Wisdom at the Thompson Cottage:
Maine, September 2019
This past September Sarah and I planned a contemplative retreat for our two-week stay at a cottage in Maine. This was an experiment, to see if we could use recordings from Cynthia’s Wisdom Schools, plus Centering Prayer, readings, movement, and “labor” to create a Wisdom experience. This is a report on how it worked out. Also, if you read all the way to the end, there is a wonderful example of the Imaginal Realm interacting with us!
The subject for our retreat was Conscious Love, and Cynthia’s teachings on this topic were downloaded from among the Contemplative Society’s treasure trove of live recordings. Reading material for the two weeks included Cynthia’s The Meaning of Mary Magdalene, which offered more perspectives on Conscious Love.
Our destination was an old-fashioned collection of cottages in New Harbor, run by the Thompson family since 1920, very Old Maine! But first up was a few days of tourist relaxation in Boothbay Harbor. It was in Boothbay that we unexpectedly encountered the story of Art and Nan Kellam. Standing in the checkout line at a bookstore, the woman in front of us was raving about the biography of a couple who bought an island off the Maine coast in 1949 and lived there together for 35 years! The book seemed to look up at us and say “Could I come with you? I’d fit right in with your plans.” So it came to be that the Kellams joined our retreat.
Once ensconced in our cottage, our days took on a life of their own, and we surrendered to the flow. Up at first light, with Sarah building a fire to chase the chill from the cabin, then meditation followed by breakfast and private reading.
This early time was usually spent mostly in silence. After this was a discussion time—thoughts on the readings or Cynthia’s teachings—and these talks often spun out across the Universe. The “labora” part of our days was typically spent gathering firewood, which was a wonderful chore, or taking the path across the footbridge to the ocean, or maybe a mile walk up to a general store. In the afternoon we always read out loud from the Kellam’s biography. Then meditation before supper, and the evening audio teachings—the heart of our retreat. As darkness and the early autumn chill penetrated our cottage, we would sit by the fire or stand and do simple movements, letting the wonderful resonance of Cynthia’s teachings on Conscious Love wash over us. Our intention was to simply be present to the teachings, to yield to them without engaging too much of our intellect’s desire for explanation. There would be time during morning discussions to process the teachings and share our different perspectives.
What started as a loose idea to structure our time in Maine turned out to be a wonderful and intense experience. The days floated by, and we came to see that we, too, were living on an island of sorts. No cell service or WiFi in our cottage. No television. Just the fire, the tide’s endless breathing in and out of the cove, the changing light, our readings and teachings, and our relationship with each other.
Art and Nan Kellam’s story became a part of our day to look forward to. A couple living in California in the 1940s decide to leave behind the distractions of modern life. Not so much a political statement or a spiritual goal. They just wanted to be hermits together. Arriving in Maine in 1949, they never had electricity or running water. Getting supplies from the mainland meant rowing their dory across two miles of ocean. Their days drifted by like ours were doing—for more than three decades!
As our time in the cottage neared the end, we finished up the final segments of Cynthia’s audio teachings on Conscious Love, and on the day before we were to point our car back towards Tennessee, we sat by the fire to read out loud the final chapter in the Kellam’s biography. It is now the late 1980s. Art has passed away, and Nan has moved to an assisted living apartment. With the help of three nurses and a lobster boat captain, Nan was returning for a final visit to her beloved island and the house which she and Art had called Homeland. The island had been donated to the Nature Conservancy. When she arrived, there was a volunteer doing some carpentry repairs to the exterior of Homeland. Nan became confused and upset that a stranger had invaded their sanctuary. But the carpenter talked to Nan, calmed her, and offered to bring her back for more visits. The volunteer carpenter’s name was Cynthia Bourgeault.
posted by Bill Britten, October 25, 2019
Sarah and I have a gallery in the resort town of Gatlinburg, TN. We sell peace and tranquility, in the form of photographs, to the 10 million visitors that travel through our small Smoky Mountain town. We are so grateful to have found the Wisdom path and our fellow travelers on the path. The path will no doubt keep unfolding.