Joyfully, Playfully, Collectively: Notes about the origins of the first-ever Cynthia Bourgeault Annual

Book cover
A work in progress; photo by Brie Stoner February 2017

In Cynthia’s Note to the Northeast Wisdom fundraising letter, she exclaims, “We’re Here to Make Wisdom Happen!” And Wisdom, as it is born in its unique configuration through each and every one of us into life, into life lived, is certainly front and center in the collective heart of Cynthia Bourgeault and the 2017 Board of Directors. As champion of that call, Cynthia has had a year of speaking and writing about Wisdom’s interface with life in these times that has been reaching back within the tradition with an ever-widening lens; and simultaneously turning into the present moment, making new and immediate connections, and sharing her visionary seeing, in process, as it awakens.


It is to serve exactly that- that which has been taking shape over the course of the year- that the idea for an annual collection arose. To document the arising in Cynthia, as she “stood and turned” to meet the day over the course of the year with courage, honesty, creativity, her brilliant wit, and an ever-evolving living lineage revealing and expressing itself through her.

This little book is a collaborative effort, born out of a sudden arising in a board meeting, followed and discovered along the way. It has been a bit of an experiment. An exercise in trust, that the project will be led, and the necessary help will arrive. Deep breath! It is a work in progress that we hope to have available to donors by the end of February 2018.

The book has been primarily a process of following, and going through the doors as they open. Step by step and moment by moment. The inspiration has been seeing the pieces fall into place, the unfolding of word and action over the course of a year which had been sensed in time, and now may be visible in space.

photo courtesy of Bob Sabath

This annual collection, entitled Love is the Answer: What is the Question? includes many of the short talks and writing Cynthia delivered from the fall of 2016 through 2017. It is truly a Northeast Wisdom Board creation. As primary advocate, and inexperienced in the field, I have been brought right up the edge of my capacity and relied throughout the process on my dear friend and colleague Bob Sabath. He has spent hours on the phone advising me with his collected experience and good sense, patiently steering me through the technical glitches of a complete beginner. And Brie Stoner has generously shared her gorgeous photo of Cynthia teaching in February 2016, for use in the work in progress of a cover image. While Holly, invaluable manager of the Northeast Wisdom website, has tirelessly and artfully jumped on board as the annual campaign has gone live on the website.

Northeast Wisdom Board of Directors, Holy Cross Monastery, November 2017

Fellow board members have collaborated along the way, Guthrie contributed sound advice and the typeface, Mary Ellen has been so helpful with her innate knowledge, patience with contractual language and experience in the field, Cynthia has brought her immediacy, enthusiasm and publishing expertise to elements of the project from the size and feel of the book to the color and look of the cover. Over and again she has answered my questions, brainstormed material, shared necessary connections and short cuts whenever I have come to a dead end. Patricia has chimed in with her championing of organizational protocol. The three M’s of the current Northeast Wisdom Board of Directors, Marcella, Matthew and Mary Ellen have offered to be the editing body. And President of the Board, and dear friend Bill, produced a gorgeous foreword to the book in record time, and more even than that, has been consistently ready in the moment to offer his endless and openhearted support to this work as it has unfolded. What a team!


The idea for the book arose during a late summer board meeting. The outer question was how to meet the need for a small but meaningful gift for larger donors to the annual giving campaign. The inner question surfacing was something like this: How does this fit with our times? What gift is a real response to the needs, the questions, the uncertainties of this past year? What has already been given? What are people hungry for? How does Northeast Wisdom relate to all this?

A few weeks ago, at the last Wisdom retreat at Hallelujah Farm, Mark Kutolowski was introducing the group to Systema, a practice developed over centuries by Russian monks (among others), that trains the whole person to stay in freely flowing intuitive response in high stress situations or environments. Kerstin Lipke had found a beautiful quote from Cynthia’s Wisdom Way of Knowing to print on the back of the schedule. Over the course of the weekend, one of the participants used a phrase from the quote as a touchstone in her own beautiful way. We went around during the opening circle, sharing just a brief kernel of what was on our hearts in the moment. When it was her turn, she turned to the quote and said, “…either you will brace, harden and resist, or you will soften, open and yield.” Throughout the weekend, she returned to that phrase, each time bringing it into a new context, a deeper understanding. Reflecting on it, letting it live in her. Experiencing it, physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, as she danced with it through the long weekend.

Nautilus 1
Image from the user Chris 73 and is freely available at //

It is a beautiful example of something I have been noticing all around me this year. The way that a thought, a gorgeous phrase, can land within a person’s being and then be taken up, lived with, and itself grow through reflection into deeper consciousness. Words that become openings to that cusp where what is deeply personal is ultimately human and universal experience. Words that become windows, for instance, to how “deep hope flows over deep time.” I have been noticing how people turn to certain words and phrases; combinations of words that express truth, beauty and goodness. Finding a home both to land in and launch from. “It is movement and it is rest.”

As the board discussed possibilities for a gift, I remembered being recently struck by how Cynthia’s rendition of her experience at Tintern Abbey had named something very specific, so relevant to the times, that spoke directly to my heart. That had been six months prior, yet it was still fresh. The quality of aliveness in the words had reverberated in my soul. It was a two-part message that the walls of Tintern Abbey delivered to Cynthia that day. The first, a directive about how to listen and what to do: “not … to verify, instruct yourself, inform curiosity or carry report.” I could feel myself there, in my humanness, the mind’s habitual retreat from the moment. But “to kneel, where prayer has been valid.” Cynthia was listening, and responding. Kneeling, where prayer has been valid.

