Mind, Body, Heart
Our Three Intelligences
Monday, February 17, 2020
After her theological training and ordination in the Episcopal tradition, my friend Cynthia Bourgeault has spent much of the last two decades teaching the Wisdom tradition in a Christian context. You are about to read something that it took me most of my life to begin to comprehend! I admire Cynthia’s unique insights and ability to bring together the ancient wisdom of Christian monasticism and the transformational teachings and practices of spiritual seeker G. I. Gurdjieff (1866–1949). Today she offers a brief explanation of Gurdjieff’s teachings on Three-centered Awareness.
Wisdom is a way of knowing that goes beyond one’s mind, one’s rational understanding, and embraces the whole of a person: mind, heart, and body. The intellectual faculty is one way of knowing, to be sure, but it is joined by two additional faculties: the intelligence of the “moving center” and the intelligence of the “emotional center.” These three centers must all be working, and working in harmony, as the first prerequisite to the Wisdom way of knowing.
I’m going to start with the moving center because it’s the one least known in the West, least valued, and least worked with.
The moving center basically is about intelligence through movement. It’s the way that our body is able to put its tentacles out and explore and gain information from the world. It’s that whole realm of things that we don’t do directly with our intellectual rational brain but that deeply engage us. We drive a car, ski down a hill, sail a boat. It gets in our bodies. That kind of intelligence, which we mostly underuse, is a huge reservoir of connectivity and information with the world.
The intellectual center is a profoundly useful tool for exploring and navigating the world, and it allows us to do things that separate us from the rest of the animals. But the program it runs is perception through separation. It’s a grand separating, evaluating, and measuring tool. But it can’t “do” because of the limitations built into its operating system. It can’t ask two questions: “Who am I, and who is God?” because these questions can’t be measured by an operating system that depends on separation. I have sometimes said that doing the journey toward mystical union with the mind is like trying to play the violin with a chainsaw. It’s not that the chainsaw is bad, but its nature is to cut and separate, not make music.
Finally, the heart and the emotional center are not identical. The emotional center is the capacity to explore and receive information from the world through empathetic entrainment by what we might call vibrational resonance. Of all the centers, the emotional center moves the fastest. It’s the part of us that gets the impression instantly. We don’t have to parse it out. It is our antenna, so to speak, given to us to orient us toward the divine radiance. The heart is not for personal expression but for divine perception.
Adapted from Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming an Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart (Jossey-Bass: 2003), 27, 28, 34; and
An Introductory Wisdom School with Cynthia Bourgeault: Course Transcript & Companion Guide (Wisdom Way of Knowing: 2017), 5, 9, 10. Now available through the online course, Introductory Wisdom School (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2019).