Dear Members and Friends of The Contemplative Society,
I have had the great privilege of serving the society for the last 3.5 years as your administrator. Back in 2015, I was a fledgling meditator and fairly new to the contemplative side of Christianity. Since then, I have learned much and made many friends, and I am grateful to the board who have given me this opportunity to say thank you to you all.
As I pack up my things here at the office and prepare for a new chapter in my professional life, I am given many opportunities to reflect on my time with the society. From sunny board retreats on a small island off the coast of Sidney, BC to building a walkable enneagram with Cynthia Bourgeault, this job has given me so many opportunities to explore my academic interest in spirituality as well as my own personal path, and have fun while doing it! The people I have worked most closely with have mentored me and given me hope for the future, while brief exchanges with members and community members penetrated days of bookkeeping, event organising, and website maintenance with flashes of the unity we are all taught to trust in and cultivate.
I was also a fledgling at life when I started this position, already 28 but only a few years out of university and still gaining my adult “sea legs”. Two traumatic events that occurred in 2013 and 2014 respectively prompted me to spend my time more meaningfully, and it just so happened that the administrator position was opening up at TCS. I don’t think it was a coincidence. While these years have been very difficult personally, I can only imagine how cold and bleak they might have been without the love and support of this community holding me up and propelling me forward. While I probably can’t claim to be a wise adult now (I think I’ll continue to be singled out as the youngest person at retreats for a while yet!), I certainly have learned much from the society and the contemplative path to bolster me through the next stages of my life.
While I am moving on work-wise as I pursue my goal to become a clinical counsellor, I am not leaving the society behind. I sincerely hope to continue to see many of you at TCS events and retreats. In the meantime, I leave knowing that I am very much part of something cosmically good, and thank you all for showing me that.
Your generosity to the society in financial support, volunteer help, sharing resources, and loving one another is a wonderful Christmas gift to me and all those you serve. Have a wonderful holiday season and please give a warm welcome to the new administrator, Sharon Taylor, in the New Year.
Blessings and warm wishes,
Miranda Harvey, administrator
https://www.contemplative.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/christmas-present.jpg407615TCS Adminhttps://www.contemplative.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/logo-new-2021.pngTCS Admin2018-12-19 13:01:352021-09-30 09:27:48Christmas 2018 – A Fond Farewell
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).
“The right place and time and people…” Photo by Susan Smith
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.
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I arrived at the Wisdom School on Lake Cowichan both exhausted and depleted. While I am an advocate for self-care, I have found it very difficult to practice sincerely in this all-consuming stage of motherhood that I am currently immersed. I had not attended a retreat since my first child was born almost five years ago, despite the fact that retreat was the bedrock of my spiritual practice. Retreat was where I found sustenance, insight, and communion with God – quite simply it was where I longed to be. The first evening of the retreat I felt broken. I was missing my family and doubting whether I had made the right choice in attending the retreat. It felt as though I was trying to re-create a time from my past that no longer fit into my new life as a happily devoted mom. I hadn’t done any of the suggested reading on Teilhard and knew very little about the subject at hand. I was worried about not being able to sleep in the dorm-style accommodations; therefore, leaving the five-night retreat even more tired than when I had arrived. I felt I couldn’t muster the energy to connect with fellow retreaters, not because I didn’t long for that connection, but because I simply didn’t have the drive. My heart felt closed. That first night I retreated deep into my own process, grateful for the silence and slow pace that the schedule brought.
The next day Cynthia launched into Teilhard de Chardin. The combination of Cynthia’s presence, the material, and stepping into the age-old model of the Wisdom School (namely, the skillful balance between work, study, prayer, chanting, etc.), evoked something deep inside me. I was transfixed. As we delved into topics such as evolution and the cosmos, I was transported beyond my familiar day-to-day life. Orienting my mind and heart towards this grandest scale of ponderings renewed a latent sense of vision. I was reminded of Mary Oliver’s beautiful question, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” This question evokes, with such delicate urgency, how relatively fleeting and small life is, joined with the responsibility to live out all that I am. With this, my worries and closed heart began to melt away,as I experienced a renewed sense of strength. The retreat felt like a spiritual empowerment as the group breathed in and out the wisdom of both Cynthia and Teilhard.
