Our Wisdom Lineage

“WHUR WE COME FROM… “

~ Br. Raphael Robin


Teachers of contemplative Christianity, who acknowledged the limitations of human knowledge and the inconstant nature of human sentiment, instead encouraged a commitment to practice. A scripturally grounded commitment to practice and service – rather than a reliance on unsteady belief and feeling – is the fulcrum of contemplative Christianity.” 

~ Paula Pryce, The Monk’s Cell


From time to time in the unfolding life of a lineage, it becomes important to stop and ponder together “whur we come from” (as my teacher Rafe used to call it); i.e., the fundamental understandings that called us into being as a particular expression of the wider tradition of Christian contemplative Wisdom. As The Contemplative Society, our flagsghip Wisdom vessel, now celebrates its twentieth anniversary and a new generation of seekers and board members assume their turn at the helm, it seems like an appropriate occasion for just such a moment of reflection.

Wisdom, like water, is itself clear and formless, but it necessarily assumes the shape and coloration of the container in which it is captured. Between formless essence and manifesting particularity there is a reciprocal dynamism; you can’t have one without the other.

Our own particular branch of the great underground river of Wisdom came to the surface about twenty years ago, flowing within two major riverbanks: a) the Christian mystical tradition of theosis – divinization – particularly as lived into being in the Benedictine monastic tradition; and b) the practical training in mindfulness and non-identification as set forth in the Gurdjieff Work. The fusion of these two elements was the original accomplishment of my spiritual teacher Br. Raphael Robin, who formed me in this path and, just before his death in 1995, sent me off to Canada to teach it. It is a distinct lineage within the wider phylum of sophia perennis – perennial Wisdom – and, as with all particular containers, it has its own integrity and its own heart.

Here, then, is my own quick shortlist of the eight main elements – or defining characteristics – for our particular branch of this Wisdom verticil:

  1. We are founded on a daily practice of sitting meditation, predominantly but not exclusively Centering Prayer, anchored within the overall daily rhythm of “ora et labora”, as set forth in the Rule of St. Benedict.
  2. We are rooted in the Christian mystical and visionary tradition, understanding contemplation in its original sense as “luminous seeing”, not merely a meditation practice or a lifestyle. In service to this luminous seeing, we affirm the primacy of the language of silence and its life-giving connection with the subtle realms, without which spiritual inquiry tends to become overly cognitive and contentious.
  3. We incorporate a major emphasis (much more so than in more conventional contemplative circles) on mindfulness and conscious awakening, informed here particularly by the inner teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff and by their parallels and antecedents in the great sacred traditions, particularly in Sufism.
  4. We are an esoteric or “gnostic” school to the extent that these terms have come to be understood as designating that stream of Christian transmission through which the radically consciousness-transforming teachings of Jesus have been most powerfully transmitted and engaged. But we eschew esotericism as simply mental or metaphysical speculation, and we affirm the primacy of the scripture and tradition as the cornerstones of Christian life.
  5. Also in contrast to many branches of the Wisdom tradition based on Perennial or Traditionalist metaphysics (with its inherently binary and anti-material slant), we are emphatically a Teilhardian, Trinitarian lineage, embracing asymmetry (threeness), evolution, and incarnation in all their material fullness and messiness.
  6. We are moving steadily in the direction of revisioning contemplation no longer in terms of monastic, otherworldly models prioritizing silence and repose but, rather, as a way of honing consciousness and compassion so as to be able to fully engage the world and become active participants in its transition to the higher collectivity, the next evolutionary unfolding.
  7. We are an integral school, not a pluralistic one, (to draw on Ken Wilber’s levels of consciousness); our primary mission field is teal, not green. Our work concentrates not at the level of healing the false-self, woundedness and recovery, substance abuse, equal rights, restorative justice, or political correctness (although we acknowledge the importance of all of these initiatives), but rather at the level of guiding the transition from identity based primarily in the narrative or egoic self to identity stabilized at the level of witnessing presence, or “permeably boundaried” selfhood.
  8. Our most important teachers and teachings are Jesus, St. Benedict, the canonical and Wisdom gospels, The Cloud of Unknowing, the greater Christian mystical and visionary tradition (including Eckhart, Boehme, Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, Ladislaus Boros, Bernadette Roberts), the Desert and Hesychastic traditions, Bede Griffiths and the Christian Advaitic traditions (including Raimon Panikkar, Henri LeSaux/Abishiktananda and Bruno Barnhart), Rumi, Sufism, G.I. Gurdjieff, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. And, of course, my own teacher, Br. Raphael Robin.

