Radical Optimism

Practical Spirituality in an Uncertain World


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Radical optimism is our deepest response to the immense and threatening challenges of our contemporary world. In this profound exposition of the truths of an integrated life, Radical Optimism challenges the reader to confront difficulty with authentic spirituality. Meditation, the practice of silence, and the body of mystical experience are all effective forces that confound evil and give us the means to live a loving life.

Beatrice Bruteau is both a brilliant synthesizer and an original thinker. She brings to bear her knowledge of Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and science in this exploration of how to embrace the spirit of optimism in a world grown increasingly dark and desperate. “The deepest truth is our union with the Absolute, Infinite Being, with God. That’s the root of our reality. And it is from that root that my optimism is derived,” she states. This is a viewpoint that acknowledges evil, but puts it in its place. In Bruteau’s view, evil is not simply the opposite of good, because goodness has the unique power to create, whereas evil can only react, distort, and destroy. It is the creative power of goodness that sustains us in our confrontation with evil.

Radical Optimism describes the value of meditation, leisure, relaxing the body, and keeping silent for a period of time—all within the context of the ordinary demands of life. There is a role to be played by imagination, mythology, and self-image in either promoting or interfering with our ability to “find our base and our center in the sense of eternity and wholeness.” As the founder of an international network for contemplatives of all traditions, Bruteau is able to present her practical spirituality in terms that all readers can understand, no matter what their backgrounds.

Radical Optimism also expresses the idea that our growing global interdependence—cultural, economic, and ecological—can help us to “sense the reality of each person within the unity of shared life” and thus be motivated to act in the interests of the larger community.

Radical Optimism shows us who we really are—a unique, precious, creative act of God—and with this understanding we can find the way beyond evil and suffering.


Praise for Radical Optimism


In Radical Optimism, Beatrice Bruteau sets forth a deep and shining vision of spirituality, one that guides the reader into the contemplative life and the very root of our being. Dr. Bruteau is a philosopher of great measure whose work should be required reading for all who seek the deepest truth about themselves.

—Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees

“Here comes that dreamer!” Joseph’s brothers said with contempt. Yet, the Book of Genesis tells us also how the life of a whole people was saved by this dreamer’s dreams. Beatrice Bruteau shows us that the life of a whole world—ours—may depend on learning to dream radical and realistic dreams. At last, a book that offers solid metaphysical underpinnings for contemplation.

—Brother David Steindl-Rast OSB, author of Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer

Radical Optimism goes to the root reality required to meet the vast challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. Only as we tap into the Great Creative Process of the universe through direct inner knowing, or contemplation, can we be energized by the impulse of evolution itself. Beatrice Bruteau is a vital awakener of our ability to make the effort to move us to the next stage of our evolution.

—Barbara Marx Hubbard, author of Emergence: The Shift from Ego to Essence

A gifted philosopher, mathematician, mystical theologian, and practical spiritual teacher with a vigorous mind and open heart presents a vision of cultivating contemplative awareness. Beatrice Bruteau is one of the great writers of our time.

—Wayne Teasdale, co-author of A Monk in the World

Dr. Bruteau’s Radical Optimism is a spiritual classic. It offers practical contemplative techniques to quiet the mind and a vision for bringing healing to ourselves, others, and our planet, rooted in Western and Eastern religious traditions. A must read for all spiritual seekers.

—Rabbi Lewis D. Solomon, professor, George Washington University

A deep and luminous vision.

—Robert Granat, author of The Gift of Lack

I know scarcely anybody who goes to the heart of reality as profoundly as Beatrice Bruteau does.

—Dom Bede Griffiths, author of A New Vision of Reality

Her voice should be heard far and wide.

—Patrick Hart, O.C.S.O., editor of The Intimate Merton

Rewarding and useful.

—Swami Yogeshananda, author of Six Lighted Windows

A joy all the way through and of much spiritual benefit to me personally.

—Mary Roman, O.C.D.

Insightful and visionary.

—John Shea, author of Stories of God

This book is the tonic we’ve needed. In a world permeated with talk of war and fear of terrorism, Beatrice Bruteau shows us there is a safe place, where we can be vitally active and have absolute security, while also experiencing life’s incredible abundance. Beatrice Bruteau has underscored the astounding Gospel good news that is indeed nothing less than radical optimism, beaming the truths that can joyfully define our lives.

