Q: Over the last few months I’ve been experiencing a lot of deep grief during Centering Prayer periods followed by understandings outside of prayer into trauma that occurred when I was a child, and realizations and insights into harmful thinking and coping patterns that have bound me for years. I want very much to be free from what has so adversely influenced me and am at a place where I could really use more support from people who may be more versed in this process than I am. Are there particular programs, retreats or resources Contemplative Outreach offers that I might participate in, or that might help me through this process?
A: Thank you for this important question. I am glad to hear that you are reaching out for support as you work with the deep and tender feelings that are coming up for you. You recognize that your Centering Prayer practice is helping you to release these feelings and providing an opportunity for you to work with them to heal harmful thinking and coping patterns. While a contemplative retreat can be a helpful place to practice intensively and begin to release such feelings in a safe environment, since this process is already underway in you, it seems to me that it would be more helpful for you to concentrate on finding more long-term forms of support as you continue to work with the material that is being released. Are you working with a therapist? Since you are working with trauma it may be useful for you to find some sort of ongoing therapeutic assistance. It can be difficult to find a therapist who practices Centering Prayer. Don’t let not being able to find the “perfect” person discourage you from working with someone who could help support you as you explore your trauma. A therapist with a serious meditation practice can be helpful, even if it is a different practice. My own therapist is a Zen priest with a good understanding of the contemplative journey and I have also experienced group therapy with meditation practitioners from another tradition that was very helpful. In addition to therapy, you might also seek out a spiritual director who is familiar with contemplative practice or a spiritual direction group. You might ask your contemplative companions if they have any recommendations, but if you can’t find such specifically spiritual assistance, explore the options that are available and affordable to you. Finding reliable and qualified support can be essential as you work on creating new habits and patterns.
If you are not doing so already, you might also want to practice the Welcoming Prayer, which will provide you with a way of being with your physical sensations of grief and trauma as they arise in your body. The Welcoming Prayer can be particularly valuable when such feelings erupt unexpectedly in the midst of daily life and need to be acknowledged and contained. These videos on Contemplative Outreach’s YouTube page could help you get started.
Be very gentle with yourself and proceed as slowly as you need to with this important work. The Spirit is calling you into full aliveness. It’s not easy to feel all your pain and vulnerability as they arise. But doing so will enable you to feel more fully all your joy as well. Your contemplative practice will help you to learn to receive all of yourself, your experience and your feelings as a gift.
And a P.S. from a reader: As a long-time Centering Prayer practitioner, I have found that it pairs very well with the 12-Step Program, Adult Children of Alcoholics and Other Dysfunctional Families (ACA). This 12-Step program provides participants an opportunity to explore the patterns they have unwittingly developed–and live out of as adults–in response to adverse childhood experiences. Grieving our past is an important part of ACA. And the 11th Step is where Centering Prayer comes in: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understand God praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.
To read more about ACA and to find in-person meetings in your area or meetings to attend by Zoom, visit: Welcome – Adult Children of Alcoholics & Dysfunctional Families