Please know that this list is intended to start a conversation, not end it. In the upcoming months I hope to unpack each of these points more fully in a format yet to be determined (blog posts? video? on-the-ground teaching retreat?). I invite others in our Wisdom network to do likewise, both in your larger organizations (The Contemplative Society, Northeast Wisdom, Wisdom Southwest, Wisdom Way of Knowing, etc.) and in your smaller practice circles. Collectively, let’s see what we can discover about our lineage, as we midwifed it through a first generation and now transmit through a second.

Blessings, Cynthia

Matthew Wright on the West Coast: A Report

This is a re-post of an article written for Northeast Wisdom by Sher Sacks on December 21, 2015. Shortly after Matthew spent time with us at Shawnigan Lake, BC, he hosted a similar retreat in Sechelt, BC.


“I think some of you will be happy to hear how Matthew is playing in my old British Columbia stomping ground.” ~ Cynthia

On November 23 and 24, 2015, Matthew Wright, an Episcopal priest from St. Gregory’s church in Woodstock, NY (yes that Woodstock) presented a group of about two dozen with a remarkable range of material about the Wisdom teachings of Yeshua (the Hebrew name of Jesus). We have long been taught what we are to believe about Yeshua but far less about how the teachings of Yeshua can transform our lives. And Matthew offered this option.

The workshop was not about knowing more, but about knowing more deeply. We are often told to “get out of our heads and into our hearts” which is problematic given the nature of the English language which equates heart with emotion. As Matthew pointed out, the heart is not the emotional centre, it is rather the organ of spiritual perception. It would be more accurate to say “get into your HeartMind”. This understanding makes Yeshua’s phrase “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (become conscious of God), make more sense.

2015-11-24 - MatthewWrightWmeditationMatthew spent some time discussing what is now being referred to as the second axial age. The first axial age occurred around 800 to 200 BCE, when there was an enormous increase of spiritual understanding. It was the period in which the Buddha taught, Lao-Tzu (the founder of Taoism) was teaching in China , the Rishis (writers of the Vedas) were active in India, and Monotheism arose in Israel (Abraham and Sarah left their tribe to “follow God” and the Abrahamic covenant was born). Out of this incredible upwelling of spiritual awareness came a sense of transcendence and an individual quest for spiritual understanding or enlightenment. The ultimate goal became escape, or liberation from the world of matter, which was considered lesser or even evil. The problem became one of how to escape from samsara (cycle of rebirth in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism) or to repair the rift created by “the Fall” (Christianity). The end result was the sense that something was wrong with this world. Our spiritual consciousness became dominated by images of separation and exile.

However, slowly, over the centuries, according to many thinkers, including Matthew, there has risen the deep indwelling knowledge that “we belong”. We have begun to pick up the very real connection with the earth and each other that existed in pre-axial times. This sense combined with the first axial age sense of transcendence, gives us the opportunity to move into a synthesis of the transcendent and the immanent to create a new world order. During the workshop Matthew pointed out that multiple strands of knowledge point us in this direction. Quantum physicists have discovered the deep interconnection of all things at the most subtle levels of matter; environmentalists are pointing out that we are part of a global ecosystem; evolutionary biologists, reveal that life is unfolding as a vast, single process.

2015-11-24 - MatthewWrightWorshop - groupMatthew also pointed out that this “second axial current” didn’t just start recently. It is present in the Bodhisattva vow of Mahayana Buddhism (the vow to remain in the phenomenal world until all beings are awakened) and in Incarnational theology (elimination of the boundaries between the sacred and the profane – “God so loved the world” and “the Word became flesh”). Yeshua rejected the asceticism of John the Baptizer and pointed us to a path that fully embraces the world. He partied, feasted, and associated with those identified as outcasts and sinners. He broke the purity laws. Yeshua prayed “Thy Kingdom come on Earth”. His teaching indicated that we belong deeply to this world; we are interwoven into its fabric. As a teacher within the Wisdom tradition of the east, Yeshua taught us about compassionate, loving intelligence where attention (alertness, spaciousness) and surrender (a humble letting go) meet in the heartmind. It is not so much about what Yeshua taught but about where he taught from. What he taught was not a moralistic, but a transformative path.

