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“Conscious Circle” Ingathering

I watched them disappear this morning into the snowstorm, making their way home through the Maine winter after an extraordinary weekend of prayer, tears and laughter, teaching, stories, and conversation. My tiny, plucky “conscious circle”…how it tugged at my heart to see them go.

I had called them together, impromptu, about a month ago: a baker’s dozen of the most experienced and steady folks in the Wisdom network, to join me for a weekend here in Stonington (in February, utter madness!) to see if we could collectively begin to discern what the cosmos seems to be up to in the wake of this traumatic election upheaval and what Wisdom might expect of us in response.

The conversation around this topic has of course been flowing nonstop on the social media since well before November 8th, but so much of it has been at the horizontal level, driven by historical and political analysis – and, of course, from the perspective of the now duly-chastened secular intelligentsia. Shock, trauma, disorientation, and/or denial have been the dominant modes in the circles I mostly travel in, a still-dumbfounded inability to fathom what happened and why.

In times such as these, it is a traditional Wisdom practice to convene a small gathering of Wisdom “elders” to assess the situation from a deeper spiritual perspective, and to re-establish contact – through prayer, spiritual practice, sohbet (spiritual conversation), and sincerity of heart – with what Gurdjieff calls “the conscious circle of humanity”: that broader bandwidth of guiding presence always encircling our globe in its compassionate embrace and helping keep the course steady even in the midst of these periodic cavitations. The invitation – in fact, the imperative – to connect with this source of assistance is strongly underscored in Wisdom teaching, and it seemed to me that it was the one stream of input not being heard in our present anguished state of national soul-searching. 

And so our small cohort of “conscious circle” postulants convened at the Stonington Town Hall on February 3rd, having arrived from all over the country. We deliberately chose to meet there, both because of the obvious civic tie-in (yep, the red, white, and blue voting booths still line the east wall), and because the light there happens to be beautiful, streaming in right off the ocean through glorious, ten-foot-high windows. Thanks to the generous underwriting of Northeast Wisdom, we were able to partially subsidize the costs of everyone’s lodging and meals, but the response to my invitation offered by our thirteen participants was an instantaneous “Yes”, long before any funding was secured. It was that pure spirit of “Hineni” – “Here I am, Lord” – that really launched us into orbit and was both the modus operandi of our being together and ultimately the marching orders received.

The first two days were devoted mostly to teaching, as we collectively explored some of the major resources at our disposal for reframing and enlarging perspective. We reviewed the resources in Teilhard’s evolutionary vision, particularly the reassurance that deep hope flows over deep time. We affirmed that the evolutionary imperative toward the higher collectivity (the next level of “complexity consciousness” manifest as the one body of humanity) was still flowing serenely and strong beneath the surface setbacks. 

We then explored Gurdjieff’s Five “Obligolnian Strivings” (an exploration I’ll be offering more widely in a Spirituality & Practice e-course coming right up this Lent), and in particular, his conviction that there is a certain cosmic expectation laid upon the human species as part and parcel of our participation in a dynamic cosmic web of “reciprocal feeding”. Our human contribution is made in the form of those higher energies of compassion and clarity generated as we submit ourselves to the practices of “conscious labor and intentional suffering”. The fruits of this transformed Being-energy are qualities such as peace, love, joy, forbearance, patience, compassion – traditionally known in Christian language as “the fruits of the spirit”. What makes Gurdjieff’s take so interesting is that these qualities are not only moral virtues but actual energetic substances needed for the feeding and building up of our common planetary (and interplanetary) life. When we fail to produce these qualities – or worse, produce the opposite, the “false fruits” of entitlement, greed, deceit, violence, and fear – then the whole cosmic equilibrium is thrown out of whack.

We then took an extended pass through the Ken Wilber “Trump and a Post-Truth Era” article and found both the scale (from the perspective of the evolution of consciousness) and the general analysis helpful. Ken’s ability to zero in on the progressive dysfunction of the “green” or pluralistic level of consciousness, the leading edge of social conscience and evolutionary change, hit home for many of us and offered valuable cues as to how to begin to work with the circumstances now on our plate.

