A New Generation of Seekers

Opening Minds, Opening Hearts Podcast Season 2 Episode 8 with Keith Kristich

Episode Title: A New Generation of Seekers

“There are so many doorways into contemplation and doorways into God - prayer, meditation, mysticism. How do we make use of all these doorways without getting lost? I think that’s one of the evolving aspects of the contemplative community and particularly among young people who grew up in an interspiritual environment…..they recognize there is wisdom there to learn from and it’s a critical component. We all arrive at Centering Prayer through different doorways.”

- Keith Kristich

On today’s episode, we will explore the changing needs of Christian contemplatives through a thought-provoking conversation with our guest, Keith Kristich. Keith is a writer, retreat leader, and founder of the online contemplative community, Closer Than Breath. His mission is to help people unlearn rigid religion, reimagine what is divine, and see God everywhere. Keith is a commissioned presenter of Centering Prayer through Contemplative Outreach and trained with the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in leading contemplative prayer groups and retreats.

“If the Spirit is one, the people are one. If we are open to the Spirit within us, we are going to find that within.”

- Keith Kristich

In this episode
  • Like many others, Keith found Centering Prayer by Divine grace. He wanted to explore oneness and union with God but his evangelical background did not provide the language needed for contemplation. Once he was introduced to the method of Centering Prayer through Father Thomas Keating’s teachings, he began to practice meditation and prayer in a centering environment and it changed his life. 
  • Keating’s teachings gave him a how-to manual and a map of the journey with an interspiritual lens. Through this method, Keith learned there were resources and insight into the evolving contemplative community. 
  • Keith wanted to be part of a contemplative community but there was not one available in his area, so he created an interspiritual community himself, Closer Than Breath. 
  • Keith believes people are hungry for diversity. It’s like salt and pepper for their spiritual lives. He feels it’s important to be rooted in a tradition but recognize the wisdom that comes from others which enhances our practice and our faith. We can have more respect for others when we connect with those that think differently, believe differently and live differently because we are coming from a place of unity. 
  • Keith shared that our thoughts are persistent. This path is one of surrender and grace is at the heart of it. The battle we have with our inevitable thoughts makes Centering Prayer difficult but it is also revolutionary, therapeutic, transformative, and healing. We learn to let go of the thinking mind and approach it with grace. 
  • He says letting people know that you don’t have to be a Christian to practice Centering Prayer validates the tradition and opens the door to a younger generation of seekers.

    “If there were a widespread renewal of the practice of the contemplative dimension of the Gospel, then the reunion of the Christian churches would become a real possibility and dialogue with other world religions would have a firm basis in spiritual experience and the religions of the world would bear a clearer witness to the human values they hold in common.”

    - Father Thomas Keating

    To learn more about Father Thomas Keating’s guidelines for service and principles visit www.contemplativeoutreach.org/vision

     To connect with Keith Kristich:  To connect further with us:  

    Season 2 of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts was made possible by a grant from the Trust for the Meditation Proces a charitable foundation encouraging meditation, mindfulness and contemplative prayer.

     This episode of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts is produced by Crys & Tiana LLC www.crysandtiana.com
    Opening Minds, Opening Hearts Ep # 8: A New Generation of Seekers with Keith Kristich
    [cheerful music starts]
    Colleen Thomas [00:00:02] Welcome to Opening Minds, Opening Hearts, a podcast about the transformative practice of Centering Prayer. In each episode, we will talk to Friends of Contemplative Outreach about their personal practice. Listen in as our guests share insights about the teachings of Father Thomas Keating, how the practice impacts their work in the world, and their thoughts about how Centering Prayer connects to the living traditions of contemplation and meditation. We are your hosts, Colleen Thomas.
    Mark Dannenfelser [00:00:35] And Mark Dannenfelser.
    Colleen Thomas [00:00:36] Centering Prayer practitioners and contemplative life seekers who love to talk a little too much about how the practice of contemplative prayer transforms our inner and outer worlds. Our hope is to open the door for you to explore more deeply this powerful practice of Centering Prayer.
    [cheerful music ends]
    Mark Dannenfelser [00:00:59] Welcome to the Contemplative Outreach Podcast, Opening Minds, Opening Hearts. I am Mark Dannenfelser.
    Colleen Thomas [00:01:06] And I'm Colleen Thomas.
    Mark Dannenfelser [00:01:09] Hi Colleen. 
    Colleen Thomas [00:01:10] Hi Mark. Okay, we are back for another episode. And how are you feeling today?
    Mark Dannenfelser [00:01:20] I'm feeling good. This has been fun talking to so many great guests.
