know that everyone’s Shadow lives in us. Here’s my conversation on Shadow Work with Andrew Harvey.
Andrew, you and Caroline Myss are offering a new online course called [The Shadow Course]. To begin, I would love it if you could define for our listeners and really introduce them to this idea of Shadow work. What is it?
Andrew Harvey: Well, I think first we have to start with acknowledging the truth of a dark side of our nature, which we’re terrified of seeing and acknowledging. That is a very big first step because without that very big first step, you can’t get anywhere near the truth of what the Shadow really is. The Shadow isn’t simply the side of ourselves that we don’t like. It actually—as Jung made very clear—has what he called “a demonic quality”—something that is unbelievably nihilistic and destructive and lethal to others, and of course to our own soul’s journey.
Once you begin to approach this mystery, you are given two choices. You can step absolutely away from the depth of the darkness that you’re beginning to see and bypass into a fake transcendence, which is what many seekers are doing. Or, you can choose the very difficult path of embodiment that goes through making conscious the sometimes unspeakable shadows in one’s self to one’s self—and so becoming so much more awake to what’s really happening in the world, and so much more compassionate for everyone trapped in this burning madhouse, and so much more focused on realistic service and realistic compassion born out of the wisdom that can only come from this kind of radical work on one’s self—radical work on the Shadow and the world, and radical work on making it conscious so it can yield its great treasures of insight and heart-broken compassion, and skillful means with others that we react not out of our shadow material, but out of the wisdom born from our own immersion in our shadow. So, act with true respect, act with true compassion, act with true honesty, act with true transparence, act with true courtesy of soul.
TS: Now, Andrew, let’s say someone’s listening, and they’re like, “Yes, I know that there are all kinds of aspects of myself that I’m not conscious of. I’m not conscious of them. How am I going to do this work so that they become conscious? I’m not conscious of them. I suspect that they’re there—”
AH: Well, if you—exactly. I think the real truth is that you have to go on a very complex journey—many-faceted journey—if you’re really going to get to know your shadow. The first thing you might do is to sit your friends down and ask them what they experience of your shadow, and actually have the courage to hear the line in all of your friends’ testimony of you. That could be a very amazing moment, because you’ll discover that your shadow is known by the people around you in ways you don’t know, but if you ask them in a tender, respectful and prayerful way, they can give you the most extraordinary hints about what you’re doing crazy.
TS: OK, that seems like a good starting point.
AH: I think that’s a practical start. Then of course you can start listening to your unconscious, and really following the language of your dreams, and getting far more profoundly adept through help, and through your own submission to the truth of the unconscious. You can be directed by the unconscious to where your shadow is operating far beneath the level even of your quite-awake consciousness.
TS: In the course on [The Shadow Course], you talk about a time in your life when you were finishing the writing of The Hope, when you felt like your subtle ego, that’s how you referred to it, was being burnt away, and that this was a period of profound Shadow work for you, this burning away of the subtle ego. I wanted to talk about that, because I think people probably suspect that there’s something at work in their life like a subtle ego. What happened to you during this period of time, and what does it mean to have our subtle ego burnt away?
AH: That’s a very profound question, and I would like to begin by just offering a map of what I call transfiguration, the embodiment process, because that will help people really see where the subtle ego grows, and how amazingly useful it is for a stage, but how dangerous it is for future evolution. In the beginning, the human being is in largely human consciousness, but the birthright, the divine blessing of divine consciousness, is there. That is awakened in the first stage, usually in wonderful mystical experiences, and dreams, and sudden illuminations, reading sacred texts.
That leads to the full-on love affair, in which the already-transforming ego, the self, gets illumined by the powers of awakening, and evolves from an ordinary ego to a subtle ego, an ego that is illumined in many ways, but still unconsciously enslaved to domination, success, status, power. It’s at this stage that you become charismatic. It’s at this stage you have clairvoyant powers. It’s at this stage you are filled with all kinds of new, radiant possibilities for your life. But you’re given a choice, and if you make the choice of using these powers for your own ends, unconsciously driven by forces that you haven’t yet dared to make conscious in yourself, what will happen is that your life will explode in indignity. You’ll betray your ideals. You’ll live a life that is secretly wedded to power and not to love, and not to the truth.
This is the drama in each one of us. It’s not anyone’s particular drama. Everybody has this drama. If you choose to go through the horror of having that subtle ego dissolved, what will dissolve with it is any sense of specialness, any sense of unique awakening, any sense of anything but humble unity with everything that lives, and passionate conviction that only a way forward of love in action is now possible. That is a massive transformation, because in that burning away of the subtle ego, you lose all the strength that your shadow world gave you. You lose the energy that you could pour out when you were secretly serving yourself. You have to redirect that energy from a much deeper place of realization, of deep embrace, of the divine.
