Richard Harvey - Psychotherapist, Author and Spiritual Teacher

Richard Harvey

connecting psychotherapy and spiritual growth for human awakening
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Why You Cannot Follow an Individual Path to Enlightenment

Dear Richard, I have decided to make peace with my ego self. I struggled and fought with it for so long. I tried therapy and spiritual practices. I lived in a monastery. I became accomplished at various forms of yoga, martial arts and holistic practices. I have read widely, both modern and traditional psycho-spiritual books and teachings. As the years of disappointment and lack of any real attainment, manifested as psychological inertia and spiritual stagnation, have accrued I despair of any change or transformation ever taking place. Making peace with my ego seems to be the only way for me. Why can’t you follow an individual path to enlightenment?

There are three stages of human development. One way of understanding them is in regard to the ego self, or the individual sense. In the first stage you awaken by discovering yourself, you wake up to not only conscious and subconscious emotional-behavioral patterns, but also to the hidden dynamics of the unconscious. No short cut exists for this kind of work. It takes as long as necessary. For some it is measured in stubbornness, for others in ignorance. Further obstacles can be denial, refusal, lack of love, anger, frustration, depression, obstinacy (different to stubbornness), self-importance or even the enjoyment of life as it is (complacency?).

When the seeker has penetrated the confines of exclusively egoic existence he or she awakens for the first time in this life. Only then does the seeker see that the life before this awakening was largely, even wholly, unconscious sleeping. The ability to be present is now possible along with the capacity for true compassion, deepening real relationship and existence guided by heart and spirit. The outcome of this second stage is the complete flowering of the human personality. All tendencies and potentials are fulfilled and completed and the seeker faces the beginning of the third stage, the spiritual threshold to liberation and realization.

The end of the second stage is a further or second awakening. It is the awakening out of the egoistic concerns and it is a point of surrender. The ego has not been shed completely by any means and egoic identification persists even to higher stages of spiritual attainment, although it must eventually be entirely overcome. But towards the end of the second and the beginning of the third stage the individual point of view becomes increasingly unimportant. The personal attachments, which have been shed during the processes of the first and second stages, open up a new freedom, a new perspective beyond fear and desire.

So far this process of awakenings and authenticity has revolved around attachments and ever more subtle egoistic identification and it continues to do so through deepening spiritual practice. At no point in the psycho-spiritual quest do you give up or let go into a compromise with the ego, because egoic forces are the symbol of everything that is unreal, while the psycho-spiritual journey is direct and unwavering dedication to what is true and divine. This is the discovery which awaits every seeker on the psycho-spiritual path—the gift of the real treasure of life. You cannot follow an individual path to enlightenment. The ego will always keep you confined to suffering for its own sake and accompanying self-aggrandizement, delusion and unhappiness. The state of Self-realization has no conditions; it is real and Self-sourcing. Because it includes all and everything it does not participate in identification, separation or division. Therefore the ego state is transcended in the third stage of human development—Self-realization—for the simple reason that the ego was never real in the first place. Living in the first and second stages of human development are merely stations along the way to human completion. This completion occurs in the third stage through total commitment to the spiritual path: method, practice, discipline and, most of all, relationship; movement through transcendent planes of existence, surrender, trust and faith, spiritual vision and the absolute reality of the in-visible world is witnessed and finally the transcendent unity of the divine, the conditionless condition of spontaneity and truth, love, bliss.

Ego compromises bear no relation whatsoever to this spiritual state of fullness. There is no place for the imaginary in the supremely real existence. Today many are finding compromise with the ego tempting, because of the human ego’s ethos of effort and gain, which says something along the lines of “I have done my spiritual apprenticeship, meditated and been disciplined. I have worked hard, so now I want something back.” But when limitations arise the spiritual aspirant must go further…always. Nothing less than everything must be consigned to the spiritual fire; nothing more than everything is the treasure that awaits you.

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This article was published in Spiritual Guidance, February 2012, on

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