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The Seeing Heart and the Tools of Wisdom: Chapters VII, VIII & Epilogue of The Wisdom Way of Knowing


Welcome to Chapters VII, VIII and the Epilogue, in our continuing series of posts focusing on Cynthia Bourgeault's foundational work, The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming an Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart; where Wisdom postholders have shared, chapter by chapter, their experiences with this little book. You will find the links to previous posts in this series at the end of this post, along with a place to share your comments. Heather Ruce opens with her comments about Chapter VII, while Susan Latimer closes this post with her summary of Chapter VIII and the Epilogue. Chapter VII: Seeing with the Eye of the Heart, with Heather Ruce

Each morning we wake to find ourselves on a river upon which we have never been, we proceed in uncharted waters, and we do not know where we are headed. As Wisdom students we’ve learned that it is not so much about needing to know where we are going but rather knowing where to see from and how to find our way in unknown waters.

At this time, we are in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, economic fragility, and the many murders of people of color including Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd, culminating in uprisings about the ongoing and deep rooted racism and social injustice in the soils of our country. As we all continue to learn how to truly address the deeper levels of these realities in our predominant culture, our structures and in each and every one of us, we can be regrounding ourselves in Seeing with the Eye of the Heart, and returning to The Tools of Wisdom which support this aim.

Cynthia reminds us that our world is part of a vast inter-realmic, ever-changing, unfurling, dynamic “dance of becoming.” And no matter what external circumstances are taking place we can begin to pay attention to the more subtle ways these realms want to be in relationship with us and that the divine may want to manifest through us. She says:

There is always a kind of cosmic ‘downloading’ going on, as the divine qualities seek new streambeds to flow through, the imaginal realm presses against our physical one in an alchemy of transformation, aching, it seems, to come into finitude. And from our end, we live in the cosmos not as exiles yearning for the absolute but as alchemists and artists teasing the shape of the divine emerging out of the eternal and into the now. (p. 82)

Our common post right now is to become “alchemists and artists” able to perceive the “divine archetype” aching to come into form. Our portal into the “dance of becoming” is through “the power ofcreative perception”more closely understood as “a creative midwifery that has to do with intuiting the new patterns as they arise in the imaginal and helping birth them into form” (p. 83). In order to do this we must learn to see with the eye of the heart.

This is something that Cynthia has taught in some form or another in every book of hers and in every Wisdom School I have participated in. As her students, we’ve been training for times like we are in now. And yet it seems there is a quickening, an urgency to develop our capacity to see from the heart even more aptly. Humanity is on another precipice and in desperate need of midwives who can help birth something new into form. It is not inevitable that we will make the passage through this eye of the needle, but it will be less likely if we do not take up our role in the dance.

Cynthia says, “spiritually understood, the heart is an organ of astonishing perceptivity and versatility that when fully awakened and tuned allows us to play our part in the dynamism of creation.” This chapter brings us back to the familiar but never overstated truth that the heart is not the seat of our “personal emotional life.” An imperative distinction in a time when individual emotions run high and our global nervous system is activated. She returns to Kabir Helminski’s description of heart capacities as “psychic and extra sensory awareness; intuition; wisdom; a sense of unity; aesthetic, qualitative, and creative faculties; and image-forming and symbolic capacities. . . with an intuitive ability to pick up the signals from the imaginal realm” (p.85). Are we not being asked to cultivate these capacities even more fervently? With a precision and unshakable steadiness like never before?

Cynthia is clear: only as our heart comes into resonance with, and our entire being surrenders to, the qualities of divine intelligence, beginning with “love, mercy, and compassion,” can heart-knowing take place. “Creative perception is ultimately, then, an act of love” (p. 86). It is our imperative task to learn to see and know in these ways in order that we might live out our path of conscious love.

I spent several summers in my later teens as a white water raft guide. The river was itself in a perpetual state of change and although we could learn a stretch of the river with the rapids to be taken head on, the holes to be avoided, and the eddies to be found, we had to learn how to read water. I wouldn’t have recognized it at the time but this reading required presence in all three centers, in order to see what route was needed this time. If not present enough to see and respond to the deeper patterns of the water in each moment, each pass down the river, carnage would be the consequence.           