There is a wonderful alchemy at work in this very rigorous Shadow work which has to be experienced to be known, and that’s an alchemy from being unconsciously confined, even in the subtle reals, by your own addiction to yourself, and the freedom, and spaciousness, and wildness, and fearlessness, and ecstasy, and passion that’s born when, through grace, and through grace alone, you’re released from that cage and can fly, constantly, in the body, in the real.
TS: Can you tell me, Andrew, a little bit about what that burning away process was like for you, during this time that you talk about in the program, [The Shadow Course]?
AH: Absolutely. Oh, yes, darling. Thank you for inviting me to do that, because what happened was is that I’d been evolving in my heart and in my mind a vision of sacred activism for many years, and testing it out relentlessly on the road, all over America, and listening to the objections, listening to the corrections, listening to everyone’s reaction, and bringing it into a vision that I was really getting quite clear about. I’d written about three-quarters of my book on The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism, and then I plunged into a totally immobilizing, paralyzing depression at the greatest level I’ve ever experienced depression. I knew it wasn’t only a personal depression. It was finally allowing the horror and the heartbreak of where we really are to just overwhelm me and shut me down. Instead of constantly making me throw out new ideas, new solutions, new fantasies of possibility, it was a complete sobering of my soul beyond imagining.
I have an amazing analyst, who is a great Jungian, but has gone beyond Jung in his understanding of mystical transformation. He said to me, “Look, you’ve just got to sit with this, because amazing new information will be given you if you sit with this, because you’ll discover depths of your own saboteur, your own crazy one, your own desperate woundedness that you need to discover. You need to really think into this and not write anything.” That’s what I did, and it was an amazing experience, because, on the one hand, I was drowning in this acid of suffering and of heartbreak at the real state of the world, and on the other hand, I was becoming more and more joyful, more and more grateful for the sunlight on the lawn, for my friends, for my life.
Nobody knew I was going through this when I was going through this, because I was simultaneously shattered and extremely joyful. What I realized was being destroyed was the prophet in me, the person who thought he had a map to this transformation, or invested too much in that map, and what I had to face were all the forces in the crisis itself, and in the makeup of all of our narcissisms, now, at this terrible time of history, what in this cocktail of Shadow really is ranged against any kind of birth, any kind of new possibility.
You cannot birth an authentic possibility, I discovered through this process, except through this process, because the dark, the savage, the disillusioning, the death wish that’s born from that facing of what’s really ranged against us in this birth gives rise to a more realistic, pragmatic, passionate vision of what the birth really is, and what it really costs, and what it really entails, which means nothing less than the facing of all of these shadows that are rising from this crisis, and all of the shadows in us that collude to keep these lethal shadows going. That is a massive effort of the soul, yes.
TS: It brings me to a question that I think runs throughout the whole [The Shadow Course] online training program, which is this connection between the Shadow work that we do at a personal level and what’s happening in the world at the collective level. I wonder if you can make that explicit, how working with our own shadow material relates to the collective darkness, and pain, and addiction to power that we see in the world as a whole?
AH: Well, for me, and I’m sure for you, by now, on your search, Tami, there is no inner and outer world anymore. There’s just one world happening, erupting. It seems that the world erupting in front of us is governed by three terrifying emotions: Tremendous greed, tremendous fear, and tremendous lack of conscience, lack of any real conscience about those who suffer, and the animals that are in the process of being genocided. This tragic cocktail of greed, fear, and lack of any real, radical heart connection with anything, anything out there that’s real, that’s suffering, that needs our help is the shadow being that threatens all of our sanities at this moment, all of our energies at this moment. This is our own inner demon, our own inner Satan.
This inner demon and inner Satan has created a world that is committing suicide and matricide. It’s extremely important to take a very long, sober look at this inner enemy in us. What in us is governed by greed? Greed can be enormously subtle. It could be as subtle as greed for mystical experiences, greed to shoot up with transcendence so you don’t feel the pain of imminence, the screaming of the animals. It can be very subtle, that greed. The fear, what fears really govern our lives? Fears of security, fears of losing our status, fears of not being taken seriously, all these kinds of fears that teachers have, if they’re honest. And then the terrible, terrible craving for being recognized.
All of these things work to create a shadow being in us that makes us very destructive if we don’t turn to address that shadow and really understand the conditionings it comes out of, the messages that we’ve been sent by our childhood, the whole karmic whirlpool that created this shadow in the first place, and then we have a chance of working with it as a brother-sister, a being that has a lot of wisdom, a lot of pain, a lot of knowledge that we need to integrate with our spiritual passion to make that spiritual passion grounded, and sober-minded, and able to work with real people in the real exploding world. Does that make sense? Does that make sense?
