False self, Centering Prayer and Welcoming Prayer


Q: I have been practicing Centering Prayer for many years, although it doesn’t fall easy for me. One thing I have kept being frustrated about is how to view the false self in actual daily life. For example, I have been in a couple of relations that have been psychologically unhealthy for me, because of manipulative and invasive behavior patterns. This has brought me to a psychological break down to the point where I can not deal with these relationships any more. For me and my person that is quite obvious, but for my spiritual mind it is difficult, because I keep telling myself that these persons should just be welcomed, and accepted as they are, and I should just keep in mind that it’s just the false self in me that keeps getting hurt, anyway. Well, I have a hard time navigating these things, and I am unable to choose these relations even though I am sure it is possible in an abstract theological way to excuse it. My question then becomes: should we take care of ourselves, including our personality, with its (false??) need for feeling safe in relationship to others? I find it hard to believe I can be anything for anyone else without prioritizing a sort of self care in these situations.

A: Thank you for reaching out. You articulated your question so poignantly.  To clarify, the Welcoming Prayer isn’t passive.  Yes, we are asked to Welcome what is happening and embrace the moment, but that doesn’t mean we don’t then take action to rectify or change the situation.  And this isn’t a failing of our ‘false’ self.  Each of us have patterns of behavior and wounds for our earliest days that still manifest in our behavior to this day.  As we mature under the Spirit’s guidance (which is what Centering Prayer is all about), we are asked to awaken to these patterns and take appropriate action.  We may become aware of harmful relationships.  We don’t need to blame the other, but we are asked to take responsibility and not continue to put ourselves in harm’s way.  These practices are ways of being loved into life.  And as Fr. Thomas Keating stated, “we are made for unlimited happiness”, once we let go of the illusions that keep us bound.

I hope this helps.  If you have any questions or concerns about my response, please feel free to reach out.

Blessings on your Journey,

Mary Dwyer
Contemplative Outreach