—Antoinette Bosco, author of Choosing Mercy:

A Mother of Murder Victims Pleads to End the Death Penalty

Beatrice Bruteau’s outstanding gift for articulating the contemplative life is enshrined in this book.

—Thomas Keating, author of Open Mind, Open Heart

Original and challenging.

—Douglas Steere, author of Quaker Spirituality

Beatrice Bruteau looks at our life in God with a very creative, deeply learned, and passionate mind and heart. Her grasp of a contemplative way of seeing and embracing reality in God is deep and full of fresh insight.

—Tilden Edwards, author of Living in the Presence

I am deeply impressed once again by the profundity of Dr. Bruteau’s insights, by her remarkably poetic communication, and by her balanced evaluation of dualism versus non-dualism.

—Dr. Frederick Franck, author of A Passion for Seeing

Her voice should be heard far and wide. I have read this beautiful book with great delight, profit, and edification.

—George Maloney, S.J., author of Inward Stillness



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Christian philosopher and founder of a network for contemplatives, Bruteau writes with clarity and insight about true reality, and of our need to see ourselves as we are at that core, rather than looking always at ourselves on the periphery. She puts concerns for leisure or Sabbath-time into the context not only of focusing on essence but also of stilling mind and body so that the type of mediation that sees the biblical stories as our own, the Annunciation as our own annunciation, may flourish. Her meditations on sin, salvation, Jesus, the communion of the saints, and the Trinity are similarly profound and relational. Highly recommended, especially for seminary and public libraries, but for academic ones as well.

—Library Journal

In the preface to this second edition of Radical Optimism (first published in 1993) Beatrice Bruteau notes, “There are terrorists abroad in the world with dreadful weapons in their reach, and there is a System in place in the world which-almost unnoticed-has gained control of the fundamentals of life; food, jobs, welfare, security, health and safety measures… We need, urgently, to consider all over again what our life is about and what values are important… We need to find our way back to the basic realities, truths, values.”

The book focuses on leisure; stillness; meditation; the finite and the infinite; sin and salvation; the heart of Jesus, root of reality; the communion of saints; and Trinitarian manifestation.

The chapters on leisure, stillness and meditation form the strength of the book and are presented as effective forces that confront evil. She encourages a spirit of optimism, and observes that most of the spiritual life is a matter of relaxing, of being still and open.

Radical Optimism presents deeply religious practices all within the context of ordinary demands of life; for example, if we were to make a list of our activities and then ask ourselves whether we really need to do each of them we might be amazed at what we could strike from the list. We can be peaceful even in the demands of contemporary life, because what is really pressuring us is the insistence of our own demands.

She makes a distinction between wishing and willing. Wishing admits we believe that we cannot change something. It leaves us without energy. Willing commutes us to the belief that a situation can be changed by us. It brings peace and releases energy which is focused on positive energy. Radical Optimism shows us who we are and what we can do about the evil and suffering in the world and our own lives.

—Ann Lynch, SSJ, Catholic Library Review

We can all agree with the author that the more troubled and difficult the world becomes, the more important it is to be optimistic, and the more deeply we need to root that optimism. The troubles and uncertainty in the world have greatly increased since this book was written, and therefore the author’s guide to practical spirituality becomes even more valuable. If you are wondering if “practical spirituality” is an oxymoron, consider the balance achieved by acknowledging your practical side along with your spiritual side – a foot in each world, so to speak, and an acceptance of your humanness.

The purpose of this book is to inspire us to achieve optimism through contemplation. We can learn to be creative, using ancient philosophy to achieve a better place (practically and spiritually) for us all. Beatrice Bruteau urges us to use the tools she provides to work toward radical optimism – that optimism that is “rooted in deep reality” and worked out “in love by skillful means.”

—Issues Magazine

This is a timely reissue of one of the best books by Beatrice Bruteau, Catholic mystic and founder of the Schola Contemplationis. When Dr. Bruteau writes, the wise Theosophist should run to the local bookshop. Having been trained in the contemplantive traditions of Catholicism, Advaita Vedanta, and higher mathematics, she offers a potent synthesis, grounded in serious spiritual practice, and appropriate to modern life.

