The Wisdom Way of Knowing

Opening Minds, Opening Hearts Podcast Season 2 Episode 6 with Heather Ruce

Episode Title: The Wisdom Way of Knowing

“It was like I had found this river that was so full and I couldn’t stop drinking out of it…It was Contemplative Outreach that helped me grow in that practice.”

- Heather Ruce

On today’s episode of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts, we are delighted to welcome Heather Ruce who will help us dive into the deepening practice of Centering Prayer, a Wisdom Spiritual Director who facilitates Wisdom Practices and hosts retreats at schools focused on the Christian Wisdom Tradition. Heather weaves the lineage of teacher, Cynthia Bourgeault, into her work and training including Family Systems Therapy, Systematic Experiencing, Organic Intelligence, and her spiritual direction. Her approach to teaching is guiding people in practice with wisdom and in the service of the Christian Wisdom Tradition. 

In this episode

Heather grew up in the Evangelical Tradition but had no connection to contemplative practices. In her early 20’s she was very involved with church, ministry, Bible studies, and doing the work of God. She thought “This cannot be the life Jesus was talking about. There has to be something else.” She started meeting with a Spiritual Director which opened a new direction of the contemplative world to her.

Heather discusses how she understands wisdom - “It's not necessarily knowing more, but knowing more of yourself, knowing with the heart. The heart is an organ of spiritual perception, not the seed of our emotional life, but that which we can intimately experience, taste and know this God that we live and move and have our being in.”

Centering Prayer is a practice in surrender and letting go, according to Heather. She asks how we show up in our lives from that surrendered place, but also continue to be very engaged in the world around us. We explore the wisdom practices that are part of every tradition including chanting, sacred gestures or postures, surrender, and engaging the world with more of ourselves.

Heather compares communal practice to a drop of water. Each one of us is like a drop of water, there is something there but the more people, the bigger the drop of water which receptively amplifies. “There’s an amplification that happens when we come together and potential for emerging properties. The sum is greater than the parts and this brings me to the image of the body of Christ.” Heather says that collectives help us understand that Centering Prayer helps us realize it’s not about ourselves, it’s about ourselves in relationship with everything. According to Heather, awareness of our truest self is difficult to distinguish where we end and where God begins. The process of Centering Prayer invites us to let go of our ordinary awareness and allow us to realize our truest self and that we can’t fall out of God and God cannot fall out of us.

She helps us understand how we can feel grounded in our union with God through practice of Centering Prayer, without our life emerging. She also challenges us to find the right practice at the right time. She says the spiritual life is a practice of surrender and the task is to find that grounding first. Heather encourages us not to let our trauma fully occupy us. Centering Prayer can help remind us that there is a place in us that isn’t traumatized and we can relate to the traumatized place, without pushing it away, or moving through the world in it.

“I don’t know really how it works but when a group of like minded people committed to the transformation process are together, the force of the energy is up a number of decibels higher. We become still, not by the knowledge of the mind, but the knowledge of the heart.” - Father Thomas Keating

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

  To connect further with Heather Ruce:  Books mentioned in this episode:  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 # 6: The Wisdom Way of Knowing with Heather Ruce 

[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]

Colleen Thomas [00:01:00] Welcome to the Contemplative Outreach Podcast, Opening Minds, Opening Hearts. I'm Colleen Thomas. 

Mark Dannenfelser [00:01:08] And I'm Mark Dannenfelser.

Colleen Thomas [00:01:10] Hi Mark.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:01:11] Hi Colleen. 

Colleen Thomas [00:01:13] Good to see you. Talk to you again in this fine day. How are things down there in Atlanta?

Mark Dannenfelser [00:01:22] Hot and I survived the weekend of moving my son two flights up on his second story apartment, and I'm feeling it today. I'm feeling it. And I'm feeling my age.

Colleen Thomas [00:01:34] Moving is not fun. And yeah, it's definitely a task. I'm glad he had you to help.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:01:40] Yeah, it's a wonderful thing too, just like in our own spiritual lives too, we're always moving, I guess, some ways. Sometimes it's harder than other times, but so yesterday it was one of those hot moves, which I guess happens in the spiritual life too, sometimes. 

