Richard Harvey - Psychotherapist, Author and Spiritual Teacher

Richard Harvey

connecting psychotherapy and spiritual growth for human awakening
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Psychotherapy, Poetry and Music

I was considering music, philosophy, Zen, karate, and psychotherapy. Why? Because these are the pursuits that I have taken seriously at different times of my life. I considered the increasing sense of depth I experience as I become acquainted with a subject or practice. The more I learn, the more I don’t know. I project the sage, wise person, experienced one onto the seasoned practitioner and yet if my experience is right, that the more I find out the less I know, then he should be aware of knowing even less than I know!

Sometimes I have met conceit and arrogance in those in senior positions. (How different from Shunriyi Suzuki’s “beginner’s mind”). Concealing bitterness and disillusionment, they try to mask their pain by humiliating the young idealist. I have always been an idealist, a dreamer, an optimist and an innocent. I don’t see any reason not to be.

I was wondering, since they have become the two great pools of fascination and interest in my life, what music might have to do with therapy. Why, as a musician turned psychotherapist, my inner experience of each is actually the same.

I think they meet in poetry.

Music is a profound, complex interplay of tone, space, intervals, rhythm and mood. (Even the terms are ambiguous!) How like our individual journey through our own psyche; through personality, the unconscious, the mysterious essence we all share in—in and out of private sessions, workshops, everyday life, dreaming, fantasy and reality.

Even the clarity and fulfillment we experience as we complete our work—or aspects of our work—on ourselves may be paralleled in the climax of a symphony or in the rounding off of a good song.

There is poetry in the fulfillment of form and in the experience, in the working through, of form; a pleasure we can take in things unfolding; a natural healing process we may be witnessing in our own or another’s therapy; an interpretation, a representation emblematic of the natural or of the God-made; a meeting in full circle in music—poetry as the evocation of the formless in form, as we discover the unformed center of ourselves, through our curiosity of our human shape and our humanness.

Yet we are an organism of rigid thought patterns and beliefs. As a therapist, how often have I sat opposite a new seeker who professes the willingness and the urgency to change his life, with little or no awareness of the necessity for escaping from the narrow prison of his beliefs?

As we work together, we find the structure of the prison is bound together with fear and anxiety. Pain and anger show through the façade. The deepest terror of annihilation is the foundation. And yet no two prisons are alike. In our gentle probing and in bringing awareness to this confining structure—the little mind operating with the powerful support of our physicality—we slowly introduce into consciousness past traumas, buried truths, unacceptable realities and clashes of integrity.

Awareness itself is the healer. As therapists we are present to encourage, to support, to reflect and sometimes to guide, to gently steer. Here is the need for “play”, the need for a sensitive, poetic approach and way of being with the seeker. No therapeutic method can be worth more than the therapist’s application of it. The deeper I go into therapy work, the less I do. Less is done, yet more is achieved. I am there simply to punctuate the meeting of the client with himself. Sometimes I am just there to witness.

This client does not conform to a type or duplicate a teaching example from a counseling course. Yet he may be pliable, malleable to my belief system. We may reduce the quality of our contact through my input. I have to be careful not to interfere and not to interpret. I have to develop an appreciation of the poetry of the being who is before me.

As an antidote to the definition and confinement of past, early life experience, the receptivity and allowing of the therapist nourishes trust and courage in the seeker. The seeker expands into the new space that is created. The effect on his world is hugely transforming. Sometimes it may even shrink away from him, even as he used to diminish himself to accommodate it.

There is no such thing as society, only men and women in society and some may pull in one direction and some in another.

The most transforming thing that has happened to me is the re-locating of my centre. Ever since I could remember I had taken my cues, my frame of reference, from people, situations and messages outside myself. I was on an addictive, dissatisfying wheel of longing, striving and failing to get attention, acceptance and love.

As a seeker I have learnt to let go of my fears of tyrannical authority, found out that my emotional and material poverty reflects more my own capacity to receive and be open than any innate lack in the world outside. I have learnt to listen to an inner voice that I can trust, share, confide in and ask. There is no need to seek a higher authority as a substitute.

When my centre is located within myself I am self-governing, self-motivated and self-sufficient. In this place I find myself most available, most connected with others. From this place I may genuinely feel another’s pains or pleasure. I may truly empathise. For the first time I have felt truly connected to the peoples of the world, embraced that enormity and felt I belong, felt we are all somehow the same in essence.

We each of us touch a part of the elephant. From where each of us is standing this fragile, delicate, powerful, frightening, beautiful dance looks different. Yet it is the same dance.

Each of us is composing the poetry of our own lives. Each of us makes his contribution to the masterpiece.

You cannot reduce this to method, to duality even, or science. Always the unknown, the unexplainable, the edge of mystery points to the unfathomableness and wonder of this state into which we are born.

I never cease to wonder at the depth, the quality and the vast spaciousness of the here and now. I never fail to miss it when I try to put it into words.

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This article was published privately in 1989.

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