Richard Harvey—Psychotherapist, Author and Spiritual Teacher

Richard Harvey

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The Veil of Separative Relationships

Relationships Today

The second veil over the birth of the soul is a realm that is characterized by insult and disrespect, where the small selves of at least two individuals combine to mis-serve each other and break boundaries. It is the further sphere of darkness in the relative temporal world and from the sacred point of view, it demands healing, refreshing and reinventing.

In a million and one ways what characterizes relationships is disrespect, insensitivity and lack of sacredness. For example, if we can get away with it, many of us take from each other or use each other. We do not necessarily know the difference between need, love and desire. They are tied together in a bundle. It is fundamental to good relationships that we understand giving and receiving, yet many of us do not distinguish between the two. People manipulate each other, hurt each other physically, verbally, emotionally and energetically. We can be callous, unfeeling, unreciprocating, unempathetic, cruel, mean, irresponsible and violent.

Consider the figures for marriage break-up, domestic violence, marital crimes and murder, principally of women, by partners and husbands. Consider my experience as a therapist who doesn’t even specialize in areas of abuse and marital strife, but every week I hear tales of abuse, of violence and cruelty, of behavior between people who supposedly love or loved each other or used to have positive feelings towards each other. I often recall Bob Dylan’s thoughtful and profound song lyric: “I can’t believe we’ve lived this long and are still so far apart.”

I consider the gnawing root cause, the gestating seed of all-pervading disrespect and irreverence between people to be in the small things that pass without remark, unnoticed, because they are so commonly accepted and condoned through unspoken approval: time boundaries, speech boundaries, etiquette, recognition, denial and those verbal expressions of disrespect that are common to many cultures today. One Zen roshi I knew highlighted it, once she despaired of the modern world’s obsession with the cult of celebrity, soap operas and television. What entertains and makes people laugh today are merely insults, she told me. At the time I had no idea what she meant. But after a year living in the Zen monastery, on my return to worldly life one day I turned on the TV and I could hardly bear the onslaught of visual and aural stimulation and the tone of the attack on the soul and spirit. Then I understood exactly what she meant.

The Mirror that Relationships Offer

Relationships do not make you happy; neither do they make you unhappy. They merely extend your sense of self in the projection of your inner self and a hypnotic effect of seeing the other as you. Hence, whatever remains unresolved in your psyche will be shown to you in your relationships to others.

We disavow our beauty by being habitually attracted to beautiful partners. We renounce our own aggression when we are in relationship with an angry partner. We reject our creativity and abilities by being in relationship with someone who shines with artistic accomplishment and talent.

Rather than blame, justify, apportion guilt, appeal to fairness, vengeance, responsibility, criticize, judge, or feel bitter, one thing – and it is the hardest of all – that would help is to ask someone, who is or has been in a close relationship with you: What is it like honestly to be with me? How do they see you, what are your sticking points? How do you make them feel, honestly? The other’s awareness of you will in principle fill in all the gaps. This is such a simple exercise, yet so impractical. It presupposes the other’s awareness, openness, and willingness to reveal and share all they know about you. How rare it is to meet a person who possesses these qualities. Awareness of another person might seem to be easier to achieve than awareness of yourself, but really it is the same. It is just that the other embodies and reflects back to us the shadow, or all we don’t want to know about ourselves.

Why is it that the greatest intimacy between two human beings is in silence? Why is it that we find it so hard just to be together? Why is it that the very thing we want and deeply desire, rather than, deeper than social intercourse, sexual intercourse, arguing and fighting, sharing activities of any kind is simply accompanying one another, being companions?

Because it takes tremendous skill to navigate a way between ego encounters in any kind of relationship. To leave the ego out is almost impossible… almost impossible. It is as if ego has commandeered speech, sight, touch, understanding, interpretation and experience… but essentially this is an assault. For the ego-self, the fellow human being is a comfort, a consolation, an object for need and desire, even love. Yet, he or she is a mystery who is separate from you. However close you imagine them to be, they are inevitably, profoundly a mystery. Relationships don’t work because we tend to make ego-encounters as the base of our relationships, and we tend to see the other person as an object of our desire. This is particularly true if you are in the fourth or questioning stage of consciousness that we discussed earlier.

It has been said before: everything before the eye must disappoint you. Why must everything before the eye disappoint you? In order to drive you inward. It is the price you pay for questioning, for curiosity, for being always ready to pull back the next veil to discover what is behind. It is the signature of the mystical journey. It is a positive disappointment because you strive for more, no longer a slave to fear and desire. So everything must disappoint you and nowhere is this truer than in the realm of relationships. And relationships disappoint … inevitably. This is at once their curse and their blessing, because only if everything before the eye disappoints can we turn within towards the true treasure, the inner treasure, the blessing of Consciousness, the state of true Being.

How have your relationships through your life disappointed you? Think back to the hopes and dreams, the desires and the fears that you attached to certain people. How did they disappoint you? Look for some common themes running through the different kinds of relationships through various stages of your life and you will probably be able to see that how these relationships have disappointed you says a lot more about you than anyone or anything else. How is it that themes remain ten, twenty, thirty years on, that you find yourself judging, criticizing, and being disenchanted with people for precisely the same reasons…over and over again? Because your disappointment with the other says most about you yourself.

This is an assault, a primary interpersonal violation. It is not subtle, but it is largely unacknowledged because everyone does it. Think about it: if everyone’s doing it and it’s wrong then what kind of morality and what kind of moralist is strong, fearless and courageous enough to stand up and combat it?

Fortunately we have a word for it in human psychology; the word is projection. Projection is the mechanism for seeing what you don’t accept about yourself in the other person, relationship or situation. So, through projection or not being willing or able to see myself, I see you as someone I want, like or love, or as someone that I despise, dislike or ignore. Whichever way, this is an assault.