This book is both philosophically serious and practically focused, with lots of suggestions for exercises. Both newcomers to the spiritual path and seasoned veterans of the quest will find food for the journey here. Dr. Bruteau reaches sermonic heights at moments, challenging us to grow past the comfortable:

“But what else is the contemplative life for? It is where the great risks can be faced, where folkloric religion can be outgrown and the naked Reality entered into by naked spirit. In the depths of the contemplative life, there should no longer be any secrets, any euphemisms, any tales told to children, but the way should be clear to find the Real beyond finite descriptions” (93).

Dr. Bruteau also makes a compelling case for the inner life lived fully in the modern world, expressed through compassionate action. By sharing in the unselfish abundance of the Divine, we are transformed, and then begin to live differently.

“Contemplation is not something that is done alongside or before or after our everyday action. It’s the doing itself that is contemplation because you yourself are so united with God that you are simply living the divine life; you are God living and doing you in the world. You are God’s manifestation” (132).

While some of Dr. Bruteau’s fellow Christians may find this “strong meat” indeed, it is a rich feast of a book, and we should thank her for setting the table.

—John Plummer, The Quest Magazine

So much of life is a search for perspective and meaning. The outlook we adopt immensely influences the way we understand. Beatrice Bruteau suggest that the deepest truth is our union with God, that this is the root of our reality. From that deep-seated root our optimistic outlook is derived, hence her book title. This is not a Pollyanna approach where everything is coming up roses if we but have enough faith. No, Bruteau is both profoundly insightful and eminently practical. For example, tackling the classic command to love our neighbor and ourselves in a way which encourages the living out of the precept.

Bruteau uses a wholistic approach to holiness, walking in eight chapters through Leisure; Stillness; Meditation; The Finite and the Infinite; Sin and Salvation; Heart of Jesus; Root of Reality; The Communion of the Saints; and Trinitarian Manifestation. She deeply appreciates the unity of all truth, which is seen in her comments about other religious traditions, particularly those of the East. This brief look at oriental wisdom allows her to give a penetrating look at “The Jesus Path,” which she describes as the heart of Jesus and the root of reality. Using the Trinity as model, she then reflects on the interconnectedness of all people and things in the world—a truly cosmic vision of the world in which we live.

The book requires prayer and reflection—it is not an “easy read.” This reader would note that she writes very much like the mystics, with a rich use of images and opposites to illustrate her insights. Indeed, this contemplative writer’s thoughts fall clearly in line with John, Teresa, and Chardin. I recommend the book both for its insight and practicality, as well as the good company it keeps!

—Reverend John G. Durbin, S.T.L., Sisters Today


SBA Selection: April, 1993

Seldom does one find a book that has been more widely praised in advance of its publication than this. Spiritual writers from Thomas Keating to John Shea have hailed it as “deeply mystical, yet clear and stimulating,” “insightful and visionary,” “original and challenging,” and a “substantial lesson that feeds both the mind and heart.”

Beatrice Bruteau is the founder of the Schola Contemplationis, an international network of contemplatives from all walks of life and from various traditions. In this book she shares her vision of what it means to live a contemplative life in the world today and the changes that such a life produces in us. Her optimism is rooted in faith and the new possibilities that faith opens up. “Our deepest truth is our union with God. That’s the root of our reality. And it’s from that root that my optimism is derived.”

She begins by inviting us to enter into leisure: “the cessation of restless activity, stillness and silence.” From there she instructs us on the practice of meditation and the conversion that results from it: “Contemplation is a matter of seeing how it is, uniting with it as it is, and manifesting it as it is,” she says. She goes on to describe how this process of seeing, uniting, and manifesting leads us toward freedom from sin and union with the Trinity.

Bruteau offers us what she calls “a path of perspective,” calling us to shift our focus from suffering and evil to the deepest truth. If we look only at the “twisting twigs and fluttering leaves” and not at the root, we get an inaccurate slant on things. “I am trying to contribute to the quest for meaning and the consequent alleviation of misery,” she says. Radical Optimism will lead you on a path that is both difficult and rewarding, offering a revealing look at the deepest truths of who we are and what we may yet become.

—Spritual Book News

We Are the World

Don’t wait for the world to change because that won’t happen until you pitch in to create the future, says US-based Beatrice Bruteau to Amy Edelstein and Ellen Dalyn.

As an evolutionary spiritualist, could you share with us the basic idea that drives your work?

Somewhere deep down, we are all filled with a mystical longing, a yearning for ultimate meaningfulness, and, therefore, we need to see all of our world in that context. To attain this, we need a new theology that is grounded in science, one in which, God is present in all dynamism and patterns of created order.

