We’re excited to announce the publication of “Practicing Living Presence – Part TWO!“
A review of Cynthia Bourgeault’s ‘Practicing Living Presence – Part One’ by Brian Mirchell…
This post is shared by Jennifer England as a follow-up to our Wisdom Solstice event offered on Zoom on June 21st.
In describing her experience and the backstory including what was occurring ‘behind-the-scenes’ as the event was about to begin, Jennifer provides a real-life example of applying our Wisdom practice to tap into a calm centering presence even while suddenly facing an unexpected set of circumstances.
TCS is very grateful to Jennifer and the whole team at the Wisdom North Collective for their gracious leadership and guidance for this Solstice gathering.
Dear Wisdom sisters and brothers,
Thank you for joining us, the Wisdom North Collective, here in Yukon, Canada in collaboration with The Contemplative Society (Victoria BC) for a celebration of love, unitive consciousness, and incandescent light. We were so pleased you could be with us. Our hearts were full of gratitude for the expansive wisdom community around the globe. And if you couldn’t make it, we have provided the recording below.
The real ‘behind-the-scenes’ scenario
I was hoping to have shared with you the gorgeous backdrop of the mountains and lake, with the beautiful light, at my friend Amanda’s yurt.
I got all set up there (after checking data on the weekend) but as it tends to go in the North, nothing worked. I tried to set it up in her house, but no luck. So with the Victoria/Vancouver tech sisters on standby, our local group somewhere on the highway, I had to make a decision to leave the yurt, head back for home (at a rather undisciplined speed), and get to my workspace (kid had a cello lesson upstairs at the same time) in the basement and hope for the best!
And then, the magic happened. Our local group made it to my basement, through the piles of laundry, just in time. My heart-rate came down. Paula from Vancouver was ready to do it all herself, with Eilen and Barb holding the Zoom fort with grace and calm.
So there it is…wisdom and our practice in action, holding us steady through the unknown- the shadows, bumps, and stress of the every-day. Holy-the-denying and Holy-the-Affirming in action—with our community and blessed space the reconciling. That, and my realization, that one doesn’t need a dramatic backdrop to be fully present and allow the Light to emanate.
With love from Yukon,
Wisdom North Collective
To find out more about Jennifer and her spiritual path, visit Seedlings at Northeast Wisdom. You can learn more about Jennifer’s work as an Integral coach/leadership strategist at Spark Coaching. For a wonderful interview that Jennifer hosted with Brother David Steindl-Rast and her father, John England, listen on her Weave podcast here.
Wisdom Solstice Recording & Resources
If you would like to access the Readings and Chants used for the Wisdom Solstice event, or make a small offering, you can do so here:
You wander from room to room
Hunting for the diamond necklace
That is already around your neck
Wandering, hunting, seeking, yearning…sometimes I think that what is around my neck is a heavy burden…yet I am invited to treasure the beautiful necklace that is there, and has always been there.
My 65th year has been a year of wandering, pilgrimaging, seeking to make sense of my life of yearning, seeking. I started the year by walking the Camino de Santiago and shared in the pain and exaltation of thousands of other pilgrims, with thousands of different reasons for pilgrimaging. I began to get a very slight but visceral sense of embodiment…could this be what it is to embody Christ? How could I sustain this? I came home to a deeper commitment to my Catholic roots and my contemplative practice in the World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM) tradition.
But it is so hard to be Catholic in these times and, while I feel an enduring whisper to stay, there is also anger and deep frustration, despite positive changes in recent years. So the questions always are there: Is this what Christ intended? Is this what God created us to be? Why is change taking so long? In seeking answers, I am drawn to Christian mysticism and Sufism, particularly the teachings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and Rumi.
So I was very interested when I learned that the “Way of Union” retreat was to be offered on Vancouver Island by The Contemplative Society. Nonetheless, I hesitated about going because of time and cost. But everything seemed to conspire to draw me there, including the generous offering of a scholarship, so I signed up. As the weekend began, I felt immediately embraced into a community of spiritual explorers, men and women of diverse ages seeking understanding of how to bring Christ’s love into our day to day lives and thus be “agents of social change”.
