Our Founding Teacher
Meet Cynthia Bourgeault
I practice and teach the Christian spiritual arts …
Our Founding Teacher
We are a growing network of Wisdom seekers around the globe supporting one another as we work with our founding teacher Cynthia Bourgeault to reclaim the Christian Wisdom path.
Cynthia Bourgeault is a modern-day mystic, Episcopal priest, writer, and internationally known retreat leader. She divides her time between solitude and sailing the waters around her seaside hermitage in Maine and a demanding schedule traveling globally to teach and spread the recovery of the Christian contemplative and Wisdom paths. Cynthia is a core faculty emeritus at the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She has been honored by the annual Watkins Review as one of the 100 most spiritually influential living people in 2021.
How you get there is where you’ll arrive
Cynthia grew up in the rolling countryside just west of Philadelphia and experienced her first tastes of silence and mystical presence during the weekly Meeting for Worship at the Quaker school she attended. She went on to earn a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies, where she specialized in early music and liturgical drama: training that would prove to serve her well in her later work as a spiritual teacher. She studied at the Philadelphia Divinity School and was ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church in 1979.
Not long afterward, yearning for that simpler, more austere life she’d been drawn to in her study of the medieval Celtic hermits, she moved to the island-dotted coast of Maine, which has been her home base ever since. She now divides her time between a tiny hermitage on a remote coastal island and the small seaside village of Stonington, for much of the year making the six-mile trip back and forth in her own small boat.
The turning point in Cynthia’s journey came in 1990 when she ventured to St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado, for a ten-day Centering prayer retreat led by Fr. Thomas Keating. She returned in 1991 for a three-month residency, where she worked closely with Keating; for the next thirty years she would be his student, then editor, and finally colleague. During that time, she also met the hermit monk Raphael Robin, who became her close friend and spiritual partner. It was Rafe who taught her how to integrate the treasures of the Christian mystical and monastic paths with the mindfulness and self-inquiry practices they had both been powerfully drawn to in their independent encounters with The Gurdjieff Work.
After Rafe’s death in 1995, Cynthia accepted an invitation to move to Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, to help found a new organization called The Contemplative Society. It was there that the lineaments of Cynthia’s Wisdom teaching really began to take shape. Her pilot Wisdom School was offered there in July 1999, and twenty years later the Victoria-based Contemplative Society is still going strong and is our closest partner in the Wisdom Waypoints network. During those British Columbia years Cynthia also worked actively with a Sufi community in Vancouver, and the interspiritual dimensions of her Wisdom teaching took on increasing prominence. She also published her first book, Love Is Stronger than Death, sharing more widely the the teachings she’d learned during her time with Rafe.
After seven years in Canada, Cynthia returned to the States: at first back to Colorado, then ten years later, permanently back to Maine. During that time The Contemplative Society was joined by a growing number of “Wisdom Waypoints:” The Aspen Wisdom School in 2004, then shortly afterwards, Wisdom Southwest (Tucson, Arizona), Wisdom Southeast (Western North Carolina), and Wisdom Northeast in 2014. Schools and Wisdom hubs also grew up in the UK, New Zealand, South Africa, and Hong Kong, as Cynthia continued to roll out new books and found herself increasingly in demand as a conference and retreat leader. In 2013 she became a core faculty member of the center for Action and contemplation, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The strength of a lineage depends on the strength of its students, Cynthia believes. From the start she has taken an active interest in mentoring a new generation of Wisdom teachers and leaders, and it has been a joy to watch their emergence. You will meet many of them right here on this website, featured in the forum and profile sections, or leading the practices and book groups While retirement continues to elude her, she does steal as much time as she can for hermit solitude, exploring the spiritual cutting edges, and “messing about in boats.”
You learn more about the inner dimensions of Cynthia’s spiritual journey in her blog series I am not a Space that God does not Occupy.
Cynthia’s published articles cover a breadth of topics that take us on a journey toward a deeper embrace of our human frailty, messiness, and limitations as the very path and locus of transformation. Read up on Cynthia’s theological insights on the cutting edge between contemplation and “ordinary” life.
Cynthia’s Signature Work
Cynthia’s signature contribution to the Christian contemplative reawakening has focused on four main areas:
For more than thirty years Cynthia was a student, then colleague, of Fr. Thomas Keating, the renowned founder of the Centering Prayer movement. In addition to her own two books on the subject, she has also taught and offered Centering Prayer retreats worldwide, as well as an acclaimed online course on The Secret Embrace, Keating’s final work.
