Deepening Relationships with the Spirit and the Community

Opening Minds, Opening Hearts Podcast Season 2 Episode 7 with Dr. Rory McEntee

Episode Title: Deepening Relationships with the Spirit and the Community

“When our relationship is anchored in the God in the divine….. we get beyond our acting and allow infused contemplation and God and the Spirit to do their work in us…… our interactions with others become more sensitized, allowing for the integrity, freedom, and dignity in the other person in their own journey which comes from their own anchoring in God.”

- Dr. Rory McEntee

This season we are having conversations framed by one of Thomas Keeting’s guiding principles:

“Contemplative Outreach is an evolving community with an expanding vision and deepening practice of Centering Prayer that serves the changing needs of Christian contemplatives.”
In this episode

On today’s episode of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts, we hear from Dr. Rory McEntee, a religion scholar and philosopher-theologian working at an intersection of contemplative life, education, social justice, and culture. He is the co-author of "The New Monasticism: An Interspiritual Manifesto for Contemplative Living” and the co-founder and Executive Director of the Charis Foundation for New Monasticism and Interspirituality.

Rory shares how he came to contemplative practice and Centering Prayer at a young age and who influenced his life. After reading widely in different traditions and religions he found that all different people with different religious persuasions were all having a transforming journey that led to greater wisdom, greater compassion, knowledge, and the depths of reality. This led him to question the point of life.

We discuss the support that community can offer and also some of the difficulties it creates. Rory feels one of the greatest ways to deepen our relationship with the spirit is to have a human embodiment that acts as a conduit that speaks to us in a uniquely human way. It touches us in a way that is difficult to do in other ways. Nature is a great teacher but the embodied presence and language the spirit flows through in a unique way such as comforting the ego, giving you the support you need, or saying the right thing at the right time creating a unique mentorship.

Rory says the key to empathy is respect, intimacy and distance at the same time. When we have empathy we can reflect on it and shared humanity and be with God and we are a unique manifestation of God on Earth. The affirmation we are all looking for cannot come from other people, it must come from our own uniqueness. Rory believes there’s a call for the greater traditions to come together in greater intimacy. Younger people want to establish a deeper relationship with reality and awakening. One of the great challenges of our time is opening up the traditions while serving others and developing rooted pathways that are accessible for anyone.

To learn more about Father Thomas Keating’s guidelines for service and principles visit

  To connect further with Dr. Rory McEntee:  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
Opening Minds, Opening Hearts EP #7: Deepening Relationships with the Spirit and the Community with Dr. Rory McEntee

[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 this season is to open the door for you to explore more deeply this powerful practice of Centering Prayer.

[cheerful music ends]

Colleen Thomas [00:00:58] Welcome to the Contemplative Outreach Podcast, Opening Minds, Opening Hearts. I'm Colleen Thomas.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:01:06] And I'm Mark Dannenfelser.

Colleen Thomas [00:01:08] And we're your host and we're excited to be here. Another great guest, another great conversation about Centering Prayer and Father Thomas. How are you feeling today, Mark?

Mark Dannenfelser [00:01:25] I'm feeling good. I'm excited about this. We've been talking to so many great guests and we have another great guest today, so I'm really excited.

Colleen Thomas [00:01:34] I know. Does it surprise you that we don't run out of things to talk about?

Mark Dannenfelser [00:01:40] No, I'm always worried that we might, but-

Colleen Thomas [00:01:42] I know.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:01:43] It never fails. 

Colleen Thomas [00:01:44] Yeah. 

Mark Dannenfelser [00:01:45] And especially this season, you know, as we're kind of exploring this principle out of Contemplative Outreach, it kind of operating principle for us about just how it's always evolving and expanding. That's kind of what the community is about and it's always about deepening the practice. So there's kind of a, it's just totally open. There's no end to that. 

Colleen Thomas [00:02:06] Yeah. We're always just barely scratching the surface of life in general and meaning, and especially when it comes to talking about the meaning of God. And as we'll talk with our guests today about the meaning of God as ultimate reality. It's endless, the mystery. I love thinking about the mystery, the divine as mystery. The more we know, the more there is to know and the less we know.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:02:39] Yeah. And the beauty of that idea of this ultimate reality is it's very accessible. And that's some of what I think we are able to speak about today with our guests is this, there are these changing needs throughout all contemplatives. And this is some of the work that Rory and his colleagues are doing.