    Colleen Thomas [00:01:24] Yeah, yeah. We're just deepening our relationships really, which is what's so exciting about this podcast. Having a podcast of Contemplative Outreach really is giving us access to some great folks and great conversations and everyone is really encouraging about this podcast, which for us was just a, hey, let's see if we can do this. And here we are in our second season and coming to the end of our second season too, which is incredible. So as you all know, listening this season, we've been having conversations framed by one of Contemplative Outreach's guiding principles, which says, Contemplative Outreach is an evolving community with an expanding vision and deepening practice of Centering Prayer that serves the changing needs of Christian contemplatives. And so we're excited to continue this conversation today around the changing needs of Christian Contemplatives and who they are in some way. Right, Mark?
    Mark Dannenfelser [00:02:38] Yeah. And we have a great guest who can help us explore this more deeply. I introduce you to him briefly here, Keith Kristich from Closer Than Breath. Keith is a writer, retreat leader and founder of the online contemplative community, Closer Than Breath. Keith's mission is to help people unlearn rigid religion, reimagine what's divine, and see God everywhere. Keith is a commission presenter of Centering Prayer through Contemplative Outreach and trained with the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in leading contemplative prayer groups and retreats. We're delighted that you're here. Keith. Welcome.
    Keith Kristich [00:03:18] Thank you, Mark. And thank you, Colleen. Honored to be a part of this and so glad, first off that this podcast exists. That's a very good thing for the world.
    Colleen Thomas [00:03:28] Yay, Keith, we've been so excited to talk to you because we're just like, oh, we both know Keith, we know what to talk to him about. So, which is nice because prepping for a podcast can be a lot of work. You really got to get to know who you're talking to. And we do know you and I can't begin any conversation with you or any time I get to facilitate something with you without sharing with everyone that you and I met during the pandemic on Instagram, we're Instagram friends. And I love that story because I think it speaks so much to something really unique to you as a person, but as a new contemplative that you're really out here creating community in social media spaces, which is something that many contemplatives, including myself as you know, are often very reticent to do.
    Contemplatives and putting ourselves out there on the gram don't really go together. So, and I do want to talk about a little bit about that in our conversation today. Because I think that has a lot to do with how we as a community serve the changing needs of contemplatives. But first, it's our practice in this podcast to start off with all of our guests, learning a little bit about your relationship with Centering Prayer. So Keith, can you talk to us a little bit about how you were first introduced to the practice of Centering Prayer and the impact it's had and I know still having on your life as a contemplative?
    Keith Kristich [00:05:12] Sure. Yeah. Well, I think so many people, I was introduced to it in a way by accident. And I call that grace divine grace. The short story is I grew up in the church in the evangelical church and we did not have vocabulary for contemplation, contemplative prayer. There was no reference to union with God oneness. When I went off from my evangelical roots into my evangelical college and found myself in moments of quiet in this like well of silence, the silence of the heart, there was no language for that. And so I thought immediately, well, I think this is something like meditation and in my mind, evangelical mind, meditation equal Buddhist. And so I got to explore some Buddhist meditation practices, which was so helpful because Buddhists are so good at meditation in some sense, as good as you can be. 
    Within a few months I was introduced to a Franciscan friary, the OFM order. So the same orders, Richard Rohr. And it was there that this retreat center in New York State Mount Irenaeus, that they were teaching Centering Prayer from the pulpit of this Catholic retreat center, I wasn't even Catholic, but was invited into the space where these brothers were living together at contemplative retreat center offering retreats and speaking on Sundays from the pulpit about Centering Prayer. And so it was in that context that I was first introduced to the practice.
    Colleen Thomas [00:06:34] And what kind of impact did it have on you? And I'm gathering at the time that you were introduced to it, you were already introduced to Buddhist practice. So did that shift your primary practice at the time? What did that do to your own relationship with your Christian faith overall?
    Keith Kristich [00:06:56] It really helped recenter things. A very appropriate Centering Prayer, right? They were speaking the language, you know, the Buddhists weren't necessarily speaking the language of the heart. They weren't speaking the way of union with God. And so that was the experience in those moments of silence in my like dorm room in college, I was trying to meditate. But then once I was introduced to this more Christian mystical tradition, all of a sudden things began to click. I was then able to live at this retreat center for nine weeks after graduating. So that would've been 2011. And that was a really centering experience because it was nine weeks living with five brothers doing prayer multiple times a day, going to mass multiple times a day. 
