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Reflections of a Wanderer: Unpacking the “Way of Union” Retreat

You wander from room to room
Hunting for the diamond necklace
That is already around your neck

~ Rumi

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.

In This Together

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.

Transmitting and Transforming

Brian Mitchell, The Contemplative Society’s Audio Ministry Coordinator, connects the relationship between you and the ministry, and how you can play your part. Also, a note from Cynthia Bourgeault, and a selection of our customers’ testimonials.


cam00124As you perhaps already know, one of the most unique contributions of The Contemplative Society to the Christian Wisdom path is our Audio Ministry. Each year we take old versions of our recorded talks and retreats, as well as new recordings, and transform them into audio teachings available for purchase on our website ensuring that contemplative Wisdom is transmitted to all who yearn to hear it. Usually, we edit and distribute Cynthia Bourgeault’s teachings (such as 2015’s In the Wake of St. Brendan or 2016’s The Holy Trinity & the Law of Three), but last year we were honoured to expand our offerings to include Matthew Wright (The Wisdom Path: Contemplative Practice & Evolving Consciousness) and look forward to recording his retreat in the spring of 2017. We also continue to revise previous teachings for improved quality and coherence.

032_cropI consider my role as coordinator of the Audio Ministry as both a blessing and a little bit of a curse. It’s a blessing because I have the privilege of listening to and disseminating teachings that enliven my body, mind, heart, and spirit. The teachings never get old, as there is no bottom to the Wisdom well from which they emerge, and I also get to work with absolutely wonderful volunteers. On the other hand, it sometimes feels like a bit of a curse because it’s a lot of work to do with very few resources!

What you may not know is that our Audio Ministry operates virtually on volunteer hours alone. Though we have had limited success in the past, last year we decided to once again put a call out for more help to relieve the load on our current volunteers and hopefully to increase the volume and speed at which we produce the teachings. Holy Spirit seemed to have decided to intervene on this occasion, and we found ourselves inundated with people willing to help either in the capacity of editor or final listener.

cam00121

This last attempt to recruit help has proven to me how important the Audio Ministry is to The Contemplative Society community (check out these testimonials from our customers). This knowing motivates me to remain vigilant and imbues the work with great meaning. And that is why I ask for a different kind of help today.

cam00123In addition to volunteer hours, producing these audio sets is also costly in terms of materials, technical equipment, and the occasional service of professionals. The Contemplative Society strives to keep the cost of the recordings as low as feasible in order to have the teachings remain accessible to as wide an audience as possible. With the help of our donors, we have been able to strike a healthy balance. The more support we have, the more we are able to offer.

We currently have a significant backlog of tapes waiting to be edited, and a number of sets that need to be revised. My hope is to match our resources with the passion our community has shown for these teachings. In that spirit, I hope you will consider supporting The Contemplative Society by renewing your membership, or becoming a new member or donor. All donations can be applied to membership which, in addition to sustaining our various programs including the Audio Ministry, gives you the benefit of applying early to The Contemplative Society’s retreats where you can experience the teachings that we offer as audio sets in person. If you are already a donor, we encourage you to consider increasing your previous gift or considering a monthly donation to help us reach our goals. Please visit our Membership page to learn more, or our Support Us page to give directly. (And if you need a bit more convincing, read what Cynthia has to say about it!)

I hope you will join me in our endeavour to bring ancient Wisdom to our modern students of the heart.

With thanks,

Brian Mitchell
Audio Ministry Coordinator

Support The Contemplative Society – Support the Contemplative Future!


For more information on donating or membership, please visit contemplative.org/about-us/membership, or contact Miranda at admin@contemplative.org or 250-381-9650. Enquiries about your current gift can also be directed to Miranda.
 
 

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

You Are the Change: Help Sustain the Contemplative Future

How things change.

 Just two years ago, I had never heard of Cynthia Bourgeault. At the age of 26, I was only a fledgling in the meditation world, meeting regularly with a group I had joined while studying at the local university. Through that group, I had the opportunity to go to a retreat on a scholarship.

UVIc meditation

Five other people from the university also received this gift, and we affectionately became known as the “young people” at the Poet’s Cove retreat in 2013. 

That retreat changed my life. Not only did I find a practice that began strengthening my ability to simply be and allow, I found a community that celebrated and actively cultivated surrender, an ingredient I now consider crucial (and often underestimated) to a fulfilling life. I soon joined the board in early 2014, serving as a liaison between the university meditation community and TCS. I started practicing Centering Prayer regularly and joined others doing the same at other TCS events. The highlight for me was receiving another scholarship to attend the Wisdom School with Cynthia on The Holy Trinity and Law of Three held last year at Cowichan Lake, BC. Without the support TCS has offered me, both in practice and financially, I doubt I would have been exposed to the Christian wisdom tradition in the way that I have as early in my life as I did.

Miranda Harvey

I now co-teach Centering Prayer at the university to an audience of primarily “young people”. It gives me a great sense of hope for our future that the teachings of the Christian wisdom tradition continue to be carried forward. And it gives me a deep sense of gratitude and belonging to know that I am part of a community that shares this mission. 

Change is present in the contemplative community as well: you may have heard of a “consciousness shift” on the horizon, and I believe that the “young people” today are the stewards of this shift. You might consider Matthew Wright, the leader for this year’s main retreat, an example of this shift. A major priority of TCS this year is being able to offer support to the younger generation of burgeoning contemplatives and their leaders so that we can ensure the luminous future of the Christian wisdom tradition. 

How can you help? By joining The Contemplative Society’s family of donors, you will actively help us maintain and expand our ministry, as well as support our principal teacher, Cynthia Bourgeault (read her letter). Your financial support of TCS has enabled us to weather our own changes, such as the recent website upgrade and transition in staff – changes that help all of us to participate fully in a changing world. This fall, we are asking you to consider supporting TCS by becoming a member or donor. A monthly gift is enormously appreciated as it helps us to plan ahead, but all gifts help us to be even more inclusive and accessible, particularly by ensuring our ability to offer more scholarships. Please visit our Support Us page to give a gift today that will continue to make vibrant change tomorrow. 

bird-in-flight

With gratitude and blessings, 

 

Miranda Harvey
Administrator

 

For more information on donating or membership, please visit contemplative.org/about-us/membership, or contact Miranda at admin@contemplative.org or 250-381-9650.