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Posture and Breathing in Relation to Centering Prayer
Q: My impression is that some meditation practices have very specific guidance about physical technique such as posture, breathing etc. But Centering Prayer suggests fairly little except to have a comfortable upright posture (or lying down if you have back problems or are ill), the goal being to be relaxed but alert. What accounts for the difference? I suspect it has something to do with Centering Prayer not being a concentrative or awareness method.
Maybe I'm asking because I'm less aware of mental/emotional thoughts in practice, and more aware of aches and pains. Maybe I'm asking because I can't believe that the method is so simple and that it is okay to trust it. "I should be working harder." I have been practicing Centering Prayer for six years or so.
A: In the pamphlet, The Method of Centering Prayer, we have the four guidelines for the practice of Centering Prayer, as you know. Guideline #2 states "Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God's presence and action within." The desire is to make it as simple as possible so that the practitioner can enter into the primary purpose of the prayer, which is to consent to God's presence and action within.
There is much to be learned from the other traditions which give specific guidance about posture, etc. We have found the essence of their wisdom was to keep the back straight but in a comfortable way. As you stated - to be relaxed but alert.
You mentioned that you were 'aware of aches and pains.' Again, in the same pamphlet under Some Practical Points #3a: “we may notice slight pains, itches or twitches in various parts of the body or a generalized sense of restlessness. These are usually due to the untying of emotional knots in the body ... in all cases we pay no attention and ever-so-gently return to the sacred word.”
This is part of the letting go process, which is the work of the Holy Spirit healing us on a deeper level. Of course it is always good to have a little vestibule before your prayer time to perhaps walk, stretch, breathe, etc., to prepare yourself for the period of sitting. I find that I like to renew my intention of why I am entering into the prayer: ‘I wish to deepen my relationship with my God by consenting to God's presence and action in my life.’ This way my whole being is clear about what I am doing.
I loved your statement, 'I can't believe that the method is so simple and that it is okay to trust it.' I invite you trust it and allow the Lord to do the work during the prayer. - Blessings, Fr. Carl.