Shortly after the retreat was over, and with barely time to gather my breath, I left for three months to volunteer at the new WCCM community at Bonnevaux, France. And with three times per day meditation and physical labour, I unpacked what the learning of the Way of Union retreat, and this whole year of wandering, means to how I should live each day, indeed each minute. And I saw that they are integrally connected.
The day I left Canada, Fr. Thomas Keating died. The WCCM honored his life in prayer and in virtual participation in the celebration of his life. Bonnevaux sits on the French Camino and we explored ways that we can support pilgrims on their way to Santiago. I began reviewing my notes from our time with the “Way of Union” teacher, Matthew Wright.
The notes from the retreat highlight that community is “grist for the mill of transformation.” What transformation am I invited to in community with The Contemplative Society and the WCCM? I am reminded that, in contemplative practice, wisdom is recognized as perennial. How do I reconcile that with ubiquitous suggestions within Christianity that Christ alone is our Saviour? What does it mean to embody the “bridal chamber” or place of union in a world dominated by separateness and power-over? I often feel deep fatigue with the need to turn away from dominant messages. Our days of exploration with Matthew encouraged us to hold our emerging awareness in spaciousness, as non-identified witnesses. It reminded us that, in the perennial traditions, there are several levels of self-hood or different mansions. And the level I am at in this moment is where I need to be. Right here. Right now.
According to the Gospel of Thomas:
Jesus said: Let him who seeks not cease from seeking until he finds; and when he finds, he will be disturbed, he will marvel, and he shall reign over the All.
One month after the retreat, I am beginning to embrace what it might feel like to be disturbed in this search and look forward to continued exploration.
But most importantly, I am much more appreciative of the diverse contemplative traditions within Christianity and outside of it, the support The Contemplative Society provides through scholarships and other accessible resources, and the role it plays in fostering interfaith dialogue and mysticism around the world. The people supporting The Contemplative Society truly are diamonds on my necklace.
With deep and heartfelt gratitude!
To support people like Kathleen, give a gift to The Contemplative Society this Giving Tuesday*! In addition to providing scholarships, the support of our donors helps to bring world-renowned teachers like Cynthia Bourgeault and Matthew Wright to our community, fund the recording and production of audio teachings from these contemplative masters, and provide other free or inexpensive resources on our website. Give a gift on Giving Tuesday*, and receive a special bonus:
brand new donors and members who renew will receive access to either an exclusive video from Matthew Wright OR an exclusive video from Cynthia Bourgeault!
previous donors/members who top up their previous 2018 gift, renew their membership with an increased gift, or become a monthly donor will receive access to both exclusive videos from Matthew Wright and Cynthia Bourgeault!
Reward yourself and human consciousness – give today!
*Only donations received by TCS (or postmarked) on November 27, 2018 from 12:00 am to 11:59 pm PST are eligible for video access. Access to videos expires December 20, 2018.
Kathleen’s perspectives are shaped by a diverse background living and working in Canada’s North and in inner-city communities in Vancouver, BC. Having raised three sons as a single mother, she has an enduring commitment to social justice and community development. Now retired, Kathleen seeks to link her passion for contemplative experiences with a commitment to inclusive communities and her family involvement as a grandmother. She now lives in Gibsons, BC and co-facilitates a weekly Christian meditation group there.
While we have featured many guest posts in the past, we are setting the intention to bring you more Wisdom from your fellow students of the contemplative path. We hope you will find these posts enriching, enlightening, and inspiring for your own journey. If you would like to submit a post for future consideration, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read on for an enlightening testimonial to art as a spiritual practice by Cynthia Bourgeault’s student, Diane Walker.
Back in the days when I was living in Vermont and heating my house with wood, we used to say wood warms you four ways: once when you cut it down, once when you drag it home, once when you chop it into kindling, and once when you burn it. For me, contemplative photography works the same way: you get several opportunities to be warmed by that spark of the sacred.
