Apr/May 2006 Miscellaneous

An Encounter With Andrew Harvey

by John Palcewski

"By the way, darling," Leila said. "You must meet a dear friend of mine, who will be coming in from JFK tomorrow. Andrew Harvey. I've known him for about thirty years, and he's almost like a son to me. You'll find him intriguing. He's a Christian/Buddhist mystic who has written dozens and dozens of marvelous, fabulous, incredible books. I think you and he will have a lot to talk about."

"I'll be delighted," I said.

A few mouse clicks brought up some biographical information on Leila's friend Andrew. In his introduction to Teachings of the Hindu Mystics, he writes:

In the Gita, Lord Krishna teaches his disciple Arjuna the timeless secret of an action inspired by divine will, wisdom, love, and knowledge, performed for its own sake and without attachment to results; only such action, Krishna tells Arjuna, can free a person from the chains of karma and also allow the Divine to use him or her for Its own purpose without any interference of the false self and so secure the triumph of sacred law and justice in history.

Also this:

Whatever path you are on, then, use these texts not as intellectual puzzles but as signs of your essential splendor; pray, meditate, and serve others so that the wordless truth behind these truths can be revealed to you in your own life.

Andrew says:

"God is after all both Eternal Being and Eternal becoming" and "Both aspects of the Godhead are open to us to taste, savor, celebrate, and enshrine, and life itself is the dancing ground of this divine human dance of opposites; the site of a perpetually evolving Sacred Marriage between matter and spirit whose potential possibilities and glories are boundless."

Now, when Andrew and I meet, I think I'll ask him: "Tell, me, sir, how do you know this is so?"

He makes many references to the tenets of ancient religious and spiritual traditions. But again: How did all these ancient writers know it was so?

Maybe in our conversation I should quote Bob Persig, from his Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:

Philosophical mysticism, the idea that truth is indefinable and can be apprehended only by nonrational means, has been with us since the beginning of history. It's the basis of Zen practice. But it's not an academic subject. The academy is concerned exclusively with those things that can be defined, and if one wants to be a mystic, his place is in a monastery, not a University. Universities are places where things should be spelled out.

Oh, how dearly I love to see things spelled out!

Maybe Andrew will tell me what Maria's convoluted situation suggests to him. How does he evaluate it? Hell, I have no clue what we'll talk about. I'll just play it by ear. What happens, happens. I'll take his picture. Listen to him talk. Ask him to explain it to me, in simple language. We'll either hit it off, or we won't.


Not surprisingly I had a dream about Andrew last night. In the dream Leila orders me to go to one of the guest rooms where he's staying and get something from him. I knock gently on the door, but the room is empty. All his suitcases are open and his belongings are scattered about. On the unmade bed he's left five or six expensive suits made of dark blue shiny material, and I feel compelled to arrange them neatly, so as not to annoy Leila, who abhors disorder. On the chair in the corner is a large open case containing silk neckties and cuff links and watches, and I look them over. There's also a box full of wrapped presents, with little labels on them. One says "Leila." There isn't one for me. But I'm not entirely disappointed.


Andrew calls. He says Leila has spoken of me with great enthusiasm, and he is looking forward to our meeting. "How about at eleven, today? Are you free?"

"Yes," I reply. "And eleven is fine."

He asks what I'd like to discuss, and I reply that I'd read in one of his books that mysticism is essentially a practical belief system, so perhaps he might have some suggestions on how to deal with some difficult aspects of the novel I'm writing. And of course I'd appreciate any insights he might give me regarding the identity crisis Maria is going through as a result of learning she was adopted.

"Of course," he says. "I'll be honored."


Andrew and I take seats in the den off the massive living room. I turn on my tape recorder, and we begin the conversation.


John Palcewski:     In "The Sun at Midnight" you discuss the Christian concept of the dark night of the soul, in which the false self must die so that the true self can be born. Maria in her deep trauma of learning that she was adopted has experienced a metaphorical death. And it's a torment to her. And I'm wondering: What will Maria be born into if Sophia Loren, as expected, denies being her mother?

Andrew Harvey:     I think Maria probably will have to use this torment as a way of finding out who her real parents are. And our real parents aren't only the people who gave birth to us in this dimension, or this life. Our real parents are the divine father and the divine mother who are birthing the cosmos.