TS: It makes perfect sense, and I love the way that you just named these three features, if you will, of our world, and of most of our inner experience to one degree or another: Greed, fear, and lack of conscience. I think that is very brilliant, and it also I think points people to where to do the work.
TS: “Where am I greedy? Where am I afraid? Where am I not applying my conscience?”
AH: Where do I lack conscience? Where do … I don’t listen to my innate knowledge that what’s happening out in the world is incredibly unjust on every level. It’s unjust to the poor. It’s unjust to the middle class. It’s unjust to the people who believe in democracy. It’s unjust to the animals. It’s unjust to absolutely everything. It’s justice betrayed, degraded. Everybody knows that, in the core of themselves. There’s no way you couldn’t know that. The tragedy of so many of us is how we silence that acute voice, because we silence it because it makes us uncomfortable, because it makes us suffer, because it makes us have to face what’s really going on. That can be intolerable to those who have really bathed too deep in the coma waters of this decaying civilization.
TS: Well, when you say, “We don’t want to suffer in that way,” to engage our conscience, we have to look at some really horrific things that are quite, as you point out, heartbreaking, terribly heartbreaking.
AH: Yes. Well, what I say, and I think Caroline would agree very much, is that the kind of Shadow work we’re talking about now, Tami, which is really radical surgery, is truly best not done without profound spiritual practice that connects you at all moments potentially to your divine consciousness, because if you try and go down into this Philippine trench by yourself, you’ll explode. You need to be in a bathyscaphe, and that bathyscaphe is made by spiritual practice. You need to get steady. You need to get sober. You need to get spacious. You need to get peaceful. You need to taste your divine being, so that you can turn and begin to bear the craziness of your human being.
To go into this kind of Shadow work without inner divine experience, and without being able to ground through meditation and through mantra, yourself in the divine presence would be a real active irresponsibility, because what you discover in ordinary consciousness of your shadow is frightening enough, but what you discover in expanding divine awareness is really much more painful, because you realize that which in ordinary consciousness you thought was your shadow, it was your shadow analyzing your shadow, not your light. When your light is turned on your shadow, you realize how deeply that shadow has bitten into every aspect of who you are, what you do, what you choose. You might think you have lived a very noble, righteous life, but if you look at the secret Shadow motives, you are properly broken by yourself.
That breaking by one’s self is a crucial initiation. That’s the breaking free of the subtle self and the subtle temptation. We only go into divine consciousness really completely shattered and completely awake. It has to be both, and that is what happens in authentic Shadow work. You are shattered. All your assumptions about yourself, all your assumptions about God, all your assumptions about the effect of your life, they’re all broken. They have to be, because you don’t need them anymore. What you need is the full presence, which can only be answered through the door of radical disillusion.
It’s such an amazing liberation, I found. I mean, I’m not in it all the time, but I do really bless the work I’ve managed to do despite myself with my great analyst, because—and with my own wrestling with these shadows—because the freedom that lies on the other side of it, the freedom of loving others, the freedom of seeing and helping others, the freedom of really being with others where they really are, not where they’re pretending to be, because that’s not going to help, that kind of freedom has a great joy in it. It can only be released by this kind of Shadow work, but it has to be grounded in divine experience, divine practice. This is the challenge for the mystical systems. It’s to create a divine psychology to go along with the divine transformation, to be able to work with this radical depth of material.
TS: Now, Andrew, I wanted to circle back to one thing that you said. You said that, during this period when you were finishing The Hope, that the prophet in you got burnt away, the person that has to carry this mantle in a certain kind of powerful way.
TS: What I’m curious about is how do you then talk about what you see prophetically, the outrage about the injustices in the world, in a way that is skillful, invitational, heartful, that isn’t laced with any kind of self-righteousness, if you will?
AH: This is the hardest thing. God knows. You’re talking to the right person about that. No, I mean, this is the $1,000 question that I pose to myself every day. I think for me, the clue is to go deeper. This sounds like a strange reply, but actually, to go deeper into my love for Rumi, because I find that whenever I go into that love, I’m lifted up, and exulted, and purified, and made much humbler. Then I can speak from that place, as a lover of humanity, as a lover of the possibilities of transformation that can only happen if we face where we are.
When I speak like that from that intimate place, which is much, much more battered, but much more sober, then I can be heard in a completely different way. The prophet has to be broken down for the lover-sage-warrior-midwife to emerge. That’s what I’m trying to become. That’s what an elder for me is, that kind of being that speaks intimately from their experience without tempering the truth, but sharing it with love, and with heartbreak, and with generosity. It’s a different tone than the prophet. It’s the lover’s tone. It’s the tender father’s tone. It’s the mother’s tone. It’s the tone of tenderness that’s born from tragic experience. Isn’t it?
