The path to peace is finding your center and in this post, I’m going to give you 5 steps that will get you started toward that end. It’s called centering prayer. I’ll explain how it works in future posts, but for now, this is the method. You can practice centering prayer and it will work without having to understand how it works. It’s like eating a meal. You can savor the experience without having to know how your stomach digests the food to bring additional benefit. It simply does what it’s supposed to do.
I don’t replace other forms of prayer by practicing centering prayer. It deepens and encourages the other forms. Rather than mentally talking to an external God, centering prayer is more of a communion with the Divine that increases your sense of the unfathomable Presence within you.
The 5 Steps
1. Find a quiet place. Noises will distract you and draw you to the surface.
2. The minimum time suggested for this prayer is 20 minutes. You may extend it later, but for starters, 20 minutes is good. I attended an 8-day centering prayer retreat where we centered/prayed for an hour at a time, four times a day. It was awesome.
For a long time I used a CD that opened with a minute of calming music, played silence for twenty minutes, and then closed with a minute of music to draw me back into the world. It was my prayer alarm and it worked beautifully. You can purchase them online at various meditation sites or you can make one yourself. I wrote an article that was printed in Pray! magazine on how to make one. I’ll post that in a day or two. Right now I’m using an app on my Android smart phone to tