An Exercise in Benedictine Spirituality as a Wisdom Tradition: A Story from My Upcoming Book “Holding the Post”
Cynthia Bourgeault will be at the Glastonbury Abbey Institute November 23, 2019 for A Day of Reflection entitled: Benedictine Spirituality as a Wisdom Tradition. Curious about how Wisdom practitioners had integrated this work into their lives and experience, an invitation was sent out, as an “exercise in immediacy.” A number of random Wisdom practitioners were given fifty hours to respond with their own words, poems, artwork; sharing their personal encounter of the confluence in Cynthia’s lineage of the Benedictine Rule and Wisdom tradition, particularly that of G.I. Gurdjieff. You may see the contributions of a number of Wisdom practitioners in the home page blog post “A Benedictine Wisdom Lived: Wisdom Practitioners Share an Exercise in Immediacy” posted on October 11, 2019. In reply, Bill Redfield shared this story, which was a blog post in itself. Thank you, Bill.
I have always appreciated the fundamental essence of Cynthia’s work as the joining of Christian Benedictine spirituality with the practical guide to transformation of the inner tradition as expressed in the work of Gurdjeiff. Specifically, it is the union of the Benedictine Rule and three centered knowing that can shape the container within which Wisdom transformation may be guided and assisted.
My own life has been deepened by the construction of this container. Not only do I loosely but regularly pattern my day according to the Benedictine template, but I also have worked specifically to engage both the high heart and the moving center in my life and work. One example of this was, on the occasion of my retirement from twenty years in the parish, the decision to express my love to my congregation through an interpretive free dance. The full story of this is below. It is taken from my forthcoming book, Holding the Post: The Theory and Practice of Leading Wisdom Practice Circles.
Although I was happily ensconced in my parish where I had been serving for nearly twenty years, I responded to my friend Helen Daly’s call to do full-time Wisdom work. Helen issued this imperative from her deathbed, less than a week before she died. The plan had been for us to do this work together at a future time when I could eventually retire from the parish. But her sudden illness and very abrupt death changed all that. She wanted me to do the work that we were we were going to do together, but she wanted me to do it immediately, without delay. She knew as clearly as anyone that time can run out unexpectedly. Therefore, in order to respond to this call, it was necessary for me to retire from the congregation that I deeply loved.
This brought forth for me a great confluence of feelings. Despite my enthusiasm for the opportunity to engage in this full-time Wisdom work, I was leaving the parish very reluctantly. After having avoided parish ministry for the first half of my ordained life, I had found myself in a community to whom I could give myself without reservation. But how, then, to say goodbye?
The congregation planned a big celebratory dinner to which over 250 people had signed up. Thinking about this event, I wondered how I could ever express my affection for these people. How could I possibly express the depth and fullness of this love? I knew words could only get me part of the way in expressing the magnitude of feelings within me. And then a crazy idea emerged from the depths—maybe I would dance my feelings for them.
Over the years my Wisdom training had introduced (re-introduced) me to the moving center. I had begun to tap into a source of great Wisdom that only the body can know and express. And while I felt as awkward and inept as any adult male in our society, I had reached the point of willingness to risk embarrassment.
I sought guidance from my friend and colleague Deborah Welsh…Deborah is a Licensed Creative Arts Therapist, Board Certified in Dance/Movement and Body/Breath sensing and awareness. She was excited about this idea and promised to assist me. She invited me to her studio so she could help me out. I came with a piece of music that had come to me. Deborah put on the music, and I danced… And it was truly terrible. Undeniably terrible. Ever supportive, however, Deborah generously expressed to me that it was a worthwhile first attempt, and she offered me a couple of very specific tips. First, she encouraged me to look directly at my audience and, second, to allow myself to smile. Somehow this registered deeply.
“OK, let’s try it again.”
“No, I really think I’m good,” I repeated.
“Don’t you want to give it another try,” she suggested.
“No, I think you’ve just given me what I need,” I concluded.
I left her with a very concerned look on her face.
Although Deborah was ready to secretly cue the music at the dinner, I was still undecided even as the evening rolled on whether I would really have the courage to follow through with this wild idea. After the speeches and the gifts, it was my turn to respond. Through my tears, I tried my best to articulate what was in my heart. But I knew there was more that needed to be expressed… Was I really going to do this…? I thought to myself: hadn’t I repeatedly talked about the fact that the heart of Christianity was the willingness to pour one’s heart out for others? Was I willing to do this…? It was time to put my body where my words were.
As I concluded my remarks, I took off my sport coat and tie and then my shirt. (I had a black T-shirt underneath.) There were a few puzzled looks. I then stepped up on the raised hearth in front of the fireplace just behind me so that I could been seen by everyone in the room. There were at this point some looks of surprise and a few sputters of uncomfortable laughter. Deborah delivered—the room was filled with music. I looked directly at this roomful of beautiful people. I allowed my glance to move from one side to the other, from front to back. I smiled… And then I danced.
I felt my body come alive. I didn’t need to tell it what to do; it knew. I bracketed my ordinary mind with its inclination toward self-judgment, embarrassment, and shame. I allowed my body to take over, and the movement brought forth vital life from within. And as I moved, I looked out at all the faces. I saw copious tears on the faces of everyone, including my wife and my kids. But in the fullness of the opening of my heart, my smile never faltered. I was smiling in deep recognition of the truth—the truth of my embodied love for all these people. And through movement, gesture, and expression, my body was expressing both the fullness and the depth of my love.
When the song concluded, everyone jumped to their feet with wild shouting and applause—but not because they had seen some sort of great performance, but because their bodies wanted to respond to what they had received from me. In the end, I was left in a state of deep satisfaction—satisfaction from the profound congruence I experienced within me. My body’s actions, my words, and everything that was in my heart—all became perfectly aligned.
posted by Bill Redfield, October 10, 2019
Bill Redfield is currently the president of the Northeast Wisdom Board of Directors, a Wisdom School teacher, and Wisdom Mentor working one on one both in person and on the Zoom platform online. Bill is in the creative process of developing online formats for Wisdom retreats, shared study groups and guided meditations. You can learn more about him on his website here at williamredfield.com and on the Our Teachers page of this website.