Christmas 2017 – Letter from President

Dear Members and Friends,

This time of year often propels us into a vast amount of “doing” in an attempt to recreate an atmosphere that might reflect the transcendent mystery celebrated at Christmas. I have recently been reminded that the only doing which can open us to the Hope and Light of this season is the doing of waking, noticing, and trusting the present moment in all its fullness, mystery, and wonder. There is no need to attain anything, all is given and is available as we become aware of our subtle resistance to stopping right now, allowing ourselves to drop into the fullness of this present moment.

Recently I was sent a poem by Sylvia Plath which reminds me of the importance of keeping our eyes open to the subtle and hidden nature of the Divine as revealed in our midst. The Christ Child was revealed to us in the humblest of settings, within the mundane stuff of life. How easy to forget this and seek instead a brighter more transcendent star rather than allowing our subtle senses to be touched by that still point available through a deeper noticing, even of a “black rook”.

I only know that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my senses, haul
My eyelids up, and grant

A brief respite from fear…

 

 

 

In a world that seems so often to be tilting towards harshness and violence, it is ever more important that we hold the light for the gentle art of listening and opening deeply. As Cynthia said in an Advent address in Aspen Chapel in 2009:

The eye of our mind can only see separation and feel ourselves to be in competition to everything else.

But, when the eyes of the heart open, we see the connection and alignment which we really participate in. As we enter that which is really true, we begin to prepare ourselves for the Christmas message of peace on earth and good will to all humanity.

We on the board are grateful to you for sharing with us in the ministry of The Contemplative Society as we provide support for contemplative practice that might guide us into deeper seeing. Your faithfulness makes it possible for us, through Wisdom Schools, retreats, workshops, books, on-line e-courses, and audio recordings, to continue reaching people hungry to hear this ancient wisdom of the heart.

God bless you all in this season of hope, peace, joy, and love and may our attention be drawn to “whatever angel may chose to flare suddenly at my elbow.”

Heather

 

Heather Page, President


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On Beelzebub’s Tales

Dear Wisdom friends,

Wow! What an amazing heart-outpouring from all of you! I feel the energy, the strength and, most important, the clarity. I believe that in the space of merely a week we have already become a “morphogenetic field” out there in the cosmos. And the space which the “conscious circle of humanity” needed to have occupied is now activated and beginning to make its presence felt.

I see that many of you are already gearing up for the deep dive into Beelzebub’s Tales, so I did want to briefly share with you these few clarifications and tips. Teaching and reading groups are already starting to self-organize, both formally and informally, on the ground and in cyber space. I hope that by shortly into the New Year we will be able to put together a resource directory helping our keen band of wisdom seekers find their way to the most appropriate venue. But meanwhile…

First, you should all know that I will, myself, be offering a Lenten e-course with Spirituality and Practice on “The Obligolnian Strivings”, the heart of Gurdjieff’s brilliant vision of human purpose and accountability, and the ethical climax of the first book of Beelzebub’s Tales. So stay tuned! The course begins with an orientation on February 27, then kicks off on Ash Wednesday, March 1. Shortly after the New Year it should be available for sign-up on the S & P website.

Now, if you’re determined to forge ahead on your own, know that what you’re dealing with here is Gurdjieff’s sprawling cosmological masterpiece: brilliant and outrageous in equal measures – and definitely not an easy read. Beelzebub’s Tales is also the reason Gurdjieff is sometimes hailed as one of the founding fathers of modern-day science fiction! Set in a vast, intergalactic universe and narrated by the now-nearly-redeemed fallen angel Beelzebub, this cosmological epic unfolds the “tragical history of the unfortunate planet earth”, gradually revealing how human conscious development went so badly off course here. It lays out an alternative history which may at first appear totally mad – but it’s curious how many cosmological facts first “spun” by G in this epic yarn have subsequently been scientifically confirmed…So, caveat emptor here!

It’s largely Book I we’ll be concerned with in this study, which basically lays out the mythic narrative. I am interested in it chiefly because it furnishes some important alternative concepts and images as we engage the work I envisioned in my former post: i.e., exploring the ley line (or is it a fault line?) of causality that runs through 800 years of Western intellectual history. The serious questions I want to explore this spring will be easier to grasp if you already have under your belts: 

  1. some idea of what a real Wisdom School is (i.e., the ancient Society Akhaldan of Atlantis versus the later Babylonian “talking heads”);
  2. the roadmap of human purpose laid out through “the saintly labors of the holy and Essence-loving” Ashiata Shiemash; and,
  3. the destruction of those saintly labors by the “democratic” reforms of the “Eternal Hasnamuss” Lentrohamsanin (chapters 25-28). That in and of itself will furnish more than we need to get ourselves to 2020, the year of perfect vision.

