How do we stand in ourselves in these times? What do we draw from? What do we have to give? What is our responsibility as humans, and to what? Twenty-five gathered recently at Glastonbury Abbey, where, as Cynthia says, “in a weekend on the Benedictine virtue of stabilitas we wove together Benedict and Teilhard, considering the meaning of this ancient value in our own world plunged onto instability on all fronts.”
We traced the presence, and absence, of the ancient and practiced stabiltas loci (stability of place) and stabilitas cordis (stability of heart) of the Benedictine tradition through our individual lives and lived experience to our common cultural experience in these chaotic and fragmented times. Drawing connections between stabiltas and Teilhard de Chardin’s fidelity––which he defines as the force within that communicates with the life that faith consecrates–– a sense of aliveness came into the room. Through this deep dive, together with Teilhard’s observation of evolutionary complexification, emerging consciousness and convergence, moving towards the Omega point, I felt the growing awareness of an already embedded body of experience rising to meet my deepest questions these days. A felt sense of the potent healing and the inevitable alchemy generated through a commitment to these principles in my life, in community, and ultimately to its place at the center of where we may stand as human beings in service to the newness, the unknown, that is wanting to be born through the tumult.
Returning home, I decided to augment my prayer with the embodied prayer of simply moving a bit and then grounding in; as Cynthia suggested at the close of the retreat, that we visit the depths of earth daily. I found an immediate connection to Cynthia’s specific noticing about the geosphere as separate from the biosphere, the geosphere holding the memory of deep time in stone and element, woven with all that has been given by the ancients. Penetrating the geospheric depths consciously, physically, energetically, I felt another level of connection to myself as born and made of earth matter. Beyond my previous experience of that truth. Allen’s very simple bending the knees helped ground it further, and it was oh so very strengthening; invigorating in a deep-in-the-legs sort of way. Palpable. The resources are given. We have what we need. It is all right here.
At Glastonbury on Sunday morning after vigils I made my way up to the labyrinth on the hill. Pine needles underfoot, tall trees circling close, generous blocks of old stone marking the path. My grief was pouring forth, and it was leading me to place, to earth. I walked into the labyrinth in the quiet, sobbing, and feeling–confession comes closest–the overwhelming grief of being a human and not knowing how, the desire to give to the greater organism and feeling all that has been severed, is being severed. A kind of physically falling into the place, with my confession, my part, as a part of the whole, in the failure of our responsibility. Looking up from the earth at my feet, straightening up and drawing from this point on earth to walk, my eyes met the eyes of a mature old hawk. He was looking at me from a low limb of one of the pines that root into the stones at the edge of the circle, a limb that extended right out over the labyrinth. He seemed comfortable with me and the place, so I wonder if he nests there and the monks know him. He hung out while I walked round, moved to couple of other low limbs in the same tree and finally flew a bit further off.Being together in this new world, the old world crumbling, can we begin to learn one another’s languages? Our common language? Exercise the fidelity that communicates with the life that faith consecrates? Learn to approach one another (and I include earth herself) with enough humbleness and truth and heart? Wait? Stay? Even in our vulnerability? Stabilitas.
I have been touched, as we all have been touched. As we touch one another. Consciously embracing in my daily practice this sense of touching the memory of the geosphere and the heart of the ancient ones, physically, as a creature of earth, can help me personally with that. As we did at Glastonbury together, as I did this morning in my home. Touchstone. Yes, a form of remembering. I can feel its accessibility right here and now, as I write; another portal to prayer without ceasing. With love and gratitude.
In Cynthia’s Note to the Northeast Wisdom fundraising letter, she exclaims, “We’re Here to Make Wisdom Happen!” And Wisdom, as it is born in its unique configuration through each and every one of us into life, into life lived, is certainly front and center in the collective heart of Cynthia Bourgeault and the 2017 Board of Directors. As champion of that call, Cynthia has had a year of speaking and writing about Wisdom’s interface with life in these times that has been reaching back within the tradition with an ever-widening lens; and simultaneously turning into the present moment, making new and immediate connections, and sharing her visionary seeing, in process, as it awakens.
It is to serve exactly that- that which has been taking shape over the course of the year- that the idea for an annual collection arose. To document the arising in Cynthia, as she “stood and turned” to meet the day over the course of the year with courage, honesty, creativity, her brilliant wit, and an ever-evolving living lineage revealing and expressing itself through her.
This little book is a collaborative effort, born out of a sudden arising in a board meeting, followed and discovered along the way. It has been a bit of an experiment. An exercise in trust, that the project will be led, and the necessary help will arrive. Deep breath! It is a work in progress that we hope to have available to donors by the end of February 2018.
