In June of this year, a merry band descended down the steep little hills into the North Atlantic lobstering port of Stonington, Maine as it opened its arms for the second Wisdom Ingathering, hosted by Cynthia Bourgeault.
“This was my second visit to Stonington and its rounded stones. I was drawn to the mud-filled tidal flats, the stacked up lobster traps and the determined comings and goings of the fisher fleet buzzing in and out of the harbor under gray skies, rain and occasional sun. There was something hard and harsh but comfortingly solid and hope-filled in the island like the quality I imagine the young Teilhard found in his rocks. Stonington is becoming a friend whom I wish to visit often, just to pass the time.” (Bill E)
Billed as a “family-friendly, laid-back, community-building, one of a kind event”, returnees and newcomers alike were welcomed into a program that was richly built upon the foundation laid the previous year. Far beyond planning, but with Wendy Johnson and Cynthia’s devoted hands and hearts as invocation, Wisdom was at work! And the effect was palpable.
“To be on Cynthia’s home turf with a community of kindred fellow-travelers, in the simple beauty of Stonington, the humble and grounded approach to everything that took place, was deeply nourishing to the soul.” (Heather V)
The Stonington Town Hall was the Ingathering’s home base, the beautiful ocean light flooding the windows above the harbor. Each morning the group gathered for chanting and prayer, departing quietly into the early air, and returning again to spend the morning considering Teilhard de Chardin’s contributions as a guide in troubled times.
Although there was no idealized vision of the times we are living in and of what will transpire on the good earth, Cynthia spoke during the first morning teaching of the big picture, the dynamism of forces in the universe, and the human being positioned between the tiniest and the most expansive manifestations in time and space. “The heart can fly as far as things are,” she said, and it is through the heart that human beings are learning to see multidimensionally, extending through time and space, widening our experience in the horizontal and deepening our existence in the vertical simultaneously.
“There was ease and spaciousness in Cynthia’s teaching… grace? It seemed to pour out of her in a relaxed manner, less dense, held a bit more lightly, although the circumstances are dire. Brilliant and articulate, she has the gift of being able to take challenging truths and concepts, unpack and present them in an accessible, digestible way, getting to the heart of the matter with grace, humility, humor and reverence.” (Barbara R)
Being present to two time scales at once was offered as the inner task for conscious work; a work of expanded attention that infused the whole of the retreat, and continued through the week as a treasure trove of a practice for many. Tuning into one’s heartbeat while being aware of the wind blowing through leaves, or feeling the rhythm of walking and simultaneously letting in the activity of the ocean waves. Sitting on a stone noticing one’s own internal pace and opening to experiencing the eons and stillness in the stone, while expanding one’s attention to the busy work of a flying insect pollinating a flower bed. The business of the knife in the hand efficiently slicing carrots held in awareness alongside the slow simmer of the soup ingredients transforming on the stove. Growing the capacity of the heart to fly, and often finding it land in a surprisingly softening, expansive, deeply grounded root within. To stand anchored, in the midst of dynamism of life, what Cynthia described as “the energy of forces clashing”.
“The personal highlight for me was the attending to two rhythms emerging from conscious work.” (Allen B)
Conversations bubbled up throughout the week based on the practice and it contributed mightily to the sense of community, a depth of gathered collected calm, and belonging; belonging to the universe.
The mornings with Teilhard continued to follow the coherence, movement and direction of both the evolutionary impulse and putting the mind in the heart, and the heart in the body; the training of unitive imagination, of intuitive perception. Cynthia offered a practice of this, as the roofers began their work directly above during the silence of the morning sit: to ground our prayer life in the body. “From deep in the belly we can expand our attention to include awareness of the circles within circles of God’s work in our field.” Grounded in the physical core and widening the field of awareness to include the perception of the “circles within circles”, helps create a central, undisturbed container that becomes the basis for growing consciousness. From there, comprehension, as in “to wrap one’s arms around”, the deepening that anchors the widening, enlivens relationship and conversation, illuminates life.