That’s what you’ll find in Book I.  Meanwhile, a few more tips:

  1. Unless you’re already a diehard Gurdjieff fan, I’d recommend skipping the Introduction, “The Arousing of Thought”. Begin with Chapter 2. 
  2. Forget “analytical mode”. This is middle-eastern story-telling in flavor, extended to epic scope. Gurdjieff’s father was an ashok, a local bardic poet who could recite the oral history of the world back 1000 years. Think in this mode: playful, mythologic, humorous; not “buttoned down” mental/esoteric.
  3. Take it little at a time. Reading out loud with a partner, at least in certain sections, can extend and awaken the range of meaning.
  4. There is a very good introductory summary in Part II of James Moore’s Gurdjieff: The Anatomy of a Myth that will help get you oriented.

Remember that there is some method in my madness here. If this big unwieldy tome doesn’t speak to you, don’t feel obligated to wade through it just to get to some concepts that I’ll be unpacking in my own teaching in due course. But since many of you are itching to get underway, I thought I’d at least throw you these few leads.

With Christmas blessing and love,

Cynthia

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

Advent 2015 – Letter from President

As Advent draws to a close, Heather Page, President of The Contemplative Society, reminds us of how love was and is made manifest. Also, a special announcement regarding Cynthia Bourgeault’s plans to visit Vancouver Island in 2016. 


Dear Members and Friends,

As we approach the final days of Advent and move into Christmas celebrations, I am filled with gratitude for those who support The Contemplative Society in a variety of ways: from our faithful volunteers to those who offer steady financial support, as well as those who bear witness to the mission of the society through their steady contemplative practice. Although based in British Columbia, Canada, TCS is a global community offering and receiving support from contemplatives throughout the world.

Advent - Christ Church Cathedral

I am also grateful to Cynthia Bourgeault, our principal teacher and advisor, who continues to teach and model incarnational Wisdom to a growing audience worldwide. Through Wisdom Schools, retreats, workshops, books, on-line e-courses, and audio and video recordings, this teaching continues to reach people hungry to hear and practice the ancient wisdom which is at the heart of early Christian practice but often forgotten in our culture today.

We are delighted that Cynthia has agreed to be with us on Vancouver Island, September 19-24, 2016, when she will teach on the writings of Teilhard de Chardin. Cynthia says she aims to make Teilhard’s writings “less dense and see how he is carried through in liturgy and practice…” We will begin taking registrations in the spring. Be sure your membership is up-to-date so you will be the first to hear when registration opens. Cynthia’s retreats fill quickly!

As Christmas approaches, I am reminded of Cynthia’s teaching on love made manifest in the midst of “density and jagged edges”. God chose to incarnate, to suffer constriction, and to carry divine love and sorrow together in a finite body as witnessed and embodied in the Christmas story. I want to share a beautiful passage from The Wisdom Jesus that seems appropriate for our day:

Could it be that this earthly realm, not in spite of, but because of, its very density and jagged edges, offers precisely the conditions for the expression of certain aspects of divine love that could become real in no other way? This world does indeed show forth what love is like in a particularly intense and costly way. But when we look at this process more deeply, we can see that those sharp edges we experience as constriction at the same time call forth some of the most exquisite dimensions of love, which require the condition of finitude in order to make sense – qualities such as steadfastness, tenderness, commitment, forbearance, fidelity, and forgiveness. These mature and subtle flavors of love have no real context in a realm where there are no edges, no boundaries, where all just flows. But when you run up against the hard edge, and have to stand true to love anyway, what emerges is a most precious taste of pure divine love. There, God has spoken his most intimate name.

Let me be clear here. I am not saying suffering exists in order for God to reveal himself. I am only saying where suffering exists and is consciously accepted, there divine love shines forth brightly. Unfortunately, linear cause-and-effect has progressively less meaning as we approach the deep mysteries (which originate beyond time and thus have no real use for it). But the principle can be tested. Pay attention to the quality of human character that emerges from constriction accepted with conscious forgiveness as compared to what emerges from rage and violence and draw your own conclusions…

…Our jagged and hard-edged earth plane is the realm in which this mercy is the most deeply, excruciatingly, and beautifully released. That’s our business down here. That’s what we’re here for.

[Source: Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus (Shambhala, 2008), 99-100.]

My prayer is that we might be given courage, patience and great humility so “that we may learn to bear the beams of love”. May we be conscious of how this love manifests in the days ahead.