Colleen Thomas [00:02:57] Speaking of the changing needs, this season we've been having conversations framed by this one guiding theological principle, one of many theological principles that Father Thomas Keating set out for Contemplative Outreach. And the principle we've been focused on 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 with this episode, we're shifting into this last part of the principle serving the changing needs of Christian Contemplatives. And we're going to explore that today with our guest and I'll let you go ahead and introduce him for us.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:03:54] Yeah, we're delighted to have Dr. Rory McEntee with us from Charis Foundation. And Rory's an author, scholar, educator, and contemplative activist as a close friend to his mentee, the late Brother, Wayne Teasdale. Rory helped to found the Interspiritual Movement as he traveled and participated in dialogues with world spiritual leaders, including his Holiness the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis. And we are delighted to have you here, Rory. Thanks for being here.

Dr. Rory McEntee [00:04:21] Thanks Mark and Colleen, it's an honor to be here with you. Looking forward to the conversation.

Colleen Thomas [00:04:27] Thanks. So are and we'd like to begin our conversations on opening minds, opening hearts with a really simple question that sometimes maybe is not so simple. But we want to hear how you came to the practice of Centering Prayer. I feel like I don't know as much about your story, your spiritual story, your background. So maybe you can talk a little bit and share with us a bit about your spiritual story, where you grew up. How did you first encounter Centering Prayer and how did that encounter shift your trajectory in terms of your experience of God?

Dr. Rory McEntee [00:05:13] Well, Centering Prayer in many ways has been there since the formal beginning, I guess, of me committing to a spiritual path, always as a child and growing up there's always a sense of God and of being with God. But I didn't hear about a spiritual journey until I was in college. And really towards the end of college I did a tutorial on Thomas Merton. And so I was kind of introduced to the Christian contemplative tradition directly through him. Spent my first day of silence there at Merton's Monastery and then following college, attended the Parliament of World's Religions in South Africa in 1999. And at the Parliament, a group of us from my college had gone down. We ended up hanging out a lot with Brother Wayne Teasdale. And Brother Wayne was a Catholic monk who wore the orange robe. The Hindu sannyasin has been initiated as a Christian Sanyasa by Bede Griffiths who he was very close with.

But Brother Wayne's spiritual father was really Father Thomas Keating, who Brother Wayne had known since he was a teenager, when he had been going through a dark night experience and met Thomas up in Spencer in Massachusetts when he was Abbott there. And he became a spiritual director. And following the parliament, Brother Wayne became my first formal spiritual teacher. And so as he taught me to meditate and gave me instructions to meditate twice a day for at least 40 minutes, I obeyed. And it made a huge difference. You know, I'd given up a lot to be with Brother Wayne and, well, I guess you're young, you haven't given up that much, but an opportunity to be with him. So I figured I better do what I'm asked for now. And so that helped, I think giving up a lot to be able to be there. So Centering Prayer really was there from the very beginning is the meditation technique that I used. Very respected, very open.

Colleen Thomas [00:07:13] And what drew you to the contemplative path at such a young age? Was there an experience or?

Dr. Rory McEntee [00:07:21] Well, for me, as I mentioned as a child, there are some experiences that I look back now and can say, certainly that was God and the spirit talking to me in a contemplative life. But I never heard about a spiritual journey. So it was hard to know. I can remember a time when I was in second grade and had this kind of insight experience about the church and a lot of people who were teaching me about God and about how they didn't necessarily have a direct relationship with God. That was the same as what I, it's crazy to think about because I was only in second grade and I only remembered it later in life. But now it seems very clear. But in college it was really, I took a tutorial on the historical Jesus. I had a really good college professor.

And that opened me up to the idea of a spiritual journey. And then to be honest, I read very widely different traditions, different people. And what became crystal clear to me was basically every human community throughout all of time, all different races, all different ethnicities, all different religious persuasions, you had people talking about a journey, a transformative journey that led to greater love, greater compassion, greater wisdom, greater knowledge of the depths of reality, and aligning ourselves with those. And I didn't see any way that this could be possible. How could you have a seventh century Tibetan and a 15th century Spanish Catholic monk not saying the same thing? Because there are real differences and those are really important. But enough of a similar thing of a journey of human transformation into God, into awakening, into Brahman. That it just didn't seem possible that you could have those descriptions unless this was real. And if it was real, then what was the point of life?