A theology of evolution sees that God is making the world by means of evolution. And the evolutionary process, in turn, is seen as striving toward God. So, you see, God is Self-expressing and Self-realising in the process of evolution. All sorts of wonderful species have been created from a few simple principles and a handful of elementary particles. The creativity that makes the world is embedded in it.

Could you describe what the movement or process of evolution actually is?

Evolution is the linked changing of the world. There is a basic urgency in life to grow, to expand, to become new. The very meaning of being alive is to be constantly in the process of becoming a new creation. Some theorists of evolution point out that with each succeeding stage of development, the complexity of the patterns is increased. So, evolution is the passage in time from simpler organisational forms to more complex ones, carrying with it an increase of consciousness, which means a sense of unity in the organised entity.

Now, this process is usually thought of as advancing by a series of small steps. But sometimes there is a ‘Great Step’ that occurs when a cosmic organisation goes to another level of complexity. It does this by uniting elements of the preceding level. These are what French Jesuit priest and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called ‘creative unions’; they bring into being something that never existed before. The New Being emerges from connections and interactions of composing units, and it constitutes a new level of oneness and wholeness.

Could you say more about Teilhard’s view of evolutionary progression toward progressively greater degrees of unity?

In Teilhard’s view, all of evolution has progressed by a series of creative unions. Subatomic particles unite to form atoms. Atoms unite to form molecules and molecules unite to form cells, and cells unite to form organisms.

This pattern of creating something new, something more complex and more conscious, by union of the less complex and less conscious recurs at each of these levels. This is because we can look back and see the patterns recurring. According to Teilhard, we can legitimately extrapolate and project the pattern in the future, looking forward to another creative union in which we will be the uniting elements that come together to form a New Being.

Do you see a final culmination, or as Teilhard would have put it, an Omega point, at the end of the evolutionary trajectory?

I tend to go along with the idea of an expanding universe; I don’t have an Omega. I don’t think there’s a final end point; I think it’s a song that goes on singing. We don’t sing the song in order to come to the end of it. The divine Self-expression isn’t trying to complete itself. We impose that idea because we generally do things with some kind of a defined goal, but here we’re doing something with the Infinite, and so it doesn’t have a limited or defined goal for itself. It’s trying to express the Infinite in the various media of finitude. I would say that life attains its goal – it becomes what it is supposed to be, fulfils itself – precisely by never coming to an end. If it ever did come to an end, in which, there was no more novelty, there would be no more life; it would be dead.

So you see, it is very important that we participate in this because this is What Is Going On. This is reality. We respond to it initially, on the individual level, because that is where we are presently experiencing ourselves. And we all must do it because we all exist, and no one can be left out. Everyone is absolutely essential and infinitely precious.

Since the process of forming the next Great Step in evolution, which is the manifestation of the Infinite One, requires that we ourselves voluntarily, consciously, and intentionally do the interactions that will constitute the energy exchanges that make the New Being, we have the honour and the responsibility for living and creating the expression of God as world.

Every little thing counts because everything is real and is part of the picture. Nothing escapes; nothing is on the side. Everything is making its difference to the whole. No one is ever outside the God-process. But it goes only where we go with it. It doesn’t force us; we are the movers from the inside. So it won’t go forward unless we move it forward. That is why we are all so important.

We cannot wait for the world to turn, for the times to change that we may change with them, for the revolution to come and carry us in its new course. No more will the evolutionary forces of nature propel us in their groping way through the next critical point into a new state of being. From now on, if we are to have any future, we must create that future ourselves. We ourselves are the future and we are the revolution.

—Amy Edelstein and Ellen Dalyn, The Times of India

about the author

Beatrice Bruteau

Dr. Bruteau was a pioneer in the integrated study of science, mathematics, philosophy and religion. With a background in Vedanta and Catholic Christianity, as well as the natural sciences, she developed a broad, inclusive vision of human reality in its cosmic and social contexts. Analyzing the systemic and metaphysical roots of our social inequities, she offered an alternative worldview, featuring the incomparable value of each person and the community dynamics of mutual respect and care that follow from that view. This theme was developed as global spirituality, not limited to any particular religious tradition but accessible in direct human terms common to all.

Dr. Bruteau published twelve books and more than one hundred articles. Her essays appeared in journals such as International Philosophical Quarterly, Cross Currents, and Cistercian Studies. She died in 2014, at the age of 84.