Matthew spent some time describing the reasons why this basic teaching of Yeshua morphed into the moralistic, judgmental teaching within which most of us were raised. He followed the growth of Christianity out of its eastern foundations toward Greece and Rome, with martyrdom leading to “we/they” thinking, and finally to the moment that Christianity became an imperial identity marker within the Roman Empire with its counsels of Bishops. What one believed became all important and led to the inquisition, witch trials, and the crusades. Yeshua’s path of inner transformation was almost lost.

Now we have the opportunity to move beyond a belief and belonging system to the recognition of Yeshua as the archetype of the full union of human and divine – Christ consciousness. Yeshua is not the exclusive union BUT the fullness of the human and divine union (Christ). In reference to this concept we discussed some of the Christian and Sufi mystics and their practices, kataphatic prayer (prayer with content), and apophatic prayer (emptying the mind of words and ideas and simply resting in the presence of God). We discussed how we can learn from each other using homeomorphic equivalency, looking for deep correspondences that go beyond the words and concepts of our distinct religions or cultures to find the same or similar experiences.

We also considered the phrase “the Kingdom of God” not as a place (Heaven) or existing at a particular time (after death), but as a state of consciousness, here and NOW. We turned our minds to Christophany (all reality as a manifestation of Christ) and reflected upon Raimon Panikkar’s concept that reality is Cosmotheandric (a totally integrated and seamless fabric that is the undivided consciousness of the totality). We examined Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of Christogenesis, within which Christianity is not a path of ascent but a path flowing out from God. Matter is not a distraction from God but an outworking of God in form. Incarnation awakens to itself in Christ (Form). The world is not static but constantly changing. God is committed to that change, since as the creator God embedded it in the world and now sustains it. Christ consciousness is its goal. As Paul stated in Romans 8:22, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time”.

Finally we considered the concept of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as the Heart of the universe, the evolutionary driveshaft of all creation; the second coming as the coming of conscious union with the divine. Referring back to the omegaconcept of axial ages we noted the rise in non-dual consciousness. We noted that evolution has been acting unconsciously up till the present but now we have the opportunity to act consciously in it. Evolution has become aware of itself. We must choose to deepen the disclosure of the Heart of God. Christ is the endpoint (the Omega). However this convergence is not inevitable. If the second axial age is to manifest we must choose and act!


Originally posted on NortheastWisdom.org

The Year of Teilhard continues – A report by Cynthia Bourgeault

Dear Wisdom friends,

Almost exactly this time one year ago, I launched my “Teilhard Challenge,” inviting as many of you as felt so moved to join me in diving into the magnificent, challenging writings of Teilhard de Chardin. I know that many of you have taken the plunge, and the Teilhard buzz out on the planet is palpable and steadily growing. Thank you!

This comes to give you a short “year-end report” on my own work here, and a heads-up about what’s on the docket for 2016.

I did manage to chew my way through most of the Teilhard canon this past year: beginning with a fairly quick read, followed by a more detailed immersion once my inner dowsing rod struck water. That turned out to be with The Human Phenomenon, which is clearly Teilhard’s master work and is now available in a magisterial new translation by Sarah Appleton-Weber. I was also lucky enough to get hold of French versions of four or five of his major works. If you can read French even a bit, I’d highly recommend you follow this strategy as well. Even if you book-end the French translation with the English one, Teilhard is simply…well…French! And his thought is somehow much more lucid and compelling in his mother tongue.

AspenChapel-2015-12-17-18The teaching season got off to a bang a couple of weeks ago with my pilot Wisdom school in Aspen, where I offered a two-day seminar called “The Divine Milieu” on December 17 and 18, attended by nearly 100 people (the presentations were also live-streamed; see “Cynthia Bourgeault Day 1 – Dec 17, 2015” and “Cynthia Bourgeault Day 2 – Dec 18, 2015”). Despite the title, the teaching was really focused on The Human Phenomenon and attempted to lay out the “Teilhardian synthesis” via his four successive (and increasingly challenging) propositions about cosmogenesis:

  1. Evolution (understood as cosmogenesis) is the non-negotiable baseline for all intellectual, scientific, and spiritual discourse.
  2. Evolution has a preferred axis, or line of direction, carried by the principle of “complexification/consciousness.”
  3. Evolution is convergent, culminating in an “Omega Point.”
  4. This Omega Point is identical with the mystical/cosmic Christ.

