A review of Cynthia Bourgeault’s ‘Practicing Living Presence – Part One’ by Brian Mitchell

This post is shared by Brian Mitchell as a follow up to our recent release of “Practicing Living Presence: Discovering the Mind of Christ Within – Part One” a teaching by Cynthia Bourgeault. Brian is one of the intrepid team of volunteer Editors (together with Peggy Zimmerman, Diane Walker, Harrison Russin and others) who have worked diligently to transform the raw audio of this teaching into a format we can all listen to and learn from. We are grateful to Brian and the editing team for their devoted volunteer work.

Over a period of four years in the early aughts Cynthia met with a group of fellow Christian contemplatives to investigate a central piece of Jesus’ teaching – one that has largely fallen by the wayside. That piece is Presence. Within the text Living Presence: A Sufi Way to Mindfulness & the Essential Self, by Kabir Helminski, Cynthia believes we can find what she says is “the best key around to unlock the missing piece of our own Christian tradition”. She says: “What Jesus did originally and what his real impact on the world was, and with which we still resonate today, was that he called people to Being in a very deep way.” For thirty hours she connects us with what Being/Presence is – and, in response to probing inquiries from her fellows, she unwraps and explains how we can retrieve It in our own lives.

She says: “There is a consistency right from the heart of Jesus through this material and back into our own piece today. Jesus called people into an encounter with the divinity within them and the divinity staring them in the face, and he pulled them to a fundamental level that changed their lives from inside out. At the heart of the Gospels is the memory written in blood and fire of one person’s encounter through Jesus with their own True Self, with their own possibility, with their Alpha and Omega. That is the unifying thread in what we are going to be exploring and why [the Being/Presence energy expressed in Helminski’s book] is, in its heart, absolutely mega-Christian.”

She goes on to say: “Since the Wisdom principle is imperishable in the human soul, it is built right into the blueprint of who we are as people – we are intended to be totally transformed into Christ consciousness – that was the gift from God. And since that tradition is imperishable and built right into our DNA, the tradition keeps popping up again. On the one hand you have this institutionalism trying to control it – Bruno has this wonderful line about ‘bottling it up like tap water so it dispenses it’ – meanwhile you have these new eruptions coming up like spring crocuses through the macadam over the original vision.

“The Sufi tradition represents that kind of an up-welling. My own sense is that the Sufi tradition which took shape in the seedbed of Islam represents a reconnection with the original heart of what Christ was trying to say and a whole new, fresh appropriation of how to do it. In Sufism, and particularly in the teachings and beautiful poetry of Rumi, you find the technology, if you want to call it that, the heart technology to get back and unlock what Christ was trying to say – that we must be born again of water and spirit, that you must lose your life to find it, and to be like the lilies of the field, they toil not neither do they spin – that radical generosity, that radical laying down which is at the heart of Christ’s message. Rumi takes up the theme and really gives us some specific teachings and specific training for how to arrive at that consciousness.

“That is why a lot of folks in the Christian faith who have really felt the heart of their own souls stirring toward that call for complete transformation of consciousness have found their way to it through this material, through a side tour of Sufism. You could say that for Christians looking for a path and not being able to find one in their own faith but wanting to stay there and come around to the consciousness that Christ was mirroring, some take the hot route and some take the cool route, some go around by the route of Buddhism, some go around by the route of Sufism, and both come around to a place where something inside shifts, where they can begin to say, ‘Ah! That’s what Christ was getting at! That’s how you do it. That’s how you learn not to get aggravated when the guys who got to the vineyard one half hour before quitting time get the same pay as you do and you struggled all day.’ You finally learn the secret of how you crack those nuts. That’s what we’re doing.”

We have released Cynthia’s practical, ground-truthed work in three parts in both audio and written formats. Parts II and III will follow in the new year. In addition to drawing upon Helminski’s text she also reflects on exercises from Lynn C. Bauman’s Living the Presence: A Manual for Contemplative Christian Practice to bring us into a personal encounter with Being/Presence. Here are a couple of comments from the two editors of the Living Presence recording and transcript.

Diane Walker says: “Editing Living Presence has been pure joy for me. This is such seminal work; it’s the root of all she was teaching at all those retreats I attended in the early 2000’s, and is the root of my own belief system as well (of course; Cynthia had a major influence on my theology), so it’s lovely to have a sort of refresher course in these root concepts — plus, 15 years of practice later, I come to it with a different perspective so there are things I understand better now; that resonate in a way I may have missed in the first hearing. I hope I will be forgiven for saying this, but for me this is Cynthia at her best, her richest, her most helpful and profound and basic, fundamental…developing a capacity to be both in the world and in Presence; those waves of awareness that she talks about in chapter 5, not a steady state but an ongoing attempt to be conscious as often as possible while still living a busy productive life. Such good stuff!”

And Harrison Russin comments: “I’ve gone through Cynthia’s Wisdom school (as an e-course from the CAC) and I hear a lot of the teaching from that in inchoate form here, 20 years earlier. But it’s also, for me, like hearing the Beatles in Hamburg. You can almost hear her working these themes out with friends!”

This material, like Presence Itself, will never grow old.

Brian Mitchell, Kamloops, B.C. Canada


Practising Living Presence:

Discovering the Mind of Christ Within –

Part One

MP3s are 25% off till December 17!

This is Part One of a three-part teaching, with the other two parts slated for publcation in the new year.

The Recording is available for purchase through our website by clicking the image below.


Practicing Living Presence Cover

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