Mark Dannenfelser [00:09:16] Yeah. I'm curious about that part. So you're having this kind of explorative thing going on and then you meet Brother Wayne and Father Thomas. And it sounds also that there was this deeper kind of pull and you weren't just doing a study program on all of this, right? So I'm curious about what you were aware of at the time and maybe even looking back now and kind of like, what was it that felt sense of being drawn to this kind of contemplative life, which we maybe take for granted? Because we kind of go in those circles all the time, but that's pretty counter-cultural. What do you think was drawing you from the heart?

Dr. Rory McEntee [00:09:56] I think about it. So just thinking back now, there was the class on the historical Jesus and having a really good teacher teach it. But it just started to make more and more sense. It seems more intellectual, but it's not for me, kind of what I was just saying. Seeing that this really was possible and I guess a deep, deep yearning to want to use whatever gifts and abilities I've been given to help others, which I feel like I've been a great failure in and continue to be. But at some point I remember recognizing that I didn't know how I could best serve others, but I really believed God did and I believed there was a Holy Spirit that I'd always had a relationship did and that did know. And then as I learned about a spiritual journey where you could actually be transformed to become more aligned with the guidance of the Holy Spirit to allow that to flow through, then that kind of became the answer for me was by committing to this path.

Colleen Thomas [00:10:59] Yeah. And you used that word relationship again and earlier when you were talking about formative childhood teachers. You mentioned noticing, maybe you wouldn't have used this phrase then, but there was this missing direct relationship. What did you learn or see in Brother Wayne and later in Father Thomas? Like what does a direct relationship look like?

 Dr. Rory McEntee [00:11:30] With a teacher? Yes.

Colleen Thomas [00:11:33] Or with God too. Like did these being men who my senses, they unlike the childhood teachers, seem to have some direct relationship with a teacher.

Dr. Rory McEntee [00:11:48] Yes, yes. That's very true. Yeah. So kind of an insight in childhood that there was this other direct relationship I had with God, but many of the priests, many of the people in teaching CCD for whatever reason, that you kind of understand as a kid didn't necessarily or weren't teaching from this place of direct relationship. As I put it as a kid, they didn't know God. However that goes into your mind and what you say is exactly true. I mean, so why with Brother Wayne? And then I'll say a little bit about first meeting Father Thomas after it was so palpable. I'd already been studying now about a spiritual journey. So this understanding that not only is this direct relationship real, but it can be cultivated in deeper and deeper ways that even have stages and have aspects of the journey where things you can never be sure about anything.

But often many of us experience times of darkness, particular periods of awakening. And so that there's kind of a real, there's a way of going about deepening this relationship. And one of those greatest ways is having a human embodiment. That that relationship speaks to us in a uniquely human way through something about the individual person becoming a conduit for the work of the spirit, I think touches us in a uniquely human way. That's difficult to do in other ways. Stuff comes through on a different frequency, right? When the spirit is speaking, that we become more and more sensitized to that is a very embodied experience. And so you learn to be in that. And when there's a teacher present, the spirit flows through.

 But it can also flow through in so many unique ways in terms of even confronting the ego, in terms of giving you the support you need, in terms of saying just the right thing at the right time. And so there's a unique mentorship that can happen when you have teachers like this. And Brother Wayne was certainly one, he was just growing into his teacher-hood, very transparent. And Father Thomas was a master. I mean, you know, you could go read guru literature and you'll get stories of what it's like to be with Thomas.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:14:09] As you're talking about that Rory, it strikes me about what a great gift that is by teachers to students. We forget about that relationship being this a generative thing where there's this transmission of the practice or absorption of the practice that goes on simply through relationship and how powerful that is.

Dr. Rory McEntee [00:14:28] That's such a good point Mark. And I think it's there in the Christian tradition, you can go back and see this is, especially in the early days, this is what many people did. If you really wanted to give yourself to Christian life, you went out and served the desert fathers and mothers and it wasn't necessarily a guru in the same sense, but you went to one and you learned humbleness, you went to another and you learned love, you went to another and you learned charity. But it has this sense of going to great teachers and then just being with them, being in their practices, being in their presence. And somehow there's a transmission of gifts that teachers is cultivated throughout their life that passes on in both a mental stream but also in a very embodied way.

