As part of her gruelling schedule on her recent visit to Vancouver Island, Cynthia Bourgeault spent Friday 30 September with 80 participants at St. George’s Anglian Church, Cadboro Bay, BC.

As well as teaching sessions, this day included some exposure to contemplative practice with silence, sacred chant and embodied movement.

The teaching sessions, based on the first two chapters of her small book, The Corner of Fourth and Nondual, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2022) were shorter than in a longer retreat and aimed at a more general audience than might be expected to attend a full retreat.

Here are notes from the day with a few quotes from chapters one and two of The Corner of Fourth and Nondual:

Centering Prayer is about cleansing the lens of perception.

There is a great difference between comprehending the knowledge of things and tasting the hidden life of them.

(Isaac Penington)

Beyond here there’s no map.
How you get there is where
you’ll arrive; how, dawn by
dawn, you can see your way 
clear: in ponds, sky, just as
woods you walk through give
to fields.  And rivers: beyond
all burning, you’ll cross on bridges
you’ve long lugged with you.
Whatever your route, go lightly,
toward light.  Once you give away
all save necessity, all’s
mostly well: what you used to
believe you owned is nothing,
nothing beside how you’ve come 
to feel.  You’ve no need now
to give in or give out: the way
you’re going your body seems
willing.  Slowly as it may
otherwise tell you, whatever
it comes to you’re bound to know.

by Philip Booth
(from his book Selves, 1990)

This is not about attaining higher states but about a way of seeing.

Centering Prayer is holding the mind in “objectless awareness”. You pattern this in Centering Prayer so you can hold it in a larger context.

You only get this by doing the practice of “Putting the mind in the heart,” “tasting the inner life of things.”

I am not using the word ‘heart’ metaphorically here. Throughout the Western Inner tradition, the heart is widely regarded as the primary instrument of divine insight, a principle first articulated by Jesus himself: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ When the heart is purified (i.e. freed of its captivity to the rational mind and personal emotional drama), it can assume its true function as an organ of spiritual perception, directly aligning itself with a greater clairvoyance that is in fact objective because it corresponds to an order of reality far higher and more coherent than the dichotomized mental projections we mistake for ‘objective’ in our own upside-down world.

The Corner of Fourth and Nondual, 20, 21

Where do our thoughts come from? We need to not evaluate from the lower mind – are these thoughts good or bad? from the ego? or higher? It’s not the mind that will answer. An answer comes more from the sensation of the inner body.

In Centering Prayer we let go of all thoughts.

If a thought comes from urgency or insistence, we see that it is probably from the ego. Deeper thoughts are quieter. The false self has an agenda with thoughts.

Letting go in Centering Prayer becomes a gift, an offering.

Emotion has a point of reference. Feeling is closer to sensation than story. It is the “hidden life of God moving through you.”

Why was there a need for manifestation? Why does love not “simply remain locked up within the endless unity?” (Fourth and Nondual, 33). Theology does not answer these questions.

1. Light is dark until it reaches something to bounce off.

“fallen” = going downward. We live in the “gross” ie. dense world.

There is a difference between density and fallenness. The idea of “fallenness” comes as a moral quality. Density is not a punishment for sin. Only in density can some of the finer qualities be revealed: forgiveness, fidelity, trust, etc. Intense friction allows this release of finer qualities.

Collapse the thing that pushes back and you have no backbone. These are precisely the conditions that are needed. The conditions of constriction are the birthing place for the finer qualities of love.

2. Love is not the starting point / alpha of creation’s journey, but its final destination / omega. God came into the world out of love, to be seen as we are. Creation is the vehicle of love’s full realization. God also yearns to be seen.

I was a hidden treasure and I longed to be known.

(from the Hadith Qudsi, the extra-koranic sayings of Islam).

The purpose of this entire divine journey into form is to make manifest the fullness of love, the innermost secret of the divine heart.

Agape love does not exist in a ‘natural’ state. It is an alchemical substance, forged when the raw primal force, eros, is subjected to the sacramental act of surrender, or kenosis.

Fourth and Nondual, 39

Eros yearns to be transformed to agape. Eros pushes “give me.” Eros is transformed when it steps back. Eros struggles when it reaches a cul-de-sac where it needs to be transformed into non-desiring. Third force needs to be brought, the willingness to surrender, letting go / letting be. Here eros is transformed into agape.

There is no such thing as agape, only agapaing. This is the generation of divine love.

When you encounter struggle, don’t walk out, remain present.

Our part is to bear the suffering of our own lives. This is not stupid suffering, not squeezing the cactus of suffering.

Suffering is real, ontologically necessary, and sacramental. I am not talking here about stupid suffering, our own conscious or unconscious complicity in stoking the fire. But beyond that, there remains an irreducible suffering which is the cost of manifestation itself, and the more we become clear and mature in our own being, the more we are both able and willing to take a part of that on. As we do this, our own lives become part of the continuing alchemy of divine love.

Fourth and Nondual, 40, 41

Behold the lamb who takes away the suffering of the world.

(John 1:29)

We share in this every time we muster up our little bit of surrender.

Our planet needs these finer nutrients now more than ever.