    And all of this is a Protestant guy, just trying to figure it out. But yeah, it really just took over all of my life because then after that experience, continued to practice Centering Prayer daily, trying to figure it out in a post-college environment, how to practice meditation, how to practice prayer in the urban thrust of the world. And then eventually started some Centering Prayer groups because I thought, if I'm going to make this work for myself. I need some community to support myself. And that didn't exist in the city that I lived. So
    Mark Dannenfelser [00:08:07] I'm hearing you tell your story, Keith, about coming from an evangelical tradition, going to an evangelical college, getting interested in Buddhism, finding Christian contemplation through the Franciscans. At some point you found the work Thomas Keating, specifically as you got into Centering Prayer, it sounds like, and that's a thrust of your offerings right now. It does have a very strong interspiritual component, right? That you're drawing from a lot of different traditions and people are finding their way to the practice of Centering Prayer. I'm just curious about one, maybe how you came to the teachings of Keating, maybe through the practice of Centering Prayer. And what about those teachings, what kind of pulled you in? How did that get expressed now in the work that you're doing? In Interspiritual work, especially.
    Keith Kristich [00:08:57] Thomas Keating was one of the first, so I have to follow my journey starts with Thomas Merton and probably goes to Henri Nouwen. And then we moved to Thomas Keating. And what Thomas Keating did, at least for me, was give me the method. It gave me the actual like nuts and bolts of the practice. Merton was giving this big picture and Nouwen a lifestyle. And then Thomas Keating was here's the practice. This is what you do when you want to close your eyes. And so that was just, yeah, just profound because it gave me, like I said, the nuts and bolts, the how to manual and also a map of the journey. And so, yes, Thomas Keating from the very beginning was absolutely central to my practice because what I was experiencing originally as contemplation was unable to map that onto the Centering Prayer journey. Thomas Keating so beautifully mapped out psychologically, but yeah, from the very start, it always had this sort of inter-spiritual lens because it was at the base of my practice as well.
    In my evangelical world, Buddhists were not friendly people to be around. It was a scary type of association, but learning very quickly that there was resources there, there was insight there, there was things to embody and practice there. There was a voice to listen to and honor. And yet my own Christian tradition had that same nuts and bolts, the same insights from a slightly different perspective. And so Thomas Keating's voice, Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton's, all of those were the early Christian voices and remain central to the teaching and practice. At this point within Closer Than Breath, we are an inter-spiritual community. And so this inter-spiritual lens, I think is what the contemplative community is evolving to.
    I think there's so many doorways into contemplation. There's so many doorways into the prayer, into meditation, into mysticism, doorways into God. And so how do we make use of all these doorways maybe without getting lost? And so I think that's one of the evolving aspects of the contemplative community and particularly among young people that grew up in an inter-spiritual environment that have friends that are Buddhists, that have friends that are Muslim, and recognize that there's wisdom there to learn from. I think that's just a critical component. We all arrive at Centering Prayer through different doorways.
    Colleen, you mentioned Instagram, there's an Instagram Centering Prayer community. Then there's those on YouTube that follow Richard Rohr and then all of a sudden a Cynthia Bourgeault video and then a Thomas Keating video. And then there's those that are reading books by authors on Centering Prayer that never met Thomas Keating. And yet that's a beautiful doorway in itself. And so I think the doorways are numerous and I think they'll be continually expanding, which is really exciting. And one of those doorways to pass through is inter-spirituality.
    Mark Dannenfelser [00:11:39] Yeah. You know, it's funny you mentioned those three teachers. That was my exact trajectory too. I started with Merton that led me to Nouwen and that led me to Keating's work and in the same way, you know, looking for a method, how do we do this? It seemed so appealing when Merton spoke about it, a contemplative life, and then seeing how Nouwen lived that out, but finding that method that the Interspiritual component was there for Keating in the very beginning. Sometimes when you talk to people, they think that kind of came later for him. But he saw that linkage there, that connection there from the beginning. 
    There's a quote from him. “If there were a widespread renewal of the practice of the contemplative dimension of the Gospel, then the reunion of the Christian churches would become a real possibility and dialogue with other world religions would have a firm basis in spiritual experience and the religions of the world would bear a clearer witness to the human values they hold in common.” That's what you're saying. It sounds like to me that it's a real possibility. And you're seeing that in the work that you're doing, it sounds like. What do you hear from the people you're working with in terms of that openness to this movement between traditions?
    Keith Kristich [00:12:56] Yeah. Well I'll say just even maybe from my perspective, even the word possibility doesn't go far enough. If the unity is already there, it's inevitable. If we are open to this contemplative dimension within the gospel or within ourselves, that place of union that is preexisting with God and makes it preexisting with one another. It's inevitable that reunification can happen not only within the church at large, but the big church or the various religions. And so that's really encouraging to me. If the spirit is one, then the people are one. And if we're opening to the spirit, the one spirit within us, and we're going to find that within. But yeah, I think to get to your question, I think people are just hungry for diversity, diverse voices, religious, racially, ethnically, just by age. People are just looking for different kinds of voices.
    And when we get to the mystics, of course we can say they all sing the same song or they're all harmonizing together, different harmonies, different notes, but singing the same melody. And so that's so exciting. People want that. People don't necessarily read the same books by the same kinds of teachers, but they want a diversity. And I think that's a flavoring, the like salt and pepper to our spiritual life. And I think it's important to be rooted in a tradition like I do find it helpful to be like rooted in the Christian contemplative tradition so that we don't go all too woowoo or newy and just gimme a little of this and a little bit of that and a little bit of this. It's like we want to be a little bit more sophisticated than that. 
    And so having roots and watering our roots within the tradition is critical, but recognizing that the wisdom is there from others is the salt and pepper to our practice. It's the salt and pepper to our faith. It's the way we can connect with other people that think differently, that believe differently, that live differently if you can just have so much more respect because you know, you're coming from a place of union already.
    Colleen Thomas [00:14:55] Yeah, that resonates with me because I see in our kind of more modern contemplative or spiritual spaces, there can be this tasting at the surface of everything. And we know that the contemplative path in any tradition takes us to a place really of intense deep self emptying. And if we're just hanging out on the shallow end of a bunch of different pools, it's not so easy to get there to those deep waters. And this is something that may be more common with a new generation of younger people who are abandoning the spiritual but not religious. I find myself wondering, is there tradition in that community? How do you find tradition outside of religion? Is there such thing as spiritual tradition to hook yourself into and find a teacher and get dragged down into the deep waters of.
    Keith Kristich [00:16:13] The language I have come to use for myself is that of kind of Wilber's transcend and include that I don't necessarily think I'm spiritual but not religious. Sometimes I think I'm the most religious person in the world and the least religious person in the world at once. I'm sure many contemplatives would resonate with that. And I think more than being just religious or just spiritual but not religious, this ability to transcend our religious experiences or religious traditions and yet include them. So many of us transcend them by rejecting them. So we grew up in the church and that's, forget about the church. It has nothing, it's not helpful anymore and you just go and explore something else. So it's a sort of transcending moving beyond and rejecting. And what I think is a far more healthy experience is to go beyond it, transcend it, move beyond it, but also include the healthiest expressions in it.
    And I believe that each religious expression has healthy and mature ways and healthy and mature beliefs and true beliefs. And so that's the sort of path that I hope we could say younger people, but people that are swimming in more spiritual circles that they would be able to move beyond their tradition while at the same time really respecting it and including all that's like good, all that's true and all that's beautiful within it. And that's going to keep us rooted in the deep tradition like you're talking about, Colleen. And yet also free us to learn from others, to hear other voices, to hear a perspective that conflicts with my own mental conceptual thinking.
    Colleen Thomas [00:17:45] So what are some or one of the Christian traditions you're finding yourself transcending but including these days? Well, I've heard you talk about this a little bit very honestly too. I'm curious.
    Keith Kristich [00:18:05] Yeah, yeah. Well I think what comes most immediately to mind is how we approach Christ. And maybe it's that tension between the Jesus and the Christ. I'm thinking of Richard Rohr's book, The Universal Christ. And how we can sort of draw a line, a distinction and recognize that the Christ is this universal aspect that's alive within everything. Everything that exists has this sort of cosmic Christ-like logos, incarnational quality. So in my evangelical world, I've had to transcend move beyond this Jesus is the only way, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus shove down your throat and then we're going to shove Jesus down the throat of the whole world. That was a very real reality. And so I've had to very much move beyond that. But without throwing away the baby with the bath water, how do we reclaim, how do I reclaim the Jesus, how do I reclaim the Christ and bring that into my practice because it's already there.
    Christ is already in my heart. The evangelical understanding that Jesus, you must accept Jesus into your heart. It's a very contemplative attitude. But then the contemplative says Christ is already there. There is no acceptance. It's already there. So it's that transcending of of some of these older ideas and really their beliefs, anything, a lot of what I think spiritual but not religious or people that are post-Christian or ex evangelicals, they're really moving beyond a certain belief system and trying to get to that place of direct and immediate experience with God, which is contemplation. 
    And I think Centering Prayer is such a great method for that because it is a non-conceptual practice. It's not a mindfulness practice necessarily. It's not a thinking practice, it's not a meditation of concentration, it's a letting go of all that is. You spoke of no self before, Colleen. And so how do we get to that place of no self? You let go of everything that is. And so if we can move into that, I don't want to call it a mental space, but a non-conceptual space, then we're moving into the realms of contemplation. And to move into non-concept means to move beyond our belief.
