For most of March and April, as many of you know, I have been hanging out here on the edge of the known universe on Eagle Island, taking the time to renew my flagging hermit skills. What little technology I have access to on my two-panel, four-battery solar system huffs and puffs to keep up. On days like yesterday when I sat in the teeth of a gale for twelve stormy hours, the whole system went down by sunset.
Surrounded by mostly time and tide, I have been slowly coming to my own decisions about what is my own rightful participation in the virtual community that is being generated and sustained during this great pandemic re-set. I am aware that we are all called to participate in different ways; it’s not a “one-size fits all” solution to the conundrum, and all sincere contributions work toward the common good.
As for myself, however, I feel that the contribution specifically being asked of me is to be extremely judicious in my involvement in live internet community (zoom, skype, facetime, video-conferencing, etc.). Partly because it is so clearly a privilege reserved for the already privileged. Partly because it continues to support both economically and energetically the continued electromagnetic inflammation of the planetary atmosphere and the economy of unabashed economic and moral capitalism that drives it. And partly because the great spiritual traditions all know of a better, deeper, and more powerful means of intercommunication already seeded into the human heart, if we can only remember how to use it.
Repeat; this not a blanket statement, not an assertion of any presumed moral high ground. It’s just the place that seems to be accorded to me to uphold in this global transition.
My decision going forward is to limit my zoom participation to two areas only: continuing board and task-force meetings with groups I am already committed to; and a few larger, “conference style” teaching events, particularly when they replace already contracted on-the-ground obligations.
I intend to keep an engaged presence within the Wisdom School Community and on the internet through blog postings, commentaries and ‘Ask Cynthia’ here on Northeast Wisdom, and on the Wisdom Community facebook page. And I will also continue to support my online courses with the CAC currently running or in the works.
I will not regularly be participating in zoom retreats, zoom liturgies, or zoom classes or conversations of an ongoing nature whose primary purpose is to maintain teaching or fellowship. This is very good work, but it is not mine to do. In general, I am limiting screen time in ALL formats (both online and offline) to six hours a day. I am relying on the Benedictine rule, with its practical balance of “Ora et Labora” to rebalance my three-centered awareness and help reverse the atrophy of those inner senses required for clear perception in difficult times.
I am in possession of no crystal ball here, but I suspect as we are able to begin moving about again, that my role is going to shift toward helping to re-open small, on-the-ground events. The human horde has been badly traumatized by its newfound terror of physical proximity, and this trauma will need to be released before truly embodied compassion can begin to take root in us again. Love still lies on the other side of fear, and the bridge will have to be rebuilt from the ground up. I am trying to prepare myself, both inwardly and outwardly for what this may require.
I want to emphasize that I am in full solidarity with the beautiful efforts you are all making here to sustain community over distance, and I will certainly be holding you all in my hearts as these conversations unfold. My decision is to be understood as simply my own way of putting teeth into this solidarity. And of trying to hold myself accountable.
Blessings and Love,
A Note from Northeast Wisdom
Cynthia has been sharing her response to the pandemic sweeping the world with an on-going series of posts on the Northeast Wisdom website that began on March 23, 2020. That initial post, Pandemic Homework, outlined recommended practices that people could take themselves in response, and was followed by:
From the Eagle’s Nest (the background to the instructions);
Foundational Points for the Five Pandemic Homework Exercises; and
Raised Cyber Eye-Brows: More on Internet Technology and the Pandemic Homework.
The posts continue with a series of “Commentaries on Elements of the Exercises”: “Clear Impressions”: Commentaries Part I;
“Lord Have Mercy”: Commentaries Part II, A & B;
Connecting the Dots: The “Lord Have Mercy” in Commentaries Part II, C;
“Make Strong! Not Easy Thing: Commentaries Part III, A & B;
“Atmosphere”: Commentaries Part IV, A; and
Afterword to “Atmosphere”: Commentaries Part IV, B.
Soon to come: Cynthia’s commentaries on the “Web” Exercise and the “Four Ideals” Exercise. Stay tuned!
Cynthia says, “I am very grateful to Joseph Azize for his willingness to make five—now six—of the Gurdjieff exercises available to us within the cyber confines of our Wisdom School Community. These exercises are powerful tools of healing, cleansing, and clarity, and even when practiced individually or in small groups, they have a power to significantly shift our present planetary atmosphere. They are something you can actually do: to steady yourself and ready yourself for the deeper energetic work that actually connects us and empowers us as a human species to do the alchemical work we were placed on this planet to do.”
Joseph Azize’s newly published Gurdjieff: Mysticism, Contemplation & Exercises is available now through his website at Under the Sun for a 30% discount from Oxford University Press. All of the Gurdjieff exercises recommended in Cynthia’s Pandemic Homework are in this book, with extensive supporting research and commentary. It is a great resource.
Image credits from the top: Eagle Island, Maine, Lighthouse courtesy of lighthousefriends.com; Rainbow on Eagle Island, courtesy of Cynthia Bourgeault & Contemplative Society; Cynthia’s hermitage on Eagle Island; Holy Week 2020 photo image courtesy of William Britten, beloved friend of Northeast Wisdom.
2 thoughts on “Going Forward: Time, Tides, Benedict & Zoom”
I need you most to be in meditation and silence holding the place between this unsettling world and the imaginal. Thank you
Cynthia, I respect your candid wishes. We all have to find our place in the way forward. Thank you for affirming that. I am doing so as a parish priest and it won’t necessarily look like what you or other priests are doing. I’m claiming my ground to stand upon as well.
I am slowly moving with Zoom and refraining from creating Facebook Live and YouTube videos for worship. I am only using Zoom for meetings and crucial gatherings which would otherwise be inaccessible to me. And I am only creating audio podcasts for my parish along with writing and sharing.
My concern about the video technology is not about being further situated in privilege. All of us wisdom school participants are already an exceedingly privileged sort–highly educated, highly reflective, mostly very white, and often of considerable means. And my concern is not “inflaming the planetary atmosphere and contributing to spread of the virus” which, forgive me, I still find incomprehensible in the midst of an otherwise superabundance of crucially important guidance and teaching.
My concern is that these video technologies, to the extent they become so quickly “normal”, carry with them unexamined weight–the preoccupation and distraction of seeing ourselves on screen, with often full-frame faces and extraneous details, and an unintentional anti-sacramentality of absence when trying to do worship mostly alone in a church setting.
So the best I can live into these days is the sacramentality of the voice that frees the eyes from a screen. But I also realize other faithful folk are trying and doing good things with video. We are all doing the best we can and good is being done even through media I do not myself choose to create. I do hope to be able to livestream services for the homebound when we do have congregations again somehow and sometime–that makes more sense to me.
I look forward to your continuing deep seeing and sharing which has so changed my life and given me hope as a Christian and a priest. Thank you for following your calling. Blessings.