My Interview with Andrew Harvey on Betrayal

Listen to my twelve-minute interview with Andrew Harvey here:

Andrew Harvey

Andrew, why do you consider betrayal to be one of the most difficult forms of adversity to overcome?
Betrayal is quite simply the most devastating experience that anyone can live through, especially if it’s betrayal as I went through it — betrayal from a teacher whom I loved with all my soul and heart and who had been an immense source of strength and revelation for me.

Betrayal dissolves every kind of concept that you have of reality and plunges you into a groundless abyss. This, of course, is an appalling experience, but it’s also… if you can stay in love with love in the dark, this experience can lead to a massive revelation of the presence of the Divine in and through everything, which permanently transforms you.

I wouldn’t wish the experience of betrayal that I’ve had on anyone, but looking back I realize it was absolutely essential for my evolution. The betrayal I had at the hand of my teacher, which I wrote about in Sun at Midnight, was a betrayal that ended one life. I died when I realized that I’d been hopelessly sold down the river in a very dangerous way. But that death wasn’t into chaos. It was into a much larger, more spacious realization. Also, I believe that betrayal isn’t just the most difficult experience that a human being can go through. It’s also an initiation, a terrible and necessary initiation on the path to God. Because whether we like it or not, when we’re living in the false self we’re worshiping, without knowing it sometimes, certain idols, certain deep fantasies of power or success or status or fame or even of enlightenment.

And all of that has to go because those fantasies and those concepts are what the false self constellates itself around. What betrayal can teach you if you let it, is that there is only one force, one reality that does not betray, and that is the Divine. It can immeasurably deepen your experience of the Divine, your commitment to the Divine. It’s a terrible process because you have to allow your false self to be dissolved in the black acid of the suffering that betrayal brings and you have to be able to stand the revelations of the darkness in human nature that betrayal gives.

That leads me to yet one more point. I don’t think I would be the radical sacred activist teacher that I am. I don’t think I’d be doing the fierce feminine work that I’m doing. I don’t think I’d be doing it with the passion that I’m doing it had I not suffered at the hands of a patriarchal institution, the guru system, the horrible cruelty of patriarchy. It was the experience with Meera that led me to understand at a visceral level what the poor are going through, what African-Americans are going through, what gay people are going through in so many countries all over the world, what animals are going through.

If you allow your own experience of betrayal to light up the forms of betrayal that are active now everywhere in our devastated world, what that experience will make of you is a rebel of love. Someone who understands that through their own initiation into betrayal, they’ve been initiated into the dark forces that are now threatening the whole human enterprise. And that bitch-slaps you awake to the reality of evil in the world, to the reality of countering that evil with the whole of your reconstructed self. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since the experience of betrayal which nearly killed me.

In light of the betrayals you’ve suffered, have you come to take measures to protect your heart, or do you remain as open and vulnerable as ever and just invite life to do with you what it will?
That’s a very interesting and complex question. No, I don’t think I’ve … My heart has evolved immensely through this experience because it’s become imbued with what Jesus called the serpent’s wisdom. You have to learn the lessons of betrayal and that’s one of his great terrible gifts to you. Those lessons are primarily lessons of discernment, primarily lessons of trusting your own intuition about people. I had had a very Pollyanna-like attitude to people and to human nature and my experience of betrayal bitch-slapped me awake to the very dark forces that are operative also in human nature. We don’t just inherit the divine light, we also inherit a propensity for shadow and for darkness and for real evil, which everybody has to recognize in themselves.

That said, I’ve made a commitment to the Beloved to remain as passionately open without being as passionately deluded as I was before. So you somehow have to pray… You must pray, to remain in unknowing, to remain in innocent mind while also being very discerning and aware of the shadow. That’s why I’ve come to value so much what Jesus said about marrying the wisdom of the serpent with the innocence of the dove. Like many people, I had too much of the innocence of the dove which made me vulnerable to betrayal and manipulation and cruelty and madness and that was partly my fault. I was too naïve. What this experience of betrayal did was to awake and make me, despite myself, a spiritual adult.

But in that process, from the beginning I swore that I would not lose my power of love and not lose my passion for love, and I haven’t. So I’m hoping that this time in my life that I’m closer to that sacred marriage of true discernment and true generosity that is the beginning of the beginning of the beginning of enlightenment, of liberation.