And very often really authentic spiritual searches are started by a troubling, disturbing problem with either one's father, or mother, or both. And there seems to be something written into the karmic law of those beings who are destined to have a very profound mystical opening in this life that shatters the normal links between parent and child. This shattering compels us to go on an archetypal journey to find the authentic parents of the universe.

And maybe what this whole thing is about is not only Maria's trying to find out if her biological mother is able to really understand the responsibility she has to her, maybe this whole journey is about Maria going beyond biography, going beyond the need to have any kind of parents in place, to find out her ground of being, or the light from which she is born, and to live the authentic spiritual existence that comes from that.

I know something about this because while I wasn't abandoned by my parents, but in a sense I was abandoned by my mother because I was sent to school at six. There was a complicated relationship with both my mother and my father. And the wound that was inflicted upon my psyche by the abandonment by my mother led me on the most passionate search to find her divine mother. Because I couldn't have existed or continued to exist had I not eventually found her. Beyond biography.

So I know what the wound of the parent can do. And how in the end if you stop being obsessed by the wound itself and start imagining why the wound has been given to you, what is the reason for this wound, what is the reason for this radical shattering of identity. Is it just punishment or craziness or madness or desolation?

It is partly, but I think the deeper reason is to compel your Maria to go on this search to find out who she really is, beyond sex, beyond biography, beyond parents, beyond everything.

That's what I'd suggest to her.

JP:     Last year Time Magazine ran an article that explored what it called the genetic component to religious or spiritual experiences, which suggests that some of us are less inherently disposed to them than others. What if that turns out to be the case with Maria?

AH:     I don't think that can be true. I believe everyone has the Christ nature and the Buddha nature and the Buddha consciousness--let's call it the Divine consciousness. Everyone has it. It's the original blessing all beings are born with.

Now, there may be all sorts of karmic reasons why it may be obscured. It could be, for instance, that one comes into the world at a different level of evolution, or of possibility. But it seems to me that if Maria is, in effect, cursed with such a dramatic and terrible problem, she also can simultaneously find herself immersed in a stream of great blessing--provided that she can go to the right teachers who will give her the help she'll need to heal.

In my experience this is true. When God sends a terrible affliction, God also sends the extraordinary mercy and the extraordinary grace by which that affliction can be transformed into a radical blessing.

JP:     You are putting all this into very positive terms.

AH:     I always feel the Divine never sends horror without also sending extreme grace. Never. The pain that's sent to you is like a knife that you can either kill yourself with, or that you can use to cut obsessions and illusions that are actually stopping your soul from evolving on the highest level. My advice to Maria would be to try to get beyond the agony she's experiencing, and to begin the search for her authentic identity.

JP:     Early in our relationship Maria asked me what I felt for her, and she meant besides the sex. At that point in my life I was through with lying, and I heard myself telling her: "I believe God put me in your life more as a bridge than a destination." And this angered her because she interpreted it as me saying, "I don't love you."

AH:     You weren't saying that at all. You were saying you were sent as a helper, as a sort of birthing person.

JP:     I'm reminded of your reference, in the preface to "Teachings of the Hindu Mystics," to Krishna's teaching of the importance of an "action inspired by divine will, wisdom, love and knowledge, performed for its own sake and without attachment to results." Well, I'm quite determined to try to help Maria in any way that I can, but I can't allow myself to believe I can succeed.

AH:     I think that's very wise. I think also that you must set a kind of time line or limit to your involvement. Sometimes life brings us to these tragic positions in which the person we love most in the world is lying out in a battlefield being shot at, and we're behind a rock, and in order to save them we risk our own lives. And you have to be very careful about being in that kind of dangerous position.

JP:     I feel that what I'm trying to do for Maria is perhaps of more value to me than it might be for her.

AH:     What you're doing for Maria is part of your own divine search, it's an act of love. But helping is a very complex thing, there are limits. And we are much less powerful than we imagine.

JP:     Yes, I understand.