That divine spark expresses itself as a kind of recognition, and it happens for me at four different points in the process: when the subject calls to me; when I’m deciding how to photograph it; when I develop the resulting image, either in the darkroom or on my computer; and, finally, when I decide to engage with the image and see what it has to teach me. And in each case, the key to the process lies in paying attention: being present, being mindful, and not trying too hard to control the results.
If you’re a professional photographer, you may well have been taught that an amateur photographer takes a picture and a professional makes a picture. But if you are a contemplative photographer, it’s more about making yourself available for what needs to be revealed; a matter of showing up, keeping your camera handy, and being consciously present, listening for what calls to you.
So what does that mean – to be a contemplative? What does it mean for photography to be an act of faith? According to Ed Bastian,
“Contemplation is not an aimless meandering of thought, but a disciplined activity by which one explores and investigates an idea, an insight, a sacred persona, or a truth, in a thoroughgoing way, pursuing its consequences for all aspects of our lives.”
Once I looked at it that way, I could begin to see parallels between his definition of contemplation and the way the spirit was moving through my photography.
So what do I mean by that? To be a contemplative photographer is essentially an act of faith, and it has these same four contemplative components. The discipline lies in being aware and open; it’s a commitment to listen for that divine spark – even to seek it out – and to keep my camera with me so that I can respond. The activity is the response to the spark, the conscious act of composing the photo in a way that allows the subject to speak most effectively through the camera. The idea, truth, or insight then appears – somehow – in the finished photo. And the consequences become clear when I engage with that photograph and try to understand and write about what it could possibly have to teach me.
When approached from this perspective, the photo can begin to serve as a metaphor for some aspect of the spiritual life. And the whole process is about faith and trust: confirming my heartfelt belief that somehow, in engaging with the photo and exploring the metaphors it suggests, I can learn something about that truth or insight and the consequences it has or will have on my life and the lives of those around me.
Sometimes the moment is accidental; the feeling, the impulse to see and respond, comes first, and you just have to hope you have your camera with you (and that’s one kind of discipline). But you also need to be conscious about showing up; to make the effort to go out with your camera, in faith that there might be something there that needs to voice itself through your work.
It may not initially be obvious, when you’re taking the picture, where the process is leading you. Sometimes the true meaning of the work only emerges when you bring the image to life – whether in a darkroom or on a computer. It may be that the key element will emerge in that process, in whatever manipulations you feel led to perform as you bring the image onto the page.
And sometimes, it’s not until you meditate on the final image itself, that whatever truth it has to offer may be revealed – and, having come to that understanding, over time I developed what is now my daily practice. Each morning, after I awaken, I read a chapter or so of something spiritual with my cup of coffee. After 20 minutes of Centering Prayer, I sit down at my computer, wander through my photos and look at them to see what might be calling to me today.
I then spend time engaging with that photo, asking what it might have to teach me. Sometimes the words come quickly, and sometimes it takes a lot of pondering, but eventually I post that response on my blog along with the photo and send it out into the world. And there’s that contemplative process again: the discipline of sitting down and meditating, the activity of finding a photo, the time spent examining it to search for the idea or the truth, and then the writing itself, exploring and sharing the consequences of that truth.
So that’s it; that’s how contemplative photography as an act of faith has become, for me at least, a journey to the Sacred. The four ways in which the spirit moves through the process – finding a subject, taking the picture, evaluating the image, and then writing about it – nicely parallel the four steps of contemplation. There’s a discipline to it, then an active exploration, usually some truth or insight to be gained, and, in the end, some consequences to be learned and shared along the way.
And in conclusion: if I were to share any last words about contemplative photography, I think they would be this: all creativity – not just photography – is really an act of faith. So I invite you to explore your own creativity – whatever form that may take. Take on a practice, a discipline. Have fun with it! Release your need for control, and don’t be afraid to experiment. Stay open to possibility and trust in the process – because here’s what I believe: there’s wisdom everywhere, all around you. You just have to pay attention.