Colleen Thomas [00:01:56] True. Even though I like increasingly more and more, I like to think about the spiritual life as like a cycle and not like linear, but even in those images, they're kind of like spiral staircases going up. And that's really interesting metaphor.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:02:15] It's a good thing too. There's certain challenges with it too. And that's why I love this podcast, especially this part of it, this season that we're working with about the practice itself and when we do go deeper, what might come up and how we work with that.

Colleen Thomas [00:02:29] Yeah. And so for those who are just tuning in this season, we've been having conversations that have been framed by one of contemplative outreaches, many guiding principles, which says that Contemplative Outreach is an evolving community with an expanding vision and deepening practice of Centering Prayer that serves the changing needs of Christian contemplatives.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:03:01] Yeah. And today we're continuing to dive in and dig in a little bit on that to kind of middle piece of this principle, this part about the deepening of the practice. We'll explore that further today and we have a wonderful guest with us today who will help us with this. We're delighted to have Heather Ruce here who's a Wisdom Spiritual Director, facilitates wisdom practice circles, wisdom retreats and schools focused on the Christian Wisdom Tradition in particular through the lineage of the Wisdom Teacher, Cynthia Bourgeault. Heather weaves into her training and she weaves into her work and wisdom teachings her work in Family Systems Therapy, Somatic Experiencing, Organic Intelligence, and of course her spiritual direction is all part of her teaching and her approach to guiding people in the practices with wisdom and in the service of the Christian Wisdom Tradition. So we are delighted to have you, Heather. Thank you for being here today.

Heather Ruce [00:04:08] Thank you so much for having me. I couldn't think of a more delightful thing to do on a Monday morning than to talk with you both about this.

Colleen Thomas [00:04:18] Yes. We're so excited you're here, Heather. And we have the unique pleasure too. We've both actually met you in person, which is such a treat. And you and I met for the first time in person, I think it was in 2021. It was like a first retreat post pandemic, but I'd been seeing your name. I think we've been seeing each other's names around and about the community back when I was in Southern California and I had been attending off and on your, you call them collective contemplative pauses, those started during the pandemic. Yeah. On Zoom. And that's such, such a lovely space. And I think especially that you call them collective, which I imagine was really important to emphasize during that time. What was on your heart that led you to offering that space and continuing to.

Heather Ruce [00:05:22] As soon as I found out about the pandemic, I just had this strong sense that it was going to be a while and that it was going to be pretty rattling for most people. And so I thought if we have the time and space, so many people schedules shifted. Everybody was staying home a lot more. I thought, what better way to stay grounded and rooted than to gather together in contemplative practice? And so it became a space of coming together to chant and to come in into our bodies more fully. And then also to practice Centering Prayer with each other and to begin to tune into the reality that even if we were all in our own homes, that didn't necessarily mean we were isolated or that we couldn't draw on our wisdom tradition. All wisdom traditions really. That's Christianity is just one of to rather than be so rattled by the events that were happening in the world, to maybe be able to stand a little stronger and offer ourselves in some ways to the whole.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:06:41] Heather, it's wonderful that you were able to do that and to gather people and then to also continue practicing together in community. There's so many different practices. There are many just from the Christian tradition but then elsewhere, too many veins in the wisdom lineages. And this podcast, we have a particular interest in the practice of Centering Prayer. We're always interested in what's happening there and how we can support one another in the practice and deepen that practice. So we have kind of a standard question we ask our guests. We're just interested in how you came to discover Centering Prayer, when were you first introduced to the practice itself and what impact that has had on you over the time that you've been practicing. So can you tell us a little bit about that, how you came to Centering Prayer?

Heather Ruce [00:07:32] Absolutely. I grew up, I'd say in the evangelical tradition that did not have any sort of connection that I was aware of to any of the contemplative practices. And in my early twenties, I remember being very involved in church and ministry and small groups and Bible studies and all these things, and feeling we were so busy doing the work of God. And I just thought, this cannot be the life that Jesus was talking about. This can't be the abundant life. There has to be something else. And so at that point, I didn't even know what spiritual direction was, but I met somebody who I heard her speaking and I approached her afterwards and asked her if she was open to meeting. She said, well, actually I'm a spiritual director. So I started meeting with her and that sort of opened up this whole new dimension of the contemplative world.