Nautilus 2
Image from the user Chris 73 and is freely available at //

Softening, opening and yielding to what was vibrantly alive in that place, Cynthia called it “a living transmission” in her post. One that spoke out of the very stones that had been witness centuries before to terror, to sorrow and to endurance. “Know that what is forged in the alchemy of love is beyond the ravages of time. All else may dissolve; this alone remains. But in your own transfigured heart, you will always find it.”

These words were a gift that readied Cynthia for what was to come on the eve of the United States elections. They resonated later in my heart as truth; truth given out of the imaginal, in a form that, for me, brings the heart into the miraculous territory of paradox. The place where words vibrate as an image-being complete unto itself, and yet is a continuing experience, living, vibrant, fluid, deepening, holographic, resonant. Words that express a becoming, a process, an exchange, that continues to move and deepen within and without. What remains, in the transfigured heart, beyond the ravages of time.

A thread was emerging that was to express itself over the course of the year in a myriad of ways. This was informed of course by the work of a lineage, by the deepening of a growing soul, by lived experience of the meeting of Gurdjieff and Teilhard de Chardin in Cynthia’s heart and mind, by years of practice. How to bring this all into a contemporary conversation? A meeting with the now? The talks and writings that Cynthia shared over the course of the year were of a great variety, a series of call and response that speaks to the times from a number of directions.

In the board meeting, the image of a book was gaining greater clarity: what a gift it would be to gather these together in a volume. A new blog series was underway. There had been talks around the country, articles written and courses offered. A book would be something tangible that people could pick up and hold, turn over in their hands, open to a page. So many questions were surfacing within people. A book could provide a phrase to take up as a question or a study. It could be put on a bedside table, raise a question, turn it over to the night, and see what the night sends back. It might become inspiration for action, help form a guiding thought, or enliven inner practice.

Cynthia herself says in her annual appeal letter, “I’ve had a fabulous year of writing, reflecting, and breaking ground on all these fronts, knowing that I am beautifully supported and accompanied by a living, growing community that truly has my back.” This little book covers the ground between the fall of 2016 through 2017. For many, these times have drawn people closer together. A sense of human and earthly community has become more poignant. Many have plunged into deep and honest self-reflection, and sat with rising questions about how to meet life from an ever-growing place of inner clarity and integrity.

Cynthia teaching
photo by Brie Stoner February 2017

Cynthia has a particular gift for language, and is a brilliant artist of synthesis. Throughout her contributions to this volume, and under the development and interweaving of thoughts and ideas and their translation into comprehensive and vivid pictures that are penetrable and welcoming, Cynthia’s voice is the consistent call of a spiritual teacher who walks the talk and knows the territory from the inside out. The call is to embodied practice, to listen, to see ourselves for what we are, no more, no less, each one a precious and unique part of the whole. To pay attention to a growing, expanding consciousness that has the capacity to bear the greatest joy and the deepest sorrow, to remember and connect to a sense of rhythm and proportion, to humility and to humor, to open to the capacity to enter the heart within that beats with the Divine Heart of Hearts.

When it comes to the Christian Wisdom tradition, Northeast Wisdom’s mission is to transmit, nurture, prepare, and engage, and this year has brought numerous needs and questions to the fore, for each of us as individuals and collectively. Many have been feeling signs of a deeper paradigm shift, with all the hopes and fears that surface in times of change. It is clear that many people are choosing to make more room in their lives for the inner questions that are part of a personal blueprint that is constantly becoming.

We will each find our way on this journey through our times, and we are not alone. Some of us will find a path opening through the Christian Wisdom tradition, and perhaps Cynthia’s contributions to the conversation this year will transmit, nurture, prepare and engage us in a way supports and encourages each of us to reach deeper within and reach further out. Call and response. “Please join us in the dance,” says Cynthia. “Joyfully, playfully, collectively.”

posted by Laura Ruth

I was laughing at my desk this morning, pre-dawn, the glow in the sky yet to come. Searching for a word to describe the roles taken in this little collective project. Steering committees and spearheads led me from Merriam Webster’s, “sharp-pointed end of a spear”, “leading element, force or influence in an undertaking or development” and “steering head: the assemblages of front-axle and steering knuckle on which a front wheel of an automobile turns” (interesting), to the Trip Advisor’s, “always need the cowboys to keep the steer heading in the right direction”, and possibly my favorite, Urban Dictionary’s (invention?), “steerheading: to take one’s encumbered thoughts and send them off into a pen of productivity.” The technical learning curve has been substantial! Quite the challenge. Makes me laugh, but enough of that.

It has been a joy and a blessing to follow this “leaning” and dive so deeply into what Cynthia has been bringing forth in these surprising and uncertain times. To be intimate witness to her meeting of the often uneasy, ever-hopeful, sense of major paradigm shift happening beneath our collective feet, grounded in Wisdom’s way and emerging from her life’s work in a humble pursuit of the truth and practice of the heart.

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