What Is a Wisdom School?

Wisdom School at Kanuga

From time immemorial Wisdom Schools have emerged in times of global crisis or on the cusp of great leaps in human consciousness in order to help shepherd our planet through the transition. While there is academic teaching that goes on here, that is not the primary business of a Wisdom school; the primary business to help anchor human wholeness and to work with the core practices that sustain the transformation of consciousness. Here at Wisdom Waypoints we take both that lineage and that mandate seriously. 

Classically our Wisdom Schools have been “movable feasts,” gathering in various different geographical regions for about six days of on-the-ground, integrative work. This length of time seems to be workable for most people: short enough to remain affordable but long enough to catalyze real inner shifts. Our gathering places are nearly always either monasteries or retreat centers run by a resident spiritual community, where the path is being actively lived on a daily basis. We look for places that are welcoming, informal, preferably simple and attuned to the natural world, and above all, spiritually authentic.

As demand has grown and corona virus pandemic has severely curtained on-the-ground gatherings, the online Introductory Wisdom School has become increasingly popular. The full school consists of two segments: The Introductory Wisdom School and The Divine Exchange. Both segments are offered several times a year in partnership with The Center for Action and Contemplation. LINK 

The Wisdom Curriculum

Introductory Wisdom School provides a pioneering opportunity for experienced meditators to begin to allow the transformation of consciousness inevitably set in motion by this practice to open the gateways to a wider and deeper understanding of the Christian Wisdom tradition. Each day includes teaching sessions, periods of meditation, mindful work, sharing, discussions, and simple contemplative liturgy. Part I focuses on Three Centered Knowing, The Benedictine Wisdom Lineage, and The Way of the Heart.  Part II, “The Divine Exchange” offers a further exploration of the spiritual and metaphysical foundations of the Christian Wisdom Tradition, together with deepening work on the core spiritual practices.

Once these segments are completed, the path branches. Students are free to pick and choose among a variety of “special topics” Wisdom Schools, offered periodically as interest dictates. Past topics have included Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Jacob Boehme, Mary Magdalene, The Desert Fathers and Mothers, and the Holy Trinity, as well as foundational practices such as Attention, Surrender, and Unitive Seeing. Many of these Schools have been preserved in both video and audio formats; you’ll find them listed in Wisdom Resources under the audio or video and podcasts. New schools are being added all the time.

The Wisdom Leadership School, offered periodically as the need dictates, is a two-session training program opened to seasoned Wisdom students seeking to become more confident teachers and facilitators of Wisdom Work. It is expected that prospective students will have participated in a number of advanced wisdom schools and will also be actively involved in facilitating a local contemplative practice circle or Wisdom reading group before applying to the Wisdom Leadership school.

Wisdom Retreats are intended to deepen meditation practice and to offer participants an immersion in the profound transformational energy of the Christian liturgical year, particularly around its high points in Holy Week, Advent, Ascension-to-Pentecost, and All Saints. These retreats are open to all without prerequisites.

Practice Circles are smaller, ongoing, and typically member-led groups that form locally to deepen spiritual practice and to share teaching and community. These are open to all on a first come, first served basis. You’ll find them listed here.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Wisdom?

First, let’s talk about what Wisdom is not. It is not a curriculum, a philosophy, a metaphysical system, or a set of esoteric ideas. An underground stream running through all the great spiritual traditions, it is not exclusively identified with any of them, and it can wear the theological and devotional garb of all of them.

Wisdom fundamentally describes a higher level of human consciousness characterized by a supple and alert awareness, compassionate intelligence, a substantial reduction in the “internal dialogue,” and the capacity to engage reality directly, without the superimposition of mental constructs and categories. It is the original Integral Knowing.

Wisdom is not about knowing more, but about knowing deeper, with more of you participating. It is fundamentally accessed through spiritual practice.

What is a Wisdom School?

It is a gathering designed to support this breakthrough to a new level of consciousness through a balanced daily rhythm of prayer and meditation, cognitive learning, and practical physical work.

Since time immemorial Wisdom schools have formed at times of great spiritual and cultural transition as a crucible of transformation and a meeting ground between ancient, time-tested practices and emerging spiritual insight. The core principle is the assertion that Wisdom cannot be accessed by the mind alone; it requires a transformation of the entire being.

Are Wisdom Schools “Christian?”

As the great medieval mystic Meister Eckhart once observed, “No being without a mode of being.” Though Wisdom is deeper than any one spiritual tradition, it only expresses itself authentically within the particularity of a given tradition. It is not a synthetic “transcendent unity of all religions,” to be extrapolated from the various traditions and embraced as a path in its own right; it can only be accessed through a specific gate. From that gate, it leads from the surface to the depth dimension of whichever tradition it illuminates. There, at that depth dimension, the transcendent unity does in fact brightly glow, but it can never be accessed by the mind, only by the heart. Wisdom is always and only the finger pointing to the moon.

In the Wisdom Schools that I lead, the gate is Christianity. While our schools are deeply informed by the wisdom of all sacred traditions, our anchor is in the Christian mystical tradition, and our spiritual practice is firmly grounded in the classic Christian disciplines of contemplative prayer, lectio divina, and chanted psalmody. The great Benedictine model of “ora et labora”—“prayer and work”—furnishes our basic template for transformation.

How is a Wisdom School different from a retreat or a seminar?