So it gets into the cells of your body in a unique way. And you know, other traditions have lots of teachings about how this works. True spiritual teachings cut across traditions, they may be emphasized more. And again, I'm not saying everyone is doing the same thing because that's not true. And maybe producing and the different qualities and the differences are important at the same time, there's so much similarity that we can be on the lookout for helpful pointers that come from any tradition that's genuine in our own tradition or whether we're outside of a tradition, these things still hold. And certainly that was my experience with Father Thomas and my experience on the Christian contemplative path as well as other paths.

Colleen Thomas [00:16:02] I want to circle back a bit to bit your first encounter with Centering Prayer. Was the practice you first learned from Brother Wayne called Centering Prayer? How was it different? And then how did Centering Prayer show up in a way that deepened or changed the practice in the path that you've been on?

Dr. Rory McEntee [00:16:28] Okay, so another excellent question, Colleen. And my journey's a little bit strange, maybe a little different in some ways. So when I first learned meditation from Brother Wayne, as well as so interestingly from both Brother Wayne and Father Thomas, I've really never gotten direct very, very little in terms of direct instructions around meditation, beyond do it, do it. And then when we're together, we're in it basically. So a lot of my kind of, it was Centering Prayer based from the beginning on the receptive end. And then I read a ton. So I was always reading and reading everything Thomas wrote, did a number of retreats. I love his psychology behind it. I think that has real possibilities of going much further as do I think Centering Prayer as a technique does. So I knew kind of all the instructions behind it in a sense.

But with Brother Wayne and Thomas, it was more like, do the practice. And then when we were together, there was just a teacher-student relationship going on. And so, you know, the more I did the practice, all the classic stages, I think my journey was very classic though extended in terms of how Thomas has taught it very long, dark night periods. But almost immediately there's a sense of relaxation and then you begin the unloading of the unconscious. And I think part of the beauty of Centering Prayer is learning to sit in that unloading for extended periods. And by extended periods that could mean, you know, your meditation a day, a week. It could mean years, decades even. 

And then at the end of the practice there's no end. But actually when you come out it's in some sense like the Buddhist Tonglen practice, you come out not necessarily all in bliss, but in ability to hold suffering. That's really God's ability of the whole world in just greater and greater ways. So that that holding of the unloading of the unconscious is not something that ends, but actually expands so that we can hold others in all of humanity's unconscious in deeper ways.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:18:39] Yeah. I love how you're talking so much about the value of a teacher and also it sounds like community too, that you're finding this practice inside of community and you're practicing. Because the unloading of the unconscious, can be a little challenging, right? It's kind of a dismantling as well. Things start breaking down maybe previous ideas or beliefs or how you see the world. And so that there's a need for support in that, right? In that process.

Dr. Rory McEntee [00:19:09] I mean there's definitely a need for support and there's a need for community to work out what's happening with inside us, right? Often community can be a place where our dark side is coming out and we're recognizing that and other people may not be so happy about it, so they might not be super supportive, and so I think it can be both. And in my journey it certainly has been. So at times community is very important. At other times community can be very, very difficult. I think particularly in the west, in our western consciousness, we're so starved for community and connection because of our lifestyles, because of the individuals and because of the freedom we have to leave communities whenever we want, which it's not like that so much in the rest of the world.

So we don't have the necessarily the social pressures to develop community skills. So it has to be very much a choice. And we don't always do that or get the chance to do that. So we're very starved for it. In terms of the spiritual journey, though communities can be very helpful, can be also difficult. And ultimately I think we have to trust the journey and where we're at in it. Whether that's giving us a community, whether that's leaving us on our own. God has ways of strengthening us in the ways that we need to be strengthened in order to serve others. And I think that's really the key. And so trusting in that and letting that all unfold organically as opposed to saying, these are the things I need and I need to go find them other than a daily practice that is completely in our control I think.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:20:54] Well it's kind of interesting too because the two teachers that you mentioned, Brother Wayne and Father Thomas in terms of community, Thomas is in a monastic community, very traditional monastic community, committed to that community. And Brother Wayne, was he not kind of living in the world, but also he was in the city, wasn't he?

Dr. Rory McEntee [00:21:14] Yeah, exactly. He was a monk in the world, a little one bedroom Hermitage in Chicago, south side of Chicago.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:21:22] So you're seeing both of that kind of relationship to others and to the world and different expressions in the two of them.

