The Wisdom of Contemplation — Center for Action and Contemplation

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The Wisdom of Contemplation

Mind, Body, Heart

The Wisdom of Contemplation
Wednesday, February 19, 2020

We may think of prayer as thoughts or feelings expressed in words. But this is only one expression. . . . Prayer is the opening of mind and heart—our whole being—to God, the Ultimate Mystery, beyond thoughts, words, and emotions. Through grace we open our awareness to God whom we know by faith is within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than choosing—closer than consciousness itself. —Thomas Keating [1]

Although Wisdom “work” and contemplative practice are not synonymous, I hope you can sense the resonance between the two paths. Each has the potential to open us up to greater love, compassion, and action through a conscious surrendering to greater knowing and the Great Knower. Whenever heart, mind, and body are all present and accounted for at the same time, when they are all “online” in the language of Wisdom, we can experience pure presence, a moment of deep inner connection with the pure, gratuitous Being of anything and everything. It may be experienced as a quiet leap of joy in the heart, absolute clarity in the mind, or a deep centeredness in the body.

Contemplation, like the Wisdom path, is an exercise in openness, in keeping all three spaces open long enough for us to notice other hidden material. When we can do that, we are content with the present moment and can then wait upon futures we know will be given by grace. This is “full-access knowing”—not irrational, but intuitive, both rational and trans-rational at the same time.

The supreme work of spirituality, which makes presence possible, is keeping the heart space open (the result of conscious love), keeping a “right mind” (the work of contemplation or meditation), and keeping the body alive with contentment or, as Cynthia would say, sensation, without attachment to its past woundings (often the work of healing). In that state, we are neither resisting nor clinging, and we can experience something genuinely new.

Those who can keep all three spaces open at the same time will know The Presence that connects everything to everything. Surely this us what Jesus is talking about in his several parables that warn us to stay awake! (See Mark 13:34-37; Matthew 24:40-44 and 25:1-13) Being awake is a prerequisite for true prayer. This way of knowing has little to do with belonging to any particular denomination or religion; it is found at the headwaters of all the world’s major religions. Each has its own piece of Wisdom, its own techniques and teachings that urge us to bring our whole selves to the job of growing and “wising” up.


[1] Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart, 20th anniversary ed. (Bloomsbury: 2006), 175.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Just This (CAC Publishing: 2017), 32-33.

To further explore the integration of contemplative practice and the wisdom tradition, we invite you to join Cynthia Bourgeault’s online course Introductory Wisdom School.

Image credit: Saint Serapius (detail), Francisco de Zurbarán, 1628, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: A Wisdom way of knowing . . . requires the whole of one’s being and is ultimately attained only through the yielding of one’s whole being into the intimacy of knowing and being known. . . . It doesn’t happen apart from complete vulnerability and self-giving. But the divine Lover is absolutely real, and for those willing to bear the wounds of intimacy, the knowledge of that underlying coherence—“in which all things hold together”—is both possible and inevitable. —Cynthia Bourgeault
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