HJ: Life is a never ending journey of awakening and growth. The sooner you realize this and begin embracing it, the more fun and flowing it becomes. This is because you are aligning yourself with the natural rhythms of life and more specifically, the universe as a whole. In this deep, fascinating interview, spiritual teacher Richard Harvey gives insight into working through the three stages of spiritual awakening.
Interview on the Three Stages of Awakening
You speak of a threefold model of human awakening through deepening levels of awareness. The first level is what we usually think of as personal therapy, the second is a personal transformation that leads to authenticity, and the third is the realization of the true Self. Could you clearly summarize the relationship between personal therapy, personal authenticity and Self-Realization?
Deep inner change leads to personal transformation and spiritual awakening. It begins with personal therapy. Personal therapy may be an end in itself or a prelude for the life of authenticity, genuine relationship and engagement with others and the world. Personal therapy is connected to spiritual growth through this middle stage, which I call the transformation into authenticity.
Personal therapy can be completed. In the process of inner work there is a point where you feel a sense of completion or personal wholeness. This is the condition of embracing your so-called shadow side, which comprises all that you have denied or repressed, and stored in your deep unconscious. When you live with an acceptance of the shadow alongside your acceptance of your conscious self, you have embraced your whole self. This sense of completion is like a journey around the self. You have realized the wholeness of your personality and found the edges of your egoic limits.
So, beyond the usual parameters of personal therapy, a permanent transformation may come about, which is the flowering of inner work. This is the authentic self. Personal authenticity prepares the way for awakening by connecting us to the source of life or consciousness.
So, to summarize, in personal therapy you begin with the practice of awareness which leads to self-discovery and change, where you reach the edges of the personality, the conditioning from your early life and your small sense of self.
In the second stage you can choose to cross a psychological threshold – it is a kind of death, but it is also the birth of the psyche or soul into the world and it represents an irreversible transformation of the self into authenticity.
In the third stage the true Self awakens, but it has always been here in consciousness as a reflection of the Absolute and you journey past the world of duality, the opposites, and division and separation in which the individual personality is dissolved. This is human awakening. It’s like waking up into a place you have been asleep in or unaware of or oblivious to. This is why the journey of personal and spiritual growth, when you see it through, brings you to a place of great joy, a mood of tremendous elation.
This is expressed in the idea of rapture, ecstasy or bliss – or satchitananda in the Hindu tradition. After all you have been through, all the tests and ordeals, all the suffering and trials, the struggle, confusion and angst, the end of the road is finally realizing that there is no journey to the present moment: no way or path is necessary to where we already are! Your whole dualistic way of thinking prescribed your experience for you: it was never really like that at all!
So, first we discover ourselves, then we transform into authenticity and, finally, we awaken?
The order of awakening is awareness, transformation, and realization. Today we are having a hard time meeting the first of these – awareness. Because it seems increasingly hard in a relatively superficial, increasingly amoral, fickle and speed-driven culture to recognize, honor or even value such things as these. After all they are essentially invisible and practicing them doesn’t necessarily give you status in a materialistic world where prestige, acquisition and conformity are prized so highly.
But when we awaken aren’t we simply conforming too, albeit to another set of values?
No. Awakening is the full flowering of the self. Transcendence is expressed in individual form; even the ego is surrendered in service to the All. The way it is done is impersonal, but the expression is intensely personal.
What are the roles of fear and desire?
The twin states of fear and desire dominate human existence. When we succumb to them they limit our potential for growth and discovery. To guide us beyond both is the role of the psycho-spiritual therapist.
Fear is founded on our self-contraction, on our projection of a death-dealing force outside ourselves. Desire is rooted in our belief in lack, that something outside ourselves is required to make us whole and complete. Developing courage, resilience and applying ourselves to true ‘unfolding’, we see through the lies of fear and desire and grow into our true potential and beyond our exclusive identity with our self.
Would you say something about self-identity and the troubled state of the world today, because it seems to me that the two are somehow connected?
Essentially we do not know who we are. Thoughts, fantasy and unreality form a false self. We do not know how to act in relationship to one another and to the world. When being is not connected with doing, others become merely screens for our projections of inner states; thoughts, feelings, judgments and reactions. The condition of the world is a broader projection canvas that we create in our own image by projecting and manifesting our fears and anger. We feel disconnected from the source of life; educated by parents, teachers, politicians and other authority figures to not see, speak or honor deep truth and matters of soul and spirit. Love, compassion, wisdom, enlightenment become misunderstood, misrepresented or simply avoided altogether.
Today, in the affluent West, our concerns are many and diverse. We are obsessed and distracted by fantasies of happiness and fulfillment, anxious about physical and mental health, illness and aging. We dream about money and wealth, loving relationships and how to be better human beings. We desire and long for the house, home and lifestyle we want. We are ambitious and seek our self worth in our work and careers. We are confused about how to deal with strong emotions like depression, anxiety, anger and grief. We wrestle with inner conflicts and many suffer from a sense of meaninglessness or lack of purpose. Others are troubled at their lack of creativity and passion. Some struggle with personal development and spiritual hunger.
And how should we deal with this surfeit of hardships and difficulties?
We need to truly relate to ourselves, others and the world with clarity, compassion and wisdom, by centering in our heart and seeking a new way of being, doing, working and relating, and by illuminating our inner world through the practices of awareness and wise reflection.
But how can we do this? How do we attain these levels of inner and outer practices?
We can attain all this through taking ourselves seriously and embarking on the inner journey to wholeness and by realizing our true nature through inner work.
And inner work is the practice of therapy and spiritual growth?
Richard Harvey is a psychotherapist, author and spiritual teacher. He is the founder-director of Therapy and Spirituality, a personal and spiritual growth center situated in the Sierra Nevada mountains in Spain. His background is in Humanistic and Transpersonal psychologies, Taoism and Zen. He is trained in western psychology and eastern meditative methods, psycho-spiritual psychotherapy and bodywork. The author of The Flight of Consciousness and several other books and articles focused on realizing our true selves, his innovative approach to human development, The Three Stages of Awakening, is discussed in his latest book, Human Awakening.