Diane Walker is a contemplative photographer, painter, and writer with an extensive background in journalism, religion, and marketing. She is the former Communications Director for the Episcopal Diocese of Western Washington and has served on the faculty of the Diocesan School of Theology. She has lived on four different islands in Washington state, and has served as the volunteer exhibitions director at ECVA, a national artists registry with online exhibition space. A regular practitioner of mindfulness meditation/Centering Prayer, Diane pairs her writing and spiritual practice with her art, producing a daily blog of photos, paintings, and meditations at contemplativephotography.com. She is the author of Illuminating the Mystery: Photographic Meditations on the Gospel of Thomas.
Diane’s work can also be found on the cover of our audio teaching with Mirabai Starr, One Heart: Weaving a Tapestry of Interspiritual Community.
Dear friends in The Contemplative Society,
It is an honour to be asked to contribute a few words in support of the Margaret Haines Scholarship Fund.
Where do I start, with Margaret Haines or with the contemplative vision that sustained her every step of her long and fruitful journey? Margaret was the spiritual mother of The Contemplative Society, our tiny, “can-do” organization she founded to bring me to British Columbia, and she was my own spiritual mother, midwifing my emergence as a contemplative teacher. In fact, Margaret was midwife all the way; everything she touched, from plants to people to fledgling organizations, grew sturdy and strong in her graciously nurturing hands. When she died at age 85 in 2011, she could look back with justifiable pride on having launched not only an organization, but the thousands of people this organization has touched over the years.
What many may not know is that Margaret was a lifelong seeker herself. After completing her “first half of life” duties as a faithful wife, mother, and arborist in the Okanagan, she turned in the second half to a rigorous embrace of the path of transformation, walking parallel tracks in contemplative Christianity and Tibetan Buddhism. She had considerable experience in the Gurdjieff Work under her belt as well, gathered while she and her family still lived in the UK. Her seamless inner integration of Buddhist and Gurdjieffian mindfulness with Christian contemplation furnished the creative matrix in which my own Wisdom teaching came to birth. It all began on Salt Spring Island, BC, in July 1997: the headwaters of a movement that has now spread worldwide.
To all appearances, Margaret, as she began her journey, was simply a “housewife”, a “lay person”, a seeker among hundreds of other seekers, with no particularly distinguishing features other than her innate clarity and her persistence on the path. It was that persistence that brought her to fullness in her own journey and gradually transformed her from postulant to post-holder. That’s how wisdom transmission works; always has and always will. You show up with dogged faithfulness and a constantly rekindling beginner’s mind, and something gradually crystallizes in you. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, you gradually become real, on that same pathway of faithful love.
I mention this because all our spiritual journeys begin at the beginning when both the time and funds needed to support those formative forays into the world of contemplative transformation nowadays often come at prohibitive cost. Younger seekers in particular need scholarship help if they are to take those first steps which even for Margaret, back a half century ago, came at a gentler and kinder time in our planet’s economic history. The same goes for people entering the path later in life or seeking out retreat to renew a path already begun; retirement on a limited income presents similar financial challenges.
There are many Margaret Haineses waiting out there, keen to be formed in the tradition in order to serve their term as post holders and carry the torch to the next generation. All it takes is persistence. And funding.
We hope that each of you reading this message will be moved to support Wisdom transformation by giving as generously as you can of both. A more appropriate tribute to Margaret Haines I cannot imagine.
With warm wishes,
To join Cynthia in supporting the Margaret Haines Scholarship Fund, and help us reach our goal by the deadline of June 30, visit contemplative.org/haines today!
Retirement: often lauded as a time to enjoy what we have worked for all our lives, taking trips, cultivating hobbies, and being with friends and family. Many use their freedom for kicking back and pampering, while others take advantage of the extra time to engage in transformational contemplative work. It can be a time of great joy and pleasure, but it’s not always smooth sailing; it can also be a time of great loss, whether of career, health, or loved ones, and often concurrently. It is in these desperate times that our capacity for transformation is greatest, and that’s where retreats come in. Read our collection of testimonials below to see how the majority of our community is taking life’s beatings and turning them into gifts.
