Contemplating Threeness

Three Wisdom retreats in six weeks. The first was Teilhard and Gurdjieff in Conversation at Claymont, followed by a six-day silent Centering Prayer retreat in Hartford, and then back to Claymont to attend a reprise of the Teilhard and Gurdjieff Wisdom School! Reflecting on these retreats, and our ongoing awakening along the Wisdom Path, the voices of Gurdjieff, Teilhard, and Cynthia, weave together. I try to make space for all three centers to join in relationship to bring forth something that rings with resonance, something worth sharing. I feel that in the Wisdom Schools I am shown pieces of the whole, or perspectives on the whole. In fact, each of the direct quotes from Cynthia below (the ones highlighted in bold) has that quality. The challenge is to stay tuned to what I think of as the “resonance channel,” instead of the more familiar “explanation channel.”

Anything in bold below is Cynthia’s voice.

I’ll start at the Centering Prayer Retreat, with the practice that is central to bringing the Three Centers of Awareness online in harmony. Practices are not a means to get somewhere, but an expression of a relationship with something that is. Our practices tune our three centers to be able to act in a relational field. Our attention and surrender reflect this. After a thousand years of binary thinking, with our fabulous intellect doing its endless sorting, judging, dichotomizing, Centering Prayer is a primary tool to begin loosening that grip. We practice Centering Prayer by sitting with intention and consent. You start building a nest where your witnessing presence can live. Keep within! The hidden pearl within is your center, your equanimity, the Wisdom Way that you are cultivating. Configure attention, with all three centers of awareness brought into relationship and dialogue, for you to think and be. This is what it’s all about kiddos. We’ll hear more about that relational field when we get to Claymont.

The Body Center comes into the field with Movement Practices. The head will never get the motions that the body gets naturally: surrender, obedience, attention. For me, bringing in movements helps me to know that it is the nature of Attention to be whole. Attention can be expanded, but not divided. A sense of belonging comes from this place. Relationality. We derive our selfhood from the relational field. Attention and surrender need to be in balance. They are the joysticks we use to navigate the cosmos.

 One more thing, before we’re on to Claymont: At the end of this 6-day retreat with 150 participants, all in silence throughout, someone commented to Sarah and me that “we sure were quiet.” Huh. Always the quiet ones, even in a silent retreat. Maybe that points to what Cynthia means by hold your post in the resonant field?



It would be impossible to share the whole of Cynthia’s incredible conversation between Gurdjieff and Teilhard (and herself!) at Claymont, so I’ll offer a slice or two of what it was. Sarah and I attended the first session of this Wisdom School with about 80 other attendees. Then we jumped at the chance to return several weeks later for a second offering of the same content, with a smaller group of about 40. Wait, did I say “same content?” Actually, the final destination was the same, but the route we journeyed to get there was quite different between the two sessions. I asked about this, and Cynthia said the group dynamic is always different. Having attended the first session, and remembering what the daily content had been, it was a unique opportunity to watch Cynthia make adjustments on the fly to create a new Wisdom School based on the daily fluctuations of energy level and questions asked.

Both Teilhard and Gurdjieff envisioned the whole cosmos on a purposeful journey, with threeness as the essential pattern. Consider differentiation and unity. Then add motion and relationship between the two … the result is a universal pattern of the cosmos, from the tiny to the huge.

The forces of relationship are more important than the parts. Consciousness is seeded into every bit of the universe. The universe is on an evolutionary trip towards consciousness, with the psychic forces of love, attention and will in the driver’s seat. It’s about differentiation and unity. The whole is in the part, and the part in the whole. Reciprocity. Exchange. Flow. It adds up to a personal universe, where love is possible. Love differentiates and unites. Beatrice Bruteau covers the same ground in Radical Optimism, chapter 7.

There is an inherent discomfort in threeness. Things always changing. Change implies energy flow–where does the energy come from, where does it go, what is its purpose? What keeps energy from winding down into entropy? Both Teilhard and Gurdjieff address the problem of energy flow. For Gurdjieff, the Law of World Creation–of ‘new arisings’–and the Law of World Maintenance describe ways that energy is injected along the arc of evolution. Teilhard offers radial and tangential energies as anti-entropic.

Needless to say, all of Teilhard and Gurdjieff’s grand visions are not apparent to me yet. But what I do get, and what’s closer to home, is the concept of the parts and the whole in a relationship of reciprocal feeding, as a template for all things large and small. The human body is an example of that pattern. Lungs, heart, liver, etc. are differentiated while also being part of the whole. But there’s something beyond that. They are not just a collection of parts that form a whole, like a machine. Each part has its unique function to perform while serving the whole, but also engages in direct support of the other differentiated parts. It seems to me that this is an example of the Trinitarian model.

The act of reciprocal feeding is part of the anti-entropic force that maintains the universe. Nothing in the cosmos works in service to the individual. On this Wisdom Path we are all a new arising. Only in our deepest unity do we discover our deepest differentiation and freedom.



The movements at Claymont were wonderful at mirroring the concept of differentiation, unity, and relationship as a cosmic template based on three. Deborah and Heather guided us through Gurdjieff’s movements. As we struggled individually to find the rhythm of our bodies, they reminded us of our connection to the group, and the subtle ways that individual and group movements interacted. Occasionally, we felt a bit of reciprocal feeding on the movement floor.

At Claymont, when Cynthia was contrasting the binary-based, static traditionalist movements of the past millennia with the dynamic, evolutionary characteristics of Gurdjieff and Teilhard’s ternary cosmology, she said “don’t look back,” and Bob Dylan rode in on those words, announcing to the Newport folk purists in 1965 that he was the voice of change, not the voice of tradition:

“Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you,

Forget the dead you’ve left, they will not follow you,

Take what you have gathered from coincidence,

Look out! The Saints are coming through!

The sky too is folding over you!

Strike another match, go start anew.”


For me, and perhaps for many of us in this wonderful tribe of Wisdom seekers, those words resonate.

posted by Bill Britten, December 18, 2019

Sarah and I have a gallery in the resort town of Gatlinburg, TN. The peace and tranquility of the Smoky Mountains is reflected in the photographs that we offer to the 10 million visitors that travel through. We are so grateful for the Wisdom path, and to be on an unfolding journey with our fellow seekers.

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1 thought on “Contemplating Threeness

  1. Thanks, Bill, I really like how you talk about attention and surrender, and balancing the three centers. Even though I’ve read and reread those passages in Cynthia’s books, it still is intriguing to see how she as well as other interpreters (yourself, in this case) re-assemble the parts into a new whole. (By the way, you are describing the concept of a holon down below, a concept my high school students took too quite nicely.) Thanks for putting this together.

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