So ultimately, are you saying that betrayal is a terrifying but precious form of alchemy?
Yes! It’s terrifying because as I said, it dissolves the whole world, the whole set of concepts, the whole self. And not everybody survives betrayal. The reason why I survived it is that I’d had a very deep spiritual practice. I’d had a series of very profound realizations so when my attachment to my guru had to be dissolved and the whole guru system, I was left with the realization that I had been graced with. But I can imagine many people who would go through a similar experience who hadn’t got that kind of realization would have been pulverized and, in fact, driven to suicide by it. It’s not inevitable that if you’re betrayed you are alchemized and transformed. What’s essential is for everyone to plunge into spiritual practices so that they can have as profound a relationship with reality beyond form as possible, so that when the inevitable betrayals come in life, they have deep resources with which to deal with them.

Even with those deep resources, I nearly died many times so I know how hard it is to get through this initiation. That said, yes. Betrayal is the most potentially transformative experience on the path. There’s one more reason I think that that is so and that is that when you are betrayed by somebody whom you have loved with your whole being, with heart, mind, body, and soul as I loved Meera, as I loved my teacher. When you are betrayed at that level, what your experience is really a soul rape. It’s the ultimate betrayal. But what it challenges you to do, I found, is to really take seriously the testimony of all the spiritual powers about forgiveness. You have to come to a place where you’re not consumed by rage and self-pity and the agony of what you’re going through, and in which you truly see the other as having committed a great crime not only against you, but against themselves, and truly have compassion for them even as you’re suffering the consequences of their action.

And that is something I prayed for constantly when I was going through the dark night that followed on my betrayal by Meera, and it came about because I found myself when I was in Israel 10 years later, able to kneel in the grass outside the place where Jesus had given the Beatitudes and truly pray for her soul. Pray that she should not suffer the consequences of her appalling actions. Pray that the karma that she’d accrued through doing what she did could in some sense be spared her. I was very conscious by that time of just how dreadful what she’d done was, what an abuse of power on every conceivable level. I was aware too that if she was going to suffer that she would suffer horribly and my heart bled for her.

That was the moment when I tasted the depth of unconditional love and unconditional forgiveness in my own nature. I realized that there is in each of us an unshakable reservoir of compassion. Nobody wants to have to get to that unshakable reservoir and have to experience it, but in fact if you do, it gives you an extraordinary calm, humble pride in the depths of your own divine nature, and that gives you the strength to go on and take anything.

That’s beautiful. Thank you so much, Andrew, for sharing your insights and wisdom with us today. I know that many people will find your words very healing.
Well, I feel that what’s happening on every level in our world, we’re being betrayed on every level. We’re being betrayed by the politicians. We’re being betrayed by the CEOs. We’re being betrayed by the experts. We’re being betrayed by the false teachers. What’s essential to realize is that this betrayal that is being exposed is a tremendous challenge to all of us to get very much more serious about connecting with our own innate divine consciousness, our own inner guru, and that the fatal mistake to make is to grow bitter and to grow furious. What we need to do, all of us, is to go deeper to an unconditional love which in the end can embrace even those who have done the most terrible things to us.

And if we can find in ourselves — and we can if we pray and if we truly align ourselves with the Beloved — then we’ll discover in ourselves a strength far greater and far deeper and far wilder and far richer than anything that we could ever imagine. The most terrible experience of all betrayal will turn out to be the one that gives us the diamond of our own enlightened consciousness.

Oh, that’s beautiful. Thank you so much, Andrew, for spending time with us today.
My great pleasure and my honor. God bless you, dear Phil.


Andrew Harvey is an author, speaker and founder/director of the Institute of Sacred Activism, an international organization focused on inviting concerned people to take up the challenge of our contemporary global crises by becoming inspired, effective and practical agents of institutional and systemic change in order to create peace and sustainability.

Andrew has taught at Oxford University, Cornell University, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, The California Institute of Integral Studies and the University of Creation Spirituality as well as at various spiritual centers throughout the U.S.

He was the subject of the 1993 BBC film documentary, The Making of a Modern Mystic, and appears also in Rumi Turning Ecstatic and The Consciousness of the Christ: Reclaiming Jesus for A New Humanity.

He is co-author of the best-selling The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, and has worked with the great Iranian Sufi dancer, Banafsheh Sayyad, in producing a film, In the Fire of Grace, which marries Sufi-inspired dances to the stages of Rumi’s understanding of the path of Divine love.

Andrew’s many books include Sun at Midnight, The Essential Mystics and The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism.

Click here to visit Andrew’s website.

Click here to see all the video and audio interviews I’ve conducted.


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