Dr. Rory McEntee [00:21:31] Yep, very much so. Yeah. And then also had a Hindu, a Vedic teacher who was just a homeless baba, Joshi Baba in India. So he was very formative for me. And then Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalai Lama has also been a teacher and been very formative. So yeah, lots of different, why am I, I feel like I'm badmouthing community, which I definitely don't want to do.

Colleen Thomas [00:21:55] I like what you're saying here because it's interesting what's coming up for me. Community is important, but what I'm hearing is that especially related to the prayer and a practice of contemplative prayer and for us for Centering Prayer, is that there is this sense that we are consenting. This is the first guideline of Centering Prayer says, we choose a sacred word as the symbol of our intention to consent to God's presence and action within. And Father Thomas always talks about Centering Prayer as being in relationship. That there is this ultimate relationship that if we're anchored in this ultimate relationship, it doesn't mean that other relationships don't matter, but we're not seeking from other relationships with, ultimately we are receiving from our relationship with the one who Father Thomas also refers to as the ultimate reality. 

And I think there is too much of an emphasis on community and otherness and in some ways transactional like I need this person to do this for me. But when we are being fulfilled in this unitive relationship where we're aware that all of our needs ultimately are being met, that we are actually, we have all that we need, it would change the dynamic of our relationship with others. Is that maybe where you are in terms of community or what are your thoughts?

Dr. Rory McEntee [00:23:58] I think you said it wonderfully Colleen, and I think that is what I was trying to hit on and the way you put it I really liked was when our relationship is anchored in God in the divine, which so much of our practice is trying to do and ultimately letting God do, we get beyond our acting and allow infused contemplation and God to really do in the spirit, to really do their work in us. That that becomes the place through which we walk in this world. And so that our actions and even our relationships are guided by this deep anchoring. So that we are at once in a sense all alone in our own aloneness with God. And at the same time though, what's discovered as we know is that God is all in all. God is everything. So that then our interactions with others also become in one sense more sensitized and in another sense a really allowing for the dignity and freedom and integrity of the other person in their own journey, which comes in their own anchoring in God.

And because we're in a sense interacting with God, going through their own process, there's a great respect, there's an intimacy and there's a distance at the same time. I think that's really the key to empathy. Empathy isn't so much a fusing, but it's an ability to fill into another but then retreat back into ourselves so that we can reflect on it and recognize the shared humanity and ultimately being with God is the ultimate empathic act where we both are with God totally and are this unique manifestation of it on earth. And so ultimately we're all searching for this affirmation of who we are in the world. And we look for that in others. We demand it from others, which can be positive to a certain degree. But ultimately I think on this journey, one discovers that the affirmation one is looking for and it's heartbreaking, can never actually come from another person.

The closest we get is maybe our spiritual teachers where something is flowing through, but even then one has to carve out their own dignity and uniqueness because that's what God wants, that's what God is doing. And then through us, as us. And so I think that recognition allows and that would be the kind of idea of a community that Thomas was in the monastic community though, you know, those are also pretty extreme in how far they go in terms of not cultivating intimate relationships as much, whether even friendship in the past has been seen as that can lead you away from God. So I think the key is how to be anchored in ourselves, allow the journey to allow that, but not take us away from others as we grow more intimately concerned about others at the same time.

Colleen Thomas [00:26:55] This idea of knowing, you said carving out your own dignity and uniqueness, it seems like that's necessary in order to acknowledge the dignity and uniqueness of another.

Dr. Rory McEntee [00:27:09] Yes, exactly. I think like so many spiritual teachings, once we discover it in ourselves, it's a gift that we can recognize in others and offer to others so that ultimately what we're offering others we have to discover is true for us and true because. It's ultimately God discovering God's self in a unique way. So our dignity and our uniqueness and our carving it out is in some sense us, but in the real sense it's God trying to do it in this world, right? And so in that sense it's not us, in other words, we find our uniqueness, we find our dignity, while at the same time letting go of who we are. It's that always that paradox that situates us deeper into that reality, right? And that mystery of God, which is everywhere and in everything. And it's that place then that feeds that discovery in everyone else.

And so walking through the world, whether in community, out of community, whether rooted in a tradition, and I have to say sometimes people aren't rooted or anchored in a particular tradition, you can still be anchored and rooted in a spiritual life. And that's been part of our work. But I think we also have to allow for people who are seeking and searching and aren't necessarily anchored anywhere. Part of our goal as we get is to be in that anchored place. To give a kind of example of what someone might be looking for. Doesn't mean it looks exactly like this, but they get the whiff of it. I have for many people in many different traditions that there's an anchoring in reality, which is a bit different than saying an anchoring in a particular tradition, which I also think is very important for some people and for some others.

