Reflections Between Worlds: The Spanish Wisdom School

Bill Espinosa, an organizer of and participant in the February 2024 Spanish Wisdom School, has generously offered his first hand perspective of the Wisdom School experience at a farm just outside of Bogota, Colombia.

The Fires

As we drove in from El Dorado Airport in Bogota through what was once countryside and is now a city of nine million, the driver told us how just two days before, you could see the brushfires creeping down the mountain towards the high rise condominiums and tenements that had made their way up the slopes.  The smoke had just cleared the day before. The city had imposed traffic restrictions to keep the air breathable; only now were they  being lifted. Out of control brushfires at nearly ten thousand feet altitude in this part of Andes were virtually unknown.  When I was a child, everyone launched hot air balloons—globos—with kerosene wicks over the city at Nativity safe in the knowledge that when they landed, nothing would really burn.

The next day was  smoggy in the city; driving to the retreat site, the countryside was visibly dry.  Climate change had come to Bogota and the region.  There is no escape anywhere.  I knew that as I had known it viscerally when the Canadian smoke invaded much of the United States including the green, pastoral shire of Virginia where I live. I had known it in my intellectual center  since 1990 when I heard a Russian physicist in Moscow talk about frogs who don’t know they are being boiled alive if you turn up the temperature slowly enough.

The finca Polmeran where we were to hold the retreat was dry but otherwise unchanged from the year before.  This year there would be more people including participants from Argentina and Chile and an engaging Catholic priest who participated in Contemplative Outreach.

The Geese

Geese on the lawn
Holy geese on the lawn.

Someone noted that they hadn’t seen the goose that had nested the previous year in the shrubs that surrounded the meeting building.  We learned that the goose and her gander were being kept away lest guests inadvertently put their toes in goose poo.  The fate of the nest was unknown.  Someone commented that the mother must have been desesperada –  a word that means something between desperate and despairing or maybe both.   Just before dawn I woke up disturbed with the plight of the goose vivid in my mind.  Ten minutes later she was honking, desesperada, at my window.  Shortly afterwards we had a team meeting and I said that as silly as it might sound, I felt we needed to do a smudge or other cleansing of our space because of the goose (and maybe more hidden disturbances).  We did a concentrated meditation to that end.

Unbeknownst to us at the other end of the building, a participant mother who had come with her  partially disabled son had her own encounter.   She had been in a deep sleep which she experienced as sinking  underwater.  Then several geese plunged into the water to pull her back up to the surface.  When she fully woke up, she realized that her son was beginning to have a seizure and she was able to get up and give him medication in time to prevent a worse outcome. 

After this a team member reminded us that in some Christian traditions (Iona/Celtic) , a goose was closely associated with the Holy Spirit. 

No surprise that the preeminent exemplar of Magical Realism, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, was Colombian.  Gebser any one? 1

Cynthia and Thomas Keating

It is said that the wild goose represents the Holy Spirit because, “The Holy Spirit is unpredictable, upsetting the status quo and leading people toward a new adventure with God.”2 Sure enough, up stepped Cynthia on our first full day breaking all kinds of containers (and making us forget our feet, the inner task for the day).  At the beginning of the Zoom, she was asked about the last years of Thomas Keating.  The basic message, she said, was that all was joyful chaos—“the beauty of Chaos”, it is our home, nothing matters because everything matters, life is like bees in a hive always busy,  buzzing. We face an unstable future, global warming, semi-crazed politics in Argentina and soon in the US; we can’t hide,  a new consciousness is needed, drop Newtonian spirituality and become Einsteinian (and I would add post-Einsteinian—isn’t  the potentially infinite vacuum energy and quantum froth actually the “thunderous silence” of the Creator “drowning out everything else and hiding in endless creativity”?)3 Contemplation  in motion,  time to grow up spiritually.

That night was restless and disturbing in the gut  but fortuitously our previously chosen inner task for the day after was,“Let go, Let go, Let Go”  (soltar, soltar, soltar). And on an encouraging  note, Cynthia spoke of the gift of the new including a “synergy of the whole” and emergent properties within it.  Did it explain how six of us with widely varying backgrounds who hardly knew each other were able to put together a coherent program?  The joy (gozo) of chaos was also received well.  Colombia is a musical, rhythmic place.

Thomas’s second logion – “… when you find you will be troubled, when you are troubled, you will be astounded” – came to mind.

Equity and Peace

Cynthia suggested that we were being kicked out of the privileged contemplative nest and that meant taking our practice and newly evolving consciousness into the world.  On the sidelines of the Wisdom School many of the participants expressed some anguish over the present state of the world— particularly the war and misery in Gaza, which  some felt were also present in subtler ways in Colombia.  Colombia has suffered from over a century of low-level violence with political, religious and socio-economic roots.  In 2016  a peace agreement between the Colombian government and the major armed resistance group, the FARC was negotiated.  It included over 100 pages devoted to rural reforms and justice.  I applauded it for dealing with root causes (and because a childhood friend helped negotiate it).  But no sooner was the ink dry, than resistance set in.  Today it remains only partially in force, stumbling along.