With sincere gratitude,

Heather Page
President


 

Remembering Bruno Barnhart

Cynthia Bourgeault, OSB Cam oblate reflects on how Fr. Bruno Barnhart (April 10, 1931 to November 28, 2015) touched her life after news of his passing on the first day of Advent.

 

Fr. Bruno Barnhart, former prior of New Camaldoli Monastery, mystic, hermit, and my friend and spiritual father for more than thirty years, is now officially on the other side. He chose the auspicious occasion of the eve of Advent for his transition to the infinite. I imagine him now happily reunited with his old friends Beatrice Bruteau, Raimon Panikkar, and Bede Griffiths, who are no doubt already showing him the ropes in his new celestial habitat.

 It does seem that Bruno died a conscious death. When the physical body could no longer do what was needed to sustain his hermit independence, he simply let it go in slow and gentle increments. Over the course of the fall, he slowly dwindled until his monastic brethren finally carted him off to a hospital for emergency re-stabilization, and then to a nursing care facility for appetite enhancement and physical therapy. When neither did any good, they brought him back to hospice care at his beloved New Camaldoli, no doubt expecting to hunker down for at least a few more weeks over Christmas for final farewells and blessings. But Bruno evidently had other plans. The very next morning he embarked upon his transition and, just before midnight, his consummatum est was achieved. He departed this earth plane, surrounded by his monastic brethren, to greet the dawn of Advent in his new and infinite corporeity. As always, his timing was exquisite. 

Bruno Barnhart - Bethlehem Retreat Centre in Nanaimo, November 2006

Bruno Barnhart – Bethlehem Retreat Centre in Nanaimo, November 2006

As I reflect back on my own years with Bruno, I can’t remember actually meeting him for the first time. It must havehappened, but I can’t for the life of me remember when. Our parallel tracks just sort of converged, I guess, during my increasingly frequent visits to the monastery during the 1980s. Suddenly he was in my life, and it was as if it had always been that way. What I do know is that he was powerfully, fiercely present during the decade or so of my own explosive spiritual awakening from 1987 onwards. He was spiritual father and mother both, guiding me with a gentle and deeply intuitive clarity. He was there to receive me when I finally released myself from my decade of self-imposed exile on Swan’s Island to return to the seeker’s path. He was there when I discovered Centering Prayer and the Gurdjieff Work, when I began my work as a spiritual teacher, when my marriage broke up, when my friend Tony Burkart and I first launched the Maine Monastic foundation. He and I grew particularly close during those years he served as prior at Epiphany Monastery, the Camaldolese experimental community in New Hampshire, when he made himself regularly available as a retreat leader for our earliest proto-Wisdom Schools on Eagle Placentia islands. He helped me work through my anguished decision to cast it all to the wind and move to St. Benedict’s Monastery to be with my hermit teacher Rafe, counseling me wisely in words I’ve never forgotten: 

“All those magical, predestined, and irreplaceable people and places are not really that, not really the answer. Rather, we have to stay with the hunger of the question and from its energy fill the space with our own choices, and then with the new things that will be called forth from us in the unexpected new poverty and limitation in which our own necessarily imperfect choices necessarily situate us.”

Bruno Barnhart with members of The Contemplative Society - Salt Spring Island Contemplative Centre, July 2000

Bruno Barnhart with members of The Contemplative Society – Salt Spring Island Contemplative Centre, July 2000

He was there as well to help me pick up the shattered pieces of my life when Rafe died in Advent 1995, and to begin to shape my grief into a life’s path of teaching and writing. He read all my books and contributed endorsements for a few of them. And he championed my move to British Columbia and offered himself as retreat master at one of our first Contemplative Society retreats on Salt Spring Island in 2001 and periodically thereafter. Many of our British Columbia retreatants became his personal students as well, and several became oblates of the monastery. He blazed a brilliant path for us all, and the bonds he forged have proved to be strong and enduring.

Bruno did not write that prolifically – his continuing monastic duties and voracious correspondence and spiritual direction network kept his waking hours pretty well occupied, and his nights disappeared into luminous depths of solitary prayer. But what he did write is extraordinary, books that you return to again and again to refresh your soul and renew your faith in truth.