    Colleen Thomas [00:20:16] You're really talking about the fruits of the practice that sometimes we don't see. The practice is there's something that happens in that 20 minute sit. And then there's something that happens in all the other minutes of the day where we're also letting go and detaching from belief systems and patterns of thinking. It's very difficult to do in life. It's very difficult to do in the practice. And so since this is a podcast about Centering Prayer too. Centering Prayer, we also do talk about like the guidelines sometimes. And so there's this guideline that says, when engaged with our thoughts, we return to the sacred word. And so the idea here is that we start thinking about thoughts and we lose our intention, which the sacred word is a symbol of our intention to consent. And Father Thomas teaches us that the sacred word is what helps us to detach from thoughts, not to stop them from coming and going, but to just detach. 
    And so I'm curious, you practice Centering Prayer, but you're also a facilitator of Centering Prayer groups. You're commissioned presenter of Centering Prayer, which means you facilitate intro workshops and you teach the practice. It must come up that you encounter people who are having real difficulty with their thoughts. How do I detach from thoughts? What have you learned from your own experience of Centering Prayer about detaching from thoughts and the persistence of thoughts in your own practice?
    Keith Kristich [00:22:00] Yeah, I think it's a matter of grace. I think this path is one of surrender, then grace is at the heart of it as well. And so the thoughts are inevitable. I think in our Centering Prayer introductory workshop, we talk about them as integral, inevitable, like we should expect them. The hand was created to hold, the eye was created to see and the mind was created to think. And so it's a great battle against our mind in Centering Prayer. In one way, like we're moving against the mind's natural desire to think. And so that's what makes it so difficult. And at the same time, that's what makes it so revolutionary. That's what makes it so healing. That's what makes it so therapeutic. That's what makes it so transformative that we're learning to let go of the thinking mind. And so I think just approaching it with grace to recognize that it's the natural capacity or desire of the mind to think.
    And so therefore the thought should be expected. And the real practice is learning to let go. It's not the practice of not thinking, it's not the practice of complete emptying of our mind. So we get to some baseline, nothing emptiness. Sometimes that happens and we can call that interior silence and the grace of contemplation. But the real everyday practice when we sit down once or twice a day for 20 minutes is a thousand letting gos. And they're letting go because the mind's just doing what it's doing. And so if we can approach it with grace, that's the best thing to do. The other thing that I use often is from Suzuki, a Buddhist monk who talked about the mind. Leave the front door of your mind open and the back door. Let the thoughts come in. Just don't serve them tea.
    Colleen Thomas [00:23:43] I like that.
    [solemn music starts]
    Mark Dannenfelser [00:23:51] In the Christian tradition, Contemplative Prayer is the opening of your mind and heart to God who is beyond thoughts, words, and emotions. Centering Prayer is a method designed to facilitate contemplation. The method suggests four guidelines. 
    One, choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God's presence and action within you. 
    Two, sit comfortably and relatively still, close your eyes or leave them slightly open and silently introduce your sacred word. 
    Three, when you notice you have become engaged with a thought, simply return ever so gently to your sacred word. 
    And four, at the end of the 20-minute prayer period, let go of the sacred word and remain in silence for a couple of minutes. The additional time invites you to bring the atmosphere of silence into everyday life.
    [solemn music ends]
    As you're talking, I'm thinking about,you mentioned that Ken Wilber's quote transcend and include that it's really about that getting past in a way, some of the particulars that can trip us up. And as you were talking, I was thinking about transcend and translate because a lot of that is language and belief system, as you said. So I'm curious about, as you're working with people and what is, in some ways, maybe it's really not a newer model, but it is a model that we're all looking to engage this less religious but still rooted in a tradition but not hung up on words about how we describe that or beliefs. So I'm curious about how you do that as you teach Centering Prayer specifically. Because You do teach Centering Prayer as you've been saying. So how does that look in the kind of its contemporary form today where you can teach the ancient tradition, the practice itself and negotiate that difficult terrain sometimes of belief and words and even what you were saying about Jesus and the Christ. That's for some people that's a tripping point right there, you know? 
    Keith Kristich [00:26:14] Sure. Yeah. Well I think we can return to Thomas Keating. Because Mark, before you said that Thomas Keating was in the interspiritual scene also from the earliest days. And you know, it's just really continuing his offering. I hope Thomas Keating will be equally known as a Centering Prayer teacher and an interspiritual teacher in the decades to come. And I'm thinking about it, one of the documentaries on Thomas Keating's life, I believe there's a rabbi that speaks about it saying something to the effect that Thomas Keating spoke. He spoke universal truths using Catholic language or using Christian language that he was using the language of the tradition to speak universal. The big truth. So small truth and big truth. And even if those are one in the same, sometimes we use the particular is identical to the universal at times.