Conscious work on the farm.

We, the children of socio economic privilege, were on a large and beautiful farm.  It was to be sure  a working farm but otherwise might well have been a target for Peace Agreement  land reform.  What I came to see, however, was that whatever one might think of the outer, seemingly stratified structure, what could not be described in a perspectival  peace treaty was the loving quality of the relationship between the owner (our host) and the people  she employed on it. With that relationship we included the “ninas”, as she called them, in our ceremonies.  External work was partially in the kitchen where hierarchy was reversed.  Ivy League graduates were scolded by a kitchen mayordoma  for poor lettuce washing.

In the greater arc of Being, the loving substance of that relationship (and others like it) may run far deeper and cohesively than any rationally crafted  “peace agreement”.

Mass on the World

“With the whole earth as out altar…”

Colombia is historically a deeply Catholic and patriarchal  country.  I am guessing that everyone present had been at least baptized as a Catholic.  Moreover, in Colombia, a Liberal-Conservative party rivalry  that  endured as a bloody conflict for more than a century was based in large part a dispute on the role of the church in government and society.  Interestingly in the years since  the Peace Agreement (and maybe COVID boosted) the old two-party polity has fragmented into a bouillabaisse of more than thirty ingredients. 

On the last day we performed  a version of Teilhard’s Mass on the World. “With the whole earth as our altar, we offer … all the labors and sufferings of the world.”

The service was officiated by a woman who blessed the bread and wine.  The facilitators (all but one are women) read portions of the text. Then with a  background of song,  each person present—including the ninas— received and offered the bread and wine to and from one another.  For a few minutes, an old hierarchy was leveled and the role of women raised. 

Nearby, fifty eucalyptus trees—children of a towering giant– had been  brought in for planting a few days before.

Entangled Threads—Spiritual Mycelium


The group expressed interest in the interfaith experience and the question was asked, What did the advent of the Christic mean for the traditions that predated it?  As chance would have it, our other remote Zoom  speaker at the school was Maria Toscano, a Catalan who was the mother of the Spanish translator of Cynthia’s  The Wisdom Jesus (Maria Ancochea).  Maria the Elder had been an intimate friend of the Spanish theologian/philosopher Raymon Panikkar.  In Panikkar’s Christophany:  The Fulness of Man and other writings, Panikkar’s answer is complex but includes the insistence that the Christic cannot be culturally bound and is both outside of time and present throughout it.4  Someone else in the group  knew a young Colombian who had written a PhD thesis on Panikkar’s writings and was awarded a prize by the Panikkar Foundation.  He has agreed to come to the next Spanish Wisdom School.


Back in Bogota on our last day a few of us had lunch with a couple who had recently moved back to Colombia after spending decades at the Two Rivers Farm in Oregon.  Two Rivers Farm in Oregon was founded by a Gurdjieff student, Mrs. A. L. Staveley around the same time as Claymont with similar goals and activities but it retained strong ties to the Gurdjieff Foundation.  The couple organize a local Gurdjieff group and other activities.  We discussed the possibility of future collaborative work in Colombia including the possibilities of using movements.

Two eagles rose from the field in Snowmass last May.  Two hawks flew over Polmeran to an unknown destination early in the morning on the day we left.

The rains began on Saturday at the farm.  By Monday in Bogota it was an all-day downpour.

Bill Espinosa has worked with Cynthia for over a decade and was asked to assist in the expansion of our Spanish Wisdom project. Prior to his work with Cynthia, Bill studied with a Sufi teacher involved in peace work and he spent several years in the Gurdjieff Work. 

Bill spent much of his happy childhood  in Bogota, Colombia until he was exiled to a boarding school in rural Massachusetts.  Unbeknownst to Bill at the time, more than two decades earlier Thomas Keating had been sent to the same school.  This past May, Bill had a chance to do a retreat in Snowmass just before the St Benedict’s retreat center was shut down.

Bill now lives near Charlottesville, Virginia where he is active in local climate work.  He’s the author of the speculative novel, WARMING!

  1.  I don’t believe Gebser was familiar with Latin American magical realism but it seems to me that the genre is an example of the simultaneity of two structures of consciousness (together with their manifestations) tending toward a new integral structure ↩︎
  2. ↩︎
  3. “Out of a Stone” in The Secret Embrace, T. Keating. ↩︎
  4. Cf., “The whole Christ is pre-existent, historical
    and trans-historical.” ↩︎

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2 thoughts on “Reflections Between Worlds: The Spanish Wisdom School

  1. Very moved by news of this event. Maybe when a seemingly blind eye is being turned on our happenings, a new hope is born

    1. “……God is gradually entrusting the future of the species to us while remaining our partner and companion. In this way, God makes us……co-creators and co-redeemers”
      Thomas Keating, in Reflections on the Unknowable, p.66.

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