I am at a three day meditation/teaching retreat/workshop with Cynthia Bourgeault being held on Pender Island at Poet’s Cove. I will post my notes from Cynthia’s teaching while I am here. (Warning: I will edit these notes a little, but basically post them as I type them. They will be unusually long for posts on this site. Also these are my notes, I apologize for any misrepresentation of Cynthia’s words.)

Wednesday April 17, 2013 7:00 p.m.

Our time together will be built around a paper by Sr. Constance Fitzgerald titled “FROM IMPASSE TO PROPHETIC HOPE: CRISIS OF MEMORY”  which she presented to the Catholic Theological Society of America in 2009.

Fitzgerald had written an article on impasse and the dark night of the soul which was the impetus for her to be invited in 2009 to give a paper to the CTSA. Impasse is a situation in which we find ourselves totally check mated. We can’t move one way or another. She puts together how the wisdom of the contemplative ancient masters can be used as a paradigm for working with human condition.

Takes model of impasse and dark night of the soul and John of the Cross’ dark night of the spirit and uses it to bring light  to thorniest and most painful cultural impasse of our time – healing of memory, release of victim  identity. How do we remember rightly in a way that is in solidarity with victims? How do we remember in such a way that atrocity isn’t repeated? how do we remember without becoming so fixated on these memories that we inadvertently perpetuate cycles of violence?

These are particularly poignant questions in our post-Holocaust generation.

Why can the three great Abrahamic religions not yet come to peace in Jerusalem. It has something to do with what remembering really means. Contemplative practice and the legacy of teaching in the great spiritual traditions of west and east might just be of use in helping us move beyond paradigms that are simply at an impasse.

Fitzgerald’s article is ground-breaking because many people in this room probably are aware of John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila and have encountered concepts like dark night of soul, purification of the self, deep release of ego – you may know these concepts but this is the first time that a person deeply grounded in this contemplative work has taken a paradigm from the contemplative journey and presents it to society saying maybe this could be useful to help us reframe a dilemma we don’t seem to be able to get out of.

This opens really important new avenues of possibility and societal usefulness.

When I entered the contemplative path in a serious way back in the 80’s, everything was centered around personal models.”I am purifying myself.” It all had a really psych9logical cast, framed as personal wellness work.  In the 20 years I have been working with this there has been a shift to an awareness that what contemplative practice does is open up the capacity for prophecy and for prophetic action.

Prophecy is not foretelling the future. It is forthtelling because it enables you to see from a deeper and clearer place. You begin to see what’s coming into time. Contemplatives have been, despite themselves, moving ahead to have a real impact on the culture. There is a clarity for speaking and a recognition that there are paradigms that can be brought forth to a world where the only thing that is in impasse is egoic models.s

For Jesus there was no ditinction between sacred and secular. It was all secular. Jesus was in the streets. He made things sacred by living in them out of wholeness and non-judgement. That is the only way to ever make anything sacred. You start where you are  and hallow it by the quality of your presence.

These mindless cycles of greed and violence our culture is trapped in are just going to keep playing themselves out until we reach deeper into the barrel. We need to work more deeply and consciously if we are going to grow up and get over some of the standard cliches of the contemplative life.

There is a demand and a possibility for the human mind which is infinitely quick and flexible and spacious when contained in a human heart that is alive. Plow it all into the ground of the heart and bring that higher heart knowing like a great surrounding intelligence.

Stimulating ideas and challenging concepts can deepen intelligence. Silence becomes the fallow ground in which something deeper is invited to participate in what we have been working on and carry it to a new level.

We are going to be exploring that rhythm. If you take it down into your silence and realize that silence is a way of knowing, you will find that there is an even keel where you can work through the multiple demands of being together.

If you take all paradoxes as creative opportunities to bring a third force into play you will find your way into a contemplative aliveness. We need to do all that we do in a wisdom way.

Key concept in the Fitzgerald article – Book III of Ascent of Mt. Carmel John of the Cross lays out a transition that takes place in the spiritual life. He calls it the “dark night of spirit”. One of the characteristic things that happens in this passage is a certain displacement of memory. It becomes no longer the functional sense of your identity. It is this that Fitzgerald builds her whole argument on.

We have had for a long time a model of the spiritual journey in three stages:

1. purgative – We come in and do elementary spiritual work, confronting grosser deformations of our psychological small self being

2. illumantive – This state is equated with modern egoic high functioning. It is a comfortable relationship in which I enjoy a deep experience that the power of God is intimate with me; God and I are working together. God is my co-pilot. There is a sense of moving effectively so my being is in harmony with God. I am moving in resonance with the divine plan for my being. For many people journey ends here.