TS: It is. I have to say, as someone whose known you for a long time, and you and I are growing mature together …
TS: Through our many decades …
AH: I love you, and I value our friendship so much. How wonderful we can have such a discussion together, like friends do. It’s gorgeous. Thank you.
TS: Now, Andrew, you’ve talked about how important it is to be grounded in sacred practice as we do Shadow work, that we need that. One of the surprising statements you made, I thought it was surprising, on the [The Shadow Course] program, is you said that you and Caroline Myss talk a lot, talk on her porch, and that one of the things you’ve discussed together is here, and I quote, “If we could give one thing to the world, it would be the power of prayer.”
AH: Oh, yes.
TS: I thought, “Really? The one thing? That’s the one thing?”
AH: Oh, yes. Well, I think for me, prayer incorporates all the passionate, devotional, simple, naked practices that can take you from being a human being to consciously experiencing your divine human being, because prayer is, at its highest, the saying of the name of God in the depths of one’s heart, with all one’s passion and veneration. It’s that ultimate digging into the core of ignorance with the diamond knife of passionate devotion. It’s that kind of intense technological transfiguring work.
Then there’s the true prayer of wanting nothing but to be one with the will of God, however insane to the ego that might be. Then there’s the other prayer, the prayer for all beings to be transformed and illumined, and achieve the marriage of transcendence and immanence, the prayer to really live in the Kingdom-Queendom in a state of harmony, and tenderness, and ecstasy with nature and with the animals, that kind of prayer that wills in through adoration the lineaments of the new world, of a birthing world that never lets go that dream at the core of our evolution for the birth here of an embodied divine humanity that lives in communion with all things and expresses itself in the creativity, and tenderness, and harmony that arises from that huge revelation of oneness with absolutely everything.
TS: You offer, in the course, this prayer as a kind of Shadow work prayer, if you will.
TS: “God, show me things as they really are.” You talk about what will happen in someone’s life if they start praying fiercely with that prayer, “God, show me things as they really are.”
AH: This is such a wonderful question for me, because this is a prayer by someone who I have the deepest reverence for, that’s the prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him. I’ve had the privilege of studying his life and of contemplating the glory of the revelation that came through him. He continues to amaze me by what he took on as a human being in the service of this revelation, and yet it killed him and crushed him. My vision of the prophet has really been something that I cherish. This is one of the holiest of his prayers. It’s the prayer of ultimate protection.
It’s a prayer that is a dangerous prayer, because if you say this prayer, truly wanting to have revealed what is real in your personal life, or in your relationships, or in your professional life, or in your relationship with the world, and sometimes in all of these things, because they’re all interrelated. When you say this prayer sincerely and from the depths of your heart, what you are activating in the core of God is a mirror, and that mirror will appear in your heart, and you’ll see directly the true lineaments of what lies before you in any relationship, in any work partnership, in any fantasy about the world.
The only way to really prepare for the impacts of such a prayer, because they will be very pure, and powerful, and intense, and deeply humbling, is to really accompany saying the prayer by saying the name of God as you believe it in your heart with devotion, and open up to what treatment is necessary for you to get real.
TS: OK, then. As you said, a prayer that’s guaranteed to change somebody’s experience.
AH: Yes, because you can imagine how we… I think one of the things we all know about ourselves by now is that the last thing we really want is a real engagement with the real, that so much of all of our lives are spent in fleeing the real. You can flee it into New Age spirituality. You can flee it into certain dumbed-down versions of Buddhism. You can flee it into anything. When you take on the real path, the path of arriving here, then you’re taking on the evolutionary next step for humanity. When you’re doing that, every single shadow erupts, but that’s how it must be.
The erupting of all of these shadows is also a tremendous baptism in a new kind of wisdom that grounds you, sobers you, makes you heartbroken, makes you really concerned for all other inmates of the same madhouse, and makes you so committed to service, but not from any false belief that it’s going to change everything, and certainly, not from any false belief that you’re the only one doing that service, but from a recognition that it’s the only beautiful thing to do to pay tribute to the revelation of oneness and love that you’ve been given through grace.
TS: Andrew, towards the end of the Shadow work course, you devoted a session to talking about the threat of extinction that we face on the planet today, and how this is something that is often not talked about. We don’t spend a lot of our time talking to each other about our fear. Are we going to enter a new phase of extinction, whether it’s just humans, or will the entire planet be destroyed in some way? You talked about how really deeply delving into this threat of extinction was illuminating for you. I wonder if you can share some about that.
