Cynthia’s Biography: How you get there is where you’ll arrive

Cynthia grew up in the rolling countryside just west of Philadelphia and experienced her first tastes of silence and mystical presence during the weekly Meeting for Worship at the Quaker school she attended. She went on to earn a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies, where she specialized in early music and liturgical drama: training that would prove to serve her well in her later work as a spiritual teacher. She studied at the Philadelphia Divinity School and was ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church in 1979.

Not long afterward, yearning for that simpler, more austere life she’d been drawn to in her study of the medieval Celtic hermits, she moved to the island-dotted coast of Maine, which has been her home base ever since. She now divides her time between a tiny hermitage on a remote coastal island and the small seaside village of Stonington, for much of the year making the six-mile trip back and forth in her own small boat.

Cynthia with Fr. Thomas Keating

The turning point in Cynthia’s journey came in 1990 when she ventured to St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado, for a ten-day Centering prayer retreat led by Fr. Thomas Keating. She returned in 1991 for a three-month residency, where she worked closely with Keating; for the next thirty years she would be his student, then editor, and finally colleague. During that time, she also met the hermit monk Raphael Robin, who became her close friend and spiritual partner. It was Rafe who taught her how to integrate the treasures of the Christian mystical and monastic paths with the mindfulness and self-inquiry practices they had both been powerfully drawn to in their independent encounters with The Gurdjieff Work.

After Rafe’s death in 1995, Cynthia accepted an invitation to move to Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, to help found a new organization called The Contemplative Society. It was there that the lineaments of Cynthia’s Wisdom teaching really began to take shape. Her pilot Wisdom School was offered there in July 1999, and twenty years later the Victoria-based Contemplative Society is still going strong and is our closest partner in the Wisdom Waypoints network. During those British Columbia years Cynthia also worked actively with a Sufi community in Vancouver, and the interspiritual dimensions of her Wisdom teaching took on increasing prominence. She also published her first book, Love Is Stronger than Death, sharing more widely the the teachings she’d learned during her time with Rafe.

Cynthia Bourgeault on stone pileAfter seven years in Canada, Cynthia returned to the States: at first back to Colorado, then ten years later, permanently back to Maine. During that time The Contemplative Society was joined by a growing number of “Wisdom Waypoints:” The Aspen Wisdom School in 2004, then shortly afterwards, Wisdom Southwest (Tucson, Arizona), Wisdom Southeast (Western North Carolina), and Wisdom Northeast in 2014. Schools and Wisdom hubs also grew up in the UK, New Zealand, South Africa, and Hong Kong, as Cynthia continued to roll out new books and found herself increasingly in demand as a conference and retreat leader. In 2013 she became a core faculty member of the center for Action and contemplation, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The strength of a lineage depends on the strength of its students, Cynthia believes. From the start she has taken an active interest in mentoring a new generation of Wisdom teachers and leaders, and it has been a joy to watch their emergence. You will meet many of them right here on this website, featured in the forum and profile sections, or leading the practices and book groups While retirement continues to elude her, she does steal as much time as she can for hermit solitude, exploring the spiritual cutting edges, and “messing about in boats.”

You can learn more about the inner dimensions of Cynthia’s spiritual journey in her blog series on the Wisdom Waypoints website, entitled  I am not a Space that God does not Occupy – Part I.