The book has been primarily a process of following, and going through the doors as they open. Step by step and moment by moment. The inspiration has been seeing the pieces fall into place, the unfolding of word and action over the course of a year which had been sensed in time, and now may be visible in space.
This annual collection, entitled Love is the Answer: What is the Question? includes many of the short talks and writing Cynthia delivered from the fall of 2016 through 2017. It is truly a Northeast Wisdom Board creation. As primary advocate, and inexperienced in the field, I have been brought right up the edge of my capacity and relied throughout the process on my dear friend and colleague Bob Sabath. He has spent hours on the phone advising me with his collected experience and good sense, patiently steering me through the technical glitches of a complete beginner. And Brie Stoner has generously shared her gorgeous photo of Cynthia teaching in February 2016, for use in the work in progress of a cover image. While Holly, invaluable manager of the Northeast Wisdom website, has tirelessly and artfully jumped on board as the annual campaign has gone live on the website.
Fellow board members have collaborated along the way, Guthrie contributed sound advice and the typeface, Mary Ellen has been so helpful with her innate knowledge, patience with contractual language and experience in the field, Cynthia has brought her immediacy, enthusiasm and publishing expertise to elements of the project from the size and feel of the book to the color and look of the cover. Over and again she has answered my questions, brainstormed material, shared necessary connections and short cuts whenever I have come to a dead end. Patricia has chimed in with her championing of organizational protocol. The three M’s of the current Northeast Wisdom Board of Directors, Marcella, Matthew and Mary Ellen have offered to be the editing body. And President of the Board, and dear friend Bill, produced a gorgeous foreword to the book in record time, and more even than that, has been consistently ready in the moment to offer his endless and openhearted support to this work as it has unfolded. What a team!
The idea for the book arose during a late summer board meeting. The outer question was how to meet the need for a small but meaningful gift for larger donors to the annual giving campaign. The inner question surfacing was something like this: How does this fit with our times? What gift is a real response to the needs, the questions, the uncertainties of this past year? What has already been given? What are people hungry for? How does Northeast Wisdom relate to all this?
A few weeks ago, at the last Wisdom retreat at Hallelujah Farm, Mark Kutolowski was introducing the group to Systema, a practice developed over centuries by Russian monks (among others), that trains the whole person to stay in freely flowing intuitive response in high stress situations or environments. Kerstin Lipke had found a beautiful quote from Cynthia’s Wisdom Way of Knowing to print on the back of the schedule. Over the course of the weekend, one of the participants used a phrase from the quote as a touchstone in her own beautiful way. We went around during the opening circle, sharing just a brief kernel of what was on our hearts in the moment. When it was her turn, she turned to the quote and said, “…either you will brace, harden and resist, or you will soften, open and yield.” Throughout the weekend, she returned to that phrase, each time bringing it into a new context, a deeper understanding. Reflecting on it, letting it live in her. Experiencing it, physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, as she danced with it through the long weekend.
It is a beautiful example of something I have been noticing all around me this year. The way that a thought, a gorgeous phrase, can land within a person’s being and then be taken up, lived with, and itself grow through reflection into deeper consciousness. Words that become openings to that cusp where what is deeply personal is ultimately human and universal experience. Words that become windows, for instance, to how “deep hope flows over deep time.” I have been noticing how people turn to certain words and phrases; combinations of words that express truth, beauty and goodness. Finding a home both to land in and launch from. “It is movement and it is rest.”
As the board discussed possibilities for a gift, I remembered being recently struck by how Cynthia’s rendition of her experience at Tintern Abbey had named something very specific, so relevant to the times, that spoke directly to my heart. That had been six months prior, yet it was still fresh. The quality of aliveness in the words had reverberated in my soul. It was a two-part message that the walls of Tintern Abbey delivered to Cynthia that day. The first, a directive about how to listen and what to do: “not … to verify, instruct yourself, inform curiosity or carry report.” I could feel myself there, in my humanness, the mind’s habitual retreat from the moment. But “to kneel, where prayer has been valid.” Cynthia was listening, and responding. Kneeling, where prayer has been valid.
Softening, opening and yielding to what was vibrantly alive in that place, Cynthia called it “a living transmission” in her post. One that spoke out of the very stones that had been witness centuries before to terror, to sorrow and to endurance. “Know that what is forged in the alchemy of love is beyond the ravages of time. All else may dissolve; this alone remains. But in your own transfigured heart, you will always find it.”
These words were a gift that readied Cynthia for what was to come on the eve of the United States elections. They resonated later in my heart as truth; truth given out of the imaginal, in a form that, for me, brings the heart into the miraculous territory of paradox. The place where words vibrate as an image-being complete unto itself, and yet is a continuing experience, living, vibrant, fluid, deepening, holographic, resonant. Words that express a becoming, a process, an exchange, that continues to move and deepen within and without. What remains, in the transfigured heart, beyond the ravages of time.
