#44 Living into a New Consciousness

Personal Transformation and a New Creation:

The Spiritual Revolution of Beatrice Bruteau

Helene O’Sullivan, MM, has done a précis of this insightful book, edited by Ilia Delio, and we share here a few excerpts from Chapter 4. Teilhard, The Trinity, and Evolution: The Journey Continues by Cynthia Bourgeault

Beatrice Bruteau

When it comes to connecting the dots between the Trinity and evolution, no one has done it more thoroughly than Beatrice Bruteau. In her 1997 book, God’s Ecstasy: The Creation of a Self-Creating World, she explicitly identifies the Trinity as a cosmogonic principle. And with an academic background whose wingspan rivals Teilhard’s (advanced degrees in both philosophy and mathematics), she is able to bring her considerable scientific and philosophical acumen to bear as she lays out exactly how and why the Trinity is all about evolution.

For Bruteau, the Trinity is first and foremost an image of symbiotic unity, in fact, it is “the original symbiotic unity.” The three “God-persons in community,” as she sees it, comprise the prototype and the prerequisite for the expression of agape love, the constituent energy of the Godhead itself. In Chapter 2, she builds a detailed philosophical case for why threefoldness is the necessary precondition for agape love. She then goes on to demonstrate why threefoldness is by nature “ecstatic” or, in other words, self-projective. By its very threefoldness it “breaks symmetry” (a term felicitously borrowed from the world of quantum mechanics) and projects the agape loves outward, calling new forms of being into existence, each of which bears the imprint of the original symbiotic unity that created it.

With that initial premise established, her book then leads the reader through a magnificent overview of evolution, as we see the actual mechanics of the “complexification” intuited by Teilhard being played out all under the sway of this dynamic ordering principle. She believes that: “It is the presence of the Trinity as a pattern repeated at every scale of the cosmic order that makes the universe a manifestation of God and itself sacred and holy.”

Bruteau is arguably Teilhard’s most brilliant student, and her work moves his own a significant step forward. Her Trinity, revisioned as an evolutionary template, furnishes the mechanics to fulfill the major stipulations of Teilhard’s visionary mysticism. In particular, she is able to put chapter and verse under his intuition of a dynamism, a direction, and an intrinsic ordering principle, calling all things to “Be more, Be in every possible way, Communicate Being, and Be a new whole by interaction” (her pithy summation of the Teilhardian “zest for living”). From a standpoint of a half-century farther along in the pertinent scientific fields, she is also able to confirm and update his basic presentation made so brilliantly in The Human Phenomenon.

Apparently unperceived by Teilhard, self-reflexive awareness can unfold in two different ways: either by representing itself to itself, as if in third person, or by an immediate, holographic perception of its own subjectivity. This latter mode of perception, characterized by the collapse of the subject/object pole that establishes the field of perception at the lower levels of consciousness, is what is meant by non-dual awareness, and in the Eastern traditions (and much of Western mysticism as well) it comprises a much more subtle level of conscious attainment. Teilhard’s inability to spot it identifies his thinking as operating exclusively within the limits of the “higher rational” bandwidths of consciousness (“plural-istic” and “integral,” in Wilber’s terminology). 

He is certainly well ahead of the curve, but arguably a notch below the level needed to match the mystical unity he is intuiting. From this “level confusion” in his thinking enter two of the most controversial elements in his teaching: his understanding of personhood as “super-centration,” and his insistence upon an ultimate point of convergence. Bruteau’s non-dual exegesis of Teilhard’s work in these respects may in the long run prove to be her greatest gift to him, creating an access route for those who applaud his vision but lament his interspiritual insensitivity and apparent inability to escape the gravitational field of traditional Western rationalism.

In her penultimate Chapter in God’s Ecstasy, entitled “The Self-Creating Universe: Pathway to Consciousness,” Bruteau clarifies the distinction between these two modes of perception. In contrast to the dualistic levels of consciousness, which tend to establish identity through its descriptions (the set of character-istics that define it by differentiating it from others in that same category), non-dual consciousness, or “mystical,” as she calls it here, is the immediacy and irreducibility of a subjective experience of knowing by being instead of by representing.

The object of consciousness is in this case the subject itself. When the subject is aware of the subject, not by reflection, that is, not by making a representation of the subject or the act of being conscious or the concept of being the knower, but the subject is aware of the subject by being aware as subject,  in a fully luminous (not unaware or unconscious) way, that consciousness is “mystical.”