AH:     What you can do, most of all, is offer Maria in prayer to the divine, so that she can find her own way through. You can offer her a lot of help but it's very important to realize the limits of one's own power. It's very difficult to realize; I'm facing it in my own life at the moment and it's an agonizing thing, it's really tragic. It's a sort of crucifixion to realize--and I hope this isn't true--that Maria might have a very ferocious and terrible destiny in this life, and it may not be possible to heal her. And the only way you'll be able to do the work that you want to do is by accepting the worst and hoping--without agenda--for the best.

JP:     Yes. I believe she sees the novel as a means of liberation from her restrictive southern Italian family culture, to finally become independent. She's 40 years old, but is still very much under her father's influence, and she's struggling to escape--without hurting him. That's very important to her. Very early on in our relationship she asked me to help her, and of course I agreed. But, having lived now five years in Italy, I realize I severely underestimated the great power family has in that culture.

AH:     But the truth is that the only thing that's going to give her the strength to liberate herself is a discovery of who she is. And not just by fully understanding the identity of her biological parents. It must be a larger and deeper discovery. She's obviously been wounded too deeply, and she's too trapped, and she's too fragile to be helped merely by La Prima Donna's acknowledging she's Maria's mother.

JP:     That's true.

AH:     It's got to be a radical healing because there's a wound deeper, even, than this identity business.

JP:     When Maria arrives here in New York soon our generous hostess and I will be better able to assess her state of mind, and to see what we'll be able to do for her.

AH:     I want to just give you a few prayers. Does she have a religious mind?

JP:     I'd say she, like many of us, is a refugee from Catholicism.

AH:     That's good, because she's not trapped in any one religion. Does she have a spiritual intelligence, does she believe in the existence of the spirit, of a force of love in the universe?

JP:     Yes, she believes in God, but just can't go along with the dogma of the church.

AH:     That's perfect. Maybe the most wonderful thing for her to do is start meeting people who are not religious, but holy. So I would ask her if she would see some of the great spiritual teachers who are here New York. Take her to see the Tibetans. There are many others with whom she could connect. If she could work with someone who is a real, authentic spiritual teacher then she could find hope. She must do meditation, she must start to really pray.

Now, you mentioned earlier that she has amnesia. Amnesia could be a kind of divine grace. To wipe everything away so that she can concentrate on what is beyond the facts.

JP:     You speak often of the symbolic death that must precede a spiritual rebirth.

AH:     Yes, it might be the Divine's way of saying to her, don't concentrate on the facts of the past, concentrate on what you find to be the truth of the present moment. And I think what she really needs is to start a meditation practice, simply, and be in connection with a truly holy person who can help bring her into the realm of the spirit. And as a friend, not necessarily as a guru or anything, just someone she can work with.

I suspect your Maria needs an older person, because she needs someone who could be the good parent, and I suspect it should be a man. There's an amazing man in New York, a truly holy person, who is a great friend of our hostess, his name is Jim Morton. And Robert Thurman, who is a Tibetan scholar and also a man named Gelek Rinpoche, who is a marvelous Tibetan teacher and who is very tender and kind. I have a feeling she needs someone who is wise, deep, and sweet and who will simply help her come to understand her authentic nature. It's very unlikely that La Prima Donna is going to acknowledge her, let's face it.

I think God has placed her in this terrible existential nightmare, but at the same time she's being offered a way out of it. But the way out is at the deepest level. You may try to help her see there is no way except by going deeply within herself, to find a connection with divine love.

JP:     You may well be right.

AH:     One of the things I learned when I was working with Sogyal Rinpoche in co-writing The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying is that we travel many lifetimes and we choose our parents when we come in. It's a very strange business. And they are our parents for this lifetime and we choose them for karmic reasons and the karma we get from them is part of this evolving, strange journey we're on. But the most important thing in this life is to go beyond the karmic formation and find out the truth of our relationship with the divine.

And Maria has no hope without that now. All her other supports have been taken away, including the support of memory. But they may have been taken away precisely to make possible this transcendent leap in her life. But that will only be possible if she meets a truly holy person who wants nothing from her, emotionally or sexually.

JP:     You should know that Maria has enormous charisma and men of all ages are instantly drawn to her.

