Deep practice, deep listening, deep hope

Dear Wisdom friends,

I want to make very clear to all of you that the “keep calm and carry on” tone of my earlier (immediately post-election) post does not imply that I’m feeling sanguine about the course of events now facing our country and our world. Quite to the contrary, I believe over the next several months we’re in for some hard reversals, probably harder than most Americans born post-World War II have ever seen in their lifetime.

I’ve been out here on Eagle Island for a few days of Advent deep listening, trying to second-guess myself. But the premonition remains.

And it’s still Wisdom’s hour. Because I believe that those of us seriously committed to walking the Wisdom path have something to bring to the mix which most of our culture – either secular or spiritual – is simply not going to be able to get at. And it’s the missing piece, I believe, where clarity and resolve are to be found, if at all.

As you know, the two main influences on my overall metaphysical bearings are Teilhard and Gurdjieff. From Teilhard I get the reassurance that deep hope takes place over deep time. So much of our human terror and horror comes from trying to compress the timescale too tightly, insisting that coherence must be found over the course of only a few generations, or at best a few centuries. That’s like a pressure cooker without a steam valve; it will inevitably blow up.

From Gurdjieff, I’ve come to understand that all planetary evolution operates under the sway of the Law of Three – and that, once again, we must look beyond immediate “good and bad” / ”winners and losers” modes of thinking in order to see the deeper lines of causality actually directing the unfolding from within a still-coherent field. What looks in the short-range to be unmitigated catastrophe can prove in the longer range to be addressing serious systemic malformations that need to be confronted and corrected before the evolutionary mandate can truly move forward.

It’s exactly this kind of long-scale and impartial visioning that we need to bring to these up-ended times.

My stubborn foreboding is that in the upcoming months we will witness the substantial dismantling not only of the past eight years of Obama progressive liberalism, or even the past eighty years of New Deal social welfare, but something far more resembling eight hundred years of the Western intellectual tradition – all the way back to the 13th century when the rise of scholasticism and the secular university began to displace the hegemony of the faith-based dogmatism in favor of free inquiry based on rational empiricism.

And the centerpiece in this domino chain of destruction is of course democracy itself, whose whole foundation lies in the sanctity of the above-mentioned principles.

Faced with threats – already underway – to what most of us still take for granted as the unshakable foundation of our national life – freedom of speech, freedom of the press, civility of discourse, and a commonly agreed-on factual data base – I believe that the great American liberal progressive establishment will almost inevitably lose heart. I am seeing it happening already: people simply too numb and disoriented to even know what’s hit them. The possibility that democracy itself might fall victim to the collective insanity now massing on its horizon is too devastating even to ponder; we either dig in our heels, give up in despair, or distract ourselves in a dwindling oasis of “business as usual”.

Let there be no mistake about this: what has just come to pass is a serious blow to the foundations of Western Civilization. To name it at a lesser degree of magnitude is to set ourselves up for mere reactivity rather than understanding. We need to name it for what it is and be able to hold our footings as the edifices of post-Enlightenment culture reel-and-tumble in this seismic shift.

And yet, I think it is precisely at this scale – i.e., eight hundred years – that we can discover the real ley lines of the Law of Three at work, in the situation, and we can understand more powerfully, impartially, and strategically what needs to be done as we hold the space for the course corrections which have necessarily arisen. This is not the destruction of consciousness, but a legitimate and ultimately propitious reconfiguration. We must not lose sight of that hope. If nothing else, we need to keep saying it so that it does not vanish from the face of the earth.

I invite all who feel so moved to join me in the work awaiting at this other scale of magnitude. It will involve a combination of deep practice and wider reading and thinking.

The deep practice is about collecting our hearts so as to be more directly and acutely in alignment with “the conscious circle of humanity” – those of all ages and faiths who help hold the bandwidth of compassionate and wise presence around this fragile earth. It is in this imaginal bandwidth that wisdom comes magnificently into her own, but only as our own hearts grow wide and gentle and calm enough to receive her.

