The Transformational Experience of Centering Prayer

Opening Minds, Opening Hearts Podcast Season 2 Episode 3 with Mary Dwyer

Episode Title: The Transformational Experience of Centering Prayer

“The retreat in Snowmass really changed my life. I thought, if I never hear another teaching and if I could just live this out the rest of my days, it would be enough for me…It was a great gift. I stepped into it with both feet and I knew this was my drink. I was all in.”

- Mary Dwyer

We are so excited to be continuing the second season of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts. Today we will focus on one of the guiding principles of Contemplative Outreach which is an evolving community with an expanding vision . We would love to share some history of how our community began and get to know more about Father Thomas Keating and his legacy. On this episode we welcome Mary Dwyer who has been practicing Centering Prayer for over 30 years. In the early 1990’s she lived in Chrysalis House, a contemplative community experiment blessed by Father Thomas, which became an incubator of practice and programs in the early years of growth for Contemplative Outreach and Centering Prayer. She attended Georgetown University and majored in economics, later she went back to school and became a licensed social worker. Mary is currently in private practice as a social worker, while serving Contemplative Outreach as a member of the community, The Welcoming Prayer service team, a chairperson for Contemplative Outreach and a member of the faculty. Mary has been in complete service to the Contemplative Outreach community. We are so grateful to have her on the show.

In this episode:
  • Mary was raised Roman Catholic and Jesuit educated and shared that her life felt compartmentalized. She always wondered if anyone really knew her. She was introduced to silence in 1981 but with no resources in her area, she had a very committed desire and practice but had no opportunity for integration which felt very isolating. In 1990 she attended an intensive retreat that changed her life. She shares this life changing story with us and how she lives out the commitment she made to contemplative life. 
  • She shares what Father Thomas Keating was like, what made him such a channel for inspiration and his vision for community. Mary says he was able to integrate psychology, theology, and sociology and talk to her in the language of 1990 with the depth of history and theology behind it which was brand new to her. She describes it “like listening to God” and that he was a “bubble of love” who never stopped journeying. 
  • Father Thomas challenged Mary with the question, “With divine union your birth rite, why would you set your sights so low?” She loves Contemplative Outreach for the simplicity of the practices which are truly profound. The more you commit to them, the fuller your daily life becomes. 
  • Mary shares that community support kept her coming back. Contemplative Outreach has been tasked with explaining what is really happening during the practice and helping to understand the process. She uses a chrysalis as an example of the transformational experience of Centering Prayer. What comes from the process isn’t a bigger better caterpillar, but a different and beautiful creation. 
  • Mary reflects on Centering Prayer as the Divine Therapy. She shared that transformation is done, not because we are unworthy, but because we are loved into life and God wants all of us. Father Thomas taught her that when we have a healthy sense of self, we have the capacity to surrender. 
  • Mary feels that evolving community and expanding vision was important to Father Thomas because he was able to reach people where they are. He found the truth, but was not wedded to a certain language of communicating. The youth need to be reached as much as we do, but they aren’t coming at it from the same place we were. 

“The real work of the spiritual journey consists of patiently, calmy, and humbly acknowledging that the values are still thoroughly alive in the unconscious and every time you are upset is the infallible proof that they are still there. The emotions faithfully record what your real value system is, even if you think you’ve changed it, and the emotional upset is the infallible sign that we are attached, addicted to one of these centers.”

- Father Thomas Keating

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

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 Episode #3: The Transformational Experience of Centering Prayer with Mary Dwyer