Actually many have even been before that. I stumbled upon some authors like Henri Nouwen, and that just opened up this, Pete Scazzero who talked about the contemplative life. They started talking about all these practices I'd never heard of that were in the Christian tradition, Lectio Divina, like Centering Prayer, like contemplative prayer. And it was like I had found this river that was just so full and I could not stop drinking out of it. So I just did anything I possibly could. I started reading different books, trying to figure out what this contemplative prayer was. And I actually remember going away to a monastery for a silent retreat on my own because I hadn't really discovered Contemplative Outreach at that point. I picked up this book, and it's funny because I've just recently come back to it. This was the very first book that I discovered on Centering Prayer, Finding Grace at the Center.

It was in the bookstore of the monastery that I was at for $2. So I thought, I'm going to buy this. I read the whole thing. I still had no idea what contemplative prayer was or Centering Prayer. And then I believe it was a friend who I'd been talking with about this who said, I found an ad in the paper for Centering Prayer training. We should go to it. And I said, absolutely. So it was a Contemplative Outreach introduction to Centering Prayer. And that was how I finally started to understand what the method of Centering Prayer was. This was in my mid 20s and just started to practice it on my own as much as I could. And then started really, it was Contemplative Outreach that helped me grow in that practice. I did the Living Flame Programs and continued to read Thomas Keating's work. And then that led to Cynthia and others.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:10:30] That book now costs $50, just so you know. No, but there has been an increase.

Heather Ruce [00:10:36] Probably.

Colleen Thomas [00:10:39] So much there. I'm going to circle back to that book because I noticed you've been reading them because usually I assume what's in your newsletters is what's feeding you spiritually at the time. But you also mentioned Cynthia, who is really your teacher, kind of primary spiritual teacher. And her teacher for our audience who are unfamiliar with this world of Centering Prayer was Father Thomas Keating and Cynthia's book The Wisdom Way of Knowing. It's like one of her like seminal teachings on contemplative life and practice. And she's written other books about Centering Prayer, but it's interest, The Wisdom Way of Knowing really sets a framework for what feels like the work that you're continuing to do as your practice deepens. 

And I'm curious about wisdom, the way you understand it and teach it as like this growing edge of the practice of Centering Prayer. And in one of Father Thomas's videos from like the last couple years of his life, he says that over the next years he hopes to see the increase of Centering Prayer and the creative addition of other wisdom aspects that might enhance what we're doing. Or at least help us to do what we have learned out of our tradition with complete commitment. I'm curious what maybe you would say that Father Thomas was referring to here when he says other wisdom aspects.

Heather Ruce [00:12:27] Yeah, that's such a great question. One of the ways that I've come to understand wisdom, and this is primarily as Cynthia Bourgeault has talked about it, is not necessarily knowing more, but knowing with more of yourself or knowing with the heart and the heart being an organ of spiritual perception. Not the seed of our emotional life or our affective life, but the heart being that which we can intimately experience and taste and know this God that we live and move and have our being in or love or whatever words you're most comfortable with. And so wisdom practices are really in service of helping us tune into that heart and be able to see and know from there. And Centering Prayer is such a particular practice in surrender, right? Letting go. It's as many have talked about it in apathetic practice, meaning we don't really engage our thoughts.

We're letting our thoughts go. We don't engage our emotions. We let them come, we let them go. We don't engage our body sensations. We let them come, we let them go. This is a practice of surrender, of deep letting go. And alongside those practices of deep letting go, we also need those practices typically considered more kataphatic that do engage our senses, right? That do engage our mind, our thoughts, our emotions, our life and our bodies. And so I think those other wisdom practices are really about attention there. And how do we show up in our lives from that more surrendered place, but also very engaged. And so there's wisdom. These wisdom practices he's referring to, I think do seem to be across every tradition, right? There's some that you can just find in every tradition like chanting, which really we know now has a very regulating impact on our nervous system as well.

So it's stimulating our vagus nerve and calming the nervous system. But it's also a way we are sounded through. That's just one simple practice, you know? And then practices like gesture, sacred gesture or posture, these are things that have been in all traditions as well. That this idea that the body carries a knowing, an intelligence, a wisdom that is often actually sometimes more helpful for the spiritual path than our minds, which tend to be a little bit more either or. And then these practices of Lectio DIvina of anything and anything really that's going to bring us to know God with more of ourselves and to surrender with more of ourselves and to engage the world with more of ourselves.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:15:41] I love that description describing what wisdom is from this perspective. It's not about knowing more, which sometimes I get caught up in doing. That's why I know that the prices of books are going up. Because I'm always buying books, right? I want to know more. But you said what you said about it, knowing with more of yourself is very different than just accumulating book knowledge or other kinds of knowledge. The quote that I was thinking too, from Thomas Keating, he mentions this thing about knowing with the heart too, when he's talking about the practice specifically and some of these common elements that you're mentioning that we see across different wisdom practices. 