    And so Thomas Keating I believe, was doing this in his own way. But I think really practically, I think one of the things I say, and I know this is not unique to me, others have said it, that you don't need to be a Christian to practice Centering Prayer. Mindfulness was born out of Buddhism and you don't have to be Buddhist to practice mindfulness. Each of us are being mindful now as we sit and talk and listen to one another. Yoga born out of the Hindu tradition. But you don't have to be Hindu to practice. And Centering Prayer born out of the Christian contemplative tradition. But you don't have to be Christian to practice. Because it is a non-conceptual practice. We're moving beyond the concepts, we're moving beyond the thinking, we're moving beyond the beliefs inside of our practice itself. 
    And so I think that's really encouraging to people that are looking for alternative practices beyond just the generic mindfulness, beyond the secular Buddhist mindfulness because there's so many different meditation practices and Centering Prayer is one among hundreds, I don't know thousands, how many meditation different practices are there. It has a different flavor. And the flavor of heartfulness I think is really attractive to people these days that get a lot of mindfulness thought. And mindfulness also has its own heartful quality. I'm not talking against mindfulness, it's just a matter of a different flavor.
    And so I think, yeah, just letting people know up front that you don't necessarily have to be a Christian to practice is helpful to people because it validates the tradition. It says yes, these are our people, St John of the Cross, St Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich. Like these are some staples in the Contemplative Outreach or Centering Prayer world and we're uplifting these Christian mystics. And yet you don't necessarily need to be a Christian to be practicing it, I think opens the door for people.
    Colleen Thomas [00:28:54] Yeah, it seems like it would be more welcoming to a new generation of seekers too. One thing really, you and I started our relationship talking about what it was like being the youngest person in the room, whether it's on a retreat or in a Centering Prayer group at Shalem or my spiritual direction training. And one of the most common questions I get from chapter coordinators within Contemplative Outreach is how do we get more younger people to come to our groups? Everybody's asking this. I'm sure people have inquired of you the same thing. I know that we all were in dialogue with, Mark and Mary Jane almost two years ago now. So a few things, how do you respond to that question? I know, especially, and then I know you're also still somewhat challenged by this with the Closer Than Breath community too, which can skew older still. So then why do you think young people aren't showing up to these spaces? And what efforts have you been making to make them feel more welcome or to create a deeper sense of, like you said, this flavor of heartfulness? Yeah.
    Keith Kristich [00:30:22] I think there's so many layers to this question, and I know it's one that gets echoed in different communities all around the world really. And because there's so many layers, there's going to be so many answers. I think one of the things is learning how to go to where, if we're talking about younger people, where are young people? And a lot of them are stuck behind these little black phones that we carry around in our pockets a lot of the time. And so if we're really looking to connect with younger people, then we're going to have to go to their little black phones because that's where they're spending four hours a day, sometimes more than that. I don't know how long people spend on their phones. But the tradition of Contemplative Outreach historically has been started contemplation in the monasteries done only by monks, then some monks gathered together and said, we need to give this to the rest of the people.
    Thomas and Basil Pennington and Father Meninger gathered and created the Centering Prayer method and started to introduce that to the lay people in the Catholic church. Lay people in the Catholic church took it and started to introduce it to other communities inside the Catholic church. This is how, and one version of how I understand the tradition, and that's an old model because it's just not a lot of young people inside of Catholic churches. I'm not even Catholic, so you're not going to find me there. So if we're going to find young people, we need to go to where they are. And I think a big piece of that is the social media world is the recognition that Instagram has a thousand different contemplatives, practicing, Centering Prayer, all disconnected all over the world, but they're there and they're on Instagram and they're sharing Meister Eckhart’s quotes and Howard Thurman quotes.
    It's to recognize that a podcast is something that some father or mother is going to listen to on their way to work as they drive through the New York City streets. They're going to be listening to this podcast. And that's a way of introducing Centering Prayer to people. And so I think an effort like this podcast is an example of one way to do that. If we're talking about how to get people to come to live groups, it's a whole different layer of conversation. And I think one of the short answers that I think is to help reframe Centering Prayer as a meditation practice. Because I think a lot of people, including young people, still are disconnected with their own Christian contemplative tradition. Thomas would reference Centering Prayer is meditation all the time. And so Basil Pennington and Cynthia Bourgeault, it is a meditation practice.
    And I think what we need to do as a community is to update our language, to talk about what is Centering Prayer? What is contemplative prayer? What is contemplation? What is contemplation in action? What is meditation? What is mindfulness? Is Centering Prayer mindfulness or is it not? So I think we have all of these swirling words that we can play with and I think that works to our advantage. And so if we can use the language that younger people are using, people don't know what the word Centering Prayer is, that's fine. We'll call it meditation, but teach Centering Prayer. If it's Centering Prayer, it's Centering Prayer. But call it meditation and see what that does.