The deep reading: for starters, we need a small group or groups who are seriously willing and able to take on Gurdjieff’s sprawling cosmological masterpiece, Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson. If you doubt that our own times are already brilliantly encapsulated there (including an eerily accurate portrait of our POTUS-elect), have a close look at chapters 25-28. (Read Cynthia’s follow-up post to find out more about engaging with this book.)

The other three which are part of my nightly bedtime reading for this retreat and these times: And There was Light by Jacques Lusseyran; Riddley Walker, Russell Hoban’s iconic 1980 post-apocalyptic novel; and of course, The Passion of the Western Mind by Richard Tarnus. 

Over the next few months, I will be listening further into how our work wants to take shape “on the ground”: independent small groups? A new round of Wisdom retreats? Online learning formats? Officially rebooting the Omega Order? Road not clear at this point. But I do know that the real Wisdom step is not to pre-design the format, but simply to put the heart out there and see how it seeds itself.

So that’s what I’m doing here, dark and cold time of the year, commemorating this weekend Advent III and the 21st anniversary of the crossing over, into that conscious circle, of Rafe [see Love is Stronger Than Death], in all things my teacher and lightholder.

Let me hear from you if you’re in.

Blessings and love,


49 replies
  1. Shari Murphy
    Shari Murphy says:

    Yes, deep hope and deep listening. Oh yes! So needed. But it need not be limited to progressive liberalism. There are strange creatures like me who see deep hope regardless of political happenings on either “side.” I am dismayed by what is happening on all sides, yet, I have deep hope that we share deep hope goals, but may need to combine multiple “hows” to further the work of God. Thank you for your leadership, Cynthia.

  2. Vibha
    Vibha says:

    Dear Cynthia, just read this post, this gives me courage to do my bit, a question comes to me? what shape can it take for me here in France ? Deepen the individual practice so that i can find a way to connect to people who would like to come together to say YES collectively to the wisdom way ? Can I translate this and send it to some people to see what echoes back ?

  3. Rita Sommers-Flanagan
    Rita Sommers-Flanagan says:

    Thank you for this post and your challenging analysis, and of course, your invitation. I’ve ordered the book from a very cool book seller ( and look forward to whatever form(s) emerge from your impulse. In other words, though new to this website, group, and your blog, I’m in, whatever that may come to mean. Thanks. Rita

  4. Alan MacKenzie
    Alan MacKenzie says:

    COLOR ME IN as well, Amma Cynthia. As Rafe was your light bearer — so are you ours. Your kind offer is graciously received. The e-course online at S&P may also satiate some of this deep thirst I have as well. Blessings, AAM

  5. Ed McCool
    Ed McCool says:

    Sorry. We are in deed facing a most ominous time…a time the requires a mighty effort to help each other ground our being in the sacredness of creation…creation of which we are apart. A grounding that enables all who wish to see to see and challenge the violence of thought and action, the injustice and hatred that looms just ahead. This grounding needs to be clearly accessible to all. The wisdom and message is a deceptively simple one and yet difficult to apply and powerful in its resolutions. I don’t see any value to these ends to going off on a journey of alien fantasy; rather a renewal of the simple, the powerful message of love is what the times demand now and will cry out for in the very near future. Compassion in simplicity….not unnecessary complexity and its confusion……

  6. Courtney Forbes
    Courtney Forbes says:

    I’m in. I am eager to join in this entrance into Gurdjieff. Thank you for the opportunity.

  7. Patricia Harte
    Patricia Harte says:

    Thank you Cynthia, I am in and vow to be positive,not to give up hope, keep my heart out there and do the deep reading and practice.

  8. Carole Pentony
    Carole Pentony says:

    Dear Cynthia and all, Thank you for the hope, and more, that is enlightening this space. I am with you in the Silence and Stillness so beautifully invited in the Advent newsletter, as we cross over into 2017. Carole in Houston

  9. Therese DesCamp
    Therese DesCamp says:

    Okay, I’m slow to get to these posts. But you’ve spoken my soul and my sense of this and oh, God, my longing to be part of a larger community facing what’s coming. I’m in; and there’s a small group here in the Kootenays who are in.

