Cascadia: Program Overview

CASCADIA LIVING WISDOM SCHOOL is a program for, and a community of, people who seek to learn to access and live wisdom. Those interested apply for admission to one of two sub-programs – the Residential Program or the Online Program. Both groups involve online and videoconference interaction and discussion of readings with Dr. Benner. Those enrolled in the Residential Program additionally participate in the annual retreats.

Program participants enrol one year at a time and continue for as long as they find helpful. Although readings and retreats follow a multi-year cycle, new applicants can start the program any year as each year’s curricular focus serves equally well as an introduction and also leads to the next. This makes at least two or three years of program enrolment ideal as it provides exposure to a majority of the major curricular themes. Continuing involvement is supported by a fee structure designed to make the school less of a revolving door and more of a place where at least some of us can journey together over a longer time. However, at the end of each program year enrolled participants decide whether to continue or not and, if they choose to continue, select either the Residential or Online Program, depending on which suits them best for that year.

In order to ensure that mentoring, not simply information dissemination, lies at the core of the program, the total number of program participants is limited to 15 – 18 people. With a ratio of participants to mentors of approximately 3:1, participants are assured of rich possibilities for personal interaction with the mentors – particularly, online interaction with Dr. Benner. While the mentoring is predominantly provided within the context of the group, those attending the retreats are offered one-on-one time with one of the mentors, either during the retreat or by means of a videoconference call sometime after it.

The program begins within the online interaction that starts each April and continues until the end of the subsequent March. Suggested readings and challenges and progress in living the things being taught form the core of this dialogue. This ongoing interaction is the foundation of the program and commitment to regular engagement in it is an expectation of all program participants. Regularly scheduled videoconferences (approximately monthly) and retreats (annual) build on the foundation established by the online communication.

Program participation requires a commitment of, on average, two to three hours a week. Suggested readings average 30 – 50 pages a week but reading them contemplatively (something that is taught, not simply encouraged) means that this will, on average, involve one to two hours a week. The other one to two hours in an average week will involve engagement with other program participants by means of our online communication platform and periodic videoconferences. We recognize that not all weeks will be average, and that not always will videoconferences be scheduled at times that are make participation possible. However, a commitment to active, ongoing engagement with other program participants is required, this making the program not a good fit for the person who simply seeks a context for independent learning.

The annual retreats are held at St. John’s Convent in Toronto, this allowing retreat participants to experience something of the monastic life of the nuns whose home we share. The rhythm of retreat days is built around the classic Christian disciplines of contemplative prayer and silence, and is ordered by the framework of the Daily Office (morning and night prayer) and daily Eucharist. Participants are encouraged to make the retreat a time of fasting from phones and other internet-accessing technology, although there are opportunities and places where this can occur if needed. In general, mornings sessions are generally more conceptual, afternoons more experiential and evenings more contemplative. These strands, however, are continuously interwoven in the flow of each retreat day.


Wisdom is accessible to everyone, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or beliefs. This is why CASCADIA LIVING WISDOM SCHOOL is committed to inclusivity in our admission policies. The program is, however, offered within a Christian framework and consequently, the ideal applicant is someone who is making their spiritual journey within the context of the Christian tradition.

Applicants to CASCADIA LIVING WISDOM SCHOOL should be motivated to live their way into wisdom, wholeness and well being – and to learning how to do this within the context of active, committed engagement with other program participants. They must also have basic computer skills and an email account, an established contemplative practice, and a spirituality that leads to engagement with the needs of the world. Those who are new to contemplative living will benefit from first receiving an introduction to contemplative practices and the way in which they facilitate awakening of the heart. Contact us if you need help in finding a suitable program that can provide this preparation.

Ideas and practices explored within CASCADIA LIVING WISDOM SCHOOL will stretch most applicants intellectually, theologically, and spiritually. The program draws from such diverse sources as evolutionary theology, cosmology, other faith traditions, aboriginal spirituality, and depth psychology. While prior background in these areas is not necessary, what is required is openness to the contributions science and other religious traditions can make to Christian theology, spirituality and wisdom.