This past Sunday’s Beyond Awakening featured my recent conversation with scholar/mystic Andrew Harvey entitled “Reckless Love and Friendship at the Edge”. It was the first in a series of “basement tapes” where we’ll be probing into a number of the most alive and edgy topics we’ve been contemplating in our exploration of “what really matters”.
This first dialogue demonstrates what becomes available within the precious and dynamic container of sacred friendship. As we conversed, Andrew and I spoke aloud that which was emerging in this moment, and this moment and this. We flowed from topic, to insight, to reflection—from practicing with metabolizing the horrors in the daily news, to the evolution of contemporary spirituality, to the sacred, catalytic, tantric, alchemical nature of sexuality, to the process of facing and transmuting the deep biologically-based anxiety that operates in the very cells of the body.
I’ll share some juicy excerpts of our conversation below. But I invite you to listen in to the full audio.
On harnessing the fire of sacred outrage
Our challenge is to combine the profound coolness and spaciousness and openness to divine peace that is characteristic of Advaita and the Theravadan approach with the sacred fiery passion of Christ Consciousness and the Sufi vision of the Beloved. We need to be both profoundly calm and profoundly passionate. So that we can be flames of authentic Divine Passion, which is always grounded in calm. When I teach Sacred Activism (both the inner of prayer/meditation and the outer activism founded and grounded in sacred consciousness) what I always say to people is “begin with establishing a foundation of peace…doing whatever cool practices truly work for you. But don’t stop there! This is my challenge to the Thervadans. When you have established that foundation of peace, dare to plunge into…the Burning Furnace of Charity, dare to open your heart to the agony of the world. Dare to allow the Sacred Outrage to rise in you. But make sure that when it does, it’s purified by Peace.
Enlightenment is not a series of dazzling experiences. Enlightenment is the steady state of attention to the Presence in the present. And that is the key to becoming awake and staying awake. The mystic poet Kabir says:
No need to grieve my friend for what must pass.
Find what always stays and cannot leave.
Behind the turbulent dance of the world,
the banner of his Peace is always unfurled.
And that is an absolutely crucial message to all of us at this time. Unless we are going beyond the experiences into this steady state of attention, being present to the Presence in the present moment, we are always the victim of even the higher emotions. They will shatter us in a crisis as extreme as this.
On the next Buddha
In this particular moment, it seems that the next Buddha may be a sangha, that the teacher is now needing to be both a student and a teacher. We need to come in to a kind of sacred collaboration, to be communing with that unknown next moment. It is emergence, the creative dance of our humble giving of ourselves in this moment so that the thing that we never had thought before—that isn’t there in the existing body of things we could study or quote—can find its way through our lips and somehow be heard, so that we’re innocent enough that it can touch us and change us. So that this conversation actually becomes the emergence of something new, something that can make a difference. We’ve got to hold ourselves in this conversation with that kind of tender but courageous expectancy. Being that prayer, as we speak.
On the perils of falling in love with your own voice:
Andrew, you are so eloquent, you’re such a fount of poetry. This is also a quality that people sometimes appreciate in me. I know we’re both aware that there is a certain, hypnotic allure, a risk of “falling in love with the sound of our own voices”. It’s so important to transcend, to be the clear channel through which that which is beyond the “Terry” or the “Andrew” can find its way into expression; and for us to really attempt, in that spirit of Sufi sacred conversation or sobhet, to speak with the voice of the heart of the heart, the ear of the heart of the heart…
On transcending the spiritual circus
The aliveness of teaching is so precious and it’s always under threat. So many people who I deeply respect, and whose gifts I appreciate, I’ll catch them when they are repeating themselves, where they are performing, where they are not in that place of fresh discovery. I think the new generation is wise to this. Thank goodness! I aspire to be a participant in a turning so that we can function as a hinge. We have been given these great beings, and lineages, and legacies and our cells have been baked by that intense transmission of these great beings. And we are of use, we do have a gift. But because we’ve lived it, we can become oppressive, cranky old men telling people the stories of our youth; if we’re aren’t alive, in love, and dedicated only to the real thing in the next moment. And then if we are really participating, humble, and ready to learn from people 20, 30, 40 years younger than we are, then something can come out of a collaboration in which our humility just barely leads our elder-hood. Maybe we can be a contribution to the whole pattern evolving in our time. And transcend the old model of people gathering around those few rare beings, and the schools, and the venerable, and the retinue that always has to be invoked and the way it makes everybody small.
On sacred naughtiness
There are so many teachers who get stuck in their own shtick and stop radiating the kind of playfulness and joyfulness and sheer humor that is one of the most glorious parts of the divine presence. That’s what makes His Holiness the Dalai Lama such an enchanting being. Not only that he has all this grandeur and realization, but that he is absolutely in the Presence and he’s always foaming over with naughtiness. He’s staying naughty in that high, gloriousness. My cats teach me the sacred naughtiness every single day!
It’s very close to our sexiness and our Eros, our playfulness. That thing that can be sassily proud of an erection or seductively confrontative. Evolution is not just in our hearts, or our imagination, it’s in our loins too!
On the primordial anxiety of matter:
Until you’re really trying to retrain the cells themselves, all the talk of flooding the body with light is just talk because you’ll always come up against that dark message that the cells have been giving themselves for millennia in our dying world. You have to reprogram them. It’s not about going into divine consciousness, but about bringing the deep trust and rapture of transcendence down into the dark, swarming reptilian depths of cellular matter. And that’s grueling work, a more brutal resistance than mind or emotion because it’s more primordial.