 More than any other spiritual writer I know, he is the one who has most perfectly integrated the distinctly different Western and Eastern understandings of non-duality. As a personal friend of Bede Griffiths and Henri LeSaux (Abishiktananda), Bruno understood deeply the Advaitic non-duality of the East and was powerfully attracted to it. But his deep grounding in Christianity’s incarnational epicenter made him unwilling to conflate Christian Wisdom with the basically monistic traditions of Sophia Perennis, or “perennial wisdom.” As he wrote perceptively in his The Future of Wisdom (p. 186), “The wisdom of Christianity does not find itself quite at home among the sapiential traditions of the world.” In contrast to that great upward thrust of the perennial philosophy, “the unitive wisdom that has become manifest in Christ disappears into – more boldly we might say, metamorphoses into – an immanent historical dynamism that transforms all of created reality.” Even more boldly, he suggests that our modern Western world in all its sprawling untidiness is not a deviation from the path of Christ but its legitimate and in fact inevitable trajectory. His innate grasp of the dynamism implicit in incarnation allowed him to embrace all those things which classic sapiential monism rejects: modernity, Teilhard, technology, secularity. Better than anyone I know, he weaves together a robust sense of incarnational dynamism with a piercingly brilliant grasp of non-dual consciousness to blaze the trail toward an authentic Christian non-duality. I suspect he will be increasingly discovered and revered as our planet blazes toward its imminent axial leap. For the meantime, he is one of our own best kept and most cherished contemplative secrets.

                I remember him as well for his wry, fiv-ish humor (which featured Calvin and Hobbes right up there alongside John of the Cross and Meister Eckhart as attained spiritual masters), his gentle art of understatement, and his piercing but sly capacity to see where I was at any point in time no matter how hard I tried to hide from myself. “There’s something in a person that knows when they’re not free…” he would simply comment, leaving me to find my own way out of the corner I’d painted myself into. And yes, those sermons of his that packed the monastery church with everyone literally straining on the edges of their benches to catch those bursts of pure radiant brilliance mumbled rapid-fire, and almost always, with his hands directly in front of his mouth. I hope the amplification system is better in heaven. 

 Bruno was the prior of New Camaldoli for nearly twenty years and raised up many spiritual sons. One of my favorite of these sons is Fr. Isaiah, the longtime guestmaster, who conveyed his sense of Bruno to me in a comment that pretty much nails the essence of Bruno – not just in what it says, but where it comes from: “Fr. Bruno,” says Isaiah, “reminds me of a line from Tolkien: ‘He was as noble and fair as an elf-lord, as strong as a warrior, as wise as a wizard, as venerable as a king of dwarves, and as kind as summer.’”

Thank you, beloved teacher, and blessings on the next phase of your unfolding. The cosmos is richer for your sojourn here.

Advent 2014 – The Presence Before You

Advent Candle

Advent 2014

Yeshua says…
Come to know the One
in the presence before you,
and everything hidden will be revealed…

The Gospel of Thomas, Logion 5

 

Dear Members and Friends of The Contemplative Society,

As we approach the Fourth Sunday of Advent this logion from the Gospel of Thomas seems particularly poignant. As the days are becoming shorter we look forward to celebrating the incarnation of light and love into this world. But amidst the many distractions and temptations of busy lives it is easy to forget this presence who longs to be known yet never demands. It is only too easy to fill our lives with activity and clutter which so quickly numbs our senses and pull us away from this profound and wondrous connection.

Cynthia writes how difficult it can be to stay fully present to what she calls our “bare self” and how easy it is to lose ourselves in distraction.

Quoting Brother Raphael, Cynthia writes in Love is Stronger Than Death;

“If you can only stay present in that bare self, you’ll begin to discover how the absence of God is the presence of God.”

We are human. We want to jerk away from that moment. Fill it with distractions and activity, with our own meaning… To find the eternal communion, one must not be afraid to venture into that dark, black sea of what seems inexpressible absence…

Dwell in it…endure the tedium until something gradually emerges in it… By that very ache I know I am still connected in love; it is the bridge on which I cross. I remember Rafe saying, “It seems bare only because it’s so full of light.”

 

The Contemplative Society Board and I send our blessings to you as you celebrate this season of light and love. We are grateful for the financial support of our members and also your commitment to opening to and being guided by that deeper ever-abiding presence.

If you are not a member and would like to become one or simply would like to make a donation, please visit our membership/donation webpage HERE . It is the faithful support of our members that enables us to continue our ministry of supporting the work of Cynthia Bourgeault and also encouraging contemplatives in their practice.

Also, although the development of our new website is still in progress and we continue to add and update content and adjust design layout, our Audio ordering page is now restored. If you are interested in purchasing audio recordings of Cynthia’s teaching (available as MP3 download or disc sets) please see our full audio list HERE.

 

May you have a joyous and wondrous celebration,
Heather

*************

Heather Page
President
The Contemplative Society
www.contemplative.org

 

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