Mind, Body, Heart
Developing a Wise Presence
Tuesday, February 18, 2020
CAC Faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault shares how Three-Centered Awareness—heart, mind, and body—allows us to be fully present to ourselves, our lives, and God.
When a person is poised in all three centers, balanced and alertly there, a shift happens in consciousness. Rather than being trapped in our usual mind, with its well-formed rut tracks of issues and agendas and ways of thinking, we seem to come from a deeper, steadier, and quieter place. We are present, in the words of Wisdom tradition, fully occupying the now in which we find ourselves. Presence is the straight and narrow gate through which one passes to Wisdom.
This state of presence is extraordinarily important to know and taste in oneself. For sacred tradition is emphatic in its insistence that real Wisdom can be given and received only in a state of presence, with all three centers of our being engaged and awake. Anything less is known in the tradition as “sleep.” It is like the disciple Peter suddenly sinking beneath the surface of the waters [Matthew 14:30].
Everybody has all three centers (head, heart, moving) in them. Most people are born into the world favoring one center or another. We learn to make one our dominant center for our own orientation to the world. And in the Western culture, I would say that’s overwhelmingly, shockingly, the intellectual center. In traditional schools, that’s the capacity we train, with maybe a little bit of space left for the kinesthetic moving center through sports programs, and virtually nothing for the emotional center. Any budget cutback and what leaves? Arts and music, the primary channels through which the emotional center is still trained. So in the West we’re formed as heavily lopsided intellectual-center-oriented beings. That’s how most of us get our start.
In pop culture, we say, “Well, find your center, acknowledge it, and live in it.” But the inner tradition work calls us to develop our under-utilized centers. If we over-use the intellectual center, then our work lies in bringing the emotional and moving centers fully online and integrating them.
The “work” is to discover our starting position and reach out to incorporate the other two so that they are fully—and in a balanced way—part of our perceptual center. Whatever center you may find yourself to be, don’t detain yourself on it, because it immediately sets out your job of discovering where the other two are hiding inside yourself and bringing them forward. It’s only when you have balanced the three centers—kinesthetic moving center, emotional center, and intellectual center—and integrated them that you become conscious. We’ve got to have all three as the basis of a good, strong tripod before we’re really awake.
Adapted from Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming an Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart (Jossey-Bass: 2003), 36, 37; and
An Introductory Wisdom School with Cynthia Bourgeault: Course Transcript & Companion Guide (Wisdom Way of Knowing: 2017), 11. Now available through the online course, Introductory Wisdom School (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2019).