Centering Prayer is the path to a wonderful and radical new way of seeing the world. It is not, as is sometimes thought, simply an act of devotional piety, nor is it a Christianized form of other meditation methods. Cynthia cuts through the misconceptions to show that Centering Prayer is in fact a pioneering development within the Christian contemplative tradition.
In Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, Cynthia examines how the practice is related to the classic tradition of Christian contemplation; she looks at the distinct nuances of the method and explores its revolutionary potential to transform Christian life. In The Heart of Centering Prayer, Cynthia provides an overview and instruction to the practice and goes deeper to analyze what actually happens in Centering Prayer: the mind effectively switches to a new operating system that makes open-hearted, nondual perception possible.
Image: Cynthia and Thomas Keating
The Christian Wisdom Tradition
“Wisdom is not knowing more. It is knowing deeper, knowing with more of you,” writes Cynthia — and it is this different way of knowing that unlocks the real transformational force of Jesus’s still radically non-dual teaching. The Wisdom Way of Knowing and The Wisdom Jesus are Cynthia’s gateway books into this life-changing terrain.
The Wisdom Way of Knowing, which launched Cynthia’s reputation as a contemporary Wisdom teacher, was originally commissioned by the Fetzer Institute shortly after September 11, 2001, as part of their “Reawakening the American Dream” series.
The Wisdom Jesus has been a perennial favorite since its first appeared in 2008, offering tens of thousands of seekers worldwide a fresh start in a Christian faith they knew only too well. It has been translated into several languages, including most recently Latvian!
Image: This beautiful Wisdom Jesus ikon was created by Vancouver ikon writer Kathleen Symons.
The Christian Inner and Fourth Way Traditions
From the Gospel of Thomas to the “Fourth Way” of G.I. Gurdjieff, the Christian Inner (or Esoteric) tradition has been that branch of the Christian lineage most directly concerned with passing on the spiritual knowledge and practices that “put teeth” in Jesus’s radically transformative teaching.
Here you’ll find the practices of mindfulness, non-identification, conscience, three-centered awareness, and cosmic energy exchange, contexted against a metaphysical backdrop broad enough to let you see the fuller picture of our human purpose and responsibility in the wider scheme of things.
Cynthia has been a student of the Gurdjieff Work for nearly three decades, and her unique synthesis of Fourth Way and Christian mystical reference points has broken new ground not only for Christians but within the Work itself.
This work is showcased in her 2013 book The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three as well as her acclaimed book Eye of the Heart: A Spiritual Journey into the Imaginal Realm, which earned her a place on the prestigious 2021 Watkins List of “the hundred most spiritually influential people in the world.” In 2021 Cynthia provided additional instruction with the publication of Mystical Courage: Commentaries on Selected Contemplative Exercises by G.I. Gurdjieff, as Compiled by Joseph Azize.
Image: Cynthia teaching at a Claymont Wisdom School: Mr. Gurdjieff Meet Mr. Teilhard
The Path of Conscious Love
Could it be that love, desire, and longing all have a critical role to play as the driveshaft of creativity? What is the divine essence of desire and how can we begin to work with desire instead of against it? Cynthia explores the nature of eros, self-emptying, and creativity in Eye of the Heart, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene and Love is Stronger than Death.
Image: Cynthia’s teacher and spiritual partner, Rafe.
Upcoming Events With Cynthia
Ever had a question you wanted to ask Cynthia? Here’s your chance.
Here’s one question Cynthia answered from one of her Wisdom Schools: “What does inner awakening look or feel like from the inside? Can it be seen from the outside?”
Cynthia is the author of more than a dozen books—and counting! The topics explored in theme range widely within the her four core areas of interest: Centering Prayer, Christian Wisdom, The Western Esoteric Tradition, and Conscious Love. She is famous for both her bold, original insights and her accessible style.
These online courses provide an easy way to dive in deeper to some of Cynthia’s most powerful teachings without having to leave home! Each course offers self-paced email lessons that include video or audio recordings, written reflections, contemplative practices, and more.
“Meaning is Not Explanation
Cynthia Bourgeault Quotable Quotes
For Daily Practice
Compiled by Bill Britten, Photographer and Wisdom Student
“See from nonduality, act from compassion.”
“When you remove judgment, what’s left is compassion, not indifference.“The demand for compassion remains unchanged throughout the realms.”
“Compassion is the only field that contains all the perspectives.”
“Attention and surrender need to be in balance. They are the joysticks you use to navigate the cosmos.”
“Attention can’t be divided. It is whole. It can only be expanded.”
“Freed from the subject-object mode, attention magically turns into awareness.”
“The true self cannot be attained with the attention in subject-object mode. You can only find your true self in a place beyond the mind.”
