Change is Afoot

Change is always happening, but sometimes its unfurling patterns become particularly noticed. That would seem to be true of this moment. Moving toward ever-expanding circles, I point to three specific changes of which I am an active participant.

The first has to do with my own emerging Wisdom work in the world. Solidifying a role that I have informally occupied for quite some time, I am now more officially offering myself in an interactive practice I call “Wisdom mentoring.” Consulting with Wisdom students either in person or via the Internet, this work seeks to help individuals more deeply integrate their experiences from spiritual practice and their understandings of Wisdom teachings. More information is on this website.

The second level of change has to do with the work of the Northeast Wisdom Board of Directors. While we are not abdicating our responsibilities as a board, in response to Cynthia’s desires, we have evolved into a Wisdom Council with additional charges and callings. Here is how I expressed it to those assembled at the Ingathering in Stonington in early June: 

As the sponsoring organization of this mostly Annual Ingathering, we welcome you.  While we’ve committed ourselves to utilizing the time to meet together as a Board, we have thoroughly enjoyed our time with and among you.  Just a word of who and what we are.

Along with Cynthia, we are six—Laura, Marcella, Mary Ellen, Guthrie, Matthew, and myself.  Formed originally as a board of directors, we now function more as a Wisdom Council around Cynthia.  The term “think tank” may not be just right, but it also may not be too far afield.

Being Northeast Wisdom, we are both particular and very local.  We are here on the ground in Cynthia’s neck of the woods.  Our mutual physical access seems important.  But being Northeast Wisdom, our sights are set as well to the more universal and far-reaching unfolding of Wisdom throughout this country and the world.  So, the universal and far-flung is our goal, but local and particular is our means.

In one sense, our work is aimed at the high bar of serving the Conscious Circle of Humanity and helping to heal our planet.  But in order to accomplish this and in a more specific sense, our work is to supportively hold Cynthia and to free her and support her to do the work she is called to do.  Our work also centers particularly on nurturing the growing Wisdom community—students, post-holders, and, particularly, emerging teachers and leaders.  

Although as individuals on this Wisdom Council, we live in many different contexts—we are particularly committed to living within the banks of our lineage’s 8 principles. 

This seems like timely and important work to be undertaken. But this is happening within an even larger context of the greater Wisdom community. Based on my experience at the Ingathering and my sense from an extended conversation of senior Wisdom students shortly thereafter—I wrote this to them:

There is a growing sense that our Wisdom community is on the cusp of a significant shift. There was the shared understanding that there is something of a “passing of the baton” that is currently transpiring. While Cynthia of course continues to be the head and the teacher of our growing community, an increasing number of experienced students are sensing a call to step out and teach themselves. Even if not called to teach, though, there seems to be a felt urgency to more deeply embody the Wisdom teachings in our own lives. So, this is all about finding one’s own Wisdom Voice—whether it be expressed in Wisdom Practice Circle post-holding, in teaching Wisdom Schools/retreats, or in emboldened manifestation of Wisdom in our everyday lives. 

Words and phrases like, “proliferation,” “organic unfolding,” “enlargement of the community,” were used to describe this present crossroads. This was also described as a differentiation of teacher and teaching, such that others now are invited to share the leadership of this Wisdom trajectory. Cynthia is not abdicating anything but inviting us to share the responsibility. In fact, this shift has been anticipated by Cynthia and has been encouraged and guided by her current work on the eight markers of our Wisdom lineage. 

Change is afoot, and I can feel it working around and within me. What about you…?

Thoughts for Our Times

Last weekend I had the privilege and honor of meeting with Cynthia Bourgeault and eleven others whom Cynthia called together to deeply consider the Wisdom mandate in the face of the social and political upheaval occasioned by the election in November. Through the common intention to be open and receptive to the calling addressed to us both individually and collectively, we met in silence, prayer, practice, teaching, and conversation. Getting bearings from Teilhard, Gurdjieff, Wilber, and Fitzgerald—Cynthia’s teaching was never more brilliantly insightful. Through our time together we were both drawn more closely together in solidarity of heart and then dispersed out into the world to respond to our individual callings of prayer and action. Read Cynthia's "Conscious Circle" here.

What I experienced last weekend was participation in one of many circles. Besides the Wisdom community, for me some of these circles have included a parish community, a havurah, the Round Table of Faith Leaders, InterFaith Works of CNY, participation with refugees, and on and on. What I would like to convey to you in this moment is that all of our circles are connected. We are all joined in commonality of purpose. And although our actions may run the gamut and include political demonstration, leverage and influence through community and political action, deep prayer and silence, or some combination of all of these and other actions—the most important thing to remember is that we are all connected in one heart.

And if I were to dare to name this common purpose, I would use the phrase, “the higher human collectivity,” and I would use the word, “love.” No matter what your spiritual path or religious background, no matter the descriptors our culture might use to identify you, no matter what your life situation might be—you belong to me and I belong to you. We are all integral parts of a greater Whole—this greater human collectivity. And we are all being called into action—whatever that action may turn out to be—because the fabric of our human collectivity is being threatened by power, greed, fear, and a sense of entitlement.

Please know that with all of my strength of being, I am with you; and I deeply trust you are with me. May the power of love that unites us overcome the darkness that now threatens.

Daily Inspirations: 2014

The Syracuse Post Standard, October 2014

1. Sunday

In my first couple of years of college I got a part-time job in the psychiatric unit of a prominent urban hospital a short distance from campus. Apparently, the administration had found it helpful to have a well-intentioned, if completely untrained, college student on the floor. While at that time I was thinking about the possibility of a psychotherapeutic profession, trust me, I was completely in over my head. My anxiety was totally off the charts.

I remember on one of my first nights, there was a young woman who was threatening suicide and who had locked herself into the music room. Of course, they had extra keys. They apparently thought it therapeutically advisable to have this young, untrained college student go in and engage her. I myself was not at all sure this was a good plan and felt like a bit of a victim myself as I was almost pushed into the room.

Oh my God, what was I going to say? How could I—feeling as scared and nervous as I was—be in any way helpful to this woman in such psychic pain?

I sat down next to her and was quiet for a few moments. While that might have been considered strategic, I was actually just waiting for my heart to stop pounding enough, so a word or two might come out of my mouth.

“I guess we’re sort of stuck with each other tonight,” I softly offered. “Maybe you could tell me a little something about yourself…”

And so a dialogue began. I heard her life story, and she heard mine. She went on living that night, and so did I. Both of us were in some way healed in the authentic sharing of life stories. This is the power of meaningful dialogue.

2. Monday

While we are living in a time when vitriolic debate is heard all around, there is an appalling lack of true dialogue. What is the difference between debate and dialogue? Debate is what we watch on the cable news stations, where, completely invested in their own position, people talk over each other without ever listening, let alone hearing, the other person. Dialogue is an exchange of perspectives wherein each person is truly open to the other person’s reality. Dialogue includes respect for the other and value for their point of view.

3. Tuesday

Dialogue, as I mentioned yesterday, is very different than debate. True dialogue brings a certain spaciousness to the conversation such that each person has the room for his or her perspective to change. Indeed, this is how growth takes place. By opening ourselves to the truth and reality of others, our own minds can be expanded. When, on the other hand, we think we have all the answers and that we are in sole possession of the truth, our minds are shut, and we can learn nothing further.

4. Wednesday

To open our minds to the other in dialogue certainly does not mean that we are necessarily going to agree with everything the other is setting forth. Our capacity for discernment requires that we value our own experience and sense of things. But when we are able to bring a certain openness and when we are willing, to the best of our ability, to stand in the other’s shoes and see the world as he or she sees it, we then can benefit and grow from the other’s perspective.

5. Thursday

What is the greatest challenge to true dialogue? Certitude must be right up there. When someone is convinced that they have the corner on the truth and that anyone who happens to disagree with them is wrong, not only do we find certitude—we also find stubborn closed-mindedness. But isn’t certitude what our religious traditions reinforce? Aren’t we implored to “believe”? Actually, faith is not certitude of belief; it is a trust that includes openness to new possibilities—the unfolding of new possibilities that we haven’t even yet dreamed of.

6. Friday

This advanced technological age finds our world on the cusp of potential change. For the first time in human history the “secrets” of other peoples, their cultures and religions, can be opened with a click on Google. Real dialogue is now more possible. Dialogue partners can now clear up previous misconceptions. We can even understand the other not just from our side of history and experience, but also from theirs. Through this discovery each partner has the potential of discovering something in the other’s tradition that unlocks something previously submerged and undisclosed in our own.

7. Saturday

The kind of dialogue I mentioned yesterday could very well contribute to the development of a higher form of consciousness—a global consciousness—that would not have been possible before in human history. My hope is that it brings to fruition what might be called the “Second Axial Age.” Here, while we would retain our current unique identities, we would at the same time grow into the deeper sense of being one human family. This, of course, follows the insight of all of our spiritual traditions: We are all connected (and related).

The Abundant Life

One of the most pervasive themes of Jesus’ teaching is God’s abundance.  The glass is neither half-empty nor half–full; it is filled to the very brim and spilling over—overflowing with the goodness of God.  Seeing life from a unitive consciousness, this is what Jesus sees when he views the universe.  And he wants to bring his disciples to this way of seeing, and he wants to bring us to this unitive consciousness as well.  Because he experiences the great well of God to be completely abundant and never-ending, he doesn’t need to store anything up for himself.

Jesus invites us to a revolutionary path — a reckless path of giving ourselves away.  We are being called to squander what we have through the seemingly thoughtless act of self-emptying.  Jesus’ extravagant generosity shows us who and what God is.

Jesus dies to the demands of his smaller self in order to open up to his Larger Self, to God.  But he doesn’t do this through inner renunciation—the way you might think he would.  He takes, instead, the radical path of pouring himself out for the sake of others.  He holds nothing back, and through his radical self-giving he shows us God’s boundless generosity. He preserves his holiness—not by avoiding the messy parts of life—but by giving himself completely and clinging to nothing.  And this is the path he calls us to.

