Cynthia Bourgeault was a long-time friend of Thomas Keating’s and part of the early group that learnt from him and his fellow monks as they first taught the “Centering Prayer” practice over 30 years ago. Centering Prayer is one form of Christian meditation, a specific method of what has been called “contemplative prayer” for almost 1,600 years in the Christian tradition and is generally referred to as “waiting on God” or “being still” in the Bible. Since those early days more than three decades ago, Centering Prayer has gained hundreds of thousand and possibly millions of practitioners.
Cynthia recently provided this short summary of the centering prayer practice .
Centering Prayer is simply sitting in silence, open to God’s love and our love for God.
- It is preferable to find a quiet place to sit comfortably where you will be undisturbed for the period of time you are setting aside for your centering prayer. That said, you can still proceed with your practice even if the environment and conditions are not ideal.
- There are a variety of meditation benches, cushions and sitting accessories widely available, but sitting upright in a standard chair is perfectly fine.
- The prescribed daily practice is a minimum of two 20-minute sits. If at all possible this amount is most recommended to start and maintain a dedicated practice. A timer or nearby clock is helpful to time the sitting period.
- An aid to help in returning to the essence of the practice is to select and use a sacred word or short phrase that can act as a placeholder or symbol for your intention.
- Aiming to stay relaxed but attentive, close your eyes, and start your practice period rooting in your basic intention of open availability to God.
- Each time you notice yourself becoming absorbed in a thought, and without making a problem of your distraction, gently release your attention from the thought and inwardly say your sacred word. Your sacred word is not constantly repeated like a mantra, but only used as much as required to bring yourself back into alignment with your original intention.
- In the context of this practice, a thought is defined as anything that brings your attention to a focal point. This could be an idea, vision, memory, emotion, or dwelling upon a physical sensation. If it captures your attention, it’s considered a thought, and by letting go you are renewing your intention and consent for “God’s presence and action within.”
- As you continue in the prayer period and thoughts inevitably arise, use your sacred word to gently and quickly clear your mental debris, and to return to open awareness and availability.
- When the allotted time is up, slowly open your eyes. Without rushing, take a few minutes to allow yourself to come back to your usual state of consciousness.
- If planning longer periods of sitting, many find a very slow meditative walk after each 20 minutes or so helps to keep the body more comfortable and alert.