I think we're reaching a time where hopefully the traditions can come together more and more and help to anchor people whether they're in a tradition or outside of a tradition. I think that's something that's changing for our time a bit, is this kind of calling to help anchor people who may not share all our same beliefs or even our same practices. And that's the inner spiritual element that comes through so strongly so that we learn from one another's journeys, that was a big inside of the Snowmass Conference. We listen and learn from each other's journeys that doesn't require us to all be the same religion or do the same practices necessarily.

[solemn music starts]

Mark Dannenfelser [00:29:38]

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]

And it seems to me in some of those dialogues at the Snowmass conferences, there were points of agreement too. It wasn't all about, well you come from this tradition and so you'd see it very differently. And there were a couple of those points of agreements that emerged that were kind of interesting to me, you know, especially because it sounds like those points of agreement came out of a sharing. One point of agreement that came out of those Snowmass conferences was that each contemplative tradition that was represented there had some kind of practice of awareness and living in the present moment. It mentioned specifically mindfulness and the practice of recollection. So I'd be curious from the perspective of the practice, why is mindfulness or presence or awareness important in the practice? How does that show up especially in Centering Prayer and also the practices that you do at Charas Foundation?

Dr. Rory McEntee [00:31:46] Well, I think it's absolutely key. Maybe I'll speak some specifically from Centering Prayer. Because I think the style of meditation technique and the style of practice that one's doing can make a difference in how these things begin to show up in our lives, right? And how we journey through, though I think all the elements are always there and all pass. But the way Centering Prayer works to kind of relax and then expect this kind of unloading of the unconscious in these processes that can be quite different than how things are taught in other traditions. And so as we talk about mindfulness and awareness in all contemplative traditions that I know of, I think the interaction between mind and body, right? And the first kind of clearing of all of these thoughts that are in our head is key to what happens. And that clearing of thoughts can happen either by letting them go in terms of a silent meditation or kind of extensive study say in a Gelukpa tradition in Tibetan Buddhism.

But it's changing the way we think about things. It's changing the quality of our awareness in order to become more expansive. Because the idea that we're like hooked, right? Our consciousness is hooked on certain things. I mean, this is how we all learn as children. We hear certain languages, we repeat them, we get to, our brains are molded. And so our consciousness is like concentrated on a very small part of what is a much larger world. And so in every contemplative tradition, you begin to reduce your fixation in the mind on your current sense embodiments, right? The thoughts in your head, what you're seeing, what you're desiring, what you're smelling. And as you reduce those, you begin to realize that we're part of a much wider world and that our consciousness has an ability to recognize that, to see it, to interact, to be part of it and doesn't just have a potential for it, but is actually doing it all the time, whether we're aware of it or not.

An ant can crawl up my leg and bite me. It has no idea that I'm a human being and that I'm here, but it's affecting my world. It's just I'm not part of its awareness necessarily. The same thing is happening here as human beings, we're affecting the world, we're affecting other animals, we're affecting other realms of being in profound ways without necessarily being aware of it. And so the kind of ability to quiet our minds, to release some of our fixation of where our consciousness is fixated on now then allows us to begin almost as babies again, to begin to recognize and experiment in a much larger world that we're in. And I think that's some of the first steps towards this journey. Sometimes people then begin to have extraordinary experiences of other realms or of God or of angels. And that's usually an opening up period that is at the very beginning actually of a very long journey.

Colleen Thomas [00:34:54] What do you think is happening, Rory, in the collective consciousness that is making this work that you're doing so important right now? Like what's drawing us to inter spiritual dialogue and practice? Like what's going on?

Dr. Rory McEntee [00:35:19] Well, I can only answer from my limited perspective. I have other friends who would phrase things differently who I agree with. Like one friend who would describe a lot in terms of the sacred feminine and it reentrance into our human minds and lives being so important and its representations of interconnectedness and of not leaving anything out. So I think there's many different ways to talk about it. One of the ways that I see, I think, so we know a lot of people in the younger generations are been leaving traditional religious institutions. And that seemed in the west, and actually even in the east as well, it's not exactly the same, but it seems to me headed in the same direction all of a sudden, families don't necessarily always send their second sons to the monastery, or they do and the second sons say, well I'm not going.

