Cynthia Bourgeault: The Heart of Silence (Part One)

Cynthia Bourgeault has embraced silence and the contemplative life from a variety of perspectives: as a child in Quaker schools, as an Episcopal priest, as a student of the Gurdjieff “Fourth Way” and of centering prayer working with Fr. Thomas Keating, and now as a teacher both in her own Wisdom Schools and as part of the Living School. She is also the author of numerous books and a widely sought-after speaker and retreat leader. Joining us via Skype from Tucson shortly before she led a retreat, she offers a wide-ranging, insightful conversation on topics ranging from mysticism to inner transformation to the practical ways to develop contemplative culture in an ordinary neighborhood church — and why the local parish may not be the ideal environment for fostering deep interior work.

This is part one of a two-part interview.

Encountering Silence talks to Cynthia Bourgeault

When people gather in silence, a deeper kind of  collective, synergistic, numinous knowing unfolds. And that’s the only knowing that’s worth a damn, particularly when you’re working with the infinite. — Cynthia Bourgeault

Cynthia shares how her love for silence originated with her early education in Quaker schools, where she recognized silence as a “liturgical expression and mode of divine communion.” There she discovered silence not merely as the absence of noise, but as a sacred container of presence.  For her, after a long meandering journey from Christian Science to Episcopal ordination, she became (in her words) a “Trappist junkie” as she began to study centering prayer with Fr. Thomas Keating, which for her meant a coming home to the silence she had learned to love as a child.

You can’t do infinite truth in a dialogical, debating mode. — Cynthia Bourgeault

She offers keen insight into the dynamic interplay not only between silence and religion, but also silence as a medium by which we can experience inner transformation — a rewiring of our inner “operating system” as we move from the dualistic consciousness that is encoded in our language to the radical nonduality that only contemplative silence can reveal. With insights into the relationship between silence and philosophy, silence and psychology (including the ways in which western psychology misunderstands silence), and how monastic practices have encoded rich tools for using silence as a way to access nondual seeing, Bourgeault offers a rich and compelling statement for how silence is literally crucial for human growth, development, wellness, and knowing.

Centering Prayer, in complete alignment with the radically surrendered heart of Christ, offers Christians a way to jump into the deep luminous river of silence, and to know in a different way… it’s a 100% Christian experience of the deeper waters of silence.” — Cynthia Bourgeault

Some of the resources and authors we mention in this episode:

Silence for me is like the air I breathe; it’s not a place I go to, it’s not a thing to be worshiped in and of itself; it’s a pathway in to something that emerges through it and in it. — Cynthia Bourgeault

Episode 58: Encountering the Heart of Silence: A Conversation with Cynthia Bourgeault (Part One)
Hosted by: Carl McColman
With: Cassidy Hall, Kevin Johnson
Guest: The Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault, PhD
Date Recorded: February 25, 2019

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