But in this one quote he says, “I don't know really how it works, but when a group of like-minded people committed to the transformation process are together, the force of the energy is certainly up a number of decibels higher.” And then he says, “We become still, not by the knowledge of the mind, but the knowledge of the heart.” Like you're saying. But this idea of energy, because you're doing a lot with your collectives communal practice. Can you say something about that, about how that affects energy and that kind of common wisdom, that common knowing that often emerges when we're in community.

Heather Ruce [00:17:01] I think this is where some of our newer understandings of physics really comes in around. The image I often have is each one of us like a drop of water. When you bring a bunch of drops of water together, it becomes a bigger drop of water, right? Then it's more receptive or in terms of a group, our receptivity amplifies. There's an amplification that happens as we come together. And this potential for emergent properties, right? As something comes together, as elements come together, the sum is greater than the parts. And then this also brings me to the image of the body of Christ. If each of us are a cell in the body of Christ, together we are a body that we are not on our own. And the more that we can allow ourselves to synch up in that way, the more receptive and open I think we can be to that movement of God not just our own lives, right?

Because I think one of the things that I know for myself, when I started Centering Prayer, I was pretty focused on getting myself to be a more surrendered, enlightened self. And there was a lot of talk around divine therapy. So I was going to heal, I was going to have myself healed through this process of Centering Prayer. But it was still very me focused. And over time, I think Centering Prayer or any good wisdom practice helps us see that it's just really not about ourself, right? But it isn't not about ourself. We ourselves in a relational field. We are in relationship to everything. And I think the collectives help us to notice that and to recognize that and to come to a coherence with that and then find our place in that whole.

Colleen Thomas [00:19:14] I want to use the word awareness of being one of a whole is really at the heart of practice of Centering Prayer, but also wisdom teaching. You talked about the book, Finding God at the Center. And just a little background too about the book. It was written by Father Thomas and Father Basil Pennington and William Meninger, who were all monks together at St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, where Father Thomas served as Abbott before going to Snowmass. And then something that Basil Pennington said in the book, we like to remind people about the method of Centering Prayer in the podcast too. 

And one of Father Basil's takes on the guidelines. This book we're talking about is that whenever in the course of the prayer we become aware of anything else, we gently return to the prayer word. And he says, I want to underline the word aware. And so I'm curious, especially for those who might be new to the practice, what's happening. And in your experience too, how is your awareness deepened over time with your own practice?

Heather Ruce [00:20:42] I was actually pondering this recently in terms of awareness, right? So we typically go through the world in our ordinary awareness, which I would just call our like normal human awareness, just what's happening in my life, what's happening, mostly focused circumstantially and not necessarily aware of the other realities that are equally as real, spiritual reality, wisdom reality. Jesus called it the kingdom of heaven that is always in our midst. And within us. I think Thomas Keating calls that our spiritual awareness. And I would say, and then even under that, this awareness that at our center, at our core, at our truest self, that place is very difficult to distinguish between where we end and God begins or God ends and we begin, I think it was Catherine of Genoa who said, "My deepest me is God.” And we're not really aware of that on a regular basis, or at least I'm not aware of that on a regular basis.

But the practice of Centering Prayer over time, I think in letting go, really of attachment at the ordinary awareness level, which is what I think those instructions are inviting us to do. If I sit down and close my eyes, my ordinary awareness is just going to go. I'm thinking about my life, then what I'm going to make for dinner and what I need to do on my to-do list. And I'm having my emotional experiences about how that person hurt my feelings or whatever it may be. And I have these tensions in my body and maybe even deeply rooted in old traumas and different things like that. And all that gets really loud when we close our eyes and over time, just realizing that's a thought and that's an emotion and that's a sensation. And there's something else in that return, there's a return that happens when we come back to that sacred word sacred that is, it's Cynthia has described it, and maybe Thomas Keating.

