An introduction to Centering Prayer
Centering Prayer is a receptive method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, prayer in which we experience God’s presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself. This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship.
This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to deepen that relationship.
Trappist Monk Father Thomas Keating, born in 1923 is known as the modern founder of Centering Prayer although this form of prayer dates back many centuries to the Desert Fathers and Mothers.
Cynthia Bourgeault who has written and taught extensively on Centering Prayer writes that even though we can perhaps find ways to stop “outer noise” it is much more difficult to still the “inner noise”. She says Centering Prayer “….is a very simple method for reconnecting us with that natural aptitude for the inner life…which, over time, of its own accord, leads to personal self-emptying and a more unitive outer life”.
Centering Prayer takes us out of the internal noise to a deeper part of ourselves. It’s a way to dial down what tend to be more surface and connect with our centre.
Within this silence, space is created for God to move, work, heal and transform. This seems to happen without our conscious awareness.
For me this practice has been deeply transformative on many levels. It enables me to let go more easily, to live more contentedly and operate from a place of inner peace and settledness.
The practice of Centering Prayer is to come away from thinking into deeper places of stillness. As Cynthia Bourgeault says, “the intention is to consent to the presence and action of God within”
Although we aim to empty the mind of obsessive thinking and the noise of life, this is as a way to open up a space within us for God.
During the prayer time we come away over and over from thoughts dropping down into place within ourselves below the head. This could be described as entering the heart space of ourselves.
Sit in a comfortable yet attentive position, normally upright with hands resting in the lap.
With eyes closed slowly allow the body to come to stillness:
Bring attention to the movement of breath.
Relax the shoulders.
Let the body sink down into the chair and be held.
Choose a sacred word or phrase. You may try a few out to begin with before settling on one that feels right. When you return to thoughts say this word as a reminder to bring you away from them and return to stillness.
When thoughts come – as they surely will – you may also want to imagine them passing through your head and sailing away like boats on a river. It helps me to think of the boats or thoughts sailing away as prayers – heard and responded to.
As much as possible treat physical sensations in the same way as you do thoughts; let them go by simply and gently returning to your sacred word. If a sensation becomes unbearable gently allow yourself to return to outer awareness, make necessary adjustments, and return to your sit.
It is common to have thoughts of various kinds during a prayer sit. They might involve your plans for the day, or give you some psychological insight into your behaviour, or be about the nature of God; you may find yourself with pleasant thoughts, or angry feelings, or notice yourself trying to create a particular mood in your practice. You may even be aware of being ‘blissed out’. No matter the type or nature of thoughts and feelings the response is the same: gently return to your sacred word, which is the symbol of your “intention to consent to the presence and action of God within”, and then let go. Do not analyse, label or judge your thoughts and feelings. Simply, gently, let them go. Over and over and over.
And as way of entering the prayer time…
Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know
If you’re interested to read more extensively I highly recommend Cynthia Bourgeault’s book, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening.