Our Maiden Voyage with Cynthia’s Video Teachings from Kanuga
July Moravian Wisdom School 2017
On Sunday July 23, 2017, nineteen of us gathered to begin our first five-day Wisdom School at Moravian Theological Seminary. We varied in age (39-84), gender (18 women, 1 man), theological tradition (UCC, Quaker, Moravian, Episcopal, Catholic and Coptic Christian) and home state (Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland). Five of us had attended a prior Wisdom School with Cynthia Bourgeault, (3 at Pendle Hill); for most, this was a first. We gathered in the Moravian Seminary chapel, the SAAL, a Moravian term for ‘gathering place’. The SAAL is where our seminary community gathers twice a week for prayer, worship and communion; a place of Buddhist meditation, communal meals and seminary classes; and my professional home where I’ve been teaching for the past twelve years. Hard wood floors and a three-foot Moravian star overhead, graces this gathering space. Blessed with the technology of a graduate school on an APPLE campus, we were embarking on a Wisdom School utilizing videoed teachings of Cynthia Bourgeault.
It began in November 2014 when, at the end of my first full Wisdom School, Cynthia shared some thoughts she had around the possibility of piloting some of her teaching videos at Moravian with an opportunity to provide feedback. This, according to Cynthia, could start immediately. Cynthia remarked: “Presence helps to create the next thing, it’s a piece of the creation; you are not just a recipient, you are a part of the creation.” Later, as I was journaling I wrote, ‘very powerful, something to return to and listen to’ in response to the ‘exchange’ that seemed to be occurring. I was unclear at the time what exactly it was, but I caught a deep and wide sensation throughout my body. The sense of immediate availability and Cynthia’s words, ‘Presence helps to create the next thing, it’s a piece of the creation; you are not just a recipient’ stayed with me. I had a sense that something beyond words was being shared and I would be living into whatever it was; that it would be revealed.
Then in fall of 2015, Cynthia Bourgeault held what became affectionately called, our first ‘Mega Wisdom School’ at Kanuga, NC. Part of the vision that Robbin Whittington had for the Kanuga Wisdom School was to video tape the teaching (and the entire wisdom school), in order for the Wisdom School teaching/experience to be offered for ‘many more interested others’. This Wisdom School at Moravian was part of the fruition of this vision, the ‘Maiden Voyage’ of utilizing the video coverage from Kanuga, as a teaching modality for another Wisdom School.
As a ‘Wisdom Intern’ working with Cynthia at Kanuga, the two days of intern training with Cynthia prior to the arrival of the 220 Kanuga attendees grounded my Wisdom understanding. Wisdom post holding, along with the Wisdom Truths and Dynamisms that undergird a Wisdom School, anchored the learning. Teachings like “…hold steady…be supple, attentive and humble’; ‘be available to the deeper work; know that you will be met; know that it does not all land on you, but rather it is in the ‘exchange’ that happens between and within a group” steadied me in 2015 and again ran through me now in 2017. At key parts of our days at Kanuga, we were divided into small groups of 18 – 22 people, led by interns. So now, as this new small group emerged in PA this past July, the sensation of being met and the Wisdom Truths that had become increasingly central for me, again held and illuminated my lived experience.
As we began on Sunday night this past July, the Feast Day of Mary Magdalene, we were filled with great anticipation and excitement, as well as some uncertainty. How would this all unfold? Would the transmission so powerfully communicated in person with Cynthia, be ‘transferable’ to this group through video? Would the technology ‘work’, or would electrical glitches disrupt the flow? How would the balance of receiving video teaching and then engaging in ‘in-house practices’ such as conscious work on the seminary premise, work? Would having our own ‘sits’ each day with my student as chant leader, match up with the overall daily flow of Kanuga? How much could we bring our ‘own particularity’ to the Wisdom School…and how much did we need to stick with the exact flow of the Kanuga Wisdom School?
With Cynthia’s warm welcome on Sunday night in her opening video, taped months after the Kanuga Wisdom School, she invited our gathered circle to know that we are part of an unfolding Wisdom Community that is ‘dynamic and alive’. She encouraged us to take this into our own context and allow the Kanuga videos to deeply support the learnings in which we were already being invited.
As we began, truth be told, I initially struggled a bit to figure out what the call was for this Wisdom School and what my role and focus was to be? Was I piloting e-Wisdom teachings for Cynthia? Was I piloting Robbin’s vision of video teaching of a Wisdom School? What was this ‘the Maiden Voyage’ of? We began our Wisdom School on Sunday night and by Monday morning, it finally landed in me. All was clarified and I received my marching orders:
These videos are in service of the transformation of THIS GROUP…the GROUP THAT IS GATHERED here…they are in service of WISDOM. (These videos are not in service of Cynthia or Robbin or e-Wisdom Schools or anything other than in service of Wisdom and Wisdom’s transformation….as Cynthia (and Robbin) absolutely intended).