It's like this objectless awareness. So I'm not here, right? Centering Prayer is not about dissociating or going into freeze. I have to be here in my body letting go of all of that returning. But in that, somehow it's like it loosens the hold on the ordinary awareness and brings me deeper into that more spiritual awareness or that true self where my center is never outside of God. And, that has over time begun to permeate my life where I do feel like I know that. Now I also know that doesn't always make my life easier, right? But it's both. It's, yeah, I can't fall out of God and God can't fall out of me. My awareness can fall in and out of that reality or that knowing. But that's what I would say, Centering Prayer. And that return to the word and has patterned over time.

[solemn music starts]

Mark Dannenfelser [00:24:15] 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]

Yeah. I'm glad you're talking about that, Heather, about the awareness and knowledge and wisdom. It's different ways to say very similar kinds of things. And you're, from what I'm hearing, talking about that being a very global kind of transformation that we talked about in community, but even within our own selves, it's this total transformation. And there's a part of that interests me. I wanted to get your take on this. Because as a psychotherapist who also teaches Christian contemplation and mindfulness meditation, I'm very interested in folks who come to the practices seeking this kind of transformation. 

And they also have other challenges in life. You mentioned trauma as one of them, and you work as a spiritual director. So I'm sure these kinds of things come up that the emphasis on the practice and on it transforming us in the human condition. But we in Centering Prayer circles, we don't very often talk about when there are challenges there for individuals or even within groups.

So in addition to your work with Cynthia, deep works with her, but you also did some training with Steve Hoskinson, who's trained trauma therapists and meditation teachers. And so I wonder if we could just talk just for a couple moments about Centering Prayer and trauma and how that kind of works and what you've seen as a spiritual director, and also with your background as a marriage and family therapist. I've been rereading David Treleaven's book, Trauma Sensitive Mindfulness, in that he says that traumatic stress often makes it difficult to trust sensations. You were talking about that too, that it's embodied practice, but sometimes coming from trauma, it's difficult to trust those sensations. He says, because our emotional brain is continuing to sound the alarm our bodies continue to respond in ways that suggest that there's a threat, even if there isn't one. So especially with the somatic work that you're doing, how does that work and how do you work with people who are, you mentioned dissociation who are not feeling grounded or are not feeling union with God, maybe they're feeling more disintegration.

Heather Ruce [00:27:45] Yeah. You know, I think that understanding the nervous system has really changed that for me over the years and how I work with it within myself and also with other people. Trauma's such an overused word right now, but it's real. And it's good that it's being used because we're bringing our attention to that dimension of our life. I mean, it's part of the human experience. We cannot go through human life without experiencing trauma. And from Steve Hoskinsons' definition, he calls trauma any unintegrated resource. So it's like something that happens that's too much that we can't process for some, for any given reason, whether we don't have enough internal or external resources. And so it hangs on in us, right? And so there's just really no way that we can practice Centering Prayer without whatever's going on in our human life emerging in that space.

And at times that I have seen people use Centering Prayer as a more dissociative escape from trauma or just from life. And then of course, sometimes when it's too much for one system to surrender at that level. And one of the things I've heard Cynthia say many times, and probably others, but the right practice at the wrong time is still the wrong practice. And so I think understanding where somebody is within their own nervous system and what is going to be most helpful at that intersection is key, right? Sometimes Centering Prayer isn't the practice we need to be working with and the spiritual life we have those practices of surrender and those practices of attention. So sometimes if we can't find grounding, the task is to find that grounding first. Because a lot of times it's easier to just let everything go, right?

Because then I don't have to really engage in anything. But that's not actually what we're talking about. Centering Prayer is really in service of taking our place in the whole of God, right? And being surrendered humans that can exert force and when needed, and to be responsive to what is being asked of us in any given moment and present enough to be able to do that. So I have found that some of the practices that we, well greatly, we want to be flexible. Like overall, I should say, we want to be flexible, right? So what is going to be most organizing for somebody and bear the most fruit? So if somebody's doing any wisdom practice and they are becoming more fragmented or there is less joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness in their life, then probably those are not the practices for them, right? It's how are these practices bearing some kind of fruit and helping us to be fully human and fully walking this spiritual path. So I'm not sure I answered your question or responded fully to your question there, Mark, but.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:31:15] Yeah. Beautifully. It's a big question.