AH: Yes, totally. I think so much of the way we live our lives is as a defense against this primordial fear that’s actually in all of our consciousnesses at this moment, and that is the fear of being part of a race that’s going extinct because it’s gone mad, because it’s chosen a terrible addiction to power and seems absolutely incapable of stopping that addiction. I think that that is part of the truth of this event that we’re in. When you let the sword of that truth go through your heart, what happens isn’t that you die, it is that your heart breaks open at a wholly different level of authenticity, because at that moment, you have to choose love above everything, truth above everything, divine awareness above everything, because you have seen the depth of the agony, and the horror, and there is no other response possible to it except one of abandoned service, and compassion, and humility for the mystery, come what may. That’s how I see it.
TS: Now, I want to read a quote to you from your teaching on the course. You say, “What I discovered is that thinking and feeling and exploring this potential of extinction has not only not depressed me, it has truly elevated my soul, and given me access to a peace and joy that I never felt when I was addicted to hope. Hope can be a terrible Shadow.” I wanted you to talk some about that, because I think a lot of people during this time are like, “You know, I’m going to be hopeful. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to stay hopeful.” Gosh darn it, Andrew, you wrote a book called The Hope, and yet hope could also be a Shadow, and so I wonder if you can address that?
AH: Well, it all depends how the crisis evolves. It’s likely, I believe, to evolve very, very shatteringly, and so what we can hope for now will be simply idiocy to hope for at later stages of this evolving catastrophe. While entertaining and evolving hopes that do seem real for the moment, we must also prepare for the end of that kind of hope. The only way you can prepare for that is by diving deep into the deepest depths of your divine consciousness and finding there the immortal diamond of your deathless awareness, and living in that as much as possible through grace, and through the commitment to simple practices that keep you remembering that as the core of your core.
That’s what really now the work is. That requires great courage, because you have to go beyond all the agendas of even the subtle self to stand in the truth of the self, and you have to allow for the incineration of all the illusions, including the most beautiful one of all, the illusion of hope, to come into the reality of the extremity of the situation. The paradox is, if you can allow yourself to be dragged through grace to the place where you can accept that, then amazing things can happen through you, because you’re now empty enough for miracles to flow through you to others. That’s the seeming trajectory of this divine evolution we’re in.
It’s very extreme, but it’s a mutation. It’s not just a shift in consciousness. It’s a shift in body, heart, soul, and mind altogether. That’s a vast mutation. No wonder it’s so bewildering and shattering, but it is, and we can do it. Rather, we can create the space for it to be done in us, if we do the Shadow work that empties us of our pretension and gets us to our knees in adoration, and in humility, and in asking for transforming grace.
TS: OK. Just a clarifying follow-up here for a moment. How do you relate to hope now in your life, hope about the collective world?
AH: Well, let me just speak about my mother, who died of Alzheimer’s last year. When I first heard that my mother had Alzheimer’s, I found myself hoping against hope that there’d be a miraculous cure, that she would get better, because nothing terrified my mother more than losing her mind, and here she was, losing her mind. I knew how terrible it would be for her. Then I realized that this kind of magical thinking was actually preventing me from being with her, whatever happens, so I gave up that false hope to be with the reality of her situation. In doing that, I discovered that there is a far greater power than hope, and that is love.
I loved her far more when I’d given up hope and could just be with her as she sank into operatic madness than I could have been if I’d continued to try and invent fake ways out of an impossible situation. I don’t know whether the world is at that impossible situation stage, but I do know that impossible situation stage is on the horizon and now clearly visible unless we make, quickly, massive changes, and really resist what’s being poured down our throats and battered into us by a completely insane politics, on all the global levels.
A big upheaval of the heart and soul and body is now needed, and it can only be truly negotiated through Shadow work, because only Shadow work will really give you a sense of how urgently we need to transform these forces, because only Shadow work will give you an initiation into how deadly, and serious, and destructive these forces, and seductive, and deeply, deeply subtle these forces in yourself are.
AH: Isn’t that the case?
AH: It’s so amazing, too. This is what I’m hoping we will communicate in this series, it’s painful, and shaming, and humbling, though this work has to be, the most extraordinary rewards do come, and they’re ones of profound gratitude to being born a human being who can go through such a purifying process, such a radically humbling process, and know that it’s in the service of a much more spacious love, a much deeper consciousness, a much more interrelated being with all things. That is such a glorious reward for going through this process. It’s a shattering process, but it’s an initiating and birthing process. You live a completely different life after it. Everything becomes both more terrible, and more beautiful, and more urgent, and more present. The gift of being more present in that way is a gift that initiates you into the radical joy that’s always underlying everything at all moments. That is the source of transfiguring energy that we’re all going to need as we go forward.
TS: One of the aspects, Andrew, of Shadow work that you teach on in the course has to do with relating to our bodies and our sexuality, and that, for many of us, this is a part of our life that we’re not fully inhabiting, that we’re not telling ourselves the whole truth about in terms of our eroticism or the shape and condition of our bodies. I wonder if you can talk about Shadow work in the body, and a bit of your own process in relationship to that issue?
