Q: I’m at times confusing Centering Prayer with mindfulness meditation. At times when I’m doing Centering Prayer, I find that I’m focusing on my breath and I know I’m not supposed to focus on anything. I’m wanting to build more of a relationship with God and feel God’s presence in my life, but also I’m wanting to reduce the anxiety in my life. So, do I do two different sits each day?
A: Thanks for reaching out. You are right in that Centering Prayer is refining our intention while leaving our attention open (rather than focused on anything in particular). And the intention is to consent to God’s presence and action during this time by: 1. Staying in the chair and 2. Returning ever-so-gently to our sacred symbol when we become aware we are engaging with any thought (ex: memory, imagining, commentary, feeling, body sensation, etc. ). The breath can be our sacred symbol but we just allow our attention to drop its focus on continually staying or counting it.
So Centering Prayer is depending on the Divine Indwelling’s presence loving us into life, regardless of the psychological content of the moment.
As I read your question, your intention with your Mindfulness practice is to reduce anxiety. And that is a wonderful intention. But Fr. Thomas reminded us that the Beloved (Divine Indwelling) is the best therapist we’ll ever have because we are known and loved from the inside out! Divine Therapy’s goal, as I understand it, is union with the Divine. A mighty goal!
David Frenette’s book, The Path of Centering Prayer: Deepening Your Experience of God, has a wonderful chapter on the use of breath as a sacred symbol. This may help you integrate these practices and clarify your intention.
What I do know is that your heart’s desire for a closer relationship with God is really the best foundation for any practice ( Centering Prayer, Mindfulness, etc.).
Blessings on the journey,