Have you heard of Centering Prayer? I hadn’t either, but I’m so glad it finally came into my life. All those years, attempting meditation practices, and it just never felt right to me. I always felt like I was attempting to connect to self more than anything else, and it felt empty to me. This is a completely personal thing, the type of meditation you choose. There’s no question that meditation, in any form, has innumerable benefits. For me, it’s Centering Prayer. Hands down, it has got to be one of the most powerful practices there is. Funny thing about this “powerful” practice? It’s all about surrender.
Apparently people don’t like the word surrender. And they certainly don’t like the word consent. But if, for a moment, you will look beyond the way you see these words in terms of modern life and think of them in conjunction with your relationship with God, it changes everything about them. And Centering Prayer changes everything about you – when no amount of effort on your part can even get close.
The whole idea behind Centering Prayer is that you are making yourself completely available to God, giving the Divine TOTAL access to you, and one of the absolutely incredible and miraculous things is how you are healed in ways that you never could on your own.
Centering Prayer is a simple, beautiful practice. You sit, for 20 minutes. And you stay there. And God changes you, without you doing a thing. You don’t have to petition, asking for what you want, describing what you need. Because do we always really know what we need anyway, what’s best for us, what we’re going to need?
Centering Prayer is a surrender meditation. There is not a focus on the breath or on a mantra – ironically, the focus is on NOT having a focus at all.
Step 1 – Sit.
• This might just be the hardest step of them all. Getting yourself to actually sit down for 20 minutes when often, even knowing how wonderful and powerful this meditation is, you’re still going to have everything in you whining, “I don’t wanna.”
• When I sit, before I begin, I usually say something very simple to remind myself of the intention of this time, a simple prayer or acknowledgement of why I’m sitting such as, “Here I sit, my one desire is to be completely available to You.” Some like to move into Centering Prayer from scripture study or after repeating the phrase, “Be still and know that I am God.” Again, this is totally personal, and there are no rules about how to go about this. Just that you GET there.
• I set a timer so I won’t be distracted looking at the clock.
Step 2 – Say (in your head) your sacred word.
• This is just a word or very short phrase that you have come up with ahead of time. It is not meant to be a mantra, it doesn’t have any meaning at all, nothing that you cling to whatsoever – it is simply a cue to, once again, let go. Use the same sacred word each time you do Centering Prayer, hopefully every day. I’ve heard people say that it’s totally fine to change the sacred word but not while in the middle of the meditation. We aren’t meant to attach meaning to the word, so it’s really best to not overthink it. It’s just a cue. It could be anything that feels good to you.
Step 3 – Stay sitting.
• It’s hard to describe and really has to be experienced personally to be able to understand. You’ll sit there. Your mind will wander. You will notice that you’re thinking about something, and you will not be hard on yourself at all. You will say your sacred word as a cue to let those thoughts go. You will be very gentle with yourself during this entire process. Oops, I’m thinking again. . . sacred word. . . and very gently bring yourself to let the focus on those thoughts drift away. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
You might think that this would be a great time for God to reveal an answer to you, that this might even be a time to worship God, but this is a different prayer altogether, so even if you have a moment of sudden clarity that you’ve been longing for, the idea of this prayer is complete surrender, and clinging to anything at all, even wonderful things, is the opposite of your intention for this time. Total availability to what God wants for you is the only intention during Centering Prayer. Trust that whatever goodness comes up for you will return when you are no longer in Centering Prayer, and that God really does know what is best for you and when.
That’s it. That’s the 20 minutes. And now it’s up to you. You won’t feel like anything is happening for the entire 20 minutes. You will most likely feel like you spent the entire time realizing that you had a constant stream of thoughts going on. But the work was done. While you sat there with your desire to be completely available to God, the work was done without you even noticing. You will start to notice, and it doesn’t take very long, that things in your life are changing. That you are changing. Without even trying.
The more consistent you are with the practice, the more you’ll feel its healing benefits. Repeatedly sitting with the experience of what it feels like to LET GO begins to create a lovely habit of surrender that happens very naturally and feels like such a relief. You have practiced, again and again, in Centering Prayer, the stance of letting thoughts float away, dissipate into nothing and disappear. You’ll find that you gradually just automatically begin to do this with things in your everyday life as well. You become less reactive, get worked up less easily and are able to release things in a way you weren’t able to get to before.
Stay with it; it’s so worth it.
(originally written in July 2016)
This is a very basic summary of the beautiful practice of Centering Prayer. If you would like to learn more from two wonderful teachers, check out Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault and Open Mind, Open Heart by Thomas Keating.