AH: Oh, my God. That is a terrifying question, but I will be honest. This is, for me, the absolutely most difficult part of the path. In my own relationship to my body, and my own torturing of my body, and my own abandonment of my body through real karmic wounds from my own childhood, and through many other messages that are being sent about the body in Judeo-Christian mysticism, and in the mysticism of the East, I’ve come to realize what a concentration camp all of our bodies are really in. It’s a very frightening realization, because you realize that this whole culture, while it pretends to celebrate the body and wild sexuality, actually objectifies the body, makes the body an object of training and not of voluptuous, sensual celebration, and is deeply addicted to pornography, not to tantric lovemaking at the highest level.
This is what finding your true sexuality really means, isn’t it, is absolutely blessing the body against all the messages that you’ve ever been given about the body. This is especially difficult if you’re gay, but if you can do it as a gay person, then you can truly forge a new path, because you have to unearth all the shadows of self-hatred, of terrified internalized homophobia in yourself before you can truly bless your body and bless your sexuality as a means to experience the love that moves the stars, the ecstatic experience of union with another person through giving everything of yourself, and true love, and true respect.
It’s this vision that is coming through, both gay and straight, because it’s this vision that is trying to be born on the Earth, but it can only be born if we all face the terrifying shadows of body hatred, sex hatred, internalized homophobia, internalized terror of love, internalized terror of actually yearning and burning and celebrating other people, other beings, as more sacred even than ourselves, or as sacred, the terror of really being opened by this vast cosmic emotion that truly is love.
There’s a revolution that is possible, but it’s a revolution that passes through acknowledging all the ways in which we have been tamed, and degraded, and polluted, and made lonely, and made isolated from each other, so that this tremendous Eros that is sacred to us, that is rooted in us, that is the true flowing-out of a new kind of love, an embodied, divine love, cannot escape, cannot do its holy work of binding us together and initiating us into the feast that we are offered by the Father-Mother, the feast of living in communion.
TS: Now, in terms of Shadow work, let’s say somebody’s listening, and their experience is, “Yes, I have a lot of body hatred. That’s true. I hear this vision that you’re describing, Andrew, of this divinized human being, this transcendent and imminent blessed body, but I’m not there.” What would you suggest as the Shadow work path, if you will, to that kind of blessed body being?
AH: Well, I think there’s a wonderful beginning, and that is to write a letter to yourself about all the different ways you’ve treated and looked at your body. Just take a sober weekend to look over your relationship with your body, and ask your body how you’ve treated it. Look at the religious conditioning that you’ve had, and all the messages about the body, and about sex, and about living in the body that you’ve had, both from the conventional religions and the mystical religions.
Look at all the messages you’ve had about your body. Is it beautiful? Is it fat? Is it too thin? Is it intellectual-looking? Is it hunk-looking? All those objectifications, and how they’ve wounded you. Look at all the sufferings that you’ve had through the body, the pain that you’ve been through, the backache, the illnesses. Look at the heartbreak that being in the body, loving those who haven’t loved you, or did love you but betrayed you, look at that. Look at that stored in the body.
Then realize that you’re not on your own in this work, and truly feel how a golden light is pouring down through the top of your head into your being as you go through this work. That golden light is coming straight from the source, and it fills you up with joy and peace and strength so that you can feel ever more confident in exposing yourself to yourself in this way. Does that make sense? It’s so important.
TS: It does. I love the golden light showering through, and all the historical excavation, too. I think yes, very much so.
AH: Because it’s so how we all… You know, I’m in my sixties, and I think even you have come into this senior age, and when I contemplate in myself the work that I’ve had to do to come to bless my body and bless my sexuality, I can only imagine what hundreds of thousands, millions, of other people have gone through. It’s just unbelievable what you have to wade through in terms of a communal Shadow, the religious Shadow, to get to an honest, radiant acceptance of yourself, and an honest, radiant acceptance of the divinity of your sexuality.
It’s a huge slog through the worst shadows, but it’s a marvelous one, because at the beginning of the end of it, you glimpse this new humanity that’s possible now, because you do see people pursuing androgyny now. You do see people breaking out of the gay/straight box now. You do see men evolving their deep sacred feminine side now, and embracing their gay brothers with deep love. It’s an amazing time, despite the horror of everything, and that’s because these people have done their real Shadow work. It’s very encouraging, don’t you feel? I don’t want to end on a bleak note.
TS: No, I think you’re saying something really important. What I also like is that you’re connecting the dots for people about the work that we do in a very simple way to love our thighs, and our ass, and the shape of our torso. That work actually has a collective repercussion, and ripples out.
