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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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“Make Strong!” Not Easy Thing”: Commentaries on Elements of the Exercises III, A & B

Found on a handwritten note dated 1939, "Make Strong! Not Easy Thing" is at the top of the list of the Gurdjieff exercises that Cynthia specifically mentions in "Pandemic Homework"; the blog post that initiated this series of posts and is her response to these extraordinary times. She begins her commentary on "Make Strong!" with the essential element of the breath. Joseph Azize, author of Gurdjieff: Mysticism, Contemplation & Exercises, quotes Gurdjieff early on about "the food of the air" in his chapter "An Overview of Gurdjieff's Ideas;" and the breath remains a key factor to the last chapter. More information and how to purchase Azize's book, as well as the links to the complete series of the Pandemic Homework essays, are available at the end of this post. As Cynthia wrote, in a response to a student of the exercises: "Yes, breath…so glad you've noticed…for breath is the ultimate field of exchange in all realms!"   A. Breath I was first introduced to this exercise by my dear colleagues Amy Silver and Deborah Rose Longo at the Claymont Society Retreat Center in West Virginia. We worked with it during both sessions of our "Mr. Gurdjieff, meet Mr. Teilhard" seminar

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Wisdom Meditation

Wisdom Community, Wisdom Zoom Meditation Continues at least through June 30! There has been an arising among many of us in our Wisdom collective...to FIND A WAY to gather virtually, during this time. This crisis offers us the opportunity to gather prayers and intentions from all around the world. Our technical ability to CONNECT ACROSS THE GLOBE has 'prepared us well' for such a moment as this and RISES TO MEET US as we engage in NEW ways of CONNECTING as a Wisdom community. To that end.... We will be offering a 30 minute collective Wisdom Pause "for Silence and Stillness" on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. These PAUSES (Virtual Wisdom Practice Opportunities) will be offered twice a day at 10:30am EDT (7:30 am PDT) and 7pm EDT (4:00pm PDT), on M/W/F. Wisdom members of our collective will be leading each sit, with a time for chant, and meditation/stillness in each Zoom gathering. If you have never worked with zoom before, all you need to do is download the free ZOOM App, and then CLICK on the highlighted ZOOM address below, during the scheduled time of each gathering. Below are the zoom links: Important: all zoom Wisdom Sits will now be

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A Call to Depth and Action ~ Individually and Collectively: Chapters IV and V of The Wisdom Way of Knowing

It’s extraordinary, but of course not surprising, how utterly relevant and pertinent these two chapters are—written before the emergence of the first iPhone, incidentally—right now as we find ourselves in the midst of this pandemic. It is also no coincidence that these chapters are preceded by the chapter on the three centers of knowing. It seems to me that the more poised we are in those three centers, the more we will be able to understand, embody and live out the important truths laid out in Chapters Four and Five. In Chapter Four Cynthia describes the limits of our “one-brained” operating system, suggesting that our contemporary world “now has the capacity to end itself either in a violent Armageddon or in the slower but no less lethal route of systematically poisoning our planetary environment” (p.43). Nearly two decades on, here we are. We will get nowhere trying to address huge cosmological questions with one-brained consciousness. So this begs the questions: are we as a collective still spiritual adolescents? How can we grow up? I love the analogy of the divine hologram. In a world “starving for coherence and purpose,” that each one of us—and how vital this is right now—has

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Connecting the Dots: The “Lord Have Mercy” in Commentaries Part II, C

The "Lord Have Mercy" exercise is one of five exercises first recommended by Cynthia Bourgeault in late March 2020 and available in Joseph Azize's new book Gurdjieff: Mysticism, Contemplation & Exercises. This post is the latest in a series which began with "Pandemic Homework." Each post goes a little deeper into the recommended homework. More about the book, and links to the series, can be found at the end of this blog. These exercises are offered for our work right now. As we begin to allow them, as Cynthia says, to "take root in our own hearts," may we know ever more viscerally "that through this planetary dark night we are being tenderly held by conscious and loving hands greater than our own. The fundamental requirements are simply to trust...to tune in...to receive...to act on what we receive..." Cynthia continues: This third installment, Part II, C of the Commentaries on the "Lord Have Mercy" exercises is a bit technical, but may be of interest to those of you who already have the bit between your teeth here. Take it or leave it as you please. I am proud and moved by the stunning work that is being done. I’ll be

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“Lord Have Mercy”: Commentaries on Elements of the Exercises Part II, A & B

For those of you who are joining us now, these posts began on March 23, 2020 with the blog "Pandemic Homework." They are Cynthia's response to our global crisis, received after being alone on Eagle Island for four days. Her hermit teacher, Rafe, taught that: only then "the listening sets into a different bandwidth…the silence is immensely, vastly connected—to presence, wisdom, and compassionate guidance." Still sitting in this listening, "at the intersection of the worlds, the intersection of the timeless with time…the way Rafe taught me to do it," the work became clear; and Cynthia continues to write. The “Lord Have Mercy” exercise is one of five Gurdjieff exercises she suggests as inner work for our times. They can all be found in Joseph Azize’s book, Gurdjieff: Mysticism, Contemplation & Exercises. A “Lord have Mercy” Part II, C will follow soon. More information about the book, as well as the links to the raw homework and the series that gives flesh to those bones, are at the bottom of this post. Now to Cynthia, on the “Lord Have Mercy” exercise: Let me begin today’s commentary with a pithy reminder by my dear friend A.H. Almaas as to the fundamental importance

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