More than all else do I cherish at heart that love that makes one to live a limitless life in this world.
In 2009 Andrew Harvey published his groundbreaking book, The Hope: A Guide To Sacred Activism in which he clearly articulated why the mystic or anyone committed to a spiritual path is obliged to incorporate activism into the journey and why an activist is equally obliged to integrate some form of spirituality into the causes for which he or she struggles. Few have elucidated so incisively why the sacred and activism so desperately need each other and why without a marriage between them, both efforts can be only partially successful.
That same year I met Andrew after sending him a copy of my book Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path Of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse. From that moment, Andrew and I have been allies in our work in the world which is to prepare our fellow humans emotionally and spiritually for “Navigating The Coming Chaos,” the title of my 2011 book which I owe directly to Andrew who graciously wrote its foreword. In the fall of 2009 I was the keynote speaker at the annual conference of his newly-founded Institute of Sacred Activism. It was there that I had my first exposure to the passion of this man who spoke of “making radical sacred mischief” in the world and who threw his entire being and body into teaching the participants the integration of mysticism and activism.
What most drew me further toward Andrew after our initial contact was that he completely understood the predicament of our planet and clearly grasped the notion of the collapse of industrial civilization. For me, this was huge because so often I had been told by members of spiritual communities that my work was “too negative” and that I wasn’t offering enough “hope” to my audience. Suddenly, I had met an ally who was integrating spirituality and activism, collapse and transformation who understood precisely the severity of our situation—who could stare down the collapse of industrial civilization and yet remain passionately in love with life, joy, beauty, sensuality, and as I said before, make radical mischief.
And now here in 2013, subsequent to 17 other books, we have yet another from Andrew Harvey entitled, Radical Passion: Sacred Love And Wisdom In Action (North Atlantic Books, 2011) But why should anyone read this 556-page tome? I suggest that question can be answered quite simply: To experience the passion of Andrew Harvey and allow its infectious magic to permeate one’s psyche and body so that one might be empowered to move through the fear and despair of our time. The stories, conversations, interviews (both with Andrew and by him), and reflections found in this book are desperately needed by anyone who has allowed themselves to know the full truth of our planetary emergency and who also feels compelled to expend every effort to make a difference.
We have our first glimpse of Andrew in Radical Passion, in Hillary Hart’s, opening memoir, “Blaze of Light, Blood of Creation.” She recounts sitting with Andrew in the twilight of a desert night outside Las Vegas at a roadside pullout, and this is where we get our first taste of the brilliantly articulate passion of Andrew. He launches into monologue, but sometimes dialogue and allows the words and emotions of the mystical activist to pour forth. He chides those on a spiritual path who argue that the world is “an illusion” from which we should remain detached. In response to this, Andrew asserts:
When one takes a transcendent stance and limits life and the world as an illusion, it becomes difficult to engage in the problems of the world and to work to resolve these problems. Passionate engagement in life includes the willingness to experience, deeply, the needs of the world and the suffering within life. (26)
For Andrew, the spiritual path necessitates “passionate engagement” with life, not fleeing from what he repeatedly calls “the initiation into heartbreak.” Despite the departures of their followers, all great teachers have insisted on this kind of engagement which invariably compels us to serve and heal, using our innate gifts and acquired skills.
Like me, Andrew is often asked if he is “optimistic” or “pessimistic” about the future. His reply, “…both optimism and pessimism are now luxuries we can ill afford. Optimism is crazy given the facts….Yet pessimism is also crazy; it just conspires with catastrophe by imagining it to be inevitable. (It) may be likely, but it is never inevitable….The only response that I find honorable in this potentially terminal situation is that of dedicated love. Whatever happens, whatever horror or destruction unfurls upon the world, however terrible the suffering of human beings and nature becomes, such a response keeps the heart open and keeps alive courage and compassion.” (34-35)
Throughout Radical Passion and in all of Andrew’s writing and teaching, he tenaciously articulates the urgency for union of the masculine and feminine principles both among and within human beings. Deeply influenced by the work of Carl Jung, Andrew celebrates the feminine and masculine archetypes that inhabit the human psyche and that he believes are being transformed within consciousness. Disownment of the feminine in favor of power, control, economic and resource conquest, plunder, pillage, and the desecration of the earth must be forsaken by a return to the feminine principle of relatedness, sharing, love, and the creation of beauty. What is no longer working, he argues, is obsession with the masculine and diminishment of the feminine. One is not better than the other because both are absolutely necessary aspects of all human beings, but what is now required is a marriage, an integration of both—a notion, yes an archetype itself defined by Jung as the Sacred Marriage.
Androgynously, Andrew not only cherishes his identity as a gay man but writes freely of his agonizing struggle earlier in his life with a female Hindu guru who presented him with an ultimatum in relation to his sexual orientation. She demanded that he choose between following his path of devotion to her or remaining with his male partner. Given his adoration of both human beings, Andrew was torn to pieces emotionally by this demand. In Radical Passion and in The Hope, he shares the story of this deep soul wound from which he is now recovering. In choosing to remain with his partner, Andrew discovered the inestimable value and absolute necessity of commitment to an embodied, humanity-savoring spiritual journey which has profoundly informed and irrevocably altered his relationship with both sexuality and the sacred. In fact, from my perspective, through such anguish, a sacred marriage within Andrew occurred—one which caused him to deeply immerse himself in the fullness of his humanity as well as the depth of his longing for the sacred.