Then there is a deep sandpit – this is the dark night of spirit. On the other side of this pit there is a third state –

3. the unitive state – Most the language that describes this state is bridal language. We speak of conjugal union with God and a more intimate oneing of our soul with the divine soul. Generally this is depicted as going  beyond the illumnaitive. But in fact something much deeper and more radical is going on here. The whole veil of selfhood that separated you in the first place simply disappears.

All along selfhood was an illusion generated by the operating system you were using to perceive reality, an operating system that could only perceive by separating. “I am me because I am not Allyson.” In this old operating system, we perceive by differentiation. I am not God. The creature is not the Creator.

But in the “unitive state” the wole operating system that perceives by differentiation is changed. There is no longer any need for any perceptual separation; so there is no longer any need for union. This unitive state is a re-wiring of the operating system. You are not perceiving from separation. You are no longer the you that is separated from God. But you are also no longer a separate selfhood. There aren’t two loves.

We need to see this dark night of the spirit passage as having to do with changing the basic main mechanisms of consciousness that support separated consciousness.

The first and earlier dark night, the dark night of sense, is much easier to comprehend. Keating calls the dark night of sense “the unloading of the unconscious.” In this “unloading” you begin to become more aware of your false self agendas, your reliance on consolations, your esteem affection programs, your conditioning both cultural and conditional. You become aware of these things and they begin to drop away.

You think  you are going higher and higher but you find that you are going lower and lower all you are doing is staring at your own little pile of stuff that you can’t escape. “Once it’s them, more than once it’s you”(my daughter Lucy).

If we keep getting screwed up at the same stage, it is probably because we are putting out the same energy.

When we crawl out the other side of that trap, we properly enter the illuminative stage. We are less drama queens than we were twenty years ago. You get in the way of yourself less; you cause less trouble for others. You have some skills for stepping aside and seeing what’s happening without hating yourself.

the dark night of spirit as described by John of the Cross is a rewiring that supports a whole different consciousness. The reason we hang on to our egoic operating system so long is that it is an energy accumulator. We see success, this swelling up in us that I am doing what I was put on earth to do. You get energy to run the creature. But when you don’t get this energy there doesn’t seem to be any vital energy coming in. You enter a constant pointless black sea because there isn’t any egoic feeding entering in. The egoic operating system is effective in extracting enough energy from the world so we can get up and go on, but it limits our ability to draw from the vertical axis.

When the dark night of the spirit kicks in you are no longer going be able to draw life energy from bios, the egoic impressions that come in this life. You have to draw life from the direct source.

The dark night of the spirit kicks in in mature people who have been faithful to the path for a long time. All of a sudden the old things give you no kick any more.

We find in the stillness that there is a feeding that comes from zoe the life force itself. That is what happens in this transition. You are not going to be drawing life energy or identity from your old egoic games. There is not going to be a story of you that you can tell over and over. There is a drawing all the time from the manna of heaven.

There is a whole different way of belonging, a whole different way of drawing identity. One of the most important aspects of this is a disclocation of memory, a kind of “So what?” Memory becomes unhinged. Never again will you be able to use memory as the tie-rod of your identity. This is revolutionary in terms of culture. People say memory is the foundation of self-hood. The idea that memory could drop out is terrifying to people.  It looks like a complete collapse of anything we know as self-hood as a definer of the human being.

In this dark night of spirit, memory is no longer the seat of self-hood. It is exposed as only the seat of provisional, or transitory self-hood. There is a different kind of memory that comes in that attaches us to a different order of self-hood. You lose the particle form of yourself and become the wave form of yourself.

Memory loses its capacity to define our identity. Wouldn’t it be curious if we could find something in this passage that speaks to our cultural place in which we are told to cling to memory, but memory is driving us crazy?

Using the egoic operating system you are always going to get stuck in your story. You can’t mvoe a plank you are standing on. You get stuck when you are standing on the plank of your story.

“you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3) There is a hiddenness that is wrapped around an energy stream in which we receive our identity in a different way that relativizes our story, letting it go is the only way we can live.

Until we move beyond our fixation with our story, we will stay stuck. We hold slavishly to our story because we don’t know how to move beyond it. There is a new stage which psychology is only at the early dawn of articulating. For most of psychology the goal is to get a better working egoic self, but it is still an egoic self. Jung had a hard time imagining there could be consciousness without ego.

There are models that talk about ego-less consciousness, self-hood without the dominion of personal self-hood in which a certain particle form of your being moves into wave position. You can move back into dong things but don’t take your identity from there. This is the condition for true forgiveness.

This is not about spiritual by-passing, using spiritual ability to check out of muckiness of human condition. This is not about cheap forgiveness.