In the Wisdom tradition, the passions and “fantasies of our own mind” are what cloud the heart, distorting our ability to see and respond in the now. Cynthia shows us that we must purify the heart and this “begins with getting beyond ‘the fantasies of our own mind’—which for better or worse means bridling the imagination” (p.88). What can be observed in our current circumstances is an unbridled collective imagination. She tells us the undisciplined imagination is the only prerequisite for the devil “whatever one may take this to be, whether an external or internal contrary force” to enter. We don’t want fear, anger, or any other egregore (group thought-form) of the uninhibited imagination, to become the devil of our time. We need those who can see these collective mirages for what they are and contain the imagination “between the twin banks of attention (teaching it to stay put at a single point) and surrender (letting go of all phenomena as they occur)” (p. 90).

In this chapter, Cynthia brings us to the practice of lectio divina, or sacred reading as a way of gaining agency with the imagination. Through the ongoing engagement of this practice, “knowledge begins to deepen into understanding, and understanding into visionary seeing” (p. 92). And she tells us this “deepening understanding unfolds in four stages.” The first stage, the literal, “is all about facts and linear causality.” In the second stage, called Christological, one learns “how to see analogically, in terms of meaningful coincidences, symbols, and resonance.” The third, is called the “tropological “which means having to do with growth” and one “allows the images to form their own patterns and cross-weavings.” (p. 94). The fourth and final is called the “unitive” and “at this level of understanding, we become not only sensitive interpreters of the patterns but actual cocreators” (p. 95). The seeing becomes simultaneously an engendering. 

Can we wean ourselves from the “junk food” of passions and fantasies, and develop the eye of the heart that can read the text of our current circumstances, the river where the inter-realmic waters of the finite and the infinite meet? Can we surrender to the river in such utter vacuity that we become the river and as part of its coherence, fashion its course just as dance partners shape the pattern on the floor that is danced?

Cynthia teaches that once the eye of the heart is open, the artistry of conscience can begin. This conscience, she says: …is the heart’s own ability to see the divine hologram in any situation no matter how obscured, and to move spontaneously and without regard for its personal well-being in alignment with that divine wholeness. When conscience awakens in a person, it brings not only the obligation but also a mysterious ability to be present in exactly the right way. (p. 98)

It can begin to guide us down the river of the now as it discerns and moves as the coherence. We must tune our heart with collected haste. As Bill Redfield has said, “we no longer have the luxury of being Wisdom students;” we must take our place and become "Wisdom." Cynthia reminds us that we have support from the Conscious Circle of Humanity “to help negotiate a sharp bend in the highway of cultural history” (p 96). Are we not on a sharp bend in the highway, the river?

If we are going to read the water of this particular bend in the river, we are going to need to lean into the practices that tune our heart to perceive, but we cannot stop there. The Wisdom path is about perceiving and then moving into voice and action in the actual conditions of our lives, in the very particular moment of cultural history we are in. Right now there is wise action to be taken in this dense realm, and this has always been true, around the reckoning with the cultural history of colonization and alchemizing the embodied structural and systemic racialized identity system. I recognize the ‘we’ I am speaking to is not homogenous and therefore wise action will be varied.

There is wise action to be taken as we re-enter the world from our cells and houses amidst a virus that is still in our midst without trying to return to a capitalistic consumeristic ‘normal.’ But this work here, now, has to be approached from a qualitatively different mind, a mind that is deeply embedded in the actual heart, with its steady beat and heft and quality of aliveness rooted in the physical body on this plane and anchored in the imaginal realm. The Wisdom way only takes shape in the body and the transformation required must happen in the body, in our individual and collective cells. Our ancestors, the conscious circle of humanity, are here to support and guide us. Together we co-create a new intelligence and shape a new current. Chapter VIII: The Tools of Wisdom, with Susan Latimer Finally, in Chapter VIII Cynthia reminds us of the tools we have to awaken our hearts, the task to which we were born: “...only with awakened hearts are we actually able to fulfill our purpose within the cosmos and take our place in that great dance of divine manifestation” (p. 100). 