On Monday afternoon the conversation started to flow as we broke into triads and then reunited for deep, searing, imaginative, and energy-filled exchanges. While it would be premature to say that any “charter of action” emerged from our deliberations, a remarkable consensus emerged that whatever the long-term political outcome may be, the instructions remain the same: to hold the post, stand with courage and equanimity, and be able to maintain a resilient space for third force, staying close to that “light within” that is already shining brightly in the midst of this tunnel, not just waiting at the end of it.

Part of the empowerment of the whole gathering was to be able to hold those “unimaginable” conversations, standing lucidly as we stared right into the face of that nameless, paralyzing dread that has so much of our nation in its grip. We discussed with strength and lucidity such mind-bending scenarios as the collapse of democracy, global conflagration, and spiritual resources for self-protection when operating in the presence of unleashed forces of evil.

The greatest reassurance – and I admit, frankly, surprise – came for me in our times of spiritual practice and in a Sunday morning Eucharist which palpably exploded with the presence of the risen Christ. (In fact, it detonated so powerfully that the explosion was picked up all the way in British Columbia by one of our Wisdom intuitives there, who emailed me, “What just happened?”) It was an unmistakable confirmation and teaching from that very conscious circle to which we had humbly presented ourselves for guidance.

While the courses of action that emerge from each one of us may differ, what was eminently clear to each of us was that this protective field of tenderness and responsive concern to our planetary anguish is alive and well, and that we can and MUST turn to it…daily, hourly, with every best. In best of Wisdom fashion, our hope shifted away from outcome and back to source. 

Others in the circle will no doubt offer their own takes, on the Wisdom [School] Community Facebook page, and in blogs of their own. And of course, the real reverberations of the work we did this past weekend will reveal themselves only gradually, as they percolate out through the “circles within circles” in our Wisdom network both by direct transmission and through quantum entanglement. But for me, the heart of what we were about this weekend and where we got to spiritually hovered closely within the words of the haunting melody that Laura Ruth sang for us on our final night:

Though my soul may set in darkness,
It will rise in perfect light.
For I’ve loved the stars too fondly
To be fearful of the night.

Thank you, one and all, who made this gathering possible. I am more than ever convinced that wherever our times have landed us and whatever may be in store, this is indeed Wisdom’s finest hour.  

Meanwhile, I invite you all to collectively ponder these powerful words from Connie Fitzgerald, from her paper From Impasse to Prophetic Hope, delivered in 2009 before the Catholic Theological Society of America. I believe it frames the window of opportunity for all of us, while not mincing words on the challenge:

Any hope for a new consciousness and a self-forfeiture drawn by love stands opposed by a harsh reality. We humans serve our own interests, we hoard resources, we ravage the earth and other species, we scapegoat, we make war, we kill, we torture, we turn a blind eye to the desperation and needs of others, and we allow others to die. Our ability to embody our communion with every human person on the earth and our unassailable connectedness with everything living is limited because we have not yet become these symbiotic “selves”. We continue to privilege our personal autonomy and are unable to make the transition from radical individualism to a genuine synergistic community even though we know intellectually we are inseparably and physically connected to every living being in the universe. Yet the future of the entire earth community is riding on whether we can find a way beyond the limits of our present evolutionary trajectory.

Two become one…

This piece by Cynthia Bourgeault was originally posted on Northeast Wisdom’s website on July 19, 2016.

Stonington - TWO_closeupLast Tuesday, July 12th, the massive granite sculpture named “Two” by its creator, Maine sculptor Roy Patterson, took up its new home on my front lawn. Instantly it looked like it had been here for eons.

I’m still in a bit of shock at what could have led me to shell out what, from my perspective, is an astronomical chunk of change for this assemblage of granite blocks. And yet there was something so compellingly right about it – so natural – that I could only keep moving ahead with this decision-less decision that seems to have emerged from some intentionality deeper than my own. So when my friend, Lindsay Bowker, pressed me a bit further on this point in preparation for an article on its installation she’s cooking up for the local paper, I put my thinking cap on, and this is what I came up with…


From the moment I bought the little house on School Street in Stonington, I knew I was placing myself in a very public location. Everything I did here would be on display. That’s the nature of the site.

