Home » What is Wisdom? » Three-Centered Knowing

Three-Centered Knowing

Note: for a more detailed introduction to Three-Centered Knowing, see Chapter 3 of The Wisdom Way of Knowing

 Wisdom makes use of an ancient body of knowledge about the physiology of spiritual transformation and a methodology for increasing our “receptivity to higher meaning”.

The human being can be considered “three-centered” or “three-brained.” The centers include:

The Moving Center, which has 2 subsets: instinctive (like a ‘hard drive’) which regulates operational systems of the body; and moving center proper (more like ‘software’) which concerns outward and voluntary interactions with the physical world through our five senses, as well as movement and rhythm.

The Emotional Center: (centered in the heart and solar plexus) This is not the seat or center of our personal affective life or our personal identity as some contemporary thinking would imply.  In fact as Cynthia explains with regard to our attunement to our feelings,

“The real mark of personal authenticity is not how intensely we can express our feelings but how honestly we can look at where we are coming from and spot the elements of clinging, manipulation, and personal agendas that make up so much of what we experience as our emotional life today.”

Furthermore, ‘passions’ in the conventional sense of the word, actually divide the Heart (for example, over-clinging). The Heart, as the center of the emotional center, is for divine perception, serving as a bridge between our mind and body.  It has the capacity to perceive paradox, the both/and.

The Intellectual/Cognitive Center has a natural aptitude for reasoning, doubting, and making fine discriminations—all legitimate and necessary. But as Cynthia describes, this center has a limited capacity in spiritual life:

 “In terms of the spiritual journey, trying to find faith with the intellectual center is something like trying to play a violin with a saw; it’s simply the wrong tool for the job.”

The path of Wisdom embraces the whole person: mind, heart, and body. The three centers working in harmony is the prerequisite for Wisdom knowing. In fact the notion of ‘sleep’ as opposed to conscious aware awakening, is an indication of finding yourself in one center only.

When we are alive, balanced, and present in all three centers a higher consciousness and Presence is available.

These three centers of intelligence can serve as foundational elements around which individual or small group practices and experience is built.  Paying attention to each center and weaving in opportunities to connect with each center helps cultivate three-centered awareness.

Practicing Three-Centered Knowing

Moving Center Practices

  • A simple body centered exercise to practice in pairs, for noticing sensation and experiencing the resonate field of Presence:
    • With a practice group or practice partners, take turns noticing and naming sensations in your body, each of you naming three sensations (ex: I am noticing my feet making contact with the floor, I feel tightness in my chest, there is ease in my belly). As one partner is speaking, the other is witnessing. See if you notice an energetic shift as you become more embodied.
  • Notice times of bracing:
    • Notice when you are in a state of bracing or grasping. Can you pause and reconnect with your heartbeat, your breath, your feet , your torso, and then return to the simple hand gestures of opening and closing, giving and receiving, being with what is.
  • Incorporate gestures and body prayers:
    • Try opening and closing your hands, feeling the sensations of grasping and letting go, or even try a full body prostration (as described in The Wisdom Way of Knowing, chapter 3).


Emotional Center Practices

  • Sacred Chanting  wakes up the emotional center with sound, and can deepen the connectivity of the group.  Try familiar Taize chants—freely available to listen and follow online.  There is also a growing body of Wisdom chants pioneered by Darlene Franz, which can also be accessed online (see references and resource list below).
  •  Lectio Divina: can be practiced with any short piece of sacred text or passage. There are a variety of ways to approach this practice. Here is one suggestion:
  1. Start slowly reading a passage aloud, and allow yourself to be drawn to a sentence, a phrase, or even a single word that seems to attract your attention.
  2. Read the passage again slowly, quietly allowing your faculties (your reason, your imagination, or emotions) to begin to work with this passage. This is about a “heart to heart” encounter with the text…it will be different every time.
  3. Read a final time, resting in the sacred presence, and in deep receptivity with the experience. (Some groups may decide to include a period of centering prayer at this stage, as an alternative to meditating before or after the lectio.)
  4. As you feel complete with the first three steps, take turns sharing what you noticed or what became alive for you or impacted you from the passage.

Many Wisdom groups begin by using The Gospel of Thomas in a Lectio Divina format.


Intellectual/Cognitive Center Practices

Whether as a personal individual practice, or in a small group, consider what material or  area of interest might provide fruitful exploration. Some suggestions are:

  • Discussing parts or chapters from Cynthia’s books, or books or readings from other Wisdom writers
  • Taking one or a few Gospel of Thomas logions (passages) for discussion


References and Resources:

Books by Cynthia Bourgeault (Cynthia has many published books, and the following provide some specific references to Wisdom practices including those mentioned above):

The Wisdom Way of Knowing

The Wisdom Jesus

Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening

Chanting the Psalms

 The Gospel of Thomas by Lynn Bauman

The Gospel of Thomas or other e-courses  from Spirituality and Practice

Wisdom Chant resources by Darlene Franz





Would you like to browse a full list of our resources by subject categories? A complete list of all our Resources by Category available HERE.

Tagged: ,