“Centering prayer is all about the configuration of your attention.”
“What you pay attention to you energize.”
“Keep within! The hidden pearl within is your magnetic center, your equanimity, the Wisdom Way that you are cultivating.”
Sensing and Grounding
“As you learn to sense your feelings instead of immediately jumping up in your head and story, try going lower, into your feet, and even lower into the earth. The stability and support of the earth. What will flow through you will be your agency. The light that comes in your darkness will be your own.”
“The head will never get the motions that the body gets naturally. Surrender, obedience, attention. You can’t do equanimity in your head!”
“You can’t move a plank you’re standing on!
Sensation will move more easily than emotion or story.”
“Dwell not in WHAT you are, but THAT you are. From divided awareness to expanded awareness, using the modality of sensation.”
“Identification is one of our most insidious leeches on presence.”
“With gathered attention and sensation, and turning off the dominance of the mind, you will see. The reward for seeing is more seeing.”
“Start building a nest where your witnessing presence can live.”
“See from nonduality, act from compassion.”
“Get to know what meets you.
There is a personal aspect to the universal laws.”
“Being a willing participant in the relational field is the thing. What we contribute is the power to see and reflect. Attune your being to see what’s happening in the field. Beware the “incomplete observation.” As soon as you make judgment, you are not seeing.”
“Imaginal seeing matches Imaginal selfhood.”
Time and Timeless
“We perceive wisdom entering from a higher level as the future.”
“The timeless wisdom that comes to us from another realm when we wake up is what we know as the future.”
“The future is not what lies ahead, but the larger dimensions of the whole. The outer layers of meaning. The past doesn’t cause the future, wholeness does.”
“Hold attention as a resonant field, pay attention to the patterns. The price of admission is your narrative self, which is grounded in time.”
“When you do conscious work, or any act of altruism, it is for the future.”
“Time is a measure of resistance. Replace duration with volume and depth.”
“Letting go is a powerful act. Letting be creates new worlds.”
“Don’t correct back to positivity if what you want is equanimity.”
“Kenosis and self-calming are opposite ends of the spectrum.”
“Conscious labor and intentional suffering are the joysticks we use to navigate the universe.”
The Relational Field
“We derive our selfhood from the relational field. Nothing in the cosmos works in service to the individual.”
“Don’t watch the individual pieces, watch how they flow. The relational field has the properties, not each one of us.”
“Practices are not a means to get somewhere, but an expression of a relationship with something that is.”
“Health is in the quality and integrity of relationship. The drop is the ocean, not separated. The indwelling Divinity doesn’t replace you but suffuses you. So that what is hidden becomes manifest.”
“Align with the highest possible outcome when wrestling with judgment. Align with wholeness and love. Better than ‘choosing.’”
“All judgment not founded in love will be inaccurate. All negative perception is skewed.”
“True discernment happens in the Imaginal realm.”
“If the path is in front of you, and you’re not sure if it’s “true” — take the wager, do the work of transformation. It will be better than sleep, which is the alternative.”
“Limit the amount of spiritual information. Reach out and connect with your path. Avoid spiritual materialism.”
Holding Our Post
“Our job is to hold a post in the resonant field. Keep your attention in yourself. Keep within, don’t let your attention be scrambled. Don’t fall asleep. Look for opportunities to be present and give presence.”
‘The three centers of awareness need to be in dialogue in order for you to think and be.”
“Our talent, our gift, is our willingness to enter the reciprocal dance with whatever cards we’ve been dealt in this plane.”
“The fruits of the spirit are attained as we begin to live at a higher level of being.”
“Unbinding cleanses the lens of perception so we can see the abundance. To the extent that we touch and be in abundance in our own life, we become prophets of hope.”
“The deep surrender of self through Kenosis is the access path to abundance, not your will.”
Imaginal Causality: Exchange Between the Realms
“Imaginal causality is patterned. The heart is the instrument to read the patterns.”
“The three centers have to be online and balanced. Then we are able to maintain a stable access route to the higher information that’s always coming to us.”
“As you move into Imaginal causality, conscience takes the place of attraction and aversion as the mover of your being.”
“A conscious human being participates in the whole and generates the required radial energy through the transformed substance of their life.”
“What we call virtues or qualities in world 48 (our realm) are energy streams in world 24 (the Imaginal realm), subtle substances that are nutrients for our planet.”
“The fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) are alchemical byproducts of conscious work and intentional suffering. What flows out as these qualities is the fruit of an alchemy that goes on deep within our being, using our being as the raw material, in which who we are and our pleasures and self-maximization is somehow changed through conscious labor and intentional suffering.”