[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'm Mark Dannenfelser.
Colleen Thomas [00:01:07] And I'm Colleen Thomas. Mark, we're back.
Mark Dannenfelser [00:01:11] I know. This is great. Season two.
Colleen Thomas [00:01:13] I know. 
Mark Dannenfelser [00:01:14] Wasn't sure it was going to happen at all.
Colleen Thomas [00:01:16] No, I wasn't sure season one was going to happen at all. So now, I feel like in season two we're like, well, this could be our last season, but we're having fun and I'm surprised and encouraged that there's more people to talk to, we actually had a list of possible guests beyond what we could fit into a season.
Mark Dannenfelser [00:01:41] Yeah. And as we're just starting out this second season, and I'm looking over our lineup here, and it's really exciting the people that we get to talk to. It's been really enlightening for me to have different guests and for us to be reflecting on this incredible work that so many people are doing around Centering Prayer.
Colleen Thomas [00:02:02] Yeah. It's given me a lot of hope that we talk about how sometimes we feel like the only people who know about Centering Prayer are the people who know about Centering Prayer. But I think there's a much larger community than I imagined. And also a really, maybe wrestle using this word in contemplative setting, but a really accomplished community of people too, who are deeply studied and practiced in not just the tradition of Centering Prayer, but contemplative prayer and monastic practice and people who are really, really committed to living this life, which is not easy. And I'm also reminded of that too. And the more we talk about Centering Prayer, this is not a practice for the faint heart.
Mark Dannenfelser [00:02:55] No. But it's wonderful to be kind of working in this rich soil and having this sense of growth. As I'm having conversations, and you and I have been talking so much about our guests and preparing, but also in hearing from our guests, had me become much more aware of my own practice and kind of doing some practice pruning or hygiene or something really recommitting
Colleen Thomas [00:03:23] Yeah.
Mark Dannenfelser [00:03:24] To the practice in a certain way. 
Colleen Thomas [00:03:26] Same.
Mark Dannenfelser [00:03:27] With a certain energy. Yeah.
Colleen Thomas [00:03:30] Well, and that's great. Because if that's happening to us as the host, hopefully that's happening to our audience, for our audience too. But this is, in a way, it's a workshop, it's a retreat. It's a tool for deepening our practice. So I'm excited. What are we doing today?
Mark Dannenfelser [00:03:46] This season we've been framing a lot of our conversations around one of Contemplative Outreach’s principles. We call them guiding principles. And this is the one that says Contemplative Outreach is this evolving community with an expanding vision and a community that seeks to always be deepening the practice of Centering Prayer and then also being aware of serving the changing needs of Christian contemplatives. And so this first part of season two, a lot of our guests were interested in exploring that first part of that principle, the evolving community with an expanding vision. And that's what we hope for today. Yeah.

Colleen Thomas [00:04:27] We thought that in order to talk about the evolving community and expanding vision of Contemplative Outreach, it would be helpful to first talk about how the community began and to share with our audience more about Father Thomas Keating. We don't want to assume that people know his legacy or know the history of Contemplative Outreach. And so I am very excited to have with us today, Mary Dwyer. Mary has been practicing Centering Prayer for over 30 years. And in the early nineties, she lived at Chrysalis House, which is a contemplative community experiment that was blessed by Father Thomas. Her housemates at the Chrysalis House included Mary Mrozowski, David Frenette, and Kathy McCarthy. And for those who are more familiar with Contemplative Outreach and Centering Prayer, those names may sound familiar to you. And this community lived according to a rule, a rule of life, and became an incubator of practice and programs in the early years of Contemplative Outreach's growth.
And Mary also received her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University in economics. And after a few years at the Chrysalis House she went back to school and became a licensed clinical social worker and practiced that vocation for the next 15 years, all while maintaining her commitment to the contemplative life into the mission of Contemplative Outreach. Mary's currently in private practice as a licensed social worker in the Erie area, and she's still serving Contemplative Outreach as a member of the gift committee, the welcoming prayer service team of Contemplative Outreach. She previously served as a chairperson for Contemplative Outreach and a member of the faculty. Mary's just been completely in service to the Contemplative Outreach community while balancing her private practice. And so we're just so grateful to have you here today, Mary. Welcome, Mary.
Mary Dwyer [00:06:55] Thank you so much, Colleen. A pleasure to be here.
Mark Dannenfelser [00:06:58] Mary, it's so good to have you here. Before I came on staff, I don't know, a couple to two years ago now, I knew who you were. You kind are this legend in Contemplative Outreach circles and Centering Prayer circles. You've contributed so much in terms of the ongoing teaching of the practice and all the spirituality and practice courses you've done. And you got a ton of videos. I think if Thomas Keating was alive, he might be a little bit jealous of all the work that you're able to do. And we worked a little bit together on one of those courses on forgiveness a couple of years ago. And I just was struck by the wealth of knowledge that you have about the practice. So we like to ask our guests straight away about how you first came to all of this. How did you come to the practice of Centering Prayer and how has that impacted your life? Maybe even thinking back to the very beginning, what impression it made on you? Can you share a little bit about that?

