Advent 2016 – Letter from President

Dear Members and Friends of The Contemplative Society,

Advent: a time of waiting, of drawing more inward, a season of contemplation. It is easy for our personal energies to be dispersed and scattered, especially at this time of year. In the midst of the restlessness, fear, and general noise of day-to-day living, I am mindful of the need to consciously and honestly take a closer look at how we manifest our own energies. Advent is an opportunity to take time, to pause in the midst of all that calls us outward. We have an opportunity at this very moment as we read this to sense the activity and energies within our own minds, emotions, and physical bodies. Can we practice being here now in the midst of all that pulls our attention away from the present moment?

Advent is an opportunity to open to that place within where the deep, the holy, the inexpressible resides. Soon the festivities, celebrations, and joyful outpouring will be upon us providing much opportunity to manifest outwardly in abundance, gratitude, and thanksgiving. The weeks of Advent are a perfect container for allowing the soul to hibernate and quieten for a time. During these last days of Advent might we, like Mary, “treasure up these things and ponder them” in our hearts, or as Fr. Bruno says below, “allow yourself to be gathered into it”, into that place where  “you know within yourself the perfect stability of the universe”?

Fr. Bruno Barnhart died a year ago, on November 28th, the eve of the first Sunday in Advent last year. Fr. Bruno was a Roman Catholic priest at New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California, and has been on my heart and mind this Advent. Cynthia and Bruno were two of my earliest contemplative teachers. Contemplatives on Vancouver Island were blessed to have a group who annually brought Fr. Bruno here to lead and teach at extended silent retreats at the Sisters of St. Ann’s retreat house, Queenswood, and later at Bethlehem Retreat Centre. The extended sitting, as well as the teaching, deeply nourished me as well as challenged my pre-existing assumptions of what defined a spiritual life. I am deeply grateful to have been the recipient of Fr. Bruno’s words and his remarkable presence which gave witness to a life lived deeply. Those times of deep retreat laid a firm foundation and continue to inform my spiritual practice and growth today.  This section from Fr. Bruno’s book, Second Simplicity (p. 20-21) seems timely for this season of year:

Friend, just for a moment, allow your mind to disengage itself from its surface and to be drawn inward by the pull of its root, its invisible ground and stem. There at the center you are aware of something uncircumscribed, which is one with yourself, which is yourself illimitable. There: we should say here, for in this place there is only here. This is the here of being, the place of the burning bush, the crossing of time and space, of history and possibility, of experience and cosmos.

You cannot think of this, it is not an object of thought. You cannot focus on it, but from time to time it enkindles, it becomes conscious within you, and you can allow yourself to be gathered into it.

…What if it is not a place but everyplace, what if it surrounds you, so that the problem is not that of finding a way to it, but of finding the way out of the ways in which you are stuck? What if is the everywhere that we are imprisoned from, blinded from, the burning reality that we reach toward at every moment through the strong vertical bars of our mind, our will?

But still there are these moments of consciousness. There are moments when you know within yourself the perfect stability of the universe and the absolute sufficiency, the intrinsic rectitude of light.

…Maybe the way is a crazy multiple of love for this thing inside us: the pearl, the treasure. But be careful not to name it in such a way that you bring it home. For you do not live where you think you do. Instead, let it lead you. Let it be wild, an eccentric center, a city hidden in the wilderness, an unspoken name, an unspeakable syllable, a fire burning all the words into a wild and weaving script of smoke. Come back to this again and again.

One practice that can support our intention to open and receive is Centering Prayer. Cynthia’s first book, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening is one of the best books available on this practice and I eagerly await the follow-up to this book, The Heart of Centering Prayer: Nondual Christianity in Theory and Practice, which is now available for pre-order from Shambhala Publications. Fr. Thomas Keating writes of Cynthia’s newest book, “A masterpiece of spiritual wisdom firmly rooted in the Christian mystical tradition. A brilliant analysis of nondual Christianity in theory and in practice and a major contribution to the Centering Prayer movement and to interspiritual dialogue.”

I am grateful to contemplatives around the world who continue to support the mission of The Contemplative Society in its efforts to encourage contemplative practice and wisdom teaching. May this Advent and Christmas be a holy time for you filled with abundance and joy.