  10. Glennifer Gillespie
    Glennifer Gillespie says:

    Dear Cynthia,

    I’m writing from South Africa, my original home, and the place where my partner Beth and I spend the northern winter each year. I have just read your Advent blog of December 6 from Eagle Island–a bit late, but not too late, I trust, to add my voice to those offering themselves to move together with you during this time of massive change that is showing up in the world. I’m thankful that you have named the meta cycle at play here, contextualized as an 800-year shift in Western civilization going back to the birth of rational empiricism. I agree, but I had not quite made the connection that far back. I am only now coming out of my slightly dazed disbelief (denial) following the elections as I watch the POTUS-elect choose his new cabinet, and see each appointment confirming my worst fears. So thank you for your very direct framing, and I like the reading list you have chosen, including Tarnus’s “The Passion of the Western Mind.”

    I am reminded of the time in the so-called Dark Ages in Europe when monasteries held the light of learning and of spirit for humanity. I believe we are in such a time, and I know that my Wisdom practice, along with that of many others, matters. I also know that being connected matters. So a new round of Wisdom Schools, perhaps with webcast capacity so that any number of people could join in real time, is, I think, what is called for. The virtual real time part matters. I think Teilhard would approve.

    With love at this Christmas tide,

  11. Shellie Sterner
    Shellie Sterner says:

    Cynthia, thank you for helping to lead us in this time of deep listening. I’m in! Thank you for guidance into G’s work…looking forward to connecting with others on this trek.

  12. Jennifer England
    Jennifer England says:

    Thank you for setting the table to support the wisdom collective to savour practice and theory more slowly. I can feel the tugs of fear rise, as my heart and mind pay attention to the rise of a broader dismantling- rational thought, democracy, independent courts, open borders…. I’d love to contribute to a group that is committed to practicing deep hope, through and in deep time. Count me in….no matter what country I may be in at the time!

  13. Jacqueline Wright
    Jacqueline Wright says:

    I’m brand new to this website and your teachings. Reading Centering Prayer now and following the meditation practice. I feel late to the party but drawn to reach out and say “I’m in”. Have been a student of meditation for many years but only recently aware of Christian meditation. As I was raised in the Christian faith it does feel like coming home.
    I also feel drawn to the idea of inner transformation creating an energetic that can help this troubled world.

    • Administrator
      Administrator says:

      Welcome to The Contemplative Society, Jacqueline. I hope you find the support you’re looking for on your contemplative journey – we’re here for you!

  14. Mary Gifford
    Mary Gifford says:

    I would like to participate in this shared study of “Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson” . I am a “Work” student and long-time pray-er of Centering Prayer and more. Please include me in any future communication. Do you need to know more?

  15. Ian D Brown
    Ian D Brown says:

    I’ve always felt totallly intimidated by that book. I will give it a try, starting where you suggest. However, I, myself, do not feel unhopeful. This is partly because I work with a group of activists of like mind on solutions to global warming. Yes, it’s a small corner of your grand vision, but my small steps matter. Bless you for your visionary and wide scope reading and thinking.
    Ian Brown

  16. David Orth
    David Orth says:

    The call here releases a big sigh that excavates its way down through me to the root. In this place I don’t feel a “yes” as much as a “well OK, let’s see.” My lack of exuberance is probably a sense that what is possible now is the more difficult ‘work on myself’ and ‘work on ourselves.’ Had the vote tipped the other way, our polarities still reveal a deep human struggle that can’t really be “won” – not in the external, dismissive ways ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ often work on each other. The fight will go on (and some essence of it should), but the hard truth is that either way the vote went, deeper ways of evolving had to be explored. This other work promises more ‘inside’ and more ‘law of three’ interaction & creativity. Ok, yes – I want that.