Mary Dwyer [00:08:00] I sure can. And I just want to laugh. I just feel like an old penny that's been around a long time. It's just showing up. But actually what's funny is I was raised Roman Catholic and Jesuit educated. And so in my life, I knew for a long time there were a bunch of different, I felt compartments and I wondered if anybody really knew me or if I knew myself that there was the professional Mary, there was the personal Mary, there was the daughter, there was the aunt there, all these pieces. And a sister, an older sister of mine, was actually going through a divorce. And at that time it was just marriage counseling. The marriage didn't last, but the priest that they went to had just read Basel Pennington's Centering Prayer book. So I was part of sitting around their dining room table and getting this wonderful opportunity to be introduced to silence.
And that was about 1981. But at that time, there were no resources at least in my area or in my knowledge, I had done everything technically. I was a member of the cathedral. I was on parish council, I was chair of parish council. I was a lector and I was a eucharistic minister. I had a very committed desire and practice. But the integration, so what did I do? I went to school and I started to, at that time I was a college administrator. I began to study. So that was frustrating because I began to understand family systems and I could see how screwed up I was. But I didn't know how intellectual knowledge impacted changing that because my frustration was only growing. 
The more I knew, the more I saw and the more isolated it seemed to feel. So I'm very lucky that in Erie, Pennsylvania, the place that I connected to through the Jesuit Ignatian exercises, but we had a house of prayer and Sister Rita Panier, who's currently 92 years old, mercy sister, but it was an inner city experiment in Erie where religious sisters lived to be amidst the poor.
But she really got into Thomas Keating and she went to Snowmass and came back on the first retreat. And that was in the late eighties and said, Mary, you got to go. This is it. However, she got shingles. And she said that that was part of her unloading. So she was a nun in her late fifties and got shingles. And I was a woman who was in my late twenties. And I thought, hell no, I'm not going. I'll die. A friend of mine who was a guy a little bit older than I was who went to Snowmass and where he lived, he was my canary in the well. So at some point in 1990, I packed up and went off to the intensive retreat that changed my life. Beforehand though, the House of Prayer had been going through all of Thomas's tapes and had a Centering Prayer group.
So my practice began in about 87, but I needed the group to get into any form of regular daily practice. And I didn't even read Open Mind, Open Heart, till I was actually living in community. But once I met Thomas and the retreat in Snowmass really changed my life. And I thought, if I never hear another teaching and if I just could live this out the rest of my days, that would be enough for me. And I asked Thomas, where do I go from here? At this time I was in banking and he gave me two names. One was Meg Funk. So Sister Meg Funk is a wonderful Benedictine. She was at the time Prioress in Ferdinand and Beech Grove. And she had written a number of books. But I'm from Erie, Pennsylvania. So any of your readers who know Joan Chittister or anyone else, I know a lot about Benedictine's, Josephites, Mercy, Nuns.
The other name was Mary Mrozowski, that Thomas was of a lay community, which was an interesting thought. Remember this is in the late eighties, early nineties, a lay contemplative community in upstate New York. It was in Warwick, New York, about 55 miles northwest of New York City. That wasn't a lifetime commitment. So it wasn't vowed in that sense, but you could live there. It fascinated me. So I thought before I jumped in to the nuns, which I was hesitant about, I flew up the very next weekend and was met by David Frenette and got to experience contemplative living within this Chrysalis house. And Mary Mrozowski really was Mary and David. It had started in 1985 in Colorado. Pat Johnson, Bob Bartel and David Frenette. 
And then the community moved to the East Coast, where Mary Mrozowski joined with Bob and David Fett. So anyway, it was a very eclectic at the time, just in a big house by an apple orchard that lived by these practices and really embraced the fact that Divine union was really possible and that we're really talking about a transformation of consciousness, but we have to do our work. It was a great gift. That's a long answer to a very short question, but I stepped into it both feet and once I got a taste of what Thomas was really doing in those original spiritual journey tapes, I knew I had to drink this. This was my drink and I was going to drink it as best I could.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:13:40] Wow. That's all in, isn't it? I'm curious though about the Chrysalis House experience for you. I know that was very early on, you had this sense, okay, this teaching is transformative for me. It's what I want. But you go and it's not a monastery or a convent, it's not an institutional religious group. Right? It's just people deciding to come together and live in community.

