Excerpts From an Interview with Author and Sacred Activist Andrew Harvey

Conducted by Philip Hellmich, Director of Peace for The Shift Network

Philip Hellmich

Hello everyone, and welcome to Inspiring Positive Social Change, cutting-edge insights from spirituality, neuroscience, and peacebuilding. I’m delighted that we're starting this series here with a good friend of the Shift Network, Andrew Harvey.

Andrew is an internationally acclaimed poet, novelist, translator, mystical scholar, and spiritual teacher. He's written or edited more than 30 books, and is the founder of the Institute for Sacred Activism. That's a subject we're going to explore with Andrew.

One of his books, The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism, received the 2011 Nautilus Silver Award. The Hope is a guide that helps people respond to current global challenges, yet also serve as a much-needed wake-up call to inspire action through sacred activism.

Andrew's book, Radical Passion: Sacred Love and Wisdom in Action, which came out in 2012, is the culmination of his life’s work. It bridges the great divide between spiritual resignation and engaged spiritual activism.

When we designed the Inspiring Positive Social Change Summit, we reached out to Andrew right away to invite him to speak about sacred activism, and he graciously agreed.

Andrew, welcome to Inspiring Positive Social Change, and thank you for being with us.

My great pleasure, and I cannot think of a more relevant and important summit at this particular, absolutely devastating and deeply bewildering and toxic moment that we find ourselves in. Congratulations to Shift, and congratulations to all those who are going to be pouring out their insights, because this is a time where we need concentrated wisdom in action more than oxygen.

Andrew Harvey

Let’s start off with the question, “What is sacred activism?”

There are really two definitions. The first is a relatively simple and user-friendly one, and that is that when you fuse together profound spirituality, spiritual strength and wisdom with radical action, a third force is born — a holy, powerful, transforming force which over time can wreak miracles. We've seen this in the 20th century. We saw it in Gandhi, who was able to overturn the British Empire. We saw it in Martin Luther King, who was able to avert a horrendous bloodbath through adhering to Christ Consciousness. We saw it in Desmond Tutu and Mandela's extraordinary steering of South Africa through the agony of the post-apartheid time.

We know that when a force arises, composed of people who have profound spiritual awareness, but also radical commitment to urgent, wise, focused action, something in the universe blesses their endeavors and gives them the strength and the stamina to rise up in seemingly impossible situations and, over time, effect great change.

I think the rising of this force in the 20th century was no coincidence, because the 20th century was the bloodiest century in human history, the century that saw the dropping of the atomic bombs, that saw the exponential growth in cruelty in concentration camps, that saw a massive orgy of greed which has nearly destroyed the environment. Yet in the middle of all of that despair and chaos and madness and horror, a force arose which has had profound effects. It is this force, this force of fusing together deep spirituality and profound action, that is now rising to help us deal with our greatest evolutionary crisis. That's the first definition.

The second definition is more esoterically profound. I'd like to share a dream that I had, a dream vision which was at the core of my book, The Hope. In this vision, I saw two rivers of fire racing across a desert plain to the horizon, and meeting in a vast explosion on the horizon. It was both terrifying and extremely beautiful, because the explosion was not a destructive one; it was the birth of a new power. As I watched those rivers race across the plain, I heard a voice say, "When you marry the two noblest passions of the human soul, the passion of the mystic for God with the passion of the activist for justice, a third fire is born. With the power of that third fire, everything can be transformed and a new kind of human being, who brings together all of the opposites, transcendence and immanence, male and female, heart and mind, body and soul, can be born."

This particular definition goes deeper, because it shows that sacred activism isn't merely a holy force that can help us transform our appalling situation as it worsens; it is even more significantly, perhaps, the birthing ground, the cauldron, if you like, in which a new humanity will be formed.

By bringing together those two noblest passions of the human soul, the passion for God, the passion for union with reality, with the passion for sacred action in the name of justice and compassion, divisions that are preventing the birth of a fully embodied divine human being will be eliminated, and this great holy force of sacred passion will arise in mind, heart, body, and soul to bring about the birth of a new humanity.

Now remember, when I witnessed that astonishing vision, I heard in my heart-mind two texts that have been supremely important to me. I heard first of all Teilhard de Chardin's amazing text in which he says, " Someday when men have conquered the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, they will harness for God the energies of love, and then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire." That is what sacred activism in its highest level is — the harnessing of the energies of love and the focusing of them on building a just and compassionate world. At this moment, that is of course the only way forward.

Andrew, with all the polarization, anger and fear in the news, you're talking about a whole other level of human expression, the power of love and justice. Let's explore more about what this embodied essence is like, because love also can be very fierce. How is this love brought into focused action in a fierce way, yet at the same time, bringing in the compassion and wisdom to prevent polarization.

It's a wonderful question, and a very profound one. We have great examples in the sacred activists I've mentioned, in Gandhi and King, and his holiness the Dalai Lama and Mandela, and others. They have shown us that it's possible to be extremely fierce and extremely critical, about actions people take, while honoring the divine in the people who take them.

That is the major spiritual law of deep change. Gandhi absolutely knew the ruthlessness of the British Empire — its racism, its addiction to greed — but he also kept alive in his heart profound respect for the British, and modeled that respect in such a way that he was able to present to the British a mirror of what they could be, if only they believed what they said they believed. This wasn't just brilliant politically, it was a tremendous spiritual act.

King was able to, on the one hand, be mercilessly fierce in his critique of racism and how endemic it is to the American experience, and yet, in his constant practice, he held out the possibility of profound love, of profound reconciliation between the races, as a dream for a new America. He was simultaneously able to give us a blistering critique of what needed to be transformed while showing us the way in which it could be transformed, which is never by shaming and blaming and demonizing, but always by inspiring the better angels of our nature.

In a situation like ours, when it's quite clear that a whole group of extremely powerful people have chosen power over love, and are now addicted to ways of acting that could potentially destroy the human experiment — and I think that's putting it mildly actually —it's even more important to act from a calm and spacious and embracing sacred consciousness, that is at once extremely clear about what's happening and doesn't mitigate any of the horror, while also being extremely clear about the spiritual responsibility of the sacred activist to exclude no one from his or her heart, and to model the kind of unconditional intelligence and openness to transformation that are characteristic of all the great awakened ones.


Philip's interview with Andrew Harvey in its entirety is part of the free online summit, Inspiring Positive Social Change: Cutting-edge Insights from Spirituality, Neuroscience and Peacebuilding.

To register for free, click here.



Catalyst is produced by The Shift Network to feature inspiring stories and provide information to help shift consciousness and take practical action. To receive Catalyst twice a month, sign up here.

This article appears in: 2017 Catalyst, Issue 14: Inspiring Positive Social Change