I’ve been working with Michael longer than any other client. I’ve had the pleasure of watching him begin and deepen his Centering practice and the integrate it into his career, vocation, marriage, and family.
One consistent topic of our coaching sessions is the ebb and flow of how his practice manifests in daily life. At times he finds himself doing what we might call the “classic” form of Centering Prayer & Meditation – that is, sitting for 20-30 minutes twice daily and working with thoughts and his sacred word.
At other times, sitting seems to become an obstacle. He has experimented with walking, changing up the time of day, trying different lengths of practice (whether sitting or walking).
As a commissioned presenter of Centering Prayer, we are taught to do our best to remain faithful to the teachings and transmissions we received. Each of these teachings is considered a “guideline,” not a hard-and-fast rule.
With that in mind, how can you determine when you are allowing your practice to evolve and mature under the guidance of the Spirit vs. when you are pushing things beyond faithfulness to the original teachings?
As a member the of Centering Prayer & Meditation community, we have tended to err on the side of faithfulness – perhaps even to the point of rigidity. But we have not attended to the ways in which the practice of Centering itself may be evolving as new practitioners apply it to their lives. In my personal experience and work with clients, I see this as a growing edge of the tradition that we need to listen to.
This is especially true as the practice moves beyond the original monastic context where it was developed, and as more people seek to integrate it into busy professional lives, careers, marriages/partnerships, raising kids, etc.
Even in the introductory workshop to Centering Prayer we teach participants that the external form of the practice is NOT the point. The guidelines create a container for our experience, a way to move into deeper levels of consent to God. The point is to open ourselves to work of grace, to say yes to the Divine Presence and action within, and to allow our entire lives to be transformed into living flames of love.
This is why we all need teachers, traditions, and community to really live centered in wisdom. We need to have trusted partners who can help us navigate whether we’re just looking for an easy way out (following the ego), or whether the Spirit is truly moving us in new directions – to deepend our practice!
One such teacher is the 20th century monk and writer, Thomas Merton. The term “Centering Prayer” itself is derived from his writings and applied to the current practice. In his letter to Abdul Azziz, a Muslim Sufi mystic, here is how he describes the evolution of his meditation practice and his non-attachment to external form (apologies for the gendered language to describe God; it’s in the original):
Strictly speaking I have a very simple way of prayer. It is centered entirely on attention to the presence of God and to His will and His love. That is to say that it is centered on faiths by which alone we can know the presence of God. One might say this gives my meditation the character described by the Prophet as “being before God as if you saw Him.” Yet it does not mean imagining anything or conceiving a precise image of God, for to my mind this would be a kind of idolatry. On the contrary, it is a matter of adoring Him as invisible and infinitely beyond our comprehension, and realizing Him as all. My prayer tends very much toward what you call fana [an Arabic word meaning ‘annihilation’ or ‘loss of self (in God)’]. There is in my heart this great thirst to recognize totally the nothingness of all that is not God. My prayer is then a kind of praise rising up and out of the center of Nothing and Silence. If I am still present ‘myself’ this I recognize as an obstacle about which I can do nothing unless He Himself removes the obstacle. If He wills, He can then make the Nothingness into a total clarity. If He does not will, then the Nothingness seems to itself to be an object and remains an obstacle. Such is my ordinary way of prayer, or meditation. It is not ‘thinking about’ anything, but a direct seeking of the Face of the Invisible, which cannot be found unless we become lost in Him who is Invisible.
We speak often about “beginner’s mind” – the idea that every single time we sit down to meditate (even after decades of practice) we return to the state of being a beginner, of emptying ourselves. At the same time there is a process of maturing within one’s practice.
Learning to balance the beginner’s mind with growth in wisdom is a sign of flexibility. Such spiritual flexibility is a sign of strength and maturity. It is a sign of being open to the guidance of Spirit.
I love how Michael resolved his most recent desire to return to doing his early morning sitting practice. He used to get frustrated because he would sit down with a timer and settle in. Invariably, his kids would come downstairs and “disturb” his practice and he felt like it was somehow not “right.”
But now he wakes up early, sits down to practice, and accepts that his kids will come downstairs. And that is his timer! His kids are his message from the Spirit that it’s time to move from formal practice and bring that centered energy and wisdom into time with his family… And from there into his work, his exercise routine, his whole life!
Whether you’re just looking to get started with a daily practice, or you’ve been returning to beginner’s mind for years, I offer the opportunity to help:
When you click that link you’ll be taken to a page where you can book your free Breakthrough Session. I’ll mostly ask you questions to see what you’re looking for. If I can help you, we’ll discuss that together. And if not, I’ll look for other resources for you.
Either way, you’ll get the value of having a breakthrough into what you need next!