The Four R’s of Centering Prayer

Most contemplatives, especially in the Christian tradition, are familiar by now with the basics of Centering Prayer. It’s a daily practice, ideally at least 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes at night, during which we open ourselves to the divine presence in the silence.

The Four R's of Centering Prayer

It’s a time to set aside the din and cacophony of everyday life and the workings of our monkey mind. That’s constantly looking for shiny new things to grab hold of.

Instead we consent to the presence and action of God within. Some people go into the practice expecting peace and bliss right off the bat only to find out their mind is racing around and some of their fears and anxieties are clamoring for attention. That’s all part of the transition.

It’s like draining a tub full of dirty water. It’s pulling the plug on whatever is swirling around in our unconscious. And that’s part of the growth process: uncovering our unconscious motivations for what we think, feel, speak, and act.

Strictly speaking Centering Prayer is a method of intention and consent to the divine presence, which is always already knocking at the door. But the unitive experience of contemplative prayer, or a period of heart to heart connection with the divine, is always a grace, not something we can bring about through our own efforts.

We can only open ourselves to it and allow for the opening, the possibility of transformation.

In beginning workshops, instructors speak of the four R’s of Centering Prayer as guidelines to help people who, without enough instruction, may feel like they’re “doing it wrong.”

  • Resist no thought
  • Retain no thought
  • React to no thought
  • Return ever so gently to the sacred word

To clarify, these are general guidelines, helpful reminders of how to return to the moment, and every practitioner may find themselves engaging in one or the other of these throughout a sitting. What matter more than perfect compliance are disposition and intention.

It’s part of a process. We open ourselves to having our ego laid bare, to having our distorted programs for happiness dismantled.

Exposure can be difficult, even in solitude, especially if we’re perfectionists, who are used to working hard to getting things right. Instead, here, we’re giving our best effort. We’re showing up, and opening ourselves to the divine therapy that is as all times and everywhere on offer.

Going Further

A Course on Contemplative Practice by Contemplative Light (including Centering Prayer)

Centering Prayer Instructions from Contemplative Outreach

Richard Rohr on Contemplation

Fr. Thomas Keating’s classic Open Mind, Open Heart

Cynthia Bourgeault’s The Heart of Centering Prayer

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