Heather

 

Heather Page, President

Saying “Goodbye” to Felicity Hanington

Dear friends in The Contemplative Society,

It is with great sadness that I must share the news with you of the death of Felicity Hanington in Victoria last Saturday, October 29th. Felicity was one of the earliest members of The Contemplative Society, and I owe both her and her amazingly talented family an enduring debt of gratitude, both professionally and personally.

Felicity fought a long and hard fight with cancer. It was 1999, nearly 20 years ago, when she first received her diagnosis of breast cancer. At that point she herself was barely 40, and her young children Charlotte and Mathew were 9 and 4 respectively. Opting for fiercely aggressive chemo, Felicity fought the beast into remission – and then proceeded to totally remake her life, with spiritual growth and inner authenticity at the center of everything. It was a gamble that paid off profoundly. She lived to see her children grow into amazing, productive adults, and to face both life and death as gift.

EagleIsland2012Feb2My own most powerful interface with the Hanington-Dawe family came in 2001, when Felicity and husband Larry Dawe discerned that they were called to help me build my hermitage on Eagle Island. They came, Felicity still barely recovered from that first bout with chemo, and proceeded to give their hands and their hearts to raising my hermitage. That it stands and has housed me for more than a decade is entirely their profound and mysterious gift to me. I am still awed by their generosity – and fortitude. Perhaps from her now-more-spacious viewing platform, the beauty of this gift will shine through even more clearly.

Felicity evidently completed her life just as she had lived it: with openness, receptivity, grace, and gratitude. I share her obituary with you here as a small token of the gratitude and awe I feel for this Wisdom seeker who has exemplified the path in better ways than I will ever know.

felicity-hanington

To Larry, Charlotte, and Mat, my deep condolences, but a gratitude as well for the precious additional years you were able to be together. And, for her spirit, which I know you all carry within you with equal grace and fortitude.

En christo,

 

Cynthia


The board also wishes to share our condolences with Felicity’s friends and family.

We invite you to share your sentiments below in the comments.

Thanksgiving 2016 – by Heather Page and Jennifer England

Soon after the recent Wisdom School with Cynthia Bourgeault, retreat participant Jennifer England (Integral Master CoachTM with sparkcoaching.ca) wrote a piece reflecting on Omega, Teilhard de Chardin, the process of evolution, and love. Heather Page, president of The Contemplative Society, provides the introduction, a Thanksgiving letter, also inspired by the Wisdom School. 


Dear Members and Friends of The Contemplative Society,

Canadian Thanksgiving will be celebrated this weekend. As many gather around the table to celebrate family and abundance I am reminded of a passage Cynthia referred to in her recent Teilhard Wisdom School here on Vancouver Island.

Cynthia made reference to a passage from Paul’s Letter to the Romans:

 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.

choirCynthia reminded us that the force of love cannot be contained in one person; we need to bear the beams of love together. She used the illustration of a choir as an example of how every voice is necessary for the expression of the whole. Each individual brings a distinct quality adding to the magnificence of the combined expression.

Jennifer England attended this recent Wisdom School and I have included her beautiful reflection below. In her own authentic and distinct voice, Jennifer captures a unique expression of the Wisdom week.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, or simply pause in gratitude, may we sense the wondrous ways we are connected to a larger body of family, friends, and colleagues as well as to all of creation. I am particularly grateful at this time of year for the body of contemplatives who share, as Jennifer writes, the yearning “to become intimate with the active force of love”. 

Bless you all,

Heather


Consciousness Rising

On all our ski trips, Dad drew the Omega symbol in a snow bank with one of his poles every time we stopped. There were so many, you could have found your way home just by following the symbols. He drew it in every birthday card, Easter Sunday drawing, and I’m sure on our country mailbox and my first bottle of scotch. Whether it was embellished with eyes, a pointy nose, and a half smile, it has been with me since I was a young girl.

Even though I knew I should read before Wisdom School, I was reluctant to delve into my $1.95 copy of The Phenomenon of Man by Teilhard de Chardin.¹ I had his work jostling for room on my nightstand, but couldn’t get into it late at night – it felt too intellectual and heady. But on the first night of the retreat, Cynthia helped me find a way in. Wisdom School, she pointed out, is not about downloading information but about wisdom formation. Knowing with more of you.