The five-night Gospel of Thomas retreat allowed us to go more deeply into contemplative silence and the contemplative mind. Matthew provided the perfect balance of silence, practice, and teaching. Practice consisted of mindfully working in the garden while attempting to pay attention to the movement of our thoughts, emotions, and bodies as we worked with others and worked alone. In the physical movement of raking leaves, sweeping the sidewalk, or pulling weeds, one has the opportunity to practice maintaining contact with one’s body, noticing reactions to the work itself as well as to those working nearby. This spiritual lab is an excellent opportunity to experiment and offers skills which are applicable to life beyond retreat…I continue to be grateful for the presence and work of TCS on Vancouver Island and beyond. Many thanks for providing this opportunity as well as the financial support provided.
~ Anonymous participant in the “Opening to the Eye of the Heart: Wisdom and the Gospel of Thomas” retreat with Matthew Wright (2017)
The combined wisdom of 21 people plus Matthew’s teaching was absolutely extraordinary. This created a very intense time of learning for me. The work group periods turned out to be the most challenging part of the retreat for me, as there was someone in my work group who really pushed my buttons. For various reasons I developed a real resistance to this person, so I knew this was where the work for me was at this retreat.
I am extremely grateful to those who have supported The Contemplative Society community by funding scholarships, and to those responsible on the board of The Contemplative Society for awarding the financial assistance. It was very much appreciated and I almost certainly would not have come to the retreat without that help. I believe retreat scholarships are very important to The Contemplative Society and give life and growth to it and the world through them.
~ Mary-Clare Carder, participant in the “Opening to the Eye of the Heart: Wisdom and the Gospel of Thomas” retreat with Matthew Wright (2017)
I sincerely appreciate the generosity of The Contemplative Society for awarding me with a scholarship to attend this retreat. I wanted to go to a retreat but I am on a fixed income and couldn’t afford registration so I ate humble pie and applied for a scholarship. I was delighted to receive it and am so thankful for it!
When Mirabai read the beautiful piece on page 33 from her book Mother of God, I had a spiritual awakening. The words of the new Pentecost spoke to my heart. I felt a releasing and a letting go of my tight grip on life. It was the beginning of a transformed relationship with the feminine Divine. My devotion was to Jesus, the Christ but now I also rest in the safe haven of Mother God. Now at home, in the morning I light a candle, sit, and meditate. I have wanted to use this for a long time but rarely found the discipline. It is with gratitude I now enjoy a morning sit. I attribute this to receiving the scholarship that allowed me to attend the retreat.
~ Anonymous participant in the “One Heart: Weaving a Tapestry of Interspiritual Community” retreat with Mirabai Starr (2017)
Her authentic nature enabled me to assimilate new truths and already known spiritual practices into developing new, dynamic ways of viewing my spiritual practice. Sitting in stillness, as we did daily, was wonderful, especially in such a peaceful, sacred place. Mirabai’s talks were enlightening, especially the ones about the Christian mystics, pushing me further to reflect and study their time-honoured truths.
At the end of the retreat we were asked to think about what we would be taking with us, what we have been called to do in the world. I was convicted to continue to write more poetry about the bleeding earth, a call to social justice, and increased consciousness of the world’s environmental problems.
Finally, I would like to say that I felt very privileged to attend this retreat and to participate with other like-minded women. I am so grateful for the scholarship and will treasure the insights that attending this retreat have given me.
~ Jane Jennings, a participant in the “One Heart: Weaving a Tapestry of Interspiritual Community” retreat with Mirabai Starr (2017)
I experienced the first dream visitation from my Dad since he passed away. I feel sure that our Wisdom School’s daily extended time in group meditative prayer was the vehicle which provided a “thin place” where such a blessed connection could occur.