Mary Dwyer [00:14:06] Yeah. You made certain commitments and I thought, this is where my life came together. I had just sold a house. So I was living with my parents at the time. In between, there were a number of factors in my life where I worked. The bank I worked for had given me a leased car. So I had sold my car. So I was in a position at 30 years old that I wasn't married. I didn't have children, I didn't have a mortgage, I didn't have a car payment. I really took that as a real God wink. I was free to go and experiment and what the heck? I went up there. You made an application to come into community, obviously. At that time there were three in community, David, Mary, Kathy, and David and Mary. They had made longer year commitments under Thomas. We would commit to the overall, Kathy was on a shorter commitment.
I went up, spent some time and really discerned and made an application. And then when I was accepted, so I went on retreat in April. I visited Chrysalis right away. I went up there once more in August and I was living there at the beginning of September. And I made a nine month commitment initially. And then later on I made another year commitment and David and Mary had made five year commitment. So the community was stabilizing in that during that time you did commit to celibacy, you were pretty poor, you committed to the lifestyle, which we rose at 5:00 am. We were in grand silence. You sat for an hour. We had a work meeting at 9:00 am. You did your morning work. We sat from 12 to 12:30. We sat another hour from four to five. We had dinner in silence. The community meal was at noon.
So you had tasks, you worked, it was very much a monastic setting. In fact, some of the monks from Spencer came down and said we had more grand silence than they did. It was very conducive. But we invited people in, came in for days of prayer, and then the place also offered retreats. And Mary and David developed the nine month course in contemplative living. So it was an incubator that was really starting to really not only offer all of this, but to live it out. And that was really exceptional because on the East Coast, Mary Mrozowski was this better known than Thomas Keating in New York City. And that whole, she had her own following. So I consider Thomas our Abba and he was the spiritual father of this community. But Mary was the spiritual mother. There's no question about it.

Colleen Thomas [00:16:49] Mary, I love this because you're talking about the community of Contemplative Outreach in its early formation and a lot of it I'm listening to, and for those who aren't familiar with Contemplative Outreach, all of these names are going to sound very foreign. It's something that is fascinating. Curious to me how the world of Father Thomas and how rich his teachings were and the rich offerings of those who were influenced by his teaching hasn't become more widespread. And that's one of our hopes for this podcast is that people become more familiar. But when you talk about him as the Abba of outreach, I'm curious if you could describe for people who don't know him, who he was, what was he like? What was it about him that made him such a channel for inspiration and also perhaps what was his vision for community?

Mary Dwyer [00:17:54] Colleen? What I was so with is what the context I'd like to get across is in the 80s there wasn't the plethora of information and accessibility we have today. Today you can go into any grocery store and there's articles on mindfulness all over the pages of the magazines. This was at a time when this stuff wasn't talked about and there weren't avenues into it. So when I first met Thomas Keating, he was definitely the carriage. His carriage, because he was a big guy, was of a former Abbott. He was rod straight still. He did break his neck and bent over and all of that. But he was very churchy still there was that sense, which was what I was looking for. I mean, I was not outside of very structured, like was this a cult? When I came back from that first retreat, I'm surprised my parents didn't freak because I said it was like listening to God.
That's how I described listening to Thomas. It was just his breadth and clarity and the fact that he could finally integrate theology and psychology and sociology and talk to me in the language of 1990, but had the depth of the history and the theology behind it was a brand new opening for me. But what he became and what the source that I just loved, I'll tell you a story about him, but by the end, Thomas Keating was a bubble of love. If you were around him, he just emanated love and all of that rigidity or structure and his hierarchical maps in the beginning, that all left because he never stopped journeying either. And that's what was, so I would've told you he was the most evolved person I had ever met when I met him. When I think of where he ended life, the difference is a whole universe.
It's amazing. But I went to Thomas. So I'm on this retreat and I'm one of the younger ones. I was always one of the younger, and I still, I'm 65 now, but I still am often one of the youngers. I would show up, he would offer soul friending in the afternoon. And if nobody was signing up, I showed up at this poor man's door down at the monastery all the time. This was before the retreat center was built. And I said to him, I said, is it egotistical to want to be a saint? That's probably the only language I had. So Thomas went into a wonderful explanation of how your false self and the ego and all of that could be. But then he looked at me and he had charming blue eyes, kind of a leprechaun twinkle to them. And he said, I just have one question for you, Mary, with divine union, your birthright, why would you set your sight so low?
That blew me out of the water. I was, as I tell you, I'm post Vatican two. So I didn't have Baltimore catechism and all of that, but I was in a church structure and I had never ever heard that divine union was my birthright. And it's yours. It's everybody's. And I didn't know that. I really thought we were aiming for like be the best you could. Slug it out, suffer, be humble. And I thought, yes, that is what I really, that resonated on such a deep level. But nobody had ever told me that. And that is what Thomas was so open to that he went from deep roots. But he kept growing into, if you watch his language, which is why I was so excited when Mark started with the evolving community, what's changing isn't the message. What's changing is the languaging of the message.
That's all. The languaging used to come in very traditional packaging. Because we were in very traditional packaging. What Thomas was able to do with his great brain and big heart and committed being was to continue to evolve in beginning to open the door to others, to this incredible beloved who's calling us forward in radical invincible trust. And I have an image of Thomas. Oh, as I say, probably he was six seven in his heyday. I don't know, I'm five foot. 