As a mama of two young children, my world can seem quite small at times. Reading that same picture book, singing those same songs, building that same fort, making that same taco dinner. This child’s world of simplicity, repetition, and routine is my current reality and my family’s container. From a young age I threw myself into contemplative practice, attending retreat after retreat in silence, meditation, and sometimes solitude. My life with my family looks very different now. While my present container is beautiful in many respects, it also can leave me feeling bored at times. It was at the Wisdom School that I was given a different outlook on this life-stage. The constriction I feel is actually helping me grow, becoming someone who can hold more and find the space and presence in much less. Parenthood for me encapsulates the human experience, as it wavers between being indescribably profound to painfully mundane. Delving into Teilhard’s work for five days inspired me to look at the potential that these polarities contain.
From years of studying the Buddhist concept of emptiness, I became familiar with the skill of seeing things from all different perspectives. For Teilhard, the very things in which our current liberal/progressive society so fears, are the very things that will propel us into more sophisticated levels of consciousness and evolution. To me this shows Teilhard’s mastery over emptiness, proving that things don’t have an inherent self-existence from their own side. Teilhard’s excitement over density, friction, and seemingly destructive forces can be perceived as a catalyst for change and movement on a cosmic scale. This reminded me to muster my years of training in contemplative traditions to help me move past my knee-jerk judgments and see things on a grander scale.
The most crucial aspect of retreat is my ability to integrate what I have learned/experienced into my everyday life. Without this incorporation, these periods of silence and solitude are in vain. During this Wisdom School, prior to the work period, Cynthia would lead us through a brief grounding exercise. Here we would feel our feet grounded on the earth and from this foundation our roots would sink deep into the earth’s core. This visualization resonated deeply, and I now find myself practicing this invaluable skill. In periods of anxiety or stress I ground in this way, immediately dispelling those surges of anxiety. Another tangible gift of incorporation that I gleaned from my time spent at the Wisdom School is fueled by the parallels I
drew between the concept of enroulement (‘coiling back on itself’) and walking the labyrinth. The labyrinth has always been an important facet of my spiritual practice as a tangible and embodied outlet to be with God. When Cynthia described enroulement, and its influence in the evolutionary process, I was struck with the labyrinth’s similar pattern (not unlike those referenced airport security lines!). In a labyrinth walk you meander your way to the centre (or the Omega point) through a circuitous route. I have always found it amazing that the labyrinth, as both a symbol and as a spiritual practice, has been found on different continents since time immemorial. These ancient patterns took on that much more meaning for me once reflecting on the possibility that evolution uses a similar pattern. Since the retreat I have exerted consistent effort to walk the labyrinth as an embodied reminder of all that I learned at the Teilhard Wisdom School. Both the grounding exercise and the labyrinth walk are tangible ways that I can continue to incorporate all of the fruits from these precious five days of learning, praying, working, and community.
I was a recipient of one of the generous scholarships that were allocated for this retreat. Without this scholarship it would not have been possible for me to attend. I am so grateful for the opportunity to return to my roots of retreat, and to be filled with such sustenance to bring back into my life.
Since writing this reflection in 2016, Ruth, who also serves on The Contemplative Society’s board of directors, joined the University of Victoria’s Multifaith Services department. Her role as the Anglican chaplain has allowed her to re-engage with her passion for serving young spiritual seekers, bringing balance back into her life. She is thankful for her experience at the Wisdom School which helped her to say “Yes” to this opportunity (where every semester during exams there’s even a labyrinth!).
Enroulement is an inevitable process, but the quality of the material it works with reflects what we put into the universe. Ruth is an example of how donors to TCS have made a positive impact by funding scholarships to our retreats, the kind of support Ruth needed to reconnect with and shine her own light even brighter. Please consider giving a gift to our new Margaret Haines Scholarship Fund to help others like Ruth shine. Visit our contemplative.org/haines today to invest in the contemplative future.
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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.”
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