In our current reality, when most of us are unable to gather in person, Cynthia’s words ring out: ...Start with what you have.... Remember that this awakening is intended.... An inner yes is all it takes. Once the willingness to begin takes over in you, whatever you need will come to you. And you’ll be able to recognize it. (p. 113)

You do not need a group. You do not need an in-person retreat. Yes, those things can make it easier, but they are not necessary. We have everything that we need in order to begin, or continue, our Wisdom path. 

Here are the tools of Wisdom. A reminder for most of us, to continue to build these into our days: Presence Meditation Sacred Chanting Lectio Divina Surrender

A few words on each.

Presence Strive for Three-centered awareness. For most of us that means building a STOP exercise into our day where we sense our feet or return to our breath in order to awaken the moving center. 

The Benedictine rhythm of Ora et Labora can also enliven our days, particularly if our physical, practical work is done with attention—conscious practical work. 

Meditation Centering Prayer, with its practice of kenosis, letting go, remains the primary practice for Wisdom seekers. There are now online resources for learning centering prayer. The goal of meditation is not to attain “prolonged states of altered consciousness” (p. 104). The goal is to become fully conscious and present in daily life. 

Sacred Chanting Chanting is my go-to practice. When I am unable to do anything else, I chant. 

During my 8 months of treatment for stage 3 breast cancer in 2017, I was unable to do Centering Prayer. But I knew that chanting was needed for my healing, and I chanted daily. Chanting wakes up the emotional, or feeling, center, and “sets it vibrating to the frequency of love and adoration, while feeding the body with that mysterious higher ‘being food’ of divine life” (p. 105). I am quite convinced that the primary reason that my voice was not affected by the high doses of chemo and radiation that my body was subjected to is because I was “irrigating my body with healing vibration” (Therese Schroeder-Sheker, in a personal correspondence). When we chant we use breath and tone—out of which “the divine Source brought the created realm into being” (p. 105). Cynthia reminds us that our true voice reveals our true self.

Chanting in a Time of Covid-19

As we all know, chanting in a group is a powerful practice. And now most of us are unable to do that, for the foreseeable future, because of the way that this virus spreads through the air. Even before this pandemic, I would often listen to a body of chant (like Paulette Meier’s beautiful Quaker chant collections, or Darlene Franz’s wisdom chants) and sing along. Although it is not the same, we can chant together in real time, through Zoom. Currently, Elizabeth Combs and I are offering a weekly chanting session that is open to all; click here for more information and to join the Wednesday chant gathering.

Lectio Divina A way of “ingesting" the Word. If you are not already doing this, try “replacing the morning news with fifteen-twenty minutes of lectio" on any sacred text you choose (p. 110). 

Surrender Cynthia reminds us that: “Surrender is the awakening of the heart.” Surrender underlies all of our Wisdom practices, and that, without it, “all the other spiritual practices remain merely pious busywork.” Cynthia quotes Kabir Helminski: “Surrender is always ‘being actively receptive to an intelligence that is greater than that of ourselves ‘” (p. 111).

Finally, a few quotes from the Epilogue

“…when the eye of the heart has been purified it can look directly into the imaginal realm and clearly perceive what has not yet been born in time…” (p.117)

Many of us have been astounded at the timing: how Cynthia’s first Mega Wisdom School in 2015 was made available through the Center for Action and Contemplation just last August in 2019, and that the Divine Exchange Wisdom School of 2018 is now up, just a few weeks ago, in 2020. The Northeast Wisdom Council started what have become Wisdom practice circles through Zoom just this past January, 2020. It seems we have been tapping into the imaginal so that Wisdom teaching is available to all who have internet access, even in this strange time of global pandemic. 