The invitation that landed in me was:
To make the videos work for our own group. To particularize the schedule and rhythm in such a way as to both honor the ‘tried and true’ container of a traditional Wisdom School (like Kanuga), while paying particular attention to what was needed for our unique gathered group, our unique manifestation of Wisdom. To ‘translate Kanuga’ into the NOW.
This shifted everything. All began to flow for ‘this particular manifestation’, for this particular group, for the rest of the week. The grace was given to attend to the ‘group at hand’ throughout our entire ‘maiden voyage’. Seeing what was needed with this particular ‘expression’ of a Wisdom School, that happened to utilize video teaching, became my only task.
We found immediately that there was no difference in impact or transmission in teaching received by video. People immediately felt ‘present’ to the sessions, receiving teaching that catapulted all of us to depths of knowing and new recognitions. With Cynthia’s masterful gifts of teaching we were brought into the inner circle of the profundity of Luminous Love, brought face to face with the truth of our own hearts, and, in the next moment brought back into lightness, grace, and humor, just as Cynthia does in real life. Her tell tale red knit hat, reminded us that ‘nothing has changed’. Cynthia seemed ‘as real’ and present on video as she does in person.
At the one point in the teaching when Cynthia took off her red hat mid session and commented: ”Oh, I think I just ruined Robbin’s day!”, the laughter in our circle matched the laughter of those gathered at Kanuga. We were here and it was now.
When participants needed a break from video watching, we took a break. When we needed a stretch, we took one. After morning ‘teaching’, we did Conscious Work by washing seminary windows, cleaning our communal kitchen, and weeding our seminary flower gardens.
We bobbed and weaved ‘in place’, as needed. Our group regathered for Cynthia’s Gospel of Thomas teaching before lunch. After lunch and a 2 hour break, our group regathered for a time of movement, either wisdom infused Yoga or InterPlay (interplay.org). Through InterPlay our group was led in movements that incorporated body, voice, story telling, play, and always ‘group noticings’, a deeply integrative three centered process. Actively engaging the movement center each afternoon ended up being an ‘unintended stroke of genius’, bringing balance to the intellectual center and the sitting from video watching.
The following are a few unique “video based” Wisdom School learnings and graces:
- Early in our week, I named that if/when there was a ‘video glitch,’ we would use that as a call for A STOP (as used during Conscious Work), and invite everyone to automatically “FIND YOUR FEET” and stay present to the Presence. This became a deep grace for our group, putting both me and our technology person, at ease. Gratefully, only three times over the five days did we actually need to use this STOP!
- Periodically, when a quote on the screen was particularly poignant, the group asked to ‘hold that slide’ for a bit …digesting it’s impact, writing it down, taking a picture of it. At one point, our group broke into chant as we paused and held a particular slide on the screen. These ‘pauses’ to breathe were poignant and powerfully deepening, a surprise ‘grace’ of video teaching.
- Prior to our Wisdom School, our wisdom chanter received two chants ‘on behalf of our Wisdom School’: “YOU are the Ancient Path of Life, my journey in YOU restores me”. And, “I swim in your Mercy, as an endless stream; I abide in your Love, boundless for me, my breath, it rests in You”. The deep resonance we each felt as we leaned into the Truth of these given words carried us deeper into the heart of Love each day. Then on Wednesday, during our ‘silent day’, a new chant was evoked by the Helminski quote on the video screen: I am present to the Presence, it is my only care; I am held by the Presence in the fountain of Creative Love.”
- To participate in this live, dynamic transmission/download of Wisdom, was a grace beyond words, catapulting our gathered collective into deep surrender, deep gratitude, and deep humility.
Our final day, we gathered to share in Teilhard’s Mass on the World, as Cynthia had led on our final day in Kanuga. On the wall above our gathered circle we projected a video image of Cynthia blessing the gathering, ‘holding all in the collective’.
As we listened to the haunting opening lines of Peter Kater’s ESSENCE playing in the background, and shared collectively in reading MASS on the WORLD, we were a living embodiment of Teilhard’s prayer: Lord, MAKE US ONE. We were indeed MADE ONE. Our circle of gathered Wisdom seekers at Moravian united with Wisdom seekers of all ages and generations. Poignant and powerful, we were graced to ‘participate in the collective’, present to the Presence, members of the ‘dynamic and alive’ Wisdom lineage; attending to the ‘particularity of our own Wisdom circle’ gathered in a timeless hologram of an unfolding Wisdom community.
THANK YOU for this opportunity and a DEEP BOW to all who ‘made this possible’…