The Sacred Aspects of Relationships

Here is a story that takes us forward into the second sphere of illusion – relationships as we have manifested them in the second dark sphere. This story distinguishes between the two paths of response, attitude and creation: whether we ignore or surrender to the sacred. It also offers a warning about how you approach the divine, the sacred and the spiritual.

This story comes from the Oglala Sioux tradition. It is about 2000 years old. As I tell it to you, see if you can read without assumption or preconception, but with the ears of an ancient sacredness. Although this story comes from a different time, tradition and mythology, it still resonates with our circumstances today.

Long ago two braves went out hunting for bison. They reached the peak of a high hill and looking north they saw something coming from a long way off. As it got closer they cried out, “It is a woman!” One of the braves, being foolish, had bad thoughts and spoke them, but the other said, “That is a sacred woman, throw all bad thoughts away.”

When she came near they could see that she wore a dress of fine white buckskin. Her hair was long; she was young and very beautiful. And she knew their thoughts and said in a voice like singing, “You do not know me, but if you want to do as you think, you may come.” The foolish scout went and as he stood before her, a white cloud came and covered them. As the beautiful young woman emerged from the cloud, it blew away and the foolish man had turned into a worm-covered skeleton.

Then the woman spoke to the one who was not foolish, “You shall go home and tell your people that I am coming. A big tepee should be built for me in the center of the nation.” The man, who was struck with awe, left quickly and told the people, who immediately did everything he told them and then waited for the sacred woman around the big tepee. She arrived, ethereally beautiful and singing, and she entered the tepee. This is what she sang:

            With visible breath I am walking.

            A voice I am sending as I walk.

            In a sacred manner I am walking.

            With visible tracks I am walking.

            In a sacred manner I walk.

As she sang a white cloud appeared from her mouth and a wonderful fragrance filled the air. To the chief she gave a pipe with a bison calf carved on one side to mean the earth that bears and feeds us, and with twelve eagle feathers hanging from the stem to mean the sky and the twelve moons, and these were tied with a grass that never breaks. “Behold!” she said, “with this you shall multiply and be a good nation. Nothing but good shall come from it. Only the hands of the good shall take care of it and the bad shall not even see it.” Then she sang again and went out of the tepee and as the people watched her going, suddenly it was a white bison galloping away and snorting, and soon it was gone.

May the Sacred Soon Return to this World

The point this story makes concerns the sacredness of the world of relationships. When we engage in relationships in a separative way, it becomes all about what can you give me if I give you this. The alternative or the desirable, the potential for human relationship is to have a spiritual relationship with another person, either a friend or lover or spouse, in sacred life. In fact, if you miss out the spiritual or sacred aspects of a relationship, than there is no real relationship, only merely a meeting of desires and needs. This ancient story speaks to us of a sacred presence coming into the lives of these young braves and how they respond to this presence reflects the way in which even now we may respond to an attractive persona, a person that we are drawn toward, who we think will somehow fulfill our desires. So the issue here is, and it is rooted in romantic myths and romantic idealism, that we are confusing desire with love, we are confusing our needs with real relationship. If they take place within a sacred context, all of these things may be there, but if they don’t take place within a sacred context, there is no real relationship, as such.

Another important aspect of today’s relationships, especially in our present era of romantic idealism, is the demand of the impossible that is based on a three thousand year-old and therefore antiquated mythology or paradigm. It is implausible for a man to ask his spouse or partner to be the virgin mother, the sensual, sexual, seductive lover and his friend and confidante all at the same time. It is similarly implausible for a woman to demand that her spouse or partner be her protector, sensitive and virile lover, paragon of maleness… And yet, in modern time, we have this impossible aspiration in love of another.

The Purpose of Relationships: Self-Realization and Love

A fellow human being is a mystery. Each meeting, indeed each sighting of a fellow human being is an occasion for extending consciousness. If we are present, sensitive and open then, as the scholar Terry Eagleton said, “we become the occasion for each other's self-realization.” If we are conscious about projections then we don’t look at the other person as a separate being anymore and the other person’s flaws or outstanding qualities become a sign-post in our process of inner growth. But instead, our reality is that relationships involve us in conflict, either inner or outer conflict or both.

If relationships were based on this principle of becoming the occasion for each other’s realization, we would have a sane aspiration for loving. Think about it. Relationships set us into roles, for example father, mother, daughter, lover, son, friend, confidante, casual acquaintance. But these roles are not – should not – be ends in themselves. You don’t love to be a lover or love maternally to be a good mother. The purpose of love of whatever kind is Love itself; love is its own purpose or there is no purpose to love, it simply is. This is where the thinking veil and relationships veil collide and when you are ready, you can transcend both. The rational mind demands a reason for everything, when in reality there may be little reason for anything, no plan, no story with a beginning and an end that we live through, only to come out the other side when the story book ends. The purpose of relationships, if there is a purpose at all, is love. Relationships are an occasion, an opportunity to live into and understand, through insight and deepening, that love is the essence of all.

The authentic love you feel toward another human being is the reflection of divine love. Allow that into your awareness. Let your meetings, the conversations you share, the energy you share in all your relationships be consecrated to your divine opening, spiritual awakening and transcendence. Empower and encourage yourself and the other to grow, sacrifice the relationship continually on the altar of Self-realization in all its expressions, give it up for the greater aspiration, for the Eternal. This way you find your relationships and your heart thrive, and you have penetrated the second veil in the process of the birth of your soul into the world.

(Adapted from Harvey, Richard, Your Divine Opportunity: how to awaken to your true self in the modern era, Part VII: The Birth of the Soul, 112-116, Sacred Attention Publishing 2021. Full details and ordering at


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This article was published on this site in December 2020

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