Colleen Thomas [00:31:17] And what I'm hearing too, which you mentioned earlier, there's somehow the Christian Wisdom Tradition, which is, I think we could say now reemerged and maybe in large part because of Father Thomas and bringing us this method of Centering Prayer that was rooted in older monastic tradition, the cloud and contemplative prayer. And that was like a starting ground for us. And then now we're seeing the integration of other eastern elements of wisdom traditions that are always present in the work that you're doing. I've never done a Centering Prayer practice with you without a chant, for example. But in a lot of Centering Prayer spaces, there is no chanting. And also, you talked earlier about sacred gestures. 

I've been in retreat settings with you where you always include some form of body prayer. And I know that you're involved with Cynthia in the Gurdjieff movements, and this is also body practice. I think what I'm curious about, because as much as the word trauma is becoming overused, probably in response to that, this word somatic is also becoming overused. Can you explain to us what somatic experiences or somatic practice is? And then also could you connect that to giving us a little bit more information about what the Gurdjieff practices that you're involved in and how that's incorporated and integrated into Centering Prayer?

Heather Ruce [00:33:19] Yeah. This is just my own noticings. So I don't even know if this is if others would agree with this, but what I've just seen is over time we become more and more disconnected from our bodies, right? It's like, as a kid, we're pretty embodied. We move around the world in our bodies. And yes, we have our minds, our thoughts and all that, but over time it seems like we move up and start living from the head. And you can see that in our history in a lot of ways, right? Moving to like reason and logic and the functions of the mind that we focus so much on. And I think that modern psychotherapy, Freud probably started to bring in like the emotional life more. And so now somatic and embodiment and all that is starting to bring it, but don't forget about the body as well.

And then whenever we do that, we almost always idealize whatever that is. So we idealized the mind as the way of understanding and knowing. And then it was like, no, it's the emotional life and that's it. And now I think we're doing that with the body. It's the body knows, the body doesn't lie, the body keeps the score. All these things true and, right? We still have our minds, we still have our emotional life, we are all of those things. And somatic, really, when we talk about that, I'm going to use, actually, you mentioned Gurdjieff. So Gurdjieff talk about how we are three centered beings, or we have three centers of intelligence, the intellectual center typically associated with the mind, the emotional center, not the same as the heart. And then the moving center or the body, which carries its own level of intelligence, not just through sensation, although sensation is included, but also through gesture and movement.

And so when I talk about somatic work or embodiment, I'm just talking about that dimension of our intelligence that we can go inside and experience sensation, we can sense our feet on the ground. That does always bring us into the present moment. Even though what's happening in our body may or may not be related to what is happening in the present moment. So our bodies always bring us, whatever's happening in my body brings me into the now, right? I can sense my feet on the ground right now, I can sense there's a little tingling and a vibration that brings me here into the present moment. I also know I have some old tensions in there that are old patterns of bracing against judgment, for example, or something like that, right? That's not necessarily rooted in this present moment, which is quite safe and spacious.

But the somatic element, which I also think Centering Prayer can really help us see is, okay, when is my somatic experience, my sensation experience or the tensions or the postures that I'm holding in my body? When are those just happening at a ordinary awareness, personality or maybe egoic operating system level? And when is it more spacious, open and free from a deeper part of myself? And we just have to be so gentle with ourselves around this stuff because I've had to do a lot of both. Yes, my spiritual practice, absolutely, my Centering Prayer, my chanting, all those things. 

And I've done a lot of psychotherapy. I've done a lot of organic intelligence sessions. I've done a lot of work on helping my nervous system get more regulated, right? Because if our human nervous system is stuck on high alert or activated from our amygdala with our fight, flight and freeze responses, it's almost impossible to see the kingdom of heaven in our midst because I'm just worried about surviving. But I can't throw that out and say, bad human self, you're in survival mode, right? It has to be both that that deeper self can include, but not be limited to my human self. And in this case, meaning somatic experience of the world.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:37:56] Listening to you, it's highlighting the power of these practices, that there's a power there. Because as you get deeper into the practice of Centering Prayer and some of these other practices, many of these other practices as well, there is a kind of dismantling that goes on that we know and we're not trying to avoid. In fact, we're embracing that the dismantling of our own ego and the stuff that we're, if I'm only driven by that, I'm living this very kind of narrow self-interested life. So we want that. But then when that happens, we also need to somehow support that. 

