Q: There is a small creek in our backyard and I enjoy practicing Centering Prayer while sitting on the back porch or opening a window so I can hear the sound of the creek. Is this sound considered a thought that I should turn away from?
A: Thank you for reaching out to us about thoughts during your Centering Prayer time. It is a gift to have a bubbling creek near to you as you sit with God in your sincere intention to grow in relationship. Thomas Keating has a wonderful video that addresses what we do with thoughts during our prayer time. It is called “The Method of Centering Prayer, Guideline #3: Handling Thoughts” that you can watch here.
To answer your question directly, it depends on what you are doing with the sound of the creek. It seems to me that you are placing yourself in a peaceful place that includes God’s grander in nature. Listening to the sound of the creek is soothing and helps you leave ordinary awareness and your everyday activity while preparing to pray. Sitting with the sound of the creek is like praying a short vocal prayer or watching your breath for a few minutes before you begin your meditation time. Listening to the creek during your “vestibule” time is a wonderful way to enter your prayer time.
Then, as you begin to pray the Centering Prayer, your attention is not on the sound of the creek but your intention to be with Presence. When you become aware and/or engaged with the sound of the creek, use your sacred word or sacred breath to return your intention to be with God. The sound of the creek reminds me of Thomas’ teaching of being in a supermarket and not noticing the background music. We go about our shopping not really hearing the music until we are waiting in line at the deli and hear a song that means a lot to us. We begin singing along. The sound of the music has engaged our thoughts and we are taken away from the wait. In your prayer place the bubbling creek sound is like the music in the market. When you become engaged with the bubbling creek during the prayer time, return ever-so-gently to your sacred symbol thus returning to your heart-to-heart conversation with God. The creek only becomes a thought in the Centering Prayer if you become engaged with its sound and it takes you away from your deep conversation.
Thoughts are a normal part of the prayer so there will be times you notice and become attracted to the creek’s sounds. This doesn’t take away from your prayer time as it is an integral part of the letting go of the Centering Prayer practice. The more we let go of our thoughts during the prayer the more we can let go of our thoughts during everyday life. In this letting go, we can begin to live in the present moment or what Jesus called the Kingdom of God. It seems your creek is a great help in your growth in Love. Enjoy your lovely prayer place without worry.
Please let me know if this was helpful in your journey.
Peace and joy, Leslee Terpay