There are moments when practicing Centering Prayer – maybe ten minutes in, maybe fifteen, maybe right when the bell rings to signal that time’s up – when we have a genuine moment of release.
Thoughts have been coming and going, usually multiple layers, multiple storylines. But this time when we introduce the sacred word, we can see the thoughts drift, like a cloud drifting away, or like zooming out from a whole planet of thoughts.
Usually the breath slows to a slow and faint in and out, the limbs relax and the thoughts are few and far between, far more easily recognizable as we allow them to come and go.
In some of the research conducted on meditation, scientists have established we actually change brain waves; it’s a different state. We downshift to a lower frequency.
On such days the purpose of the sit is far more obvious. Afterwards, I’ll notice a greater capacity for seeing through surfaces, accepting people for who they are and where they are.
I can sense a mysterious connection with others, we’re branches on the same tree. The same lifeforce animates us both. There’s a joy in that recognition much deeper than the surface exchanges of which we either approve or disapprove.
Our common humanity is rooted in spirit. Simple experiences trigger deep gratitude and joy – light through a window, the smell of freshly ground coffee, a child, the sky.
But there are also days when this breakthrough moment doesn’t come for whatever reason. Lately it seems this begins with the body. If I haven’t been able to exercise and release some of the body’s stored energy, my mind runs far more rampant. Sleep matters too, of course.
On these days the benefits might be far more subtle. I’ll have a bit more patience throughout the day. Or maybe I’ll see my False Self acting out more clearly.
And some days I don’t have time to sit at all, however strong my commitment is to the contemplative life. On these days I’ll sometimes feel a greater urgency for inner awareness throughout the day, sometimes not.
But maybe the true contemplative breakthrough is not during the sit itself. The real breakthrough for many I talk to is recognizing that understanding the benefits, or understanding how it works, or mentally registering that prayer and contemplative practice are important isn’t enough.
It’s the recognition that only an ongoing practice brings about the transformation they desperately need. For some the collateral damage from the false self is clear – addiction, divorce, a suicide attempt, a series of lost jobs. For some it’s more subtle, recurring depression, anxiety, blowing up at the kids, an inner sense of lack, or sensitivity, or self-consciousness, an ongoing spiritual dryness.
Recognizing the need for a committed ongoing practice as a path to inner freedom, that’s the real contemplative breakthrough. Some changes will be gradual, some sudden, but unless we make a habit of creaking the door open, those graces will stay waiting on the doorstep.
Cynthia Bourgeault in conversation on The Heart of Centering Prayer
Richard Rohr on Centering Prayer
Contemplative Light’s course on Contemplative Practices