I was also aware that I was assuming a profound gift and responsibility from Michie O’Day, the former owner. Michie is a talented artist and an awesome gardener, and she loved this little house dearly and did the best she could during her decade on watch to bring it along. She adored Stonington – in fact, she would never have left were it not for chronic health issues. Michie and I became friends during the course of the sale, and have remained so, and it’s both a privilege and a debt of honor to carry on the vision that she had for this place.

One of the things that I was able to bring off early in my time here was to buy a swathe of the adjacent property from my next-door neighbors, Phil and Heidi Anderson. That allowed me to secure my view down School Street and to become the owner of that striking, prow-like front corner of the property, sitting high above the intersection of Church and School streets like the bow of a ship.

I’d long thought that a piece of sculpture might be perfect there: partly because plants don’t grow well on that spot (lucky for me; otherwise, I would have immediately succumbed to the temptation to put an apple tree there) and partly because I deeply appreciate fine art as well as the proud heritage and physical beauty of this tiny fishing village I have called home on and off for more than twenty years now. Fine art transforms physical beauty into spiritual beauty, touching deep archetypal currents (at least, if it’s good art) without ever being too blatant or ideological about it, without forcing people to see in a certain way. Fine art simply evokes the heart.

Stonington - TWOThe idea of placing Roy Patterson’s sculpture on that site grew on me gradually as I passed by it year after year, season after season, sitting there in the dooryard of the Turtle Gallery in Deer Isle. I never really decided to; it just seemed more and more obvious that the piece would fit perfectly there. It is solid and familiar, built of the very granite blocks and shapes that all the walls up and down School Street are built of, including the one it sits atop. So it dialogues well with the natural world here, and with our local history and heritage. But it has another level of meaning as well, much more subtle, allusive, and archetypal.

Roy Patterson calls the piece “Two”, and, as its creator, he has his own unique and deep relationship with this sculpture. For him, it speaks of maternal tenderness and nurturance. The “two” are the granite mother and child.

But, precisely in the measure that a work of art is genuine and deep, it also graciously receives the interpretations of the beholder. And, for me, given my background as an Episcopal priest, this work is quintessentially (though allusively) an altar, the stone circle sitting on it a host, and its granite solidity reverberates in my spiritual imagination with Teilhard de Chardin and his archetypal “Mass on the World”, offered not in bread and wine, but in human labor and human suffering. To me this sculpture is supremely Teilhardian, bringing together geology, solidity, universality, and an implicit offering of gratitude and petition for our one world, at once hauntingly particular and sweepingly universal.

And so I place this small “altar” at the prow of this property I am stewarding: facing downhill toward the fishermen, quarrymen, and townsfolk who have made our village what it is, all the while allusively affirming that there are dimensions of our common life that go deeper than even civic or public duty. They touch the sacred.


Stonington - TWO_boomPost-installation P.S.: Well, for the record, it is an absolutely powerful altar! That was clear even as its granite pillars were being swung into place from the boom truck. And now, as I stand behind it facing down School Street toward the fishing boats, the islands and ocean stretching beyond, and our one world stretching still “beyonder”, I sense that it is indeed for the offering of The Mass of the World – in whatever physical or imaginal space this ritual may transpire – that this mysteriously beautiful and compelling piece has found its way to me. Whatever else unfolds during the time that “Two” and I sojourn together here on the corner of School and Church Streets, it has already called me in its quiet and insistent way to a renewed seriousness of commitment to our common humanity, and to our one beautiful and fragile planet, hurtling toward either transfiguration or destruction. Like Teilhard, as I stand every morning before its solid, sheltering pillars, I will send my blessings and prayers out over those shining waters with that same fervent plea with which Teilhard’s Mass reaches its climax: “Lord, make us One!”

“…When you can make TWO become one,” says the Gospel of Thomas…Could that be what it’s all about? Seriously?

Stonington - TWO_CB

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