AH: Are you kidding? If you love your body, you’ll react to everybody in a different way. That means every single reaction of yours will be different, because it will come from self-love, and confidence, and tender, humble confidence.
TS: It also creates a different collective field of acceptance about different body shapes, and sizes, and types of sexuality, et cetera. It changes the social norms.
AH: Absolutely. That’s what I experience in India. I experience a world in which people are relating with what I call sacred Eros. They’re deeply attuned to each other. They’re loving each others’ looks, their bodies, old, gay, straight, young. Everybody’s embraced by this fundamental tenderness of being. It’s an amazing experience. I know this is part of the human psyche. It’s just that in the West, we’ve created this sterile, cold concentration camp in which the body is imprisoned or bombarded with crazy messages about how it should look, and that makes us deeply dissociated from the ordinary, voluptuous tenderness of our bodies.
TS: OK, Andrew. There’s this one final area that I want to talk to you about, especially because here at Sounds True, as you know, we publish the work of spiritual teachers, along with healers, and artists, and different kinds of writers. I want to talk specifically about spiritual teachers for a moment, because in [The Shadow Course] program, you talk about something called “the golden shadow”, and how sometimes we project our own magnificence onto other people, like teachers, and how this can get us into all kinds of trouble. I’d love if you could talk a little bit about the golden shadow, and how projecting it onto others can create real difficulties for us.
AH: This golden shadow is a very hard shadow to detect in one’s self, and it’s a very humbling shadow when you uncover it, because what you uncover when you uncover it is that you have been projecting onto those you venerate. Say it’s a very holy guru. Say it’s Jesus. Say it’s the Buddha. You’ve been projecting onto these sacred iconic figures your own unlived powers of compassion, your own unlived wisdom, your own unlived splendor, and you uncover that it’s been very convenient for you to do so, because while you were adoring them, you were continuing to be you, ignorant, and greedy, and selfish, and narcissistic, while convincing yourself that you were doing real spiritual work, which is nothing less than claiming back the powers that you projected onto them and daring to pay the price in the core of your life for living them out, daring to go through an authentic transformation that makes you an authentic bearer of the same flame that you’ve loved in them.
That is the real core choice of the spiritual path. You have to come to a place where you withdraw the adoration for all beings except the one, the one reality, because if you continue to adore beings beyond yourself, you’re continuing to limit yourself in a way that actually conveniently keeps you from the authentic fire of the authentic transformation. This is very dangerous, and it’s what we all do until we’re shattered beyond belief and have to crawl up in the nothingness towards a new vision of God.
That’s why the Dark Night is such a central, important process, because it’s only our individual Dark Night taken to its most extreme level that can get us to the place where we go beyond this magical thinking, even at this subtle level, and just say, “I’m nothing, and I’m everything, and it’s your grace. I’m living my life by your grace, and I’m going to honor it, and embody it as far as I can, and give everything that you give me away.” That’s the only reaction that you can have.
TS: But Andrew, let’s make a distinction, if you will. Let’s say someone says, “You know, I’ve been studying with this teacher or that teacher, and they are a lot further along the spiritual path than I am. I see light around them, and I adore them.” What’s the difference between that and projecting a golden shadow, and not claiming our own light? Can’t we still revere and adore and feel devoted to great teachers?
AH: I think we must revere and adore and be devoted to great teachers, but we must also see them as human beings with shadows. We must also be prepared to look at the teachings and see if they have shadows, because even the greatest teachers, in my experience, have human shadows which need to be transparent, and even the greatest teachings will have subtle shadows which will emerge if you question them. That doesn’t diminish the power of the relationship. In fact, it increases it, because it increases your self responsibility for your own evolution through honoring them, but through not idolizing them. That is a very crucial distinction.
I think it’s possible to have a love like that. I feel in my own life, I had it with Father Bede Griffiths. I absolutely loved him, and loved him beyond reason, and loved him with sacred passion, loved every part of him, and entered in that love into a deep communion with him in which he could share with me the highest and deepest secrets so effortlessly and with such truth, so I’ve had an experience of that kind of love.
TS: Yet, you’re saying you were aware of Father Bede Griffiths’ Shadow at the same time.
AH: Well, I was aware that there’d been a deep emotional and sexual repression in his life, so was he. I was aware that he’d gone too far into the luminous mind, and that it took a stroke to get him into his sacred heart, in which he was so resplendent and so amazing in a way that just took my breath away. He was very ruthless about his own journey, because he knew that the kinds of traditions and disciplines that he had been addicted to had taken him away in deep ways from the work of radical embodiment, but he was brutally birthed into that aging body, and he lived in it in his last six years, blazing with a new kind of love. That gave him the insight into all the tragedies and betrayals that he’d done before. That’s how it works. You can’t escape the self-knowledge. It’s what gives you the capacity to help others, because everybody else was trapped in the same shadows as he’d been, and he wanted to help people out of them, and so he was very honest about them.