This structure will form the backbone for the series of Teilhard Wisdom Schools that will shortly start to run in 2016: in New Zealand; Santa Barbara; North Carolina; Washington State; Stonington, ME (stay tuned!); and British Columbia, respectively.

MatthewWright2015_nobordersThere will also be a more intimate and reflectively-oriented retreat which I’ll co-lead with Matthew Wright at his home community, Holy Cross Abbey in West Park, NY, on April 7-10. April 10 will mark the anniversary of Teilhard’s actual death (on Easter Sunday, 1955), and since Holy Cross Abbey is directly across the Hudson from Teilhard’s burial ground in Hyde Park, we will hope to include a short pilgrimage to his grave site in our work together that weekend.

Longer range, I’m not sure what’s in store: probably a book, but its focus is still “under development” as I sense my way into the deeper feeling ground of my attraction to this singular and deeply needed Christian mystical teacher and teaching. I continue to feel that there is work here that needs to be done (my usual job description of making connections!) for this vision, despite or even because of its significant blind spots and interspiritual “groaners” – is still by far the best thing going – certainly in the Christian tradition – for a roadmap that will allow us to comprehend the “depth and breadth and length and height” of the mystical tradition we stand in, and embrace the future with compassion, courage, and spiritual intelligence. It’s the roadmap we sorely need to get the caravan moving forward again.

I am not an unmitigated devotee. There are, indeed, significant liabilities to his work, particularly in terms of the ongoing dialogue with Evolutionary Spirituality (à la Ken Wilber and the Integral Community) and the InterSpiritual community. The biggest weakness, as far as I can see, is Teilhard’s inability to recognize levels of consciousness, and to realize that the “self-reflexive” consciousness that he saw as the new evolutionary turning point is itself but a stage (and a relatively immature one at that) in the deepening evolution of consciousness itself. Much of his most outdated and polarizing thinking is trapped firmly within the boundaries of the egoic operating system and its peculiarly dualistic way of structuring the world, and he simply doesn’t see the squirrel cage he is running inside. But that can all be recalibrated once the source of the blind spot is identified, and I firmly believe that the Teilhard canon will survive the transposition into nondual categories of thought and actually thrive there.

And that’s basically my task for the next few years, as I see it…I want to look more closely at Teilhard’s understanding of consciousness, and to see how my own core intuition that nonduality is a mode of perception, not a philosophy of monism, might heal some of the misunderstanding in Teilhard’s summary dismissal of the Eastern spiritual traditions as a source of wisdom and guidance for our own time…

I also have to say that the most illuminating and poignant part of the reading list for this year was the time spent plowing through the Letters between Teilhard and Lucile Swan, his soulmate and dakini during the long years of exile in China. A heart-wrenching story, which somehow conveys the “within” of Teilhard’s voyage in a way even more powerful than the “without” of his polished philosophical studies.

teilhard and lucile swan

Anyway, that’s the progress report for now. Do stay tuned – and keep on reading!

New Year’s blessings,

Cynthia

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


 

Sharing the Legacy of Helen Daly

Helen-Daly-Center-for-Spiritual-Resources Sharing the legacy of Helen Daly—beloved wife, psychotherapist, wisdom friend and teacher—who made passage from one form of living to another on November 15, 2012. The following six videos were filmed at a gathering that took place at her home in Vermont a week before she died, videotaped at her request, and are being offered to the larger Wisdom community. Scroll down to watch all 6 video segments.       Video #1: Introductions/The Work That This Configuration Provides

Video #2: Remembering: The Ground of Being Present

Video #3: Teaching from Helen

Video #4: On Being a Lab: Questions and comments

Video #5: Anointing Liturgy

Video #6: The Eucharist

Originally published by Center for Spiritual Resources on March 31, 2014.