So there's the kind of individualism of Western culture is flowing across the globe. And so many in a younger generation, it seems to me this can be seen as a rejection of religion, but really isn't. They are yearning for a deeper spiritual life. Often they're learning for a connection with God or spirit. It's interesting how easy that language is. Talk about the spirit with people who completely reject Christianity, they have no problem with that language, you know? So culturally it's still embedded in us. So I think part of the deeper thing that's going on is this is a real challenge and confrontation to our religious traditions to get their crap together. To put it in a better way, it's a call for the traditions to begin to come together in greater intimacy. Younger people want to establish a deeper relationship with reality.

They want to come into deeper experiences of awakening. They don't want to say I'm this or I'm that necessarily. And I don't think, it's not that they don't want to respect all the important rigor that can be presented in a tradition and that is necessary for the spiritual journey, but they don't want to feel that they have to be this as opposed to that necessarily. Or that if they feel a strong calling to a Buddhist teacher and to Thomas Keating's teachings that somehow this is some split or some challenge or something that they have to figure out rather than the most natural and organic thing that could be these two amazing teachers and presences that want to help someone become more loving and compassionate. 

Not that it doesn't mean it doesn't bring up certain challenges of moving through because teachings are different. Practices are different, but the idea that it's seen as something fundamentally woowoo or even syncretistic is a bad word, and that these are somehow pure traditions that are all siloed from each other, which we know is total garbage if we look at history.

That the challenge is to have a new paradigm about religion and what it's really about. And if we understand our religions as vehicles of transformation is harboring thousands of years of human knowledge and techniques and possibilities for us to transform into. There's so many different ways of saying it into a deeper alignment with reality, into awakening to the nature of reality, into union with God, into these capacities that we have for love and compassion that do greatly exceed our ordinary consciousness that we move through the world. And that this is really the key to the future of humanity, the future of our being on this planet to the future of coming into some symbiosis with nature again. And I think here many of the unique spiritualities of indigenous traditions are so important. 

They've cultivated a unique ability to speak directly with the earth, with the trees, with nature that I think is absolutely key to us moving forward. And so all of that to say that I think what's going on in the culture is yearning that is hard to express, but is wanting this, is wanting to see our contemplative traditions together. It's time for us to start experimenting with different configurations that don't get rid of traditions, but bring them into increasing intimacy and dialogue among each other is a symbol for all of humanity about what we're here for and what we should be about. I think that's what's going on, whether we're going to get there or it'll work. Totally other question.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:40:05] Well I'm curious about that part about like these traditions are very important and they have been a way, like you said, religion as a vehicle for transformation. But it's important to have vehicles for transformation. And it sounds like as you're speaking I'm hearing the word accessibility. It's important to make this accessible to people that don't necessarily have to make a pledge or be coming from a particular orientation or tradition. So, but it seems to me also to be a challenge. How do you keep the essence of the tradition, what's been preserved in various traditions and still let it be accessible and open? I wonder if you could say a little more about that in terms of how you do that at the CharIs Foundation and you've been working on this for so long and been how you can respect and maintain the tradition and the legacy and also allow it to keep emerging as it is and expanding and evolving.

Dr. Rory McEntee [00:41:08] Yes, I mean I think this is one of the great challenges of our time, both that point to open traditions up without losing what you called their essence, but I think is more their transformative potential and their insights into reality and their transmissions and at the same time be able to serve others. I think also one of the great challenges of our time is to develop rooted pathways that are accessible for people who may never just go join a tradition. So I think these two actually are part of the same issue and need to be actually solved together. And so that there's not always answers, but one of them is that the people who are holding say these traditions beginning to work more intimately with one another. So things like the Snowmass Conference, but the Snowmass Conference was in some ways we keep moving forward.

So it was one step, a preparatory step to actually, I think working together more with actual students. So, or even learning together. I envision a city even out here, but in that city you have a big mosque, you have a Christian ashram and you have a Tibetan monastery and you have an inner spiritual center. And people are coming from all over the world to undergo practices in great learning, but they're not siloed and they're not separate. They're the leaders of these communities are maintaining a dialogue. 