AH:     But you see she needs to find a beautiful older man who is serene, and who has a good marriage, like Jim Morton. He's a wonderful man, sublimely kind, and totally unpretentious. He could be a spiritual mentor to her and he could pray with her and teach her some ways of praying, doing meditations, and just be somebody she could just talk to.

And of course you need to be very careful. It's going to be important for you to be there with her, because you'll be able see the signs of whether these men are after her or whatever. But she needs to experience a father/daughter connection of the heart. She needs to find her spiritual father. Not her mother. But her father. I feel that. Because then the mother will come. But from the father she needs to be blessed in that final way. Because the father problem for her is much deeper than the problem with her mother.

My prayer for you is that you are committed and detached. That you combine deep love with profound inner separation. You might find--and this may not be the case--but you might find that you become mired in this, and it becomes an obsession. And that would be dangerous for your own spiritual growth. And Maria might need you to take her a part of the way, but there may be a moment when you must let go of her hand.

JP:     I always think of going back to my home in Ischia, and I contemplate the outcome that we might not be together. That's part of my thinking. No circumstance, and no one, can take Ischia away from me.

AH:     No one can take this love from you!

JP:     I'm very linear, very intense. I get as much worked up about a Philadelphia Eagles game as I do about this. This is my kind of energy. I'm a little frightened, but then not completely, if that makes any sense.

AH:     I think you should be a little frightened. Because it keeps you alert. And keeps you humble. Don't overestimate your power, and be prepared for a moment when you will have to let her go. Either into the abyss, or forward in a relationship beyond you. If you're going to do this, you're going to have to make it a very pure, very abnegating act of humble celebration of another person's life. That's a very difficult thing to do. It requires you need to pray a lot. You need to really, really purify your heart. I see you and I appreciate the beauty of the energy you're pouring into this, but I just must warn you that if you are going to help somebody else in this great karmic journey you must constantly scrutinize your own motives. I'm talking to myself--this is something I've done in my life and, believe me, I know a little of the territory you may be entering.

JP:     It seems to me that this is all about finally finding the right path. As opposed to the path I followed when I was younger. In effect a history of hurting people. I've had enough of hurting people. And some of this may be about reparation.

AH:     Please don't think of it as reparation. That can be a trap too.

JP:     I think of it in terms of the very best prayer one can make, and that is "Thy will, not mine, be done."

AH:     Think of it as your heart now being open to love. And love never stops giving. If you think of it as payment you're still in the old cycle of punishment and retribution.

JP:     Maybe my Catholicism is still resonating deep down somewhere.

AH:     Right, that's the old mind. And you'll be like a bulimic, you'll binge and then that's part of the trap. Don't regret the past, don't worry about what happened, just have a spiritual discipline that's simple and that works for you, and realize that you're becoming a lover of humanity. And that you'll be able to give in thousands of ways.

JP:     I don't know if I can take it that far. I'll start with Maria, and perhaps go from there!

AH:     You've got many years ahead of you to rejoice and to give and to love and to open yourself in all kinds of ways. In one year of real life you can make a hundred thousand lifetimes of progress. Just don't look back. And don't make this effort in any way a psychological reparation, rather do it as an act of pure giving. And as the opening of a door into a new of being, and living, and doing. Then you'll be saved from whatever agenda your subconscious has. It's very important.

I think it would be wonderful for you to talk with an excellent Jungian analyst, or somebody familiar with Jung's work, because there are a lot of different things going on in this relationship.

Maria is your muse. She's your anima figure that you're projecting on her, she's your potential for redemption, these are the things you've flung out in the time we've been together.

JP:     Yes.

AH:     Each one of those things constellates archetypes, which have, potentially, very profound shadows and are dangerous. And the more you go into them.

JP:     Please give me an example of a danger.

AH:     An obsession of any kind has the danger that you would be smuggling in your own personal agenda and not paying attention to what Maria needs.

JP:     How does this relate to my attempt to master my craft and my art? One could say that a professional musician is obsessive, in his constant practice. And of course I am obsessive in writing, with the object to be clear and to make something beautiful. Also I'm a photographer, which also is an obsessional path. If you do not shoot, shoot, shoot and if you do not write, write, write, you will never master them. And this is my thing.

AH:     I know what you mean. For me, it's a purifying of the instruments.

