In my early twenties I was walking home from the bus stop after work when two young women suddenly surrounded me. Threatening me with their guns, they demanded my money. I readily gave them everything I had so they would leave me alone.
In the end I was “only” down 40 dollars. But I was devastated by the experience. I felt unsafe when I walked anywhere. I wondered how people could be so mean.
I felt broken and longed to rediscover a sense of wholeness. I had already studied deeply about peacemaking and thought quite a bit about my spiritual life. I longed to heal from the robbery by finding a deeper sense of connection, but I was at a loss for how to actually make that happen.
It is difficult to pursue wholeness and meaning within our individualistic culture. I have always wanted spirituality to be about helping me become more complete; more of a perfect instrument for the expression of the Divine. The church that raised me succeeded in instilling this longing in me, but not with helping me satisfy it.
What I now understand is that I have been pursuing Wisdom. Wisdom can mean a lot of things to many people, and my favorite definition is from Cynthia Bourgeault: the “science of spiritual transformation.”
At first I was surprised by her use of the word “science,” which makes me think of physics, chemistry, and biology. But science more broadly, according to the Oxford Dictionary, means “a systematically organized body of knowledge on a particular subject.” The American Heritage Dictionary defines science as knowledge “based on observation, description, experimental investigation and theoretical explanation of phenomena.”
There are patterns in spiritual practice that can be observed. In fact, Bourgeault writes that “no matter which spiritual path you pursue, the nuts and bolts of transformation wind up looking pretty much the same: surrender, detachment, compassion, forgiveness.
Christianity’s Wisdom tradition went underground in the fourth century and I’m inspired by the people recovering this tradition today. Kabbalah is the Jewish visionary mysticism. Islam has Sufism. I fell in love with qi gong because of its Wisdom teachings. My teacher Laura Shannon has done fascinating research on how women’s traditional dances in the Balkans, Greece, and Asia Minor are a kind of dance-based women’s mystery school, or Wisdom school.
Bourgeault observes there are “mysterious gaps in the linear story of Wisdom. It seems to go underground for a while; one loses the thread. Then, in ways inexplicable to linear causality, it pops up again. It re-creates itself over and over, so it seems, in the hands and hearts of those who have been taught (or discovered on their own) how to listen and see. It never really goes away, and it always comes back in a fresh new form, customized to the conditions of the world.”
I now look back at my robbery as an initiation, pushing me to enter more deeply on the path of Wisdom. As I continue to think deeply about the enormous complexity and urgency of our times I am ever more committed to the path of Wisdom for our collective healing.
Bourgeault writes “it is only through a full recovery of one transformative Wisdom at the core of each tradition that centuries of suspicion and violence can be dissipated and the veils of misunderstanding removed.” As Islamophobia and anti-Semitism spike it feels even more important that a critical mass of us cultivate the qualities of surrender, detachment, compassion, and forgiveness. Will you be one of them?
All quotes of Cynthia Bourgeault are from her book The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming and Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart.
Get the support of a practice community
You are welcome to drop in any week to either the Healing Waters Qigong practice group, based in Spring Forest Qigong, or the Wisdom Dances Circle, based in Laura Shannon’s research on traditional dances as tools for healing and transformation.