Richard Harvey - Psychotherapist, Author and Spiritual Teacher

Richard Harvey

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Extreme Spirituality and Satchitananda

One of my clients participates in extreme sports—rock climbing, sky-diving, bungee jumping. When he describes his experience of these pursuits he invites me into exciting, edgy, stimulating, adrenalin-filled experiences I will never have. In answer to my question why, his answer is always the same: It makes me feel real.

Another client sent me videos of her scuba diving off the Gold Coast among the Magnificent Ascidian and Loggerhead Turtles. Swimming in this subaqua paradise she is transported into a world of color and miracle, rather like flying, and she says she feels alive there.

By comparison my life is ordinary and unexciting. I walk on the earth, breathe the air, occasionally go to the beach with my family and love to burn leaves, dead branches and bracken on my land in Andalucia. As a therapist and author I spend most of my waking life simply sitting—listening, talking, feeling, thinking and writing.

The life of extreme sports or scuba diving is far from my personal experience, just a vicarious thrill to me.

Like many, I have spent a lot of my time being even more inanimate, immovable and un-thrilling—sitting in meditation, seeking the eternal, the infinite, God, Love and Compassion. Each time I made headway in this ephemeral, elusive pursuit I returned—not to the Source of existence, to Consciousness itself or to God—I returned to me, to myself, who was always waiting attentively, loyally and hopefully, trustworthy and devoted, poignantly expectant, like a little dog or a faithful servant. I would return with relief, a sense of homecoming and the familiar. Each time it was a defeat for transcendence and a victory for the ego.

It is not so much the return as the method of returning that has constituted the failure. I have clung to the body of fear and desire like a terrified child, like a novice climber on his first sheer rock-face—and it is not so much that either, as the fact that I have done this so often, while being totally unconscious of doing it.

Here is the last great illusion of the ego: that it can take charge, control you and manipulate you, without you ever knowing. You can be smugly celebrating your latest sacred insight, transcendent experience or world-shattering spiritual breakthrough, while behind the scenes the ego, resolutely dug in, firmly seizes the reins of your life. Like seeing wrong-doing where it is acceptable to the majority consensus or surprising a perpetrator in the act of committing a violent crime, simply to witness, to see it for what it is, is a daring feat, an act of heroism.

The heroic aspects of the spiritual life have always appealed to me—shedding illusion and delusion, overcoming oneself to find truth, removing the obstacles to Love and enlightenment. So when Jung announced that there was one last great journey left for man and that that was the journey within, I was thrilled. When Carlos Castaneda proposed erasing personal history, I was first in line to the fire with my photo albums and sentimental objects and when the singer-songwriter Mike Scott sung the archetypal lines:

I wandered out in the world for years, while you just stayed in your room. I saw the crescent. You saw the whole of the moon.

I knew exactly what he was singing about—I was the “you”, it was me, he was singing about my life.

But in spite of my thrill at self-negation, at climbing the mountain to enlightenment, or my staunch conviction that Jung was right and that the last great journey had always been the great journey, really the only journey, for humankind, like the extreme sportsman and the scuba diver, I was participating still in the world of subject, verb and object, rather than unity. I meditated, searched or made determined effort towards spiritual ends: me, the meditation, the goal.

Today I am a little older, and hopefully a little wiser. There are no spiritual goals, there is no attainment, there is no fear or desire; none of this is real. What is real is that God, Love and Consciousness are always, were and always will be, transparently present and available as ourselves. When we renounce the small world of me and become one with the Truth then what is already true is apparent and made real in our lives as kindness, compassion and contentment. It's not thrilling or extreme, neither is it ordinary or mundane; it is real, it is true and it is satchitananda—God, the Universal Consciousness and its essence is the same as the essence of you: existence, consciousness and absolute bliss.

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This article was published in Spiritual Guidance, November 2011, on

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