Along the way, Andrew became a scholar and translator of the thirteenth-century mystic and poet, Rumi. And I must add, not surprisingly, that in my opinion, no one recites Rumi as exquisitely as Andrew. Along with German-born musician and producer, Andrew has recorded “A Rumi Symphony” in which he recites Rumi with extraordinary accompaniment by Christian. The album contains one disc of both poetry and music and another disc of music only and has become one of my most prized treasures in recent months.
Andrew incessantly asks his audience why Rumi is returning in popularity so profoundly in the twenty-first century. Rumi’s work, he insists, “is especially important in a time like ours, when the entire planet and nature itself are passing through an experience of prolonged breakdown, even crucifixion. More than ever we need guides to ordeal and its hidden mystical meanings, and Rumi, of all mystics and teacher, is the most experienced in what might be called the ‘alchemy of agony.’ The splendor of his fearlessness, humility, and endless courage can help us all develop those powers of insight and trust that could enable us to transmute catastrophe into an opening for massive spiritual growth.”(89)
But before proceeding, it would be well to define the word mystic. One could say that mystical knowledge is simply knowledge of the sacred which is by definition, somewhat hidden or esoteric. It differs from common, rational knowledge because it arrives through experience, not through thinking. It is inherently mysterious and relates to the deeper mysteries of existence. These three italicized words, mystic, mysterious, and mysteries, are related. Other words to which all three relate are the words myth or mythological. In ancient times, mysteries were often imparted through the telling of myths.
Mystical experience is very personal and private. Although anyone may experience it, not many do not because it is often protected and overseen within specific mystical traditions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or some indigenous tradition. Generally, the seeker of mystical knowledge must be initiated into its mysteries. Whereas mystical knowledge is knowledge of the sacred, it is not synonymous with religion. In fact, throughout history, mystical aspects of great traditions have evolved alongside the sanctioned, orthodox perspective. For example, Judaism has its Kabbalah aspect, Islam has Sufism, and Christianity has a long history of mystical knowledge both in ancient and contemporary times. Furthermore, it has often been the mystical branches of the great traditions that have called them into question when they have strayed onto hierarchical and materialistic paths.
Since the Enlightenment, mystical knowledge has been minimized, even demeaned in the West as “unscientific.” Only knowledge gained intellectually through the scientific method was deemed valid by Enlightenment thinkers. However, Andrew Harvey argues that one likely outcome of the current collapse of industrial civilization and its glorification of the intellect is that yet another marriage, that of the rational with the sacred, is in process. Mystics and scientists need one another, he asserts, declaring that “It is time that Westerners realize that mystics are scientists of their domain.”
When asked by interviewer, Rose Solari, in Radical Passion to define the word mystic, Andrew replies:
A mystic is someone who has a naked, direct relationship with the divine presence….I used to believe that there were very few real mystics; I now believe that everyone is a closet mystic. Everyone has deep glimpses of the divine in dreams, in lovemaking, in exalted moments of friendship, in moments of aesthetic ecstasy, looking at a great painting or listening to music. (385)
I concur with Andrew that sacred, mystical knowledge—an appreciation for the interdependence of all things, the union of masculine and feminine, passionate engagement with the world alongside transcendent spiritual practices, and the surrender of the human ego to a greater mystery within the psyche and in the world—only these will sustain and fortify us as we navigate an unprecedented unraveling. As Andrew puts it:
Unless our fundamental sacred connectedness with every being and thing is experienced deeply and enacted everywhere, religious, political, and other differences will go on creating intolerable conflict that can only increase the already dangerously high chances of our self-annihilation. (187)
One aspect of mysticism that the human ego prefers to bypass but which is absolutely inherent in the mystical path is suffering. By this I do not mean the kind of suffering glorified by some Medieval mystics involving self-flagellation, deprivation, or other masochistic practices motivated by a desire to be perceived as deeply spiritual. Rather, a mystic is a person whose life has been attended by a certain degree of suffering and who has maintained a commitment to allow suffering to be his or her teacher. The mystical man or woman has learned that while life offers experiences that are wildly beautiful, erotic, sensuous, humorous, tender, awe-inspiring, pleasurable, and profoundly connecting, life also offers other experiences that are agonizingly ugly, brutal, unjust, poignant, despairing, and utterly contentious. The authentic mystic has the capacity to hold both in his or her heart and body. In fact, the capacity to tolerate and embrace paradox is fundamental in the mystical path. He or she understands that not only do we suffer as individuals but that cultures invariably suffer as their paradigms and larger systems unravel.
Andrew’s work, and mine, are all about supporting awake human beings who are willing to stare the collapse of industrial civilization in the face in living the mysteries of their own deeper wisdom, in other words, the mystical path. Author and spiritual teacher, Caroline Myss when being interviewed by Andrew in Radical Passion refers to the enormous debt we owe to mystics of all traditions whom she says, assist us in discovering “the profound power of the soul.” And not only do we need this empowerment personally, but for the purpose of sustaining ourselves in the coming chaos:
What they knew is what many people are now discovering in their own way; the more the outside world spins out of control, the more your interior world must assume full control. Acquiring material goods will not help you to make sense of the massive changes occurring within this world, and you have to be blind to think that America or the rest of the world is headed toward peace. (335)
If you struggle with despair, as we all do from time to time, regarding the dire, daunting, future into which we are being catapulted by the madness of our own human devices, give yourself the gift of immersion in Andrew Harvey’s Radical Passion. And as he would say to everyone who wants to find the sacred in life, fall in love with life. “Dare to fall in love with creation. Dare to fall in love with human beings, cats, flowers, and stones…Mozart, Rumi, and Shakespeare. Dare to let passion for love, which is the core nature of the soul, out. Dare to experience love in all its facets.” (497)