Through the lens of this luminous perception she is able to come to an understanding very different from Teilhard’s of what constitutes a person: "Usually we think of this “I” in terms of our descriptions: gender, race, age, relation-ships, work, history, personality type, etc.

These give us a feeling of definiteness by defining how we are different from others. I am I by being not-you. However, persons are not defined. So persons are not “different” from one another. Persons are absolutely unique; they are not identified by reference to one another, not compared with others, even to say they are "different." But this does not mean they all collapse into some undifferen-tiated union with each other and cannot be "told apart."  Persons are different, but it is by another kind of differentiation, not mutual negation.

Bruteau’s Unitive Insight

Bruteau’s unitive insight regarding this “other kind of differentiation,” is drawn not from speculation but from the direct practice of meditation, and marks the radical fork in the road between Teilhard’s evolutionary assess-ment and her own: Persons are beings, and being is self-diffusive, active, and self-communicating. When we ourselves, in meditation, strip away all the descriptions and center in our bare I AM, we discover it is a radiant energy, it goes out from itself. The same reality, the same act of BEING that says I AM enstatically, in the same breath pronounces the ecstatic MAY YOU BE! 

This is how Being is, and person is fundamental BEING. The act of being I is not an act of negating another, but of affirming another. The immediate implication of this, in terms of Teilhardian metaphysics, is that ultimate personhood (Teilhard’s “superhuman” and “hyper-personalized”) is established not by centration—increasing differentiation—but by what we would today term interbeing, the capacity to mutually interpenetrate and form new evolutionary units.   “What if true persons are circles whose centers are nowhere and whose circumferences are everywhere?” she ponders in her essay “Prayer and Identity,” a thought that would have left Teilhard scratching his head.

And on the basis of this, two deductions follow that represent a radical departure from his own mystical scenario: God must exist as a “community of God-persons” to express this radically diffusive and inter-abiding nature of love. The Omega Point, if such there be, cannot be identified with a single person of the Trinity but is expressed in the symbiotic unity of the whole. Because of the inherent nature of Being to:

“BE more, BE in every possible way, Communicate BEING, and BE a new whole by interaction,”

the more likely the evolutionary trajectory does not entail an Omega Point but a continuing open-ended expansion. Wherever one’s personal preferences may lie on this issue, it is certainly good to have options so that the validity of Teilhard’s entire evolutionary vision does not rest on his ultimately personal mystical intuition of a final convergence in Christ.

While I tend toward that resolution myself (on the basis of my work with the Law of Three, shortly to be introduced), Bruteau’s exegesis of the Trinity on the basis of “the expansive, or radiant, character of Being” is a brilliant bridge builder, not only with the non-dual meta-physical traditions, but with contemporary science as well. In particular, her recognition of threeness as “symmetry breaking” and hence implicitly involved in all ongoing dynamism, brilliantly links the Trinity to evolution by logical necessity, not simply theological stipulation

At the same time it confirms that the early church’s intuitive gravitation toward a model of threeness as represented in those “God-persons in community” may not be nearly so arbitrary as naysayers over the ages have claimed, but rather finds its rationale in a deeper causal ground.

The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three

Beatrice Bruteau’s notion of a necessary threefoldness as the driver of evolution moves our understanding of the Trinity as a cosmological template to a whole new level. 

 G.I. Gurdjieff (1866-1949), was the creator of the brilliant system of transformation, familiarly known as the Work. The Law of Three, the centerpiece of that system, stipulates that every phenomenon, on every scale (from subatomic to cosmic) and in every domain (physical, sociological, psycho-spiritual) is the result of the interweaving of three independent forces: the first active (or “affirming” as it is known in the Work), the second passive (or “denying”), and the third neutralizing (or ”reconciling”). Just as it takes three strands of hair to make a braid, it takes three individual lines of action to make a new arising. Until this third term enters, the two forces remain at impasse. Once it enters, the situation is catapulted into a whole new playing field.

The Law of Three has never been systematically applied to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. That is what Cynthia Bourgeault set out to do in her 2013 book, The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three. The basic operating dynamism of the Law of Three: “The interweaving of three forces produces a fourth (the new arising) in a new dimension,” to see how the Trinity might carry out its evolutionary work. Teilhard’s Christogenesis would expand to read as “the lawful and inevitable progression of the Trinitarian evolutionary dynamism.”