JP:     In what sense?

AH:     You may write, write, write, but it all depends on the consciousness which is writing. How high is that consciousness, how clear is that consciousness, how pure is that consciousness, how devoted is that consciousness?

JP:     Let's say that I will keep it at the level of journalism. I am trying to hone my skill to be able to say: THIS is what I saw, and this is what I heard, as clearly as I can. This is my job. I can't tell what's in someone's mind, but I can...

AH:     But you can tell what I'm saying, which would be a good indication!

JP:     Yes, I describe and report and make no comment as to my subject's thoughts or motives. And as for photography, well, the subconscious associations one makes when composing an image, I'm learning, is absolutely mind bending.

AH:     The clearer you are, the more honored you are with all the possibilities and perspectives, the more insight you have into your own deepest motives, and the more aligned you are through contemplation, meditation and prayer, with divine love, then the more your photographs will be informed by that love, and your writing will secretly be governed by that love.

That is why the purification of the instruments is so important. Constantly polishing the mirrors by keeping your mind in a state of readiness and spiritual receptivity. That's the way. And also being psychologically aware of all these different archetypes that are leading you in this particular adventure. Each one of which could be redemptive but each one of which could be destructive. You are dealing with things that have great power. And you must be very, very, very, very careful.

And I beg you to see someone. I think it would be worth paying somebody wonderful for three or four session around this and telling them the story and telling them what you're doing, and really asking them to critique it. Nakedly. Not to hold back. You might be quite shocked by what they say. But that would be good.

JP:     I don't know. I don't want to be deterred.

AH:     You don't need to be deterred. But if you are going into a minefield, you might as well find out where the mines have been buried.

JP:     That's a good metaphor!

AH:     You can still go into the minefield. I've done it again and again in my life. But I've tried very time I've gone in to find out where the mines are.

JP:     Is there a text I could read prior to doing something like that? Because I'm a little wary, a little hesitant.

AH:     Okay, then, there's a wonderful book by a man named Edward Edinger, Ego and Archetype. And it's the best Jungian book on the transformation of the spirit and the soul. And it just warns you of all the different kinds of pitfalls. You need someone very, very sober to continually bring you back to the grueling and mysterious nature of reality. You're on a quest. And you're intensely emotionally involved in this quest. In ways that are partly clear to you but also, inevitably, are also in ways not clear. And be careful. Don't be deterred. But don't be foolhardy. There should be a balance, no?

JP:     I try to exert some discipline, and I constantly examine the issues in my journal and my diary. I write: this is what I said, this is what I did, and I constantly ask myself if I've made a mistake here.

AH:     But the problem is that when the deranged director is directing the film...

JP:     Ha! Another excellent metaphor.

AH:     And this is true for all of us. We need others who love us but are not taken in by our rhetoric about ourselves. Just to constantly ask those tender questions that might reveal the possibilities we're not seeing. Well, let me ask you one leading question.

JP:     Yes.

AH:     If I may ask, why do you choose to be involved with a person who has no memory, who is completely broken down at a certain level, and who cannot bring much of anything to you immediately? And you're devoting your spiritual and artistic life to rescue somebody who, by all the evidence, can not be rescued? I don't know Maria, but I like you, and I respect you, and you are a great friend of my best friend, so as somebody who is a spiritual teacher, those are the questions I would ask. I'd put it on the table, and you must answer it.

JP:     I will answer by saying that when I first met her she had not lost her memory, and was not broken down.

AH:     But she is now. She's in that minefield.

JP:     Shortly after we met she asked me to help her break free of her family. And I promised her: I will help you. I will do everything I can to help you.

AH:     Ah.

JP:     It is absolutely and totally essential that I keep my promise. No one will ever convince me I should abandon my commitment. Now people have posed the question a different way: What are you doing in a relationship that is not working? If the book is going to help her, then I'll continue with it. It is utterly important for me to stop lying. And most important, to honor my commitment. And it seems that I'm being tested, constantly. People tell me, you should RUN from this situation because it's ridiculous. You are crazy for hanging around her. Well, maybe I am, but this is what I intend to do. Until it becomes clear to me that I can do no more.

AH:     That is very important that you have that door out, in your heart and in your mind. That you don't stake your success on the outcome.