Precisely in this dimension of balanced movement from prayer to work, from intellectual stimulation to silence—and back again. Wisdom School has more talking than a meditation retreat, more silence and physical embodiment than a seminar. The Wisdom model suggests that it is not through specialization in any one mode (contemplative silence, thinking, bodywork) that one learns Wisdom, but through the ability to move smoothly and rhythmically through all these modes without getting stuck in any one of them.

How does Wisdom differ from contemplative practice?

In our own Christian Wisdom lineage (see question 3, above), contemplative practice —i.e. meditation, lectio divina, contemplative chanting and psalmody, and the Benedictine rhythm of Ora et Labora (“prayer and work”)— is foundational to all Wisdom work, and our schools are anchored in these fundamental daily practices. But Wisdom adds to this mix the elements of mindfulness, conscious attention, and embodied presence, and there is a greater emphasis on the Gospel of Thomas as a core text for spiritual transformation. We approach the traditional contemplative practices through the lens of conscious inner awakening.

How long do Wisdom Schools last?

Typically Wisdom Schools run for five or six days, but this is more a matter of expediency than of principle. In addition to single session schools, there are also two-session and three-session schools, and plans are underway for a longer school.

Where are Wisdom Schools held?

Currently they are being offered in all quadrants of the United States: Southwest (Tucson, Arizona), Southeast (Valle Crucis, North Carolina), Northeast (Hudson Valley, New York), North Central (Collegeville, Minnesota), and Northwest (Seattle, WA). There are also periodic schools in Western Canada, New Zealand, and Scotland.

What kinds of Wisdom Schools are offered?

There are introductory Wisdom Schools, offering a foundation in Wisdom practice and exploring core Christian texts from a Wisdom perspective. There are also advanced Wisdom Schools, delving more deeply into a specific text or practice area and open to anyone who has completed a basic Wisdom School. From time to time we also offer a Wisdom Leadership School, focusing on deeper formation for Wisdom leadership. In addition to Wisdom Schools per se, there are also teaching retreats and meditation retreats intended to deepen practice in specific areas, and also to offer participants an immersion in the profound transformational energy of the Christian liturgical year, particularly around its high points in Holy Week, Advent, Ascension-to-Pentecost, and All Saints.

If I’ve already been to a basic Wisdom School, is there any point in signing up for another?

Yes, for two reasons. Since Wisdom is formational more than cognitive, you will inevitably hear the “same” material in a whole different way, at a whole new level of your being. And second, budding Wisdom teachers learn through apprenticeship and service; there are no “certification” programs because Wisdom can only be its own certification! Returning students serve as de facto interns, helping newcomers to acclimate more quickly to the program and sometimes taking small leadership roles as work team captains, liturgists, and discussion group facilitators.

Why do Wisdom Schools fill up so quickly?

Wisdom Schools tend to constellate at times of great spiritual and cultural transition, and our present era is certainly one of these times! As traditional forms of Christian teaching and transmission—churches, seminaries, monasteries—are all in crisis and people are hungering for authentic spiritual formation in a world desperately in need of new vision and deeper staying power, Wisdom Schools offer a vibrant meeting ground of roots and wings: time-honored, deep practices combined with a new expansiveness of vision and practical skills to take home with you. No wonder they’re popular!

The Stonington Wisdom Ingathering

An annual highlight of our Wisdom program is the Stonington Wisdom Ingathering, which takes place the first week in June in Cynthia Bourgeault’s hometown, the picturesque fishing village of Stonington, Maine. During that week Wisdom students take over the town, renting local accommodations (at pre-season rates), eating in the local restaurants, and gathering for teaching and practice in the town’s iconic town hall. A day is set aside entirely for local adventures, and a collaboratively led children’s program makes this a unique opportunity to combine Wisdom school with a family vacation.  We’ll let you know on the events calendar when 2022 dates have been set. 

Recorded Wisdom Schools

An Encounter with Evil Wisdom School with Cynthia Bourgeault

In this timely advanced wisdom school course, we will be inquiring into the nature and presence of evil as a discernible force, with a focus on these key questions: What is a useful, contemporary understanding of evil? How can we effectively deal with evil, at both an individual and collective scale?

Building Second Body
Building Second Body

The recordings provided here were filmed live at a small Wisdom gathering in Stonington Maine in June 2022. This new teaching series has been curated from a selection of those recorded sessions, offering a unique and practical set of instructions for developing the spiritual substances and conscious presence so needed in our world today.

Imaginal Wisdom School with Cynthia Bourgeault

This eCourse includes over 40 sessions filmed live during a five-day Imaginal Wisdom School with Cynthia Bourgeault at the Valle Crucis Conference Center in North Carolina August 16-21, 2020.

Integral Light Shining in the Dark: An Advent Teaching and Wisdom Retreat

In this groundbreaking teaching Cynthia Bourgeault draws on Jean Gebser’s Integral Evolutionary theory and practical exercises developed by G. I Gurdjieff to illuminate classic Advent themes. This offering includes over 15 hours of audio recordings as well as optional participation in four live, facilitated online sessions for group interactive discussion and practice.

The Divine Exchange Wisdom School: 14-week online course by Cynthia offered by the Center for Action and Contemplation

This course is a continuation of Cynthia’s Introductory Wisdom School, delving deeply into the principle of exchange (“giving-is-receiving”), the spiritual foundation of The Christian Wisdom tradition. Cynthia Bourgeault is a long-time student of the Christian contemplative and Wisdom paths and is a core faculty member of the CAC and Living School. Christian Wisdom teachings have…