Chapter 2: Renewing your Practice of Centering Prayer Part III:
Grounding your Centering Prayer Practice by Letting Intention and Consent Flow into Your Life
Reconnect to the fourth basic guideline: at the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes. As Jane’s spaciness and lack of motivation for the spiritual journey shifted, we turned to her final and most important issue: being “ungrounded in life.” I asked her to describe more fully what she meant by this phrase. She said, “I used to feel invigorated in my life as a result of my Centering Prayer. Now I feel a little more inward, less rooted in the world. I know this isn’t good because prayer should bring me back to others. So I feel bad about that.”
Although a sense of inwardness and detachment from the world often develops with the spiritual journey, Jane’s concern about being ungrounded in life was a valuable self-insight. Being ungrounded is different from being detached. So once again, Jane and I explored how the basic foundational guidelines of Centering Prayer could help her align herself with a deepened experience of God. I asked her how she was ending her prayer periods. “Well,” she said, “I just let go of my sacred word and then get up. I know I am supposed to sit there for a moment, so I try to. But usually I just start thinking about my day, so I may just as well get to it. I don’t feel that peaceful anyway.”
The fourth beginning guideline for Centering Prayer says, “At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.” Just as the preparatory minutes for Centering Prayer are an important time, in which you can use prayers in words, your thoughts about God, or reading Scripture to briefly get in touch with an intention that disposes you for the ensuing period when you are not to be concerned about thoughts, the concluding period provides an important opportunity for you to return to prayers in words, your thoughts, or reading Scripture. Just as the preparatory minutes allow us to establish our intention of faith and relationship with God for the actual period of Centering Prayer, the concluding minutes help us reemerge into ordinary life with an intention that is more rooted in God. These additional minutes enable us to bring the atmosphere of silence into everyday life.
Jane and I spoke about five things she could do to conclude her Centering Prayer well and create a bridge between prayer and activity. First, we explored how she might spend a few moments just resting in God. In the same way that you should not immediately slam your car into fifth gear after it has been in reverse, in Centering Prayer, you should take a moment to rest your mind and heart and be in the present moment after you have let go of the sacred word. By letting go of effort and just resting, you allow the relational quality of the prayer to enfold any lingering sense of self-achievement there might be in you. Similar to the way you might conclude lovemaking by resting in the arms of your beloved in order to remain in the union that is beyond and within physical
pleasure, you conclude Centering Prayer by taking time to rest in God without trying to find God, without even trying to meditate. You really learn receptivity in relationship when you let go of all activity, when you let go of the sacred word, and simply be.
As Jane began taking time to rest in God at the conclusion of her Centering Prayer, she realized how hard she been trying with her sacred word. When she ended her Centering Prayer period the way she had previously, sometimes her mind was full of thoughts. But now she learned to just be, in the hiddenness of faith, and simply rest in the ordinary moment with everything, including God, amidst thoughts. The experience of not using the sacred word at the conclusion of her Centering Prayer gave her a greater sense of how to use it during Centering Prayer: with receptivity rather than effort.
I also encouraged Jane to explore a second bridge between her Centering Prayer and resuming activity. After resting her mind in openness in the first moments after letting go of her sacred word, she took another moment to bring her mind and attention to her sense perceptions. She noticed her breathing and gently directed her attention throughout her body, sensing her face, neck, arms, back, legs, and feet. Focusing on her body helped her ground the effects of Centering Prayer in her sensory experience. She began to experience how sensation naturally arises and falls in awareness. Sometimes she became more aware of the tension she was feeling about her upcoming day. As she let her attention rest in the tension, blessed by the effects of her Centering Prayer, the sensation released a bit.
In the wake of grace, everything finds its natural release. The inner anxiety behind physical tension often dissipates when, after Centering Prayer, you embrace God by gently resting your attention in the tension and anxiety. In Centering Prayer, you open yourself to resting in God’s presence in pure awareness. Pure awareness is the ground in which all specific sensations and perceptions arise and fall. Integrating this resting in pure awareness with attention to sense perception is a way of bridging the secrecy of Centering Prayer and manifest life. When Jane ended her prayer in this way, she found that she was more grounded, more attentive, during the day.
(to be continued next month)
David Frenette's website is Incarnational Contemplation. He is available for spiritual direction by phone. Go here for more information: www.incarnationalcontemplation.com/spiritual-direction/what-is-spiritual-direction/