Advent Reality

Dividing the holiday landscape up into two separate paths in the first place is one way in which we set ourselves up.  What if we simply saw reality as it is?  What if we surrendered and let go of our expectations of how we think the holiday season is supposed to be and instead we embraced our experience just as it is.  What if, along side our efforts to deepen our spiritual lives, we at the same time accepted ourselves just as we are?

Christ is to be found in the mess and through the mess.  Things really are simply the way they are.  And thinking that they are supposed to be any different, may be an enticing thought, but is not likely to take us very far.  In fact, taking that road any distance at all will get us very lost.  Remember, Jesus was not born in the Bethlehem Hilton.  He was born in a crummy stable that the reeked of animal excrement.  Although Christmas cards can whitewash that fact and make it quaint and cozy, it was not.  It was, in fact, the least likely place in the world for our Lord to be born.  But perhaps, so too are we…

The message for which we prepare during this season of Advent is not that Christ will come when we finally get more spiritual and when we get our lives in order.  He is coming right now, and he will be present in our lives just as they are.  He is no stranger to mess, to pain, to suffering, or to any of the other dark and difficult expressions of the human condition.

The bottom line is this: Christ is not coming for some future time in your life—a time when you might be more spiritual, more worthy, or more ready.  He desires to be born in you right now. He desires to be born in your life just as it is.

Daily Inspirations: 2013

The Syracuse Post Standard, March 2013

1. Deep, Deep Abundance

There is something mysteriously paradoxical at the heart of life.  While everything around us tells us that we must grab what we want, even if we have to wrest from someone else, there is a deeper Wisdom.  When we are willing to share—when we are willing to give ourselves away in love—only then do we discover the profound abundance that emerges from the depths of life and that gives to us unstintingly.

2. To Be Fully Alive

Fear and anxiety desire to freeze things in order to control them.  But Wisdom knows that there is nothing in life that is simply static, nothing that is merely mechanical, and nothing that is not alive.  When we can move beyond our fear and anxiety, that description should fit us as well.  That is, we are constantly flowing with the divine and creative drive; we are not inevitably imprisoned by our history; and we express our truest and deepest nature in our willingness to love and to be fully alive.

3. Intentional Integration

Life is made up of complex, self-organizing systems that are continually re-creating themselves. All parts are parts of wholes and those wholes are parts of other wholes, and the whole business is constantly changing. But this process is anything but random. It moves toward greater complexity and integration. Can we say the same of ourselves…?

4. We are the Whole

It seems safer and more comfortable for us to view life through a lens of distinctiveness and separateness.  Indeed, it seems to give us some control.  We define one thing based on its being different from something else.  And while this is one way of seeing life, the saints and mystics of our spiritual traditions perceived life in another manner.  They saw everything as connected—everything as a whole and part of a larger whole.  Quantum physics has confirmed the veracity of this perspective.

5. Direct Encounters

Human nature seems such that once we have a name for something, we think we understand it.  We do this because the alternative, that is, to intuit the vast non-linearity and unpredictability of life, is truly frightening.  But instead of living in categories that seek to control life, what if we could experience the freshness of life simply by encountering it more directly?  What if, then, we embraced change instead of trying to avoid it…?

6. Creative Change

Creative change in our lives is limited by our perspective.  When we restrict ourselves by utilizing habitual ways of seeing that only work with pre-established mental models, we become blind to emergent possibilities.  To participate in truly creative change we must be willing to let go of that which is familiar and comfortable and venture into the mysterious unknown.  Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Unless we are willing to venture into the unknown, we are destined to perpetuate the problems we have already created.

7. Change, an Everyday Opportunity

The beginning of the calendar year often brings with it thoughts and intentions of change–almost as if turning the page of a new year delivers some much needed momentum for the things we need to either add or subtract from our lives. How silly, though, to reserve change to a particular time of year for every day, every minute, really, brings emerging changes to our lives, even if we don’t always recognize them. Indeed, change is the only constant in life. Or, put the other way around, any time we think we have reached a final conclusion about anything–a conclusion from which nothing can be added or taken away–a conclusion that is no longer open to any new information or evidence–then we have truly relinquished the most accurate perspective in life, and we are choosing to live in self-delusion. Wisdom asserts that life is open-ended and so too must we be.

Does this mean that there is nothing in life that is stable enough for us to bank on? By no means! It does, however, suggest that we learn to hold things lightly–especially ourselves. It seems that most all of our spiritual traditions encourage us to move beyond grasping and clutching at what our small selves insist we need or must be conclusively true. Even though we cannot fully articulate or explain it, there is a larger reality, a larger mystery, to which we all belong, the whole of which we are only a part. While continuously emerging with fresh newness and creativity, this mystery sustains us in this ongoing change. And not so much a “What,” this mystery is better described as a “Who.”