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The Meeting of Christian and Taoist Wisdom

In May of 2020, Allen Bourque spoke with Laura Ruth on behalf of the Northeast Wisdom website, to talk about how his three decades of work in the Taoist tradition interfaces with his love of the Christian Wisdom tradition. Allen, Laura and Kerstin Lipke worked together for five years during Wisdom retreats at Hallelujah Farm, in New Hampshire. Beginning on June 16, 2020, Allen is offering a zoom course on Taoist practice for the Wisdom community called "Taoist Practices for Our Emergent Reality: Grounding, Embodying and Extending Our Hearts." You will find more information about the course at the end of this post.   LR:  Lets’ jump right in: What’s your central message? AB: I want to bring out three core aspects of Taoism, how these dovetail with facets of Wisdom Christianity, and how together they bear on our current world transition. The first issue is the practices themselves, which are the primary offering I make. Since ancient times, Taoism has been, fundamentally, a practice-oriented tradition. In fact, the title of the original text—which pre-dates the Tao Te Ching—is Inward Training. Those practices are most often done communally as well as privately and the practices are far more central to

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Global Warming Revisited:
“Web” Exercise, Commentaries Part V, D

Welcome to Cynthia's third commentary on the "Web" exercise in this Pandemic Homework series, details of which you will find at the end of this post. Please post your comments below!   In the meantime, Cynthia has extended an invitation: Today, Thursday, May 21, Ascension Day, I will offer myself in the Four Ideals Exercise on behalf our entire planet. Anyone care to join me? Not nailing down a specific time…just "whenever…" real time will always flow into the infinite NOW. I wonder if our casually joined atmospheres could indeed "warm the earth" on this day of cosmic arising.... In regard to the special invitation above, see the "Four Ideals" (pp. 229-240) in the book Gurdjieff: Mysticism, Contemplation & Exercises. If you do not have access to the book, you can find resources available online. Now, back to "warming the earth" through the "Web" exercise! The first three commentaries on the "Web" exercise speak to the relationship between a personal atmosphere and the web that comes into being through group work together, and remains, undispersed, when apart. The far more interesting possibilities implicit in this exercise, however, open up for me in the opposite direction: between the group atmosphere and

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The Foundational Gesture to Enter the Divine Dance is Surrender: Chapter VI of the Wisdom Way of Knowing

Welcome to a monthly series of posts from the leaders of the Northeast Wisdom Book Study Group. In January the class took up The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming an Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart by Cynthia Bourgeault. The study group is full, but we invite you to follow along with these posts (links to the other chapters are at the bottom of this article), perhaps with your own small gathering. Lovingly re-read over and over, this little book is chock full of the basic tenets of the Wisdom tradition including its clear synthesis of the Benedictine Ora et Labora and Gurdjieff's Three Centered Knowing and the central role of the heart. Nan Delach brings you this month's post on Chapter VI: Freedom and Surrender: The Anthropology of Wisdom. Chapter VI describes a willing deconstruction of our small self, our acorn (p. 64), and a balancing of our three centers, such that we can effectively articulate the gesture of surrender. A gesture of spacious openness—not a collapse into capitulation—but a relaxed inner stance that allows for a balanced, truly measured response. One with courage, strength and fullness of heart. We begin by letting go of our false sense of

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Yin and Yang: “Web” Exercise, Commentaries Part V, C

For any of you who are new to the website: Welcome! And welcome to Cynthia Bourgeault's third commentary on the "Web" exercise; part of an ongoing series of posts that began in late March 2020 in the midst of the global covid-19 pandemic. Gurdjieff called these exercises "Transformed Contemplation," which Cynthia says is a "contemplation that actually transforms something, both in ourselves and in the world. It is a kind of sacred alchemy, which is to be understood within the context of Gurdjieff’s great vision of 'reciprocal feeding': the exchange of physical/energetic substances between the realms which maintains the whole cosmic ecosystem in a state of dynamic equilibrium." More information and links to the series can be found at the end of this post, where you will also find a place to share your comments and questions. Here's Cynthia: The Web Exercise is unique in the Gurdjieff repertoire, Azize comments, “in that it requires the members of the group to work at it in conjunction with each other, both when they come together as a group and while they go about their usual [i.e., separated] activities” (p. 200). The exercise thus has a kind of “yin and yang” quality to

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The Group Atmosphere: “Web” Exercise, Commentaries Part V, B

In this ongoing series of posts, Cynthia has taken a deep dive into the underlying tenets of her March 2020 letter to the community entitled Pandemic Homework. The first item on the emergent to-do list was to begin to work with specific Gurdjieff practices—exercises which she has written about in her Commentaries on the Elements of the Exercises. This post is the second of a six-part essay on the fifth practice, called the "Web" exercise. You will find links to previous posts in the series at the bottom of the essay, along with a link to the book of exercises. We invite you to share your comments below as well. Cynthia continues here with the second part of her Commentary on the "Web" exercise: Just as there is an individual atmosphere, so there is also a group atmosphere, formed from the aggregation of individual atmospheres. Gurdjieff picturesquely calls it a web. When this web is clear and conscious, it can become a tremendous source of support and transformation, both for its individual group members and for larger planetary purposes. Gurdjieff may never have heard those contemporary buzzwords, “quantum entanglement” and “non-localized action,” but in this exercise—which in my opinion is

