A Delighted Acceptance of Chaos

Reflections on Cynthia Bourgeault’s Talk at the Spanish Wisdom School

As a new member to the Wisdom Waypoints ecosystem, I was grateful and excited to be invited to listen to Cynthia Bourgeault’s talk at the Spanish Wisdom School held outside of Bogota, Colombia in February of 2024. And yet, unlike the participants in Colombia who were in their second day of contemplative work, I was acutely aware of my scattered state while logging in to the presentation. My laptop was dinging with a never-ending whir of electronic bells. Next to it, my phone buzzed with even more alarms and attention getters, the messy kitchen lurked in my peripheral view, and across the room my preschooler’s Legos were sprawled on my meditation pillow — a visual reminder of how the morning’s Centering Prayer had gone. 

It felt like chaos. 

So, when Cynthia suggested we start with a reading from Thomas Keating’s essay entitled “The Beauty of Chaos,” I felt myself straighten into full attention. As Marcela Huepe, the translator, and Cynthia began their rhythmic exchange, Keating’s words unfolded:

“We try so hard to put order into our lives and into the cosmos. There is none. Instead, there are a lot of comings and goings, ups and downs. In fact, everything at the subatomic level is chaos. Moments of perfect order coalesse only to dissolve again into the thrilling immensity of infinite possibilities. Love is all, because it is nowhere, not in one place, but every place….Chaos is our home. It is always becoming, ending, starting anew.”

Then, before we dropped into a few moments of opening silence, Cynthia hung this question: 

“How far did this great, effective, doing, doing, doing man [Keating] have to come to be able to let go into this sort of delighted acceptance of sheer chaos?” 

As I closed my eyes, and tried to let go (with delight) of the doing, doing, doing on my own little to-do list, I was surprised to suddenly feel a kinship with the spiritual master Father Thomas Keating. 

Coming back together, Cynthia offered us this next treasure which Thomas Keating had once shared with her: “Silence is not the absence of noise, it is the absence of resistance.“ 

These words were a lightning rod as I sensed that whatever came next, it would be exactly the teaching I needed. As Cynthia responded to questions from the Wisdom School participants, a theme emerged around our cultural ideas on silence, stillness, and movement — our belief that there is a mythical contemplative place where silence and stillness live, where busyness and chaos stops. This dialogue led into energy and matter as we traced the thought circles ever wider toward the landscape of physics. Finally, Cynthia addressed the theological implications between a Newtonian and Einsteinian worldview: 

“So much of our old spiritual culture, including the culture that Thomas Keating himself grew up in, was Newtonian. Things stay put. They don’t fly around. Matter is matter and energy is energy. But no more. In Einsteinian physics, we learn that all is in motion and that energy is matter moving faster and that matter is energy going slower. And so, in spirit, what Thomas has just shared with us is really Einsteinian spirituality — everything is moving, twirling, busy, shifting, unstable — that’s how the inner structure of reality is.”

Despite expanding the conversation to its fullest cosmic extension, the teaching felt personal. Even spiritual giants like Thomas Keating were raised on a truth (like I was) that there was a place — a monastic cell, mountain, desert, or sea — where all would be silent and still. For us householders, there was a further slippery promise that after the kids were raised or one retired — peace would reign. But Einstein and Keating debunked that fallacy. After all the Legos have been given away, life will still be “moving, twirling, busy, shifting, unstable.” 

What spacious permission was being offered for those of us operating under the old Newtonian spiritual system, while nudging us all forward into what must now evolve. 

Cynthia added that, of course, silence is extremely helpful when beginning our contemplative practices. But a prop can quickly become a crutch. Instead of relying on external conditions, we must instead attune our internal condition. “Just as we had to learn to get used to physics in motion,” Cynthia said, “now we have to get used to silence in motion.” Even more, “how can we be silence, not depend on it?”

And with this, the focus returned to Keating’s reflection on resistance. If everything in the universe is always moving, then what is blocking us from spinning at the speed of the “beauty of chaos?” Cynthia reminded us: “the only thing heavy and fixed in spirituality is our own ego self. Once we can let go of that, we join the dance.”

In weaving Einstein into the final expansion of Thomas Keating’s consciousness and carrying it forward with her own brilliant manner of teaching, Cynthia touched the cosmos and then brought it back to our earthly need for daily practice. If I, in the midst of my micro-chaos, can kenotically consent to the presence and action of God, what might I be able to offer in the emerging big-chaos? 

As we concluded, Cynthia left no doubt that this was our call-to-action as spiritual beings in a world of increasing instability: 

“We are living at a very important cusp where structures of organized religion, civilization, education, and culture are all teetering like in an earthquake. There will be a tremendous demand for the kind of quiet, chaos-tolerant contemplation we’re talking about and living into now….we have the opportunity to offer visible, important support to a planet in transition. It is a vocation worthy of our dignity as human beings and of the teaching entrusted to us in contemplation. May we carry it with courage. And also, delight.“

Feeling both inspired and grounded, I logged off with new momentum for our collective work ahead, and a twinkle in my eye about encountering my chaos with delight. 

The chaos theme I covered in this blog represents only a fraction of the rich content covered in the Spanish Wisdom School talk. Other topics included non-duality, contemplative activists, interspiritual experience, the spiritual power of laughter, and much more. 

As a final note, I found the translation process to have its own special beauty. I loved the relational dynamic which evolved out of its rhythm. The back and forth, with its natural pauses, seemed to allow the group to engage with the words and each other more deeply — an unexpected Wisdom gift.

Watch the Wisdom School talk:

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2 thoughts on “A Delighted Acceptance of Chaos

  1. Couldn’t have said it better. Accept the chaos and align the inner with the outer. Beautiful succinct words as always. I try and bring some of this wisdom to my ecumenical online contemplative Meditation group where I often host a session. Thank you.

  2. What a wonderful blog Jenn. I love how you painted the image of chaos in the kitchens of our lives. And how these teachings , more than that, the laws of life and love itself, IS our kitchen, transforming us in our willingness to say yes in the alchemy of heat and fire.
    Thanks Jenn

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