“What I experienced throughout the week, and has stayed with me ever since, was a sense of Immensity, and Presence, of ‘deep hope flowing over deep time’, as Teilhard reminds us. Cynthia’s masterful unpacking of Teilhard’s work and life helped me to make sense of many strands in my own life that I had not yet been able to weave together. Her teaching provided for me a framework in which I could contextualize the contradictions in both my own life and in the wider world. Where experiences and conditions seem irreconcilable, when looked at with a different lens of perception, and from the perspective of deep time as well as sequential time, I found I was able to sense and experience a deep coherence that brought me a profound sense of peace. Central to this was understanding Teilhard’s emphasis on particularity having as much significance and relevance as universality. That our own individuality and particularity are a crucial part of the big picture.” (Heather V)
A burgeoning spontaneity, freedom and collected interiority were presented as qualities of a rising tide of consciousness; Teilhard’s vision of the evolutionary process as it gains and consolidates energy and moves towards convergence and the Omega Point. Cynthia gave attention to Teilhard’s image of how the consciousness already present within all matter must have a physical structure in order to manifest actively; bodies that “can bear that consciousness.” She used a Wisdom School as an example of a body, a structure, that comes together in a “joyous self-organization.” At the Ingathering, for instance, 70 people bringing their conscious yearning together and manifesting a creative, vibrant intelligence that would not happen in isolation. The new body being created to bear consciousness can be experienced as a coherent field, rather than physical flesh and blood.
“As the days passed, others offered soul openings of unexpected depth, intimacy and commonality. I learned again that the most present conversations I seem to have with God- the I AM- happen through meandering time and words shared with another human- one of the gifts of the second of the two great commandments.” (Bill E)
An element of deep hope flowing over deep time that Cynthia emphasized, is that in the “rising tide of consciousness” nothing is lost. Each one of us in one’s own particularity and inner work is an active contributor to the ongoing expression of the consciousness inherent within matter, and an integral part of the evolutionary process. The inner work of becoming, and devotion to living daily life ever more present in the gathered, collected belly of the self, is generative, creative and is the basis for the future of consciousness, no matter what forces are clashing in the dynamism of life around us. And the fruits of practice, the building of new bodies, is met by the magnetic pull and embrace of the Omega Point.
We are turning in and complexifying, are being drawn forth and radiating out, and none of it will be lost. In a beautiful moment, Cynthia shared her experience at Tintern Abbey as an example of this conviction of Teilhard’s; that in the development of consciousness, no matter what happens in the world, our inner work polishing the heart, individually and collectively, will remain – present – in the course of evolution. While visiting Tintern Abbey she experienced with every fiber of her being the attention, practice and work of the monks who had lived in those very ruins nearly five hundred years ago (see her blog post in the Blog Archives and in Breaking Ground ‘Lines of my Own Composed Above Tintern Abbey’ ). Recognizing the Cistercian signature immediately, as “the energy literally pulled me down” at the altar, a certainty was passed through the ancient stones of the monastery into her heart, “as living transmission”.
“In the teaching there is a core which is strong, articulate and resonate. The central focus of the creation of the noosphere in a human in the universe- along with the time scale- it really matters, this evolution. We are going to do something and we are going to build it. We are in this as co-creators- all gifts from Stonington. The thread running through all of it: really, seriously, what is our work? I want to hold on to listening to what it is that we are.” (Rebecca P)
The week with Teilhard culminated with a call to foster a “deep interiority” in each of us. As human beings we can bear witness to the particularity of consciousness revealed and radiated from within as we tend to the sacred reality of the inner life. We join with the world collective in the process of creation, participating in the birth of new bodies; and through a life lived in practice we grow the deep rooted collectedness necessary to bear and wield the consciousness that is arising.
The invitation is to find, as Cynthia said with a smile, a portion of joy from “the melody of Christ” daily; to touch the truth, in life, that God has inoculated all matter with the radiant heart of Christ. To know that the fruits of Spirit are being drawn forth from human beings and all of creation. Teilhard invites us to dive in. Work consciously with adversity. To be true to the human evolutionary potential; in Cynthia’s words, “to be the source of consciousness that bears and collects in the being the generative, energetic substances of peace, joy, forbearance, patience, generosity… to grow the capacity to see, feel and respond from each illuminated heart as holograph of the divine heart.” Surely deep hope flows over deep time. As Cynthia offered in the closing session of the Teilhard teaching, “Through that heart, anywhere becomes the Land Promised to the Saints, the Divine Milieu.”
Part II of “Stonington 2017: Celebrating the Rhythm and Community” and Part III “Singing Praises on the Journey” will include reflections from the community about the activities of the week, from the Taize sing and conscious work to the St. Brendan play and the closing Kirtan. Coming soon to Breaking Ground.