Photo by Sher Sacks, Wisdom School 2016 participant

Photo by Sher Sacks, Wisdom School 2016 participant

As the first night descended, we gathered with our sheepskins, meditation quilts, journals, and mugs of tea. A framed photo of the Teilhard, the French scientist/Jesuit priest, was nestled among lit candles, rocks, and fossils on a nearby table. And we, of all ages, were ready to find our way to the Omega.

Teilhard was a keen observer of evolution, expressed through the dynamism of planet life. Everything is in motion, he said, and he called this cosmogenesis. Over 4 billion years on Earth, evolution has brought us the geosphere, the biosphere, and more recently, the noosphere. Throughout this evolution, Teilhard observed a pattern of increasing complexity in life structures on the outside and increasing consciousness on the inside. As I reflected on the changes in my brief lifetime, I can see and feel this motion and complexity: industrialization, time/space compression, globalization, the internet and smart phones, climate change, mass migrations…

Whether it is through our awkward groping in the dark or the constriction that comes with too many people in a limited space, evolution works because it’s under tension. As long as things have their own space, there is not motivation or impetus for change. From here, Cynthia took us through Teilhard’s ideas on convergence – whereby humans are the “axis and arrow of evolution”. Like lines on the globe merging at its poles, so too is the direction and pulse of transformation. So, as the planet becomes dense with humans and space and resources become limited, we naturally experience increasing tension. For me as a hopeful humanist, I’d like a bit more space and less stress on our globe, but for Teilhard, he saw this as a good thing and would have loved densification of neighbourhoods and sweaty subways.

And this is where I began to really pay attention with Teilhard. Because, if you are a bit like me, and have felt fear listening to the news – whether on Syria or US politics, it’s easy to feel discouraged as to where we’re collectively headed. But for Teilhard, our dissonance and difference is where unity begins. With friction between the parts of a system, we experience more exchange, connection – enabling the radically personal to emerge, those deep and vulnerable places of being human when faced with anguish, grief, uprootedness.

What is it on behalf of? Intentional design or sentimental hope? Resurrecting a deeper quality, Cynthia reminds us it’s the drive shaft of love wanting to become revealed and known in the granular, the personal, and the messiness of everyday human life. And this active force of love is the undercurrent of it all…leading us to a collective experience of increasing interiority, where all things are joined.

alpha omegaThis is the Omega. And, Teilhard quietly says in the Epilogue of The Phenonemon of Man, the Cosmic Christ. Simply, as I understand it, the incarnation of Jesus in human form – where the movement of Divine love became holographically part of this planet.

How to know more of this, with more of me?

The Other Way to Listen by Byrd Byron is one of my favourite stories to read to my kids. It’s about a young boy and an old man who talk about what they can hear. The Old Man says he can hear a cactus flower bloom in the desert. The boy wants to learn. The Old Man tells him he has to learn another way to listen. Only then will the rock speak. The lizard howl. The cactus sing.

I am groping my way to listen differently. And this is the wisdom formation that Cynthia talks about. The path of wisdom is to become intimate with the active force of love within that yearns to be known and related to the yearning in another.

At the retreat, I was staring up at the millions of fir needles in an old growth forest, watching raindrops fall from hundreds of feet up. In that moment, I remembered the Omega in the snow. All of the Omegas. Hundreds of them carved into the frozen water, sliding over billions of years of layered bedrock.

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Jennifer is an Integral Coach who lives in the Yukon with her family. She was one of the 50 people, and one of the youngest contemplatives, who attended this year’s Wisdom School. Read more about her on sparkcoaching.ca.


Notes:

    1. Cynthia Bourgeault recommended the following translation for our Wisdom School: Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. The Human Phenomenon. ed. Sarah Appleton-Weber. Sussex Academic Press: 2003.

The contemplative connection: building a community of unity

In 2014, Meagan Crosby-Shearer received a scholarship to attend the Wisdom School led by Cynthia Bourgeault on The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three held at Lake Cowichan, BC which drew on content from her recent, much-lauded book of the same name. Meagan’s subsequent reflection demonstrates how becoming a member of The Contemplative Society helps to recover the mystical heart of the Christian Wisdom tradition, as well as provide accessible opportunities and resources to those interested in learning and living contemplative Christian wisdom. 


