Heather Ruce brings a very particular strength and subtleness to her work in Wisdom, born out of the deep love of God she has felt since childhood and her willingness to keep turning within and plumbing the depths of both her questions and what is arising in her being. Her devotion to her path has manifested in a multitude of forms of Wisdom offerings–from one on one Wisdom Spiritual Direction to Wisdom Practice Circles and Wisdom Schools, onsite and online–all given from her heart in her own unique way. Heather's work with the nervous system and her powerful interest in the embodiment of the Gurdjieff work has supported a noticeable presence in her being and in her work in Wisdom and in the world.
Heather's enthusiasm is an invitation to go deeper. Sharing her discoveries and her growing edge in this Seedlings, Heather ends with her vision that “the Wisdom path is available to everyone, no matter what...We can offer our lives in service to shepherding a new level of consciousness...to actually live out the path that Jesus taught, a path of incarnation...”
As a lifelong seeker I have been involved in spiritual communities since I was a child. Growing up as an evangelical Christian, I always had a deep love for God and resonance with the message of love, but much of my church experience was about striving and frenetically over giving. I often thought to myself, “this can’t be the abundant life Jesus was talking about.” Over time and in discovering the contemplative stream it became increasingly challenging to hold the cognitive dissonance between the sometimes exclusive and narrow theology that was a part of evangelical Christianity and what I understood about God’s love experientially.
My spiritual director introduced me to Cynthia Bourgeault’s books somewhere around 2008. I started pursuing this particular lineage more actively in 2011. In 2012, I was able to participate in one of Cynthia’s retreats: Mystical Insights: Poetic Wisdom for the Contemplative. I knew immediately that I had found my spiritual home and that she was my teacher. I was drawn to the Wisdom lineage she laid out and was profoundly encouraged by her message that Christianity had become too pot bound by old paradigms and needed to be replanted in a bigger pot. A pot that included the cosmology of which science had begun to articulate. This made sense to me and was incredibly relieving. I didn’t have to let go of Christianity altogether but could relax into and access this rich tradition and mine its depths, finding the abundant life that Jesus was teaching about.
Right now, I am leading a local Wisdom Practice Circle that has been meeting monthly since 2016 to do practices together and explore Wisdom themes such as three centered intelligence, self-observation, conscious attention, kenosis, abundance, singleness, and the eight points of the lineage Cynthia laid out. I have even dabbled in the Gurdjieff movements. Following the Desert Wisdom School lead by Cynthia in March, I facilitated an online Wisdom Circle practicing three centered awareness and lectio divina on the sayings of the Desert Mothers and Fathers with people from various physical locations. And at the beginning of this month I started another online Wisdom Circle focusing on doing lectio divina with the Gospel of Thomas. This summer I had the pleasure of facilitating two Introductory Wisdom Schools using Cynthia’s video teachings from Kanuga.
I will be leading a retreat called An Introduction to A Wisdom Way of Knowing at Mary & Joseph’s Retreat Center in Ranchos Palos Verdes, California, in December of 2019. There will be times of teaching, practices, discussion, and reflection held in a container of silence. In August 2020, I will be facilitating another Introductory Wisdom School at the Mercy Center in Burlingame, California, and hope to continue to introduce this strong Wisdom lineage to a younger audience, particularly those who are finding the Christian tradition they grew up with too narrow and limiting.
I have discovered that I absolutely love Wisdom work. It is a complete delight to work with individuals one on one in Wisdom Spiritual Direction, to create wisdom practice circles both in person and online, and to facilitate retreats and Wisdom Schools. I am always amazed at Wisdom arising as an emergent property from the coming together of each group of individuals. We tap into a field of knowing that is within each individual and beyond us. There is such a divine exchange taking place as each person risks showing up with more of Christ within.
I have also discovered in doing this Wisdom work is that it calls for a different level of my being in the world requiring me to do what it takes to regulate my nervous system so that I am not operating reactively. It invites me to view my whole life through a different lens and to continue to tune my heart as an organ of spiritual perception…to see from the whole and include the differentiated parts. The Law of Three has been particularly helpful in this, trusting that denying forces are a necessary part of transformation and so continuing to learn how to hold those in a larger scale in order to not make them a problem that needs to be solved, which just keeps me stuck at the binary level. What has worked well for me is to lean deeply into the teachings and when forces arise in the various forms and begin to feel too chaotic, to find my feet again and not become rattled. I am learning to ‘keep within’ and to find balance from the inside.