  17. Genny Genevich
    Genny Genevich says:

    A most hope-filled path that I wish to have the courage to embrace: “the long-scale and impartial visioning …”
    to assist the evolutionary mandate in its foward/future movement.
    Thank you, Cynthia, for illuminating this tunnel of darkness …

  18. Beth Nix
    Beth Nix says:

    Thank you Cynthia . You have articulated the distinct sense I am getting. This advent feels very different. Count me in.

  19. Rebecca Bell
    Rebecca Bell says:

    Dear Dear Cynthia: I am deeply grateful for these latest words of wisdom when we all need them so very much. I agree with the “magnitude” of problems that we’re facing but You give us great comfort and a lens through which to see with great clarity and less fear. Bless you Cynthia. I am in.

  20. Jennifer McDougall
    Jennifer McDougall says:

    Thank you for the beautiful articulation, so resonates with me. Riddley Walker is a longtime favorite for its language and narrator! I am really feeling the need for contemplative groups and deep reading, and touching into the silence (grateful for a recent five night retreat with Adya). I would read Beelzebub as you’ve guided. Recently read Le Guin’s The Dispossessed and am currently reading Mary Gordon’s history of Joan of Arc. People troubled by their times, guided by their hearts…

  21. Dixie Clark Samuels
    Dixie Clark Samuels says:

    I’m wholly IN. Thank you for a beautiful light in the midst of so much post- US -election trauma. Your writing this morning helps me reconnect with the spirit of Advent – the cosmic Advent. I appreciate your recommended readings and would heartily engage in any group you create. Blessings of Light.

  22. linda wesson
    linda wesson says:

    Cynthia, as a member of the Living School (2018 Cohort) who is engaged with many of the ideas you present in your post, I want you to know that I am very much onboard.
    Keep me posted on any next steps.
    peace and love,
    linda wesson

  23. Viv
    Viv says:

    I’m in the UK and whilst this blog post is primarily addressing events in America, I have a sense that whilst events in the world feel scary that ‘all is well’ or will be well, but as you say it requires a bigger picture and longer timescale than many people are willing to see. Post Brexit I remember thinking that perhaps it was the wake up call that was needed, that we were lancing the boil and could then take a proper look at where we are and address the things that are wrong. You put it much more eloquently and with greater understanding – thank you. I’ve downloaded a copy of Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson for my kindle. For those who want immediate access and are being thrifty, there is a pdf available online –

  24. Cynthia Bourgeeault
    Cynthia Bourgeeault says:

    Thanks all for being so willing to throw your hearts into the ring! I’ll see if I can cobble together a blog on Beelzebub in the near future to help folks get oriented, but for starters I’d suggest that if you aren’t already a Gurdjieff afficianado, skip over the introduction, “The Arousing of Thought,” and start with the story itself, with Beelzebub and his grandson on the space ship. The part we’ll really be working at is in Book One, where the real long-scale parameters and intellectual/moral values at stake are allusively laid out. Check out the voyage when Beelzebub meets the Societyy Akhaldan on Atlantis–the prototypic wisdom school–and then chapters 25-28, detailing the labors of the most saintly Ashiata Shiemash and their destruction by the “eternal hasnamuss individual,” Lentrohamsanin. I think it’s here where you may hear some “aha” bells going off…. Back to you soon on this. C

  25. Sharon
    Sharon says:

    Beautiful! Thank you, Cynthia! Appreciate the recommended readings…will start them soon! Would love to know next steps or what you’re thinking in follow up to this article. Am sharing it with others on a similar path.

  26. Sonja
    Sonja says:

    Yes, this resonates for what I’ve been feeling into personally and more broadly–that the scale is vaster than I’ve been able to imagine up until now. I’m always working on letting go of ‘my story,’ but only recently have I realized that I’m also holding onto ‘my own scale.’ I started reading “Beelzebub” at the Law of Three retreat I attended, but stopped when it intuitively didn’t feel like the right time. Now feels like the right time, and I’ve just placed it on hold at the library.

  27. Robin Moore
    Robin Moore says:

    Dear Cynthia, thank you for inviting us into the dark wisdom of the Hope which arises in Advent. I am grateful to have the focus of joining you in deep reading and practice.

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