So it's not just a dismantling, not just a disintegration, but that there's this other kind of integration, a new maybe kind of integration in spiritual language. We would say union, maybe union with God. That's hard to hold though sometimes, isn't it? I think especially as you know, must see as you're working with people in spiritual direction, maybe that's the value. One of the great values of spiritual direction is that you have support so that you can continue on not walling off the parts of us, the ego parts of us but also being able to hold it so that it's a productive, transformative experience. 

Colleen Thomas [00:39:11] It's reminding me of those three Rs. I can't think of the third one, the resist no thought, retain no thought. What's the other one?

Mark Dannenfelser [00:39:21] React to no thought. 

Colleen Thomas [00:39:18] React. 

Mark Dannenfelser [00:39:19]I thought you were talking about reading, writing, and No,

Colleen Thomas [00:39:26] No.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:39:26] No, not that. And also in that guideline thoughts, I forget sometimes thoughts are understood to be thoughts, emotions, sensations, images. It's not just like thought, like head thought.

Colleen Thomas [00:39:41] Yeah. And you know what, maybe what gets confused and where we might be inclined to not see Centering Prayer as an embodied practice is we forget that we're instructed to resist no thought, resist no sensation. And there's this really fine tension and this acceptance and letting go of sensations. But I'm not sitting, and I think it was Justin Lanier who's talking to us about his early days with Father Thomas and the sacred word. He was like, it was just like bam against my thought. Like no thought, you know, using that sacred word as a hammer, like thoughts get out of here. But that's what's the gift. And the challenge of the practice is that we just let the sensations go by. And it's actually the opposite of what my fight and flight trauma experience would want to do, which is say, no, I'm not allowing you to show up. I'm going to do whatever, learn behavior subconsciously I adapted from my family experience and make no room. But Centering Prayer actually says, it's okay, there's room. Just practice letting go of the attachment to this.

Heather Ruce [00:41:22] Which I think is such a subtle difference, Colleen, and thank you for saying that because I'm not necessarily, well, what I think it trains in us is that when I'm going through life, I don't necessarily try to let go of my fight reaction. I let go of my attachment to it. And so it might mean I have to tend to that energy in myself still so that it can move through. So that's one of the things I would say. Centering Prayer has the potential, if people can remember, I am like this gesture of release. Whenever we release our attachment, we're not focusing on this, but likely we can notice that somewhere happening in our body. When I release a attachment to a thought, probably there's a sensation that there's some kind of release in my body that's happening, or an emotion. When I release my attachment to that in, in Centering Prayer, it's going to be also happening in my body.

And again, I'm not bringing my attention to that because that would be another thought, but it is happening. And so that sometimes that may be in the awareness, and that's okay too, right? As long as I'm not attached to that, oh, what's happening in my body as I'm letting go, right? As I'm releasing, oh, this is happening. But somewhere there may be that awareness, I keep doing this because for me, this is a lot of times where I will sense that release is something in here or somewhere in my torso that will just, anytime I let go of a thought and by returning to my sacred word, it's like this kind of opening. Or I guess another way would be like a kind of a recollecting. But this, what you're saying just seems so key because when we go throughout our life, we're going to have these human energies of fight, flight, and freeze coming up.

And so the goal isn't to not have them, the goal is just not to be so attached to them as if that's the thing that's going on and the only thing that's going on and that I'm compelled to react out of that place. And I think Centering prayer also helps us touch into that place that is so often there's different language for it, but like, Richard Rohr I think calls it the Immortal Diamond or Le Point Vierge that Thomas Merton talks about or this place in us that is in a way invincible to life circumstances. And I just think about that along with our understanding of trauma, to know there is a place in us that isn't traumatized. And so when I can connect with that place, I don't have to push my trauma away, but I also don't have to let it fully occupy me and take me over. And that's the thing. I think that our spiritual path, or wisdom path or that Centering Prayer can help also remind us is there is this place in me that's not traumatized.

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And I can relate to the traumatized part of me from that place. I don't have to push it away, but I don't have to move through the world in that either.

Colleen Thomas [00:44:37] 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. 

Mark Dannenfelser [00:45:23] 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 If you are a grateful listener and would like to support this podcast, go to to make a donation of any amount. And thank you for your support.

Colleen Thomas 00:45:59]This episode of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts is produced by Crys & Tiana.

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