Colleen Thomas [00:22:42] Wow, was he really that tall?

Mary Dwyer [00:22:42] He was a big guy in his heyday. And all I know is I was always below his center of gravity because if we held, he tipped. 

Colleen Thomas [00:22:51] Wow. 

Mary Dwyer [00:22:52] He lost balance. So anyway, he was on a stage, it's a little stage and he spread his arms like a condor if you can picture, he had big hands, big arms. He spread them open. And he basically, the message I took from it was he was like, keep coming. It's okay on this side. He was like the journeyer that kept calling us and saying, yeah, keep coming, keep coming, keep coming. And the beauty and the simplicity of the message is what does that mean? It means put your butt in the chair twice a day and shut up. I mean, it's not complicated. He always kept it to this simplicity. You have to practice though a lot of people, and that's what I saw at Chrysalis. A lot of people who joined us or came wanted to sit around the dining room table and they wanted to talk, what's the latest read? Who's the latest author? What's the coolest thing you know? But the reality is this is a plan of transformation in action. So if I really want it, I have to keep showing up.
And how do I show up? This is what I loved about the message of Contemplative Outreach. Sit down, be quiet, sit down, be quiet. That's the basic practice. And then we have the supportive practices, the welcoming prayer. All those times, I can't be quiet or there's stuff going on and I can't close my eyes. But the simplicity of our practices is profound. And the more we commit to them, the fuller our other daily lives become. But Mary Mrozowski used to always teach, it's never about what's happening, it's about what you're doing. With what's happening. What Thomas and Mary and others have given me were practices that I have something to do with life. And life is constantly throwing stuff at me. And I bet it both of you and anybody else who would listen because that's life.

[solemn music starts]

Mark Dannenfelser [00:25:06] 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]

Colleen Thomas [00:26:16] And that's the thing is that you say the simplicity of the practice. But Mark, we were just, mark and I were just talking about how this practice, the method is so simple, but the practice itself seems to be quite challenging in terms of what's happening when we start to talk about the dismantling of the false self in our emotional programs. And I want to share this with you, Mary, because this is from actually Father Thomas talking about dismantling the emotional programs from the human condition. And he says, “the real work of the spiritual journey consists of patiently, calmly, and humbly acknowledging that the values are still thoroughly alive in the unconscious. And every time you are upset is the infallible proof that they are still there. The emotions faithfully record what your real value system is, even if you think you've changed it. And then emotional upset is the infallible sign that we're attached, addicted to one of these centers.” And so I hear the simplicity of the method, but as we practice this, dismantling doesn't feel so simple. How can you talk to us about this a little bit? Because this is a lot of what then connects to the development of the welcoming prayer and other practices to support ourCentering Prayer.