    Mark Dannenfelser [00:33:24] Yeah, I'm glad you mentioned language, Keith. Because this is something at Contemplative Outreach we're looking at and it was really one of the reasons we decided to do a podcast. It would be another avenue for having longer conversations about this, but also in another format. And I think that is a challenge. I don't know, when I hear you speaking, I'm wondering how we can apply more of that in the Contemplative Outreach community specifically, which does come from that kind of earlier tradition that you spoke about. And it did through the teachings of Thomas Keating come out of the monastery and his experience of that. And seems to me that's a living tradition that is continuing to move. And we want to keep pace with that‌ in some way. Not just to be in or trendy, but to be able to reach other people, not just young people, but other people too, who aren't speaking this language.
    Colleen Thomas [00:34:18] Yeah, and I want to contribute to that too before you respond, Keith. And just maybe a practical way for you to help us as Contemplative Outreach do that. Because like we have a Centering Prayer app, right? And right now people are on apps like Insight and Calm daily and a lot of it is guided meditation is a lot more common on those platforms. A lot of people we've talked to on the podcast and just I've talked to in my work with the 40s and under community, a lot of people find Centering Prayers a lot more difficult than just sitting through a 20 minute guided meditation. 
    You have chosen to call and promote Centering Prayer and Closer Than Breath as a meditation community. A lot of people are resistant to doing that. But I guess my thought is like, like how could we in follow up with, Mark's thought, like how could we use the Centering Prayer app in innovative ways to reach more of the community, more of the people behind their little black boxes every day?
    Keith Kristich [00:35:26] Yeah, that's a tricky question because we just have to ask if young people are on the app. So if people are on the app, then that's great, but if they're not, then the question is just how do you get in front of people? How do you get the app in front of people? Sorry, don't have a.
    Colleen Thomas [00:35:43] No, no, I know that's a tough question. I think of you as like the marketing social media genius, which you guys, he is. He is really built a huge community of contemplatives online, which is, I mean that's the new community and this is where people are going and you're really doing that. I don't know, you're probably developing a Closer Than Breath app right now. You might not want to give away your secrets.
    Keith Kristich [00:36:11] No, Colleen. But that's not the case. But I'll say to something you said just a minute ago, I think there is a recognition that I think Centering Prayer is, if we talk about it among other contemplative practices, I would say Centering Prayer is a more "advanced practice" because it is a silent, non-conceptual practice. People do find it far easier to sit with a guided meditation where someone's there to assist you along the way. There's nothing wrong with that. And I benefit from doing guided meditations from time to time because it brings you to a different place in part, but because it's also just a gentle reminder as you practice. And so I think it's fair to say that Centering Prayer is a more advanced, I don't know if advance is quite the right word, but maybe a more mature practice that you're going to sit for 20 minutes with nobody talking to you and without trying to think about anything in particular.
    It is advanced. And I think if we tell people that, I think that can rub their ego in a good way. Like, oh, I'm doing an advanced meditation. But it also lets them know that this is not just basic mindfulness. This isn't just following your breath and just being still for a couple minutes. There's something more going on here. And I think that's the spiritual dimension of contemplation in that. But it does affirm their ego to say, okay, I'm going to do something difficult, more difficult meditation than most. And it also gives the expectation that this is going to be maybe a frustrating process.
    Mark Dannenfelser[00:37:44] But do you see a space or an opportunity for entry points into Centering Prayer that may be a little bit more user friendly? I know as a mindfulness teacher, there is a range, there's a lot of guided meditation and there's a lot of guidance during the meditation, even on retreats and all. But it also then spreads out and as people get into the practice and right out of the gate in Centering Prayer, say, just do your 20 minutes, two times a day, which of course there's wisdom in that as you're saying. I'm wondering, do you in some way adapt that the keeping the basic guidelines, but you're certainly adapting it now by being all online, which of course Thomas Keating couldn't even imagine when he first started that this would be a kind of a delivery system for it. But would you think it detracted from the practice of Centering Prayer to kind of.
    Colleen Thomas [00:38:41] Are you talking about like 20, doing five minutes versus.
    Mark Dannenfelser [00:38:44] Yeah. 
    Colleen Thomas [00:38:45] 20 minutes? What is your perspective on that, Keith?