That, to me, is the real teacher. That goes beyond guru. That gets to the mystery of beloved. Beloved, it’s a very deep form of intimacy, but it requires two people turning up in their full divine human selves, and really looking at each other with one eye incredibly soft and one eye very sober, and really exercising the depths of divine love and divine responsibility together. That’s a new kind of relationship, and it’s the one that is most suited to this great evolutionary adventure.
That requires a great transparence on behalf of the teachers. They’ve got to get down into that Shadow of theirs and really work with it, humbly, in front of people, to really kill any projections that are being done on them, and really model a more authentic way of life. The students have got to become much more responsible for the qualities that they project outward in the golden shadow, and much more responsibility for the Shadows that sabotage those golden qualities. That would have a sane… Then we’d have a sane spiritual world. That’s how I see it.
TS: Now, Andrew, in terms of the golden shadow, why is so hard for people to claim their magnificence? Why is that so hard? You’d think, “It’s my magnificence. It’s my divine, shining light.”
AH: Well, there’s the New Age version of your magnificence, which is the secret potion. That when you’re magnificent, you can attract any Malibu mansion, or Maserati, or Cuban houseboy you want, that kind of idiotic vision of a kind of depraved, narcissistic magnificence. That’s rubbish, obviously. The real reason that people are terrified of their magnificence is because magnificence comes with very, very strong responsibilities, because if you are magnificent, your conscience is clean and cannot support evil, or darkness, or injustice. If you’re magnificent, you’re fearless, and you speak truth to power. If you’re magnificent, you’re fed by streams of sacred passion that give you the guts to stand up, and really call people to task, and warn them of what’s truly coming if they don’t change, and risk all the rubbish that will get hurled against you.
If you’re magnificent, you have to be and act magnificent with your cat, with your dog, with the people in the shops, with everybody around you. This is not something that you feel. This is something that you have to be, have to be. Completely have to enact, have to honor, have to really serve. That’s a very exhausting, troubling, impassioning, fragilizing life. Of course, they’re scared shitless by it, but the truth of the mystic path is that, if you really do the practices seriously serious, you will, over time, get over your fear of being your true self. You will allow the splendor of who you really are to radiate through you. You’ll be brave enough, because grounded enough in sacred practice and in humble Shadow work to support the flame of your true mission and not be… Pay the price willingly, as an act of love, as an act of rapturous love of the beloved in humanity and in the transcendent.
TS: Andrew, in my introduction to this eight-week course that you and Caroline teach on Shadow work, I write to the Sounds True audience that I think of both of you as two world-class Shadow busters, whether you’re Shadow busting about a current event, or other people, or trends, anything. I’m just curious here as we end, what do you think makes you, Andrew Harvey, such a good Shadow buster?
AH: Well, the honest truth is that I have all these Shadows myself, and on my journey, I’ve been compelled to face them all in myself. There’s nothing that I can see outside that I can’t identify in myself. That’s the terrible reward of Shadow work. The glory of that is I’m discovering that it really opens you to all beings with a new level of insight, and a new level of heartbroken, and amused, and generous compassion, because you realize you’re just as much an inmate in the same madhouse as they are. You’re in the same rotten boat of meat. You’re in the same terrible predicament of illusion.
It’s time you got a lot kinder, and a lot gentler, but a lot fiercer too when necessary, and just be elder, and do it as a act of profound love beyond hope for others, because it may well be that the world will be, or could be, as my mother dying of Alzheimer’s, beyond any hope of recovery, but we’ll still be needed to be there loving and blessing life, and radiating compassion. That’s the ultimate goal of the lover, and that’s the bodhisattva, that’s the Christ, that’s all the greatest ideals in on. That’s our job too at this moment, to go for that, and pay whatever price is necessary to be that, to inspire others humbly to do their absolute best to encourage each other.
TS: I’ve been speaking with Andrew Harvey, and with Caroline Myss, they’ll be teaching an eight-week journey [in The Shadow Course]. It begins on September first—An Online Journey to Know Yourself and Bring Light to the World. I hope you’ll join us. You can find out more at SoundsTrue.com. Meanwhile, Andrew, thank you. Thank you for your honesty, and your groundedness, and your great heart, and for being a fellow inmate. I notice somehow I feel less crazy talking to you, if that makes any sense.
AH: Well, I hope everybody out there feels less crazy, because what could we be but crazy at such a moment? We’ve got to be compassionate with each other, and we’ve got to realize just how deep the madness is. That will make us more skillful with how we deal with the other inmates, and with ourselves.
TS: SoundsTrue.com, many voices, one journey. Thanks for listening, everyone.