My attendance at this year’s Wisdom school came through pure gift and, perhaps in hindsight, the Law of Three.

I had reached a state of impasse where what was needed in my life was a reorientation to the Spirit of God and an integration of body and soul, and instead I felt locked into a cycle of increasing fragmentation. Into the peak of this intensity came the email invitation to Wisdom School which offered a breath of peace and a shift in focus.

IMG_0017I arrived at Wisdom School in the early evening and stepped into the fragrance of pine and earth, and could feel myself begin to drink in the peace of the setting. I resonated with the opening talk which was both Christ-centered and monastic in approach, and appreciated the language of prayer together, prayer alone, work alone, and work together as being the foundation for our time together as well as forming the rhythm of our lives. The evening meditation was beautiful, and I felt at times as if I was cradling a beating heart in my palms.

The days started with a sunrise walk, and then were full of intense learning punctuated by walks in the beauty of the surrounding area, breathless plunges into the cool water, work that warmed my body and sank my feet deeper into the earth, and times of meditation and song that freed me to discover again the essence of God within me and in those people and places around me. The nights in their silent beauty were brilliantly lit with stars bringing Psalm 19 to mind.

I appreciated the time of work and, in particular, the teaching about how much we give of ourselves to our work. It is something I have reflected on many times since the school and I have begun to seek out better ways of balancing this tendency. Alongside this was the practice of leaving things unfinished to be fully present to the next moment. It was difficult to walk away at the end of our work period and know that there was more to do, but the practice allowed me to realize how often my mind is still wrestling with the last event instead of becoming fully available to be God’s hands and feet in the present moment.

I was fascinated by the teaching on the Law of Three and of Boehme’s process allowing for anguish, desire, and agitation to be the impetus for light. It begins to transform the way we dwell in the world if anguish is no longer seen as something to be fought or eradicated, or as darkness where God is absent but, instead, one of the very materials by which a new creation can occur.

I appreciated that we were sent out to explore the Law of Three both through the exercise of looking back on our life, but also by engaging it within our current contexts. I was struck by its possibility in areas of conflict, be they internal or external, and the call to move from a place of either/or to a place of curiosity and holding situations/conversations lightly. I appreciated the release of identity that this process allowed.

While there was not time to delve into the implications of the Trinity in as much depth as I would have liked, I was struck by the movement of the unfolding Trinity. Instead of a snapshot caught in time I appreciated the idea of the Trinity as ever-creating, dynamic, and self-revealing. I also was caught by the statement that this understanding of the Trinity allows us to view our age not in utter uncontrolled chaos, but as unfolding toward an Omega point.

IMG_0668As our time drew to an end, we had a chance to walk the Enneagram that had been unfolding throughout the week. I was initially worried about knowing which way to go but, as I entered, it was smooth and clear and the energy built until I could feel it ripple across my palms and scalp. It made me think of the law of world creation and the Law of Three and I wondered at what we had loosed into the world by our collective action. The night intensified this question. Sleep was elusive. It made me question again what power was being stirred through our time.

We closed with a profound celebration of the Eucharist that seemed to bring everything together in a beautiful unity. As we received the elements in our time, Cynthia emphasized “Christ growing a new thing within us” and I could feel myself yearning toward that realization, ready and eager to embrace the new life that Christ is able to birth within each of us.

I was thankful that far from leaving us simply to long for the next retreat, we were sent to explore and pay attention to the Law of Three in our lives and to apply the learning we had gained very practically into our own places and spaces.

I am deeply thankful for the opportunity The Contemplative Society provided that allowed me to participate in this Wisdom school. There are many insights still percolating and, as I go back to The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three, there are fresh understandings from Cynthia’s talks (and more questions!) that continue to emerge. I am incorporating the insights I have gained not only into my own spiritual life, but in the leadership of the community we are a part of.

Again, my deep gratitude for this time of refreshment and learning, and I will continue to hold the work of The Contemplative Society in prayer as you continue to serve so many with your ministry!

Meagan, walking the Enneagram

Meagan, walking the Enneagram


Hungry for more? Become a member today to ensure more people like Meagan are able to access opportunities like Wisdom Schools, and you’ll receive the opportunity to register for TCS events like the upcoming Wisdom School on Teilhard de Chardin in advance of the public!