One growing edge is to continue to offer Wisdom with my own particularity, to stay true to the lineage as passed on through and by Cynthia while taking it forward in my unique style and knowing. To truly trust the words of George Fox chanted so brilliantly by Paulette Meyer, “Keep within. And when they say, ‘Look here or look there is Christ, go not forth, for Christ is within you. And those who try to draw your minds away from the teaching inside you, are opposed to Christ. For the measure’s within, and the light of God is within, and the pearl is within you, though hidden.” To ‘keep within’ and trust the teaching inside me, this is my ongoing journey.
Another growing edge is my own ongoing shift of identity from the narrative self to the “permeably boundaried” self. In addition, it is the continual inclusion of the current crises of social justice issues, climate, and others while transcending them and walking with others who are making this transition as well.
The parts of the Wisdom stream I am particularly drawn to are the combination of the Benedictine Ora et Labora married with the three centered awareness, presence, and other teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff. I find that patterning my life intentionally in a balanced rhythm of prayer practices and work, together and alone, engaged with conscious awareness to be a structure that keeps me simultaneously rooted and free. I am interested in the teachings of Gurdjieff such as the Law of Three, self-observation, the Obligolnian Strivings and find them to be very good tools to work with. I remember Cynthia saying that Jesus invites us to wake up but that the Christian Bible does not necessarily provide the instructions for how to do that. Gurdjieff’s teachings certainly do.
For example, the few times I have had the privilege of learning the Movements, their impact on me was profound as they gave me a glimpse of what it is like to be awake in all three centers and find an inner balance, in the midst of extreme challenges with an expanding attention. I recognize that the surface parts of me can be shaken but quickly re-aligned. As the process of ‘falling asleep and waking up again’ happens over and over, something in me stabilizes and I can trust the movement back and forth more and more without being too troubled by it, and without taking myself too seriously. This practice gives me a reference point for the conditions of my life. As on the movements floor, so too in life. What I see are all the ways I get off center when I am asked to expand my attention even further. My feet doing something off beat from my hands and then, “You want me to add in a head movement? Are you kidding me?” When my life is asking something unexpected of me and I want to panic or collapse in overwhelm, I ‘remember’ that there is a still point, a solid center and light within, that I can return to and ‘recollect’ myself.
The Law of Three has been helpful as a wonderfully practical lens to view some of my life’s circumstances through. Wrestling with these stories with others in the Wisdom community supports holding the seemingly opposing forces of life’s circumstances in the wider field of the heart. It allows for fuller participation in a messy world knowing that we have the opportunity to be a conscious part of the divine expression of love taking form.
I find that Wisdom is a treasure trove of such rich gems that bring me endless beauty. I draw deeply on three centered awareness and practices that support coherence in my nervous system so that I can continue to learn to see from my heart as an organ of spiritual perception. My inner practice is learning to trust Wisdom within me, and that I can draw on support from the Imaginal realm. I have leaned heavily on the presence, teaching, and support of Mary Magdalene in learning about conscious love and mystical hope, a hope beyond circumstances. Her ability to stand vigil as Jesus took on the suffering of the world, is teaching me to do the same with the pain, suffering, and injustice all around me.
I want people to know that the Wisdom path is available to everyone, no matter what. Period. And one does not need to be hyper-spiritual to be on it. We can make our current life circumstances, whatever they may be, our monastery. We can offer our lives in service to shepherding a new level of consciousness that may allow us the capacity to actually live out the path that Jesus taught, a path of incarnation, living from an internal state of abundance, and extravagant love.
More About Heather Ruce
Heather Ruce lives in San Diego, California with her husband Charlie and their Great Dane. She works as a Wisdom Spiritual Director, working with individuals as well as facilitating groups and retreats focused on learning and practicing the Wisdom Tradition. She has a new website coming soon. You may contact her via email here.
Heather has been studying with Cynthia Bourgeault in Wisdom Schools since 2012. She has earned her master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and is trained in Organic Intelligence, a model for building resiliency and healing trauma by creating higher levels of organization in the nervous system.
Heather’s collaborative contributions to the Northeast Wisdom website include on the home page blog: A Benedictine Wisdom Lived: Wisdom Practitioners Share an Exercise in Immediacy and With the Desert Fathers and Mothers: A Wisdom School Sung in Three Voices; and in Breaking Ground: Gathering the Graces: Concurrent Wisdom Circles