Mary Dwyer [00:27:55] And it's why we need Contemplative Outreach or whatever the vehicles are. That's what I mean, Colleen, the practice is simple, but if we don't have support, I think we fall away. And that's why having community to sit with whatever that looked like, that's what kept bringing me back. The psychological experience of it isn't holy, doesn't feel good. You're not, this isn't something that you're going to get peaceful blissed out. You might have some calm periods. But the gift that Thomas brought and that I think Contemplative Outreach has been tasked with keeping is to put the context of explaining what's really happening. And if I didn't understand the spiritual journey, I didn't understand dark nights or the desert or the whole thought. If I thought that it was about how it felt, I would've run for the hills a long time ago. But it's very similar. The fact that he did, and this is where it really change. Prayer is relationship.
Anybody who is beyond an adolescent relationship knows that you don't always feel it. You don't always feel. If you take an infant, okay, that beautiful darling little I'll love you baby. But at 3:00 am you might not feel like getting up. And isn't this the sweetest little thing I ever saw? But why do you do it? Because it's what you do, because you love that creature. Or why do you stay? You know, anybody can have a pretty wedding and beautiful stuff and everybody looks good. But the marriage is about how do I live out the, I do. And that's what Thomas did for me. That these practices are about developing a relationship that is way beyond the, oh, this feels good. I like you, great, I look good, you look good. And nobody smells bad. That's not how it goes when it gets down to it.
And the most precious quantities in my life are those people that have seen me at my best and at my very worst and are still sitting there. So it's that invitation to understand that Thomas said, “We're not just changing, it's not water into better water. It was water into wine.” Meaning it's a transformation of consciousness, which is why we use the image of chrysalis. If I could go back to that, that little caterpillar becomes a pupa. And that pupa in that chrysalis is liquified absolutely the destruction of everything that worm thought he was or she is. That's how a butterfly emerges. It's not a bigger, better caterpillar. It's a different creature. And if I begin to understand that I'm asked to die to who I think I am, thank God I was filled with, I didn't think so good. I still don't.
I'm a big 12 step too. And I think that stinking thinking gets us all into trouble. Mary Mrozowski's line was, get out of the top three inches of your head. This journey is about living out of a heart that isn't as overly identified with what do I think? What do I think about this? Do I agree, do I not agree? And it kind of steps back and begins to participate. And that's the gift these practices did to me. All of a sudden I began to know if I died, I would finally have begun to live my life. Not who I thought I should be, not who my parents told me I should be, or society or what I thought everybody else wanted. But I've begun to access actually feeling like maybe I showed up. That's priceless to me. But as you're pointing out, Colleen, if we don't have support and structure to understand, it's a very lonely, dark place. And Thomas used to always encourage to listen a lot, encourage a lot and say very little. We don't need to fix one another. We don't need to have anybody else's answers. But to encourage one another and to stick with one another is generally the greatest gift we can do to support what I believe is the only thing that can save this planet.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:32:18] You know, Mary, I'm so glad you're highlighting this because many people come to these practices, I myself too, wanting to kind of find relaxation or some sense of peace. And that's available certainly in the practice. But you're talking about something that's so much more than that. This transformative experience that you're describing. Thomas was very interested in that from the psychological perspective too. What is happening there? I myself, as a psychotherapist and you as a social worker, I think we kind of share that interest, that process that is not always, as you say, a very comfortable experience. If we're really digging in there and we're being transformed and kind of getting out of those old habits. You mentioned the 12 step breaking from those habits and those addictions is difficult. Thomas termed that the divine therapy and which is a great term for it. And I wonder if you could say a little bit more about that. The divine as a therapy, as a therapeutic process, a healing process. Not just a chilling out process, but this transformation that you're talking about as healing.

Mary Dwyer [00:33:35] You know, the Dalai Lama was once asked something about the West, our poor self-esteem, and he didn't get the concept. And this is what Thomas did for me, Wille Grieger, a German, Benedictine put it this way, it takes a strong ego to die. But often what has to happen is we have to be put together to be dismantled. Like a lot of us don't want to be here. Because having a personality is too much responsibility and it's painful. And I don't want it. But what I see the journey is, is whatever the deficits were in my upbringing, we all have them real or perceived. But the human condition, which Thomas has articulated phenomenally, but we need to be put together so that that letting go or surrendering or transformation, whatever word we want is done because we're being loved into life.
Not because we're unworthy, not because you're not good enough. You're so good that God wants you, all of you. And that's what I think that Thomas was able to really work with that a healthy sense of self has the capacity to serve and to surrender. And he used to talk about the worm theology that so many people don't want to be. So they can't wait to be a no self. But no self is not about not having something to lay down. I call it, what I always do is Thomas's greatest theology for me was the grease spot theology. So if I look down and I am not a grease spot, there are still physical manifestations. I have feet below me, God is present whether I experience it or not. Jung said, forbidden or unbidden, God is here. So it's standing in that reality that challenges me and then asks me to look at, is this punishment?
Do I view that whole thing as this poor suffering servant? Or do I believe that I'm being loved into life? Is love the real message? And I think it is. Is that what we're here for is that what I'm to both emanate and allow myself in this divine mystery to bring me into life? And that's what these practices get to. So if we don't have a good structure to understand what's happening, it could be misinterpreted, which they have been in other places, or you could feel like, oh, this is for everybody else, but it's not for me. Well, yes it is, because the truth of the matter is sometimes the drier, boring, worse it gets, the more it's really working. And that's when spirit, because the gift Thomas also said was, I'm the healy. I'm not the healer and I show up for my therapy by putting my butt in the chair, not by doing all this mental well what's going on? Do I have to figure out which emotional program is none of that? Show up to it, let go. And to me, that's the good news and that's the best news that I found that I still attempt to live into.