They're maintaining integrated, ongoing conversation. They can even talk about students that together share insights so that it's a different paradigm rather than we're doing our thing here to kind of either get to heaven or get transformed. We're doing our thing here, but where we're actually sharing insights and where it becomes crystal clear that the point is people's transformation into more loving and compassionate and wise human beings.

It's not about them being this or that. And so that's one part of the answer. When I think about the Charis Foundation and our work, particularly Charis meditation, which is an inner spiritual version of Centering Prayer in order to allow it this wider birth and accessibility, which I think has a lot of potential and is also something Father Thomas mentioned numerous times towards the end of his life, especially. That one, he felt Centering Prayer would go much further after he passed away. And that two, he wasn't sure, it might not be in a different form or in a different way that it gets passed on. 

So you see his openness right there to one, his commitment and hope that it does grow and spread much further because of its transformative potential. And then his openness to not really care whether it's this or that, but that it's transformative potential is actually accessed and people can reach it. And then if all of a sudden we see that as the important part, then what we carry from our traditions is not a kind of essence that we can hold in our hands, but it's an embodied reality that we cultivate in our practice and then gets transmitted and in through us.

Colleen Thomas [00:44:20] And one thing I wanted to bring, maybe by way of kind of shifting us towards closing the conversation is in all of this, talking about the spirit and how we are enabled to see others, be in relationship with others. I'm thinking about the practice of Centering Prayer, how your experience with the prayer also shapes this transformation. A lot of times we talk about how in the practice we're not looking for results. Nothing necessarily is going to happen in that 20 minutes, but something is happening and what's happening and how are we being drawn to, yeah. Everything that you're describing, how are we being transformed in this practice? I know it's a bit of a mystery, but curious about your experience and if you can talk about transformation in the context of the prayer.

Dr. Rory McEntee [00:45:20] Sure. I think it is a mystery, but it's also the mystery. In the Christian tradition and in the practice of Centering Prayer all transformation is not done by us, but is done by the spirit. And so in our practice really is about coming to a place of allowing the spirit to do its work on us in a sense, which is a dismantling of us. And in my experience, that's very much been the heart of my meditation experience, holding a kind of dismantling, being willing to not only consent, but also endure the process. And we kind of say saying yes, but even if I say yes, it's the spirit that's saying yes. So to me, it's very much, it becomes about holding all of these, you feel, as you move deeper and deeper into yourself, you get to very childish emotions. You get, you know, at a base level, there's just a child that's wanting this, that's wanting that, that's hurt, that's craving and has aversion.

But in this case, in the experience of Centering Prayer, it's very much like Thomas talks about it for me, they're just, there's nothing wrong with these emotions, it's just, it's a child hurting, a child needing this. So a lot of the meditation is just being with that. And then the transformation happens in a way that is not always easy to understand. It's when you're just with others other than the day something else flows out. And as we go deeper and deeper into this, I'm not sure it changes a ton in terms of we're always learning to hold more and then we can hold more for others when we're there and something else comes through that we don't even have to be aware of. If the spirit wants us to be aware of, it will make us aware, which usually means another confrontation with an ego part that wants to grab a hold of it and say, that's me.

So it's almost better if we're not aware of it. But, you know, it's also a leverage point to like work on the ego as we become aware of. So it's a very, not only complex mystery, but just inconceivably thought out to touch not only everything that needs to be touched in us to be let go so we can be more loving, but also allowing us to serve others through its wisdom and its mystery. But in my own journey, what I've noticed is this kind of openness to the spirit. You can go and practice completely in dignity and with a lot of effort, other traditions, other ways. 

And then as you come back to this practice of openness to the spirit, even in the Centering Prayer practice, what you do is you allow the spirit then to use those gifts, those insights, the states of mind that can be cultivated, the concentration of mind, that can be cultivated to then the spirit uses those as tools to develop its own kind of integrative insights in us and that are unique to us, into our journey and to our work in the world. So it's like you're giving the spirit a bigger platform that then it can utilize in its own way. So you're not letting go of this fundamental heartbeat of the Christian contemplative path, but it in no way should shade you from the insights and practices of other traditions if you're drawn to them. 

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And that the Holy Spirit itself these days may be drawing us and guiding us in our own discernment into other traditions and practices, says a hell of a lot about what we might call the essence of Christianity.

Colleen Thomas [00:49:05] Thanks for joining us on this episode of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts. Visit our website, 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. 

This episode of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts is produced by Crys & Tiana.

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