January 4, 2015
Dear Wisdom Friends,
Almost exactly this time one year ago, I launched my “Teilhard Challenge,” inviting as many of you as felt so moved to join me in diving into the magnificent, challenging writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. I know that many of you have taken the plunge, and the Teilhard buzz out on the planet is palpable and steadily growing. Thank you!
This comes to give you a short “year-end report” on my own work here, and a heads-up about what’s on the docket for 2016.
I did manage to chew my way through most of the Teilhard canon this past year: beginning with a fairly quick read, followed by a more detailed immersion once my inner dowsing rod struck water. That turned out to be with The Human Phenomenon, which is clearly Teilhard’s master work and is now available in a magisterial new translation by Sarah Appleton-Weber. I was also lucky enough to get hold of French versions of four or five of his major versions. If you can read French even a bit, I’d highly recommend you follow this strategy as well. Even if you book-end the French translation with the English one, Teilhard is simply … well … French! And his thought is somehow much more lucid and compelling in his mother tongue.
The teaching season got off to a bang a couple of weeks ago with my pilot Wisdom school in Aspen, where I offered a two-day seminar called “The Divine Milieu” on December 17 and 18, attended by nearly 100 people. (Find Day 1 video here; find Day 2 video here). Despite the title, the teaching was really focused on The Human Phenomenon and attempted to lay out the “Teilhardian synthesis” via his four successive—and increasingly challenging—propositions about cosmogenesis:
- Evolution (understood as cosmogenesis) is the non-negotiable baseline for all intellectual, scientific, and spiritual discourse.
- Evolution has a preferred axis, or line of direction, carried by the principle of “complexification/consciousness.”
- Evolution is convergent, culminating in an “Omega Point.”
- This Omega Point is identical with the mystical/cosmic Christ.
This structure will form the backbone for the series of Teilhard Wisdom Schools that will shortly start to run in 2016: in New Zealand, Santa Barbara, North Carolina, Washington State, Stonington ME (stay tuned!), and British Columbia respectively.
There will also be a more intimate and reflectively oriented retreat which I’ll co-lead with Matthew Wright at his home community, Holy Cross Abbey, in West Park NY, on April 7-10. April 10 will mark the anniversary of Teilhard’s actual death (on Easter Sunday 1955), and since Holy Cross Abbey is directly across the Hudson from Teilhard’s burial ground in Hyde Park, we will hope to include a short pilgrimage to his gravesite in our work together that weekend.
Longer range, I’m not sure what’s in store: probably a book, but its focus is still “under development” as I sense my way into the deeper feeling ground of my attraction to this singular and deeply needed Christian mystical teacher and teaching. I continue to feel that there is work here that needs to be done (my usual job description of making connections!), for this vision, despite or even because of its significant blindspots and interspiritual “groaners”—is still by far the best thing going— certainly in the Christian tradition— for a roadmap that will allow us to comprehend the “depth and breadth and length and height” of the mystical tradition we stand in and embrace the future with compassion, courage, and spiritual intelligence. It’s the roadmap we sorely need to get the caravan moving forward again.
I am not an unmitigated devotee. There are, indeed, significant liabilities to his work, particularly in terms of the ongoing dialogue with Evolutionary Spirituality (a la Ken Wilber and the Integral Community) and the InterSpiritual community. The biggest weakness, as far as I can see, is Teilhard’s inability to recognize levels of consciousness, and to realize that the “self-reflexive” consciousness that he saw as the new evolutionary turning point is itself but a stage (and a relatively immature one at that) in the deepening evolution of consciousness itself. Much of his most outdated and polarizing thinking is trapped firmly within the boundaries of the egoic operating system and its peculiarly dualistic way of structuring the world, and he simply doesn’t see the squirrel cage he is running inside. But that can all be recalibrated once the source of the blind spot is identified, and I firmly believe that the Teilhard canon will survive the transposition into nondual categories of thought and actually thrive there.
And that’s basically my task for the next few years, as I see it. I want to look more closely at Teilhard’s understanding of consciousness, and to see how my own core intuition that nonduality is a mode of perception, not a philosophy of monism, might heal some of the misunderstanding in Teilhard’s summary dismissal of the Eastern spiritual traditions as a source of wisdom and guidance for our own time.
I also have to say that the most illuminating and poignant part of the reading list for this year was the time spent plowing through the Letters between Teilhard and Lucile Swan, his soul mate and dakini during the long years of exile and China. A heart-wrenching story, which somehow conveys the “within” of Teilhard’s voyage in a way even more powerful than the “without” of his polished philosophical studies.
Anyway, that’s the progress report for now. Do stay tuned—and keep on reading!
New Year’s blessings,
Ed. note:Cynthia sometimes mentions the letters of Teilhard and Lucile Swan. Find a link to the letters here.
“These pages are an effort to express an internal evolution deeply impressed by you.” ~ Teilhard writing to Lucile, December 15, 1950, from the dedication page of The Letters of Teilhard de Chardin and Lucile Swan
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