Colleen Thomas [00:36:59] So earlier when you were talking about updating the language, when we talk about this expanding vision, I guess I find myself wondering like, where do we grow from? And you also talked about how Father Thomas kept growing, but where do you grow from? Divine union is my birthright. And that language also still feels very now. But what are your thoughts about that?

Mary Dwyer [00:37:28] What I hear and what the gift that so many of the younger voices out in the contemplative world is they are able to reach, we're in a crisis right now with institutional churches. We're in a crisis with institutional government and I think spirit's most active, so I'm not disturbed by it. Thomas used to say, Jesus Christ is much bigger than Christianity. I have no worries at all about the big question. What I'm with is the language that I needed and that many of us, I would say anybody 50, 55 or older understood in getting into practice in any serious way, who was raised in any type of religious tradition. We needed the languaging that was in the older books because I understood that. I understood that sense. But I think a lot of our youth and the youngers, they still need it as much as any of us do.
But they're not coming at it from even the divine, even some of our languaging that there's a universal energy or the spirit of truth or whatever it may be. What I saw Thomas do was find the truth in what he was communicating and not be wedded to a certain way to language it. And it goes back a story he told when he was very early in bringing this out. Because Remember Thomas was a Trappist, Abbott coming out of a very churched, a hierarchical male model. He was asked to give a talk in California and he was prepared to get up there and he was going to talk about monastic spirituality and he was going to talk from a monk's perspective. 
At the last minute, he had the inspiration to drop the word monastic and he started to speak of Christian spirituality. And he said what he was so blown away by was all of the people in the audience, this would've been in the 1980s, who were shaking their head and understood the concepts he was laying out there. And that's when he realized that you didn't have to be in a monastery to access this stuff. That this could be a language in the street. And that maybe what Jesus had been trying to tell us was that the sacred was profane and the profane was sacred. 

Mark Dannenfelser [00:40:09] I'm wondering too, because Contemplative Outreach as an organization or as we say, as an organism, because it is this living, moving, growing, expanding community, but it's going to be 40 years old next year, right? So things we've been around a while. And so in addition to language, there's a kind of an identity, you mentioned Christian spirituality and we do have a certain identity as an organism. But I'm wondering too about in addition to language, place and people and who can kind of access, continue to access and where does Contemplative Outreach from your perspective need to be going to be not just relevant, but like to be accessible and to be in the places where maybe it hasn't been before, that are emerging now for us? Do you have thoughts about that?

Mary Dwyer [00:41:08] I think, Mark, that's what you and Colleen are doing. I mean podcasts, who would've heard, remember the 80s, 90s, early 2000s, we didn't have podcasts and this ability to be, it used to be the prayer groups and often prayer groups were affiliated with parishes. But now we have Zoom, we have meditation chapels, we have access online, we have YouTube. I think that a lot of that is beginning to happen and we're also in this transition as we lose, I still think there is something about coming together physically with one another and praying in silence, whether it's a retreat setting, whether it's a group. There is a powerful transmission. I think that is morphing into having an electronic component to it, that there is a transmission happening. And because we are losing, some of the places we held to. Contemplative Outreach was very identified with St. Benedict's Monastery and Snowmass Colorado, which is shifting. Chrysalis House is no longer there, a lot of the geographic places. But we're being challenged. And I'm so curious to see how that does evolve. It's important. 

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Retreats make a difference, physical contact makes a difference, but our world is shifting. So I'm very excited to see where it goes. But I really commend you for stepping out into this modality.

Colleen Thomas [00:42:38] 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. 

Season 2 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.”

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

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