Another particularly memorable moment occurred during a longer period of chanting on the final evening of the Wisdom School. Standing and using simple gestures to accompany our words, we sang as one body. I sensed a tapestry of spiritual community – though composed of many different strands – which awakened again in me the desire for deeper faith community. That experience resulted directly in a decision to align myself with a soul-nourishing worshiping community on a weekly basis as often as possible, even though it means travel beyond my local sphere and requires significant time expended to do so.
I am thus committed to further study, to continue exploring intentional community, and to worship where my soul is fed. My heart is filled with gratitude for The Contemplative Society scholarship which made possible my attendance. My prayerful hope is that my experience will give rise to offering – in some way – a deeper blessing to the world.
~ Anonymous participant in the “Mystical and Visionary Thinking of Teilhard de Chardin” Wisdom School with Cynthia Bourgeault (2016)
Retreats offer people on the contemplative path an opportunity to reconnect with the Mystery, strengthen our capacity to let go, and learn to live from love. But the burdens of the retirement stage of life we hope to transform are often compounded by financial constraints. That’s why we started the Margaret Haines Scholarship Fund, to help alleviate this one burden so that the rest may be freed. So if these messages touched you and you want to increase the world’s capacity for transformation, please consider giving to our new Margaret Haines Scholarship.
Our retreat participants are diverse: we serve Christians and SBNRs, young and old, wealthy and financially constrained. You might put yourself in one of these categories, or volunteer your own. But one thing we all have in common is our seeking of contemplative Wisdom and our wish to inject the world with love, as well as the need for practice opportunities to deepen our journey along this path. Going on retreat allows contemplatives to learn and sink into practice in a safe and warm community of support, allowing us to soften our edges and expand our hearts a little more each time. But retreats are costly and the fees (or travel costs) can prevent our Contemplative Society friends from joining us.
Unemployment is an event that strikes most of us sometime in our life. We might be between jobs, transitioning from parenthood to an empty nest, or faultless casualties of fluctuating economies. While often financially problematic, this can also be a time of transformation as we reevaluate ourselves and what we can give to the world. The flip-side to these issues can come as a blessing in the form of more free time. Read on to learn first-hand how The Contemplative Society has helped folks in this position embrace this opportunity for both their own benefit and the world’s.
Returning to Canada after experiencing and attending to the death of both my parents, to the end of a job, and also to the end of a relationship (none of which was my choice) has put me in a place of great transition and loss. In conversation I discovered this retreat – this was a miracle for me, another step along this journey of healing and staying open to the mystery, in a big part because of the introduction to The Contemplative Society and the practice of Centering Prayer (both new to me).
Knowing this was the right place and time and people for me presented the dilemma of not only no longer having the income from my previous work, but also not being yet able to access monies that would be coming to me in the future. Again, in discussion, I was encouraged to apply for a scholarship, which was granted. I felt SO grateful and remain so. Without it I would not have been able to attend.
Every single aspect of the retreat was valuable for me – and is but a stepping stone going forward on this journey.
~ Susan Smith, participant in the “Opening to the Eye of the Heart: Wisdom and the Gospel of Thomas” retreat with Matthew Wright (2017)
I usually feel very alone in my contemplative journey and longed for some time with like-minded people. I felt that finding a contemplative community would strengthen me and help to deepen my practice.
The retreat was a spiritual renewal for me. I cannot overemphasise how healing and encouraging it was to hear Rev. Matthew’s and other participants’ messages of interspirituality, and to experience the gentle openness and love of everyone in the community, wherever they were on their journey.
I would like to give my heartfelt thanks to The Contemplative Society for the opportunity to attend the retreat at Shawnigan Lake. It was a wonderful, challenging, and inspiring experience that will be with me the rest of my life.
~ Jennifer Hall, participant in the “The Wisdom Path: Contemplative Practice and Evolving Consciousness” retreat with Matthew Wright (2015)
It’s because of the support of our membership and donors that we can give out scholarships like these, so if either of these testimonials to the power of a scholarship speak to you, please consider giving a special gift to the new Margaret Haines Scholarship Fund. We’re in this together.