A thread was emerging that was to express itself over the course of the year in a myriad of ways. This was informed of course by the work of a lineage, by the deepening of a growing soul, by lived experience of the meeting of Gurdjieff and Teilhard de Chardin in Cynthia’s heart and mind, by years of practice. How to bring this all into a contemporary conversation? A meeting with the now? The talks and writings that Cynthia shared over the course of the year were of a great variety, a series of call and response that speaks to the times from a number of directions.
In the board meeting, the image of a book was gaining greater clarity: what a gift it would be to gather these together in a volume. A new blog series was underway. There had been talks around the country, articles written and courses offered. A book would be something tangible that people could pick up and hold, turn over in their hands, open to a page. So many questions were surfacing within people. A book could provide a phrase to take up as a question or a study. It could be put on a bedside table, raise a question, turn it over to the night, and see what the night sends back. It might become inspiration for action, help form a guiding thought, or enliven inner practice.
Cynthia herself says in her annual appeal letter, “I’ve had a fabulous year of writing, reflecting, and breaking ground on all these fronts, knowing that I am beautifully supported and accompanied by a living, growing community that truly has my back.” This little book covers the ground between the fall of 2016 through 2017. For many, these times have drawn people closer together. A sense of human and earthly community has become more poignant. Many have plunged into deep and honest self-reflection, and sat with rising questions about how to meet life from an ever-growing place of inner clarity and integrity.
Cynthia has a particular gift for language, and is a brilliant artist of synthesis. Throughout her contributions to this volume, and under the development and interweaving of thoughts and ideas and their translation into comprehensive and vivid pictures that are penetrable and welcoming, Cynthia’s voice is the consistent call of a spiritual teacher who walks the talk and knows the territory from the inside out. The call is to embodied practice, to listen, to see ourselves for what we are, no more, no less, each one a precious and unique part of the whole. To pay attention to a growing, expanding consciousness that has the capacity to bear the greatest joy and the deepest sorrow, to remember and connect to a sense of rhythm and proportion, to humility and to humor, to open to the capacity to enter the heart within that beats with the Divine Heart of Hearts.
When it comes to the Christian Wisdom tradition, Northeast Wisdom’s mission is to transmit, nurture, prepare, and engage, and this year has brought numerous needs and questions to the fore, for each of us as individuals and collectively. Many have been feeling signs of a deeper paradigm shift, with all the hopes and fears that surface in times of change. It is clear that many people are choosing to make more room in their lives for the inner questions that are part of a personal blueprint that is constantly becoming.
We will each find our way on this journey through our times, and we are not alone. Some of us will find a path opening through the Christian Wisdom tradition, and perhaps Cynthia’s contributions to the conversation this year will transmit, nurture, prepare and engage us in a way supports and encourages each of us to reach deeper within and reach further out. Call and response. “Please join us in the dance,” says Cynthia. “Joyfully, playfully, collectively.”
I was laughing at my desk this morning, pre-dawn, the glow in the sky yet to come. Searching for a word to describe the roles taken in this little collective project. Steering committees and spearheads led me from Merriam Webster’s, “sharp-pointed end of a spear”, “leading element, force or influence in an undertaking or development” and “steering head: the assemblages of front-axle and steering knuckle on which a front wheel of an automobile turns” (interesting), to the Trip Advisor’s, “always need the cowboys to keep the steer heading in the right direction”, and possibly my favorite, Urban Dictionary’s (invention?), “steerheading: to take one’s encumbered thoughts and send them off into a pen of productivity.” The technical learning curve has been substantial! Quite the challenge. Makes me laugh, but enough of that.
It has been a joy and a blessing to follow this “leaning” and dive so deeply into what Cynthia has been bringing forth in these surprising and uncertain times. To be intimate witness to her meeting of the often uneasy, ever-hopeful, sense of major paradigm shift happening beneath our collective feet, grounded in Wisdom’s way and emerging from her life’s work in a humble pursuit of the truth and practice of the heart.
Dear Friends of Northeast Wisdom,
I am pleased to invite you to visit “Breaking Ground”, a new page on this website that hopes to become an active forum for the exchange of ideas, insights, creative expressions and experiences related to the integration of Wisdom into daily life, our inner experience and our lives in the world, our relationships and communities. Welcome!I have just revisited Cynthia’s November 2016 Blog post ‘Lines of My Own Composed above Tintern Abbey’. I recommend it; so much so that we have re-posted it in Breaking Ground. Her experience, of the long ago life and work of the monks, and of the stones themselves at Tintern Abbey, intimately met my own life, revealing its capacity to reach beyond Cynthia’s singular moment to touch the hearts of many, moving and stirring Life within the collective.