    Keith Kristich [00:38:49] Yeah, I affirm that process of starting with less and growing. I think if we continue to hold the 20 to 30 minutes as the gold nugget of Centering Prayer. I guess I do just affirm that process of starting with five minutes, moving to 10, moving to 15. Often I've talked to people that look at a minute or two minutes and I think my nudge would be just go a little bit more. Like start with 10, don't go to six, then to seven. That's a little too kind to your ego in a sense, start with five, that's okay. And then when you're ready, you jump to 10 and then you go to 15, then you go to 20. And I think if we hold the gold standard of 20 minutes and people understand that's really what we want to do, then I think that's a safe way to repackage it for a world that is so fast, for a world where mothers and fathers are waking up and there's no silence in the morning, which I'm sure was true 30 years ago, but is somehow just different nowadays. 
    Colleen Thomas [00:39:47] Yeah. Okay. I want to just maybe ask you one more thing here. Because when you're talking about the five minutes to 10 minutes, I'm thinking of course about a younger generation too. And what's happening with our attention spans as a result of these little black boxes we're in front of all the time. And some of the data I'm finding, talking with younger contemplatives that are really expressing an interest in being back in-person communities. And at the same time, I'm starting an in-person Centering Prayer group in DC here in the fall. And our intention, I'm going to be co-facilitating it with another girl. Our intention was to do it every week. And then we get down to like talking to the location and we're like, how about we do it twice a month? Because the reality of like showing up somewhere live every week, it feels like more of a burden than it used to because this is so convenient to be virtual.
    But in light of the Surgeon General's recent report that everyone was buzzing about in the spring, this loneliness that researchers and psychologists are discovering doesn't seem like a surprise to me. I think there's something about an increase in the sense of loneliness and disconnection and an increase in our relationship to technology is definitely, and that young people want to, they need a Centering Prayer and a contemplative community because we also need friends. Like when I met you and Tia at the Mycelium Retreat, it was like, ah, friends, you know? And yes, we developed a relationship virtually, but Keith, you're a totally different person in real life than you're behind the screen.
    Mark Dannenfelser [00:41:57] That's probably a real compliment. That's a good thing.
    Colleen Thomas [00:42:00] Yeah. No, Keith, you're like my favorite person. Like I was just, I could not be prepared for meeting your whole personality in real life. But my point is that we need real relationships. Do you, because you're building this huge virtual community now, do you ever feel like you're missing human connection and really sitting and hearing other people breathe in a circle for 20 minutes and sneeze and all the real stuff that happens? Yeah. Fall asleep, snore, that person can't sit still. How do you feel about growing this virtual community and knowing there's a need for it and then your own need for connection and friendship?
    Keith Kristich [00:42:48] Yeah, yeah. That's so critical, Colleen. I love that so much. And just a huge affirmation that we need in-person groups. We need physical touch, warm bodies touching one another. We need to pray together in the flesh. There is something that happens there that doesn't happen necessarily online. So that need is so obvious. And for myself, a huge part of my 2024 plan is to go back into retreats. Because I was just starting to lead weekend retreats 2019 into 2020 and all of those, and a bunch of retreats got canceled. I'm really happy to finally jump back into in-person retreat world in 2024. And that's coming from a call, like a divine call, I believe, to get back in person. And I think that's so needed. I think at the same time, what's always so interesting is just that I think contemplation is itself a lonely call.
    Colleen Thomas [00:43:44] That's true.
    Keith Kristich [00:43:45] There's some sense that there's this longing that we understand as contemplatives that is only truly fulfilled in the divine. And even when we recognize the divine within ourselves, even when we recognize the divine unfolds inside of community and connection online and in person, I think there's still this longing and loneliness that rests at the base of the soul of the contemplative in a sense that only God can fill. That's a different loneliness though, Colleen, than what you are talking about. The psychology of loneliness because everybody's addicted to their phones or feels superficially connected because of Instagram and Facebook, but doesn't have a friend in their neighborhood. 
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    That's a different kind of loneliness. And one that I think that the groups and going on retreats going in person is going to requires we move to a post pandemic world.
    Colleen Thomas [00:44:39] Thanks for joining us on this episode of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts. Visit our website contemplativeoutreach.org to subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever else you listen to podcasts. You can also follow us on Instagram @ contemplativeoutreachltd. To learn more about our guests and their work, you can find info in the show notes for each episode. 
    If you enjoyed this episode, you might want to check out our YouTube channel: C-O-U-T-R-E-A-C-H. Coutreach. Thanks for listening and see you next time. 
    Mark Dannenfelser [00:45:25] Season two of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts was made possible by a grant from the Trust for the Meditation Process, a charitable foundation encouraging meditation, mindfulness, and contemplative prayer. To find out more about the foundation, go to trustformeditation.org. If you are a grateful listener and would like to support this podcast, go to contemplativeoutreach.org/podcast to make a donation of any amount. And thank you for your support.
    Colleen Thomas 00:46:00] This episode of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts is produced by Crys & Tiana.
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