JP:     Well, I see myself back on Ischia. Where I spent five years of my life in solitude and celibacy--with breaks, of course, when I've visited Maria. To my great astonishment I am comfortable in my solitude.

AH:     That's wonderful.

JP:     So in this situation I will lose absolutely nothing. I could gain something but I will lose nothing, because Ischia is there, I already have it, and I am not afraid of being alone.

AH:     I can see you are in a very strong position. But I still think you must explore the archetypes that you are constellating around her. To you she's muse. She's redemption. She's your anima. Those are huge archetypes.

JP:     Anima is the sexual?

AH:     Anima is the feminine side of your own nature.

JP:     I'm comfortable with that.

AH:     The danger is when you project onto someone else you don't claim it for yourself. Maria would be carrying it and not you. You see, that's what happens in so many relationships. It's projecting onto someone the things we need for ourselves. They end up with the luminousness, the light that we've actually given them. And taking back that light, and seeing it as part of your own inmost psyche is very important. Because then you'll be clearer on what you can do for her and what you can't do for her.

JP:     I've never thought about that.

AH:     It's crucial that you do, John. It's so essential.

JP:     I'm always so attentive to documenting her journey. This is what she said, this is what she did, and this is what we have done, and this is what her parents have done to her, this is the situation she's in.

AH:     That is one level but there also is a subterranean level in which she stands for something in your psyche that is absolutely magical to you and which you are projecting onto her, it seems to me. All kinds of feminine radiances which are a part of the feminine side of your own spirit. And if you do not become clearer and clearer about this it will keep you in a situation longer than is necessary. And also make you blind to whatever she may really need outside that projected magic. It's a very complex thing. This is one of the dangers of love. This is where you need an analyst to help you. Because when you come into this archetypal territory, unless you become very clear about where the projections are working, you can become enmeshed in a private cinema of the mind.

JP:     Well, obviously I need to understand the vocabulary of this enterprise. That's why I'd like to read Edinger's book first.

AH:     It's very helpful. The whole Jungian vision of the animus and the anima, and the ways that we project our own hidden selves upon other people, and then give them the magic of our unacknowledged hidden self. Those are very, very crucial things. It's very hard to see but it's very essential and especially so when the other person is so damaged. Because we may think we are helping them--I'm not saying this is true of you--but if they are in fact acting a subconscious archetypal role for us, we may be prolonging the problem. And not giving them the freedom to either die or be healed.

JP:     In trying to help Maria I keep telling her that we both were abandoned by our mothers, so I know how it feels. But I have had the great good fortune to have found a reconciliation with my mother; I've made peace with her, despite my father's attempts to join him in hating her. I came to understand why she left him. So I stress how essential it is to at least try to make a reconciliation.

AH:     But this almost certainly will not happen between Maria and Sophia Loren.

JP:     It could.

AH:     Yes, but very unlikely. Because Sophia has so much to lose. And if she did it in the first place well, don't hold your breath, is what I'm saying. These people, who are rich and powerful and have built their lives around a series of fantasies and delusions, are going to cling to every one of them. Until Angel Gabriel suddenly appears and tells them it's time to give them up.

JP:     On the subject of Jungian archetypes, in her authorized biographies Sophia describes her going after a much older man for a husband because she needed a friend AND a father and lover, and she was wholly open about this psychosexual issue. She acknowledges that what it really was all was about was getting together so they could make lots and lots of money.

AH:     Yes. She had a terrible childhood, she had to get out and make it. And she's not a bad person. She's just paid the price of fame, and has lost herself.

JP:     I was astonished when I learned that Sophia intends to deny maternity. I was married to a woman who was forever locked in anguish about giving up her daughter for adoption, and my own mother was permanently damaged by her guilt for having abandoned me, despite my repeatedly telling her that I understood her reasons, and that it was water under the bridge. These women were permanently damaged by what they did. It's very hard to understand why Sophia appears to be indifferent toward it.

AH:     It's amazing what you can bury under fame and cash!

JP:     Andrew, thank you so much for giving me this time. I deeply and sincerely appreciate this conversation. You've opened quite a few doors for me.

AH:     Thank you for trusting me.


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