This is the essence what Breaking Ground wants to foster; a platform where the manifestation of Wisdom in everyday life can be shared, and a symposium for the dynamic exchange of that which bears the seeds of transformation, in our own lives, in the lives of those who ‘listen with the ear of the heart’, in the world. Many of our experiences, whether they are sublime – or simple, ordinary moments in the mundane – have the potential to serve as stepping stones, acknowledgments, opportunities and challenges, inspiration, beacons of truth and love to others. To reflect on an experience that speaks to Living Presence flowing through life, to acknowledge the touch of the Beloved, to share a testament to human consciousness and its capacity to continue to heal and grow through time and space, is a gift gratefully received. We do this, in ways large and small, for one another and the planet.
…With infinite tenderness, resolve — like the eyes of Michelangelo’s Pieta I had seen for the first time only weeks before at the Vatican — it spoke to me in those moments, shared what could be shared of the quiet endurance in the face of reversal, deepest sorrow, human atrocity. “Yes,” said the walls, quietly, “we know…And yet, through all of this, something still stands.”
There is much afoot in the Wisdom community; many places where people are gathering to explore Wisdom practices and find ways to celebrate together the growing edges of Wisdom work. There are groups studying Cynthia’s books, Teilhard, Tomberg and Gurdjieff, local practice circles and centering prayer groups, online study and life sharing initiatives, as well as singular events and weekend gatherings. A growing body of experience, creativity, imagination and consciousness is contributing to life on the planet.
In the life of individuals, what is it to live the Wisdom work day to day? How is it taken up into life? Does it help? How is it reaching beyond the inner life into work and relationship? Where are the fruits of Wisdom showing up? A conversation is happening about how the inner work is reflecting in daily life, how it can serve the greater human collective and the world, and where Wisdom may offer guidance during times of great change like our own. I have been noticing a call to deepen, a sounding to wake up and lean in, into what is real, into the aliveness of sensation, the complexity of light and darkness in our lives and world, and the interweaving of the imaginal realm with our waking life on earth.
“Just as we are still standing now,” they whispered to my heart—“and see how we have drawn you here and you are listening right now. Do not look upon us as a destroyed monastery, but as a living transmission.”
How are we each experiencing and working with the beauty and challenge of our times? Are we picking up the weave, the warp and weft, of Wisdom? And if so, what are we discovering? Where are the questions, the difficulties? Where are we finding the light? the truth? The love? How does Wisdom illuminate these times?
“Know that what is forged in the alchemy of love is beyond the of ravages of time. All else may dissolve; this alone remains. But in your own transfigured heart, you will always find it.”
Our hope is that the Breaking Ground page, here on the Northeast Wisdom website, can further serve the community at large, encouraging a mutual and direct exchange of projects, templates, creative and imaginative expressions, as well as the personal reflections and insights that fire the deeper revelations of a life lived with Wisdom. That we can collectively share the transfigurations of our hearts.
You will find, just to start, an outline for a wisdom gathering such as Marcella Kraybill-Greggo’s Moment of Silence and Wisdom Day, inspired by Inauguration Day and adaptable for any Wisdom event. Or Steven Bonsey’s announcement about the new website ‘Wisdom and Money’, and the way that Wisdom practices inform the group’s gatherings and thereby deepen their activities and relationship with money.
On a more personal, but just as universal, note are Lois Barton’s reflections on the spiritual practice of conversation as a dance of sacred listening; and Adwoa Lewis-Wilson’s poem ‘Take Off Your Shoes’, as well as her intimate sharing of a moment in her life of faith during Holy Week at Hallelujah Farm, as she stood in her knowing heart with the Beloved.
Visit the Breaking Ground page and check out the newest post, Bill Redfield’s second article in a four part series, where he introduces the Wisdom Leadership Training, a new endeavor which hopes to train postholders to skillfully facilitate the integration of Wisdom into life and the ‘self-structure’ rather than simply provide for single – lovely – experiences for participants. You will also find the most recent Northeast Wisdom blog post, ‘To Midwife Third Force: Creating Law of Three Midwife Groups’ on the new Breaking Ground page, where you may find information and support for creating Law of Three groups in your locale or online.
If you are interested in participating through a posting, or have reflections, insights, creative endeavors, group work or personal experiences related to Wisdom work you would like to share, or see shared, on Breaking Ground please contact Laura Ruth at email@example.com.
All quotes above are from Cynthia Bourgeault’s ‘Lines of My Own Composed above Tintern Abbey’ originally posted on the Northeast Wisdom website Blog November 2016 (and remains accessible in the Blog Archives) and re-posted on the Breaking Ground page of the Northeast Wisdom website in June 2017.