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Preliminary Remark, The “Web” Exercise: Part V, A

I had not originally planned to include this exercise in this introductory sampling and still have serious misgivings about sharing it now. There’s a significant risk that some of you may be tempted to try it out under inappropriate conditions and wind up in a hall of mirrors. But the exercise so clearly furnishes the bridge, both conceptually and practically, between the "Atmosphere" Exercise we have just been working with and the magisterial "Four Ideals" Exercise upon which we are about to embark that to leave it off the table turns out to be impossible. You will meet a new side of Gurdjieff here, a whole new depth to his collective and compassionate engagement with the world, that few commentators, even those senior in the Work, have sufficiently noticed. So here’s the caveat up front: Please do not try out this exercise with your newfound friends in your online spiritual study group. Repeat: DO NOT!! It needs to be anchored in actual on-the-ground experience, lived cheek-to-jowl with your fellow seekers, shored up by a hefty component of practical physical work. Full engagement of the moving center is mandatory for understanding, for as in The Rule of St Benedict, it is

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Going Forward: Time, Tides, Benedict & Zoom

For most of March and April, as many of you know, I have been hanging out here on the edge of the known universe on Eagle Island, taking the time to renew my flagging hermit skills. What little technology I have access to on my two-panel, four-battery solar system huffs and puffs to keep up. On days like yesterday when I sat in the teeth of a gale for twelve stormy hours, the whole system went down by sunset. Surrounded by mostly time and tide, I have been slowly coming to my own decisions about what is my own rightful participation in the virtual community that is being generated and sustained during this great pandemic re-set. I am aware that we are all called to participate in different ways; it’s not a “one-size fits all” solution to the conundrum, and all sincere contributions work toward the common good. As for myself, however, I feel that the contribution specifically being asked of me is to be extremely judicious in my involvement in live internet community (zoom, skype, facetime, video-conferencing, etc.). Partly because it is so clearly a privilege reserved for the already privileged. Partly because it continues to support both economically

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Afterword to “Atmosphere”: Commentaries on Elements of the Exercises Part IV, B

Cynthia's first commentary on the "Atmosphere" exercise was posted on the Northeast Wisdom home page blog on April 27, 2020; part of the Pandemic Homework series of posts that began here on March 23, 2020. You may learn more about the entire series, and find the index and links to each post, at the end of this blog. Meanwhile, Cynthia continues with her commentary, "exploring what it means to “keep within”: not merely as a spiritual demeanor, but as an actual mode of embodied presence."   There is a very good reason, I believe, that Gurdjieff set the boundary of our personal atmosphere at a meter to a meter-and-a-half: that is the maximum radius that most people, without further specialized training, can actually embrace through direct sensation, rather than defaulting to visualization. It is, in other words, the functional radius of our attention. I must confess that I have always struggled with the Work phrase “divided attention” and its companion instruction (whether in the movements, the exercises, or in practical work): “Divide your attention.” I know this instruction comes with hoary authority: Gurdjieff himself taught it. So it is with justifiable fear and trembling that I raise my dissenting voice

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“Atmosphere”: Commentaries on Elements of the Exercises Part IV

"Keep within! And when they say, 'Look here' or 'look there is Christ,’ go not forth….” This beautiful gem of Quaker wisdom, set to music by Paulette Meier and well loved by many of you around the Wisdom network, encapsulates both the method and the deeper intention of Gurdjieff's Atmosphere Exercise. Here we will be actively exploring what it means to “keep within”: not merely as a spiritual demeanor, but as an actual mode of embodied presence. You can listen to the chant here. Call it your “aura,” call it “electromagnetic field of your heart”: the words all point to the same underlying recognition that "we" do not end at the outer edge of our skins. We move within an encompassing energetic field which we ourselves generate, and which—according to Gurdjieff—we are responsible for maintaining in good working order: i.e., unruffled, contained, and under our conscious supervision. He picturesquely refers to this field as our atmosphere. Contemplative Christianity has also long prized this state of inner containment, which is known in the Christian West as "recollection” and in the Christian East as “vigilance.” It is a state of alert, calm, gathered presence. In its absence, the energy around our being

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Surrendering to the Flow of Grief and Love

I am currently a participant in Bill Redfield’s virtual Easter Retreat and Practicum. Besides deeply appreciating all of Bill’s online offerings, I would like to draw the Wisdom community’s particular attention to a two-part practice that is crucially important in these times we are moving through. Lamenting the difficult reality that currently many people are dying essentially alone in our hospitals without the comfort of family and close friends as well as the additional reality that many are then being buried without funerals—Bill has put together two recordings that can serve as vehicles for our prayers and intentions. Prayers for the Dying and Prayers for the Dead can be found on Bill’s website. These meditations went straight to my heart. I felt deeply connected to people I’d never met, those lying alone in a hospital as well as grieving family members. Images and sensations coursed through me; tears streamed down my cheeks. If you’ve not listened to Bill’s reflection recordings before, they are quite stunning in their artistry and impact, an amalgam of words and music that together take one beyond the ordinary mind and into the depths of the heart, to the extent one is willing let go and

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