Our Founding Teacher

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.

In Her Own Words

The Christian Spiritual Arts
The Interspiritual Rainbow
The Future of Contemplation

Cynthia’s Signature Work

Cynthia’s signature contribution to the Christian contemplative reawakening has focused on four main areas: Centering Prayer, the Christian Wisdom Tradition, the Christian Inner and Fourth Way Traditions, and the Path of Conscious Love.

Centering Prayer

Cynthia and Father Thomas Keating

For more than thirty years Cynthia was a student, then colleague, of Father 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.

The Christian Wisdom Tradition

Wisdom Jesus ikon created by ikon writer Kathleen Symons.

“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.

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.

Cynthia teaching at a Claymont Wisdom School.

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.

The Path of Conscious Love

Cynthia’s teacher and spiritual partner, Rafe.

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.

Cynthia’s Biography

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.”

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.