I will end with Cynthia’s last words of the book: ....the shortest course in Wisdom is never about ideas and practices. It is about traversing those twelve inches between the head and the heart. (p. 119)

What a time for Wisdom!


Heather Ruce contributes to the Wisdom community in many ways, most recently offering a contemplative retreat near her home in southern California entitled "An Introduction to A Wisdom Way of Knowing: What the Christian Path Has to Offer"; working as a TA for the CAC's Introductory Wisdom School 14 week courses; offering Wisdom practice circles, lectio divina groups, ongoing Collective Pause Meditation & Practice; and currently holding the post for the ongoing the Friday morning Wisdom Meditation through Northeast Wisdom.

Her latest contribution to the Northeast Wisdom website is a three-post series of eight Inner Tasks, called: "Self-Remembering, Self-Observation and Observing the Centers" posted here in Breaking Ground and easily found on the Inner Practice page of Resources. These exercises are based on the Gurdjieff Work in this Wisdom lineage, work that profoundly resonated in her initially at a Wisdom School in 2012. It wove together the threads of her studies in psychology, somatic experiencing, and spirituality—grounding and enlarging them in a deep tradition and set of maps and have become an integral part of her life in her ongoing practice and mentorship with Gurdjieff Movements teacher Deborah Rose Longo, who she assisted at the Claymont Center in West Virginia in October and December 2019 during Cynthia Bourgeault's "Mr. Gurdjieff Meet Mr. Teilhard" retreats. Heather has contributed to several posts on Northeast Wisdom. You may find links to those posts, her website and read more about Heather on her Seedlings page here on Northeast Wisdom.

Susan Latimer says: I was born and raised in Southern California and spent most of my time outside or singing and playing the piano. From an early age I found God in Creation. After a Master’s Degree in music performance, a long time of discernment led me from music to the Episcopal priesthood as a vocation. This year I celebrate 28 years of ordination. I am married and have two grown sons, and am currently the Rector of The Church of the Good Shepherd in Hemet, CA. 

From the beginning I longed for an embodied Christianity, one that really took the incarnation seriously. I found some pieces in my work with Linda Kohanov (Eponaquest), through experiential work with horses, in the mid 2000s. There I first learned to sense my body, to learn from it, and to sense connection at the heart level with another sentient being—the horse. But when I finally attended a Wisdom School (Kanuga, 2015) led by Cynthia Bourgeault I knew I had found what I longed for. Since then I have led Wisdom practice circles and retreats in Tampa, been in Law of Three practice groups, moved back home to Southern CA, begun to write sacred chants, attended many Wisdom Schools, worked as a TA for the Center for Action & Contemplation for Cynthia’s Introductory Wisdom School e-course, co-led a Wisdom practice circle with Heather Ruce through Northeast Wisdom, and led retreats on Living and Dying as Spiritual Pilgrimage, and The Spirituality of the Voice. I have also been blessed to study in the contemplative musicianship program with Therese Schroeder-Sheker.


A Note from Northeast Wisdom:

Northeast Wisdom encourages individuals and groups of all kinds to take up the study of The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming an Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart by Cynthia Bourgeault this year. Won't you join us?

Thank you for visiting these chapter posts on Cynthia Bourgeault's book The Wisdom Way of Knowing, gathered and contributed in the winter, into spring, of 2020 by the Northeast Wisdom Study Group postholders. The posts on the first six chapters of the book may be found at these links:

Image credits in this post were all found on Unsplash. Thank you for your service! From the top: images of river through the buttes, courtesy of Tommy Lisbin, Unsplash; image of rainbow in river courtesy Wolfgang Hasselmann, Unsplash; image of reflected upside down river courtesy of Elijah Heitt, Unsplash; image of bend in river with thick fog courtesy of Johny Goerend, Unsplash; image of sun rays on canyon river courtesy of Tom Gainor, Unsplash; image of fire beside river courtesy of Nikita Velikanin, unsplash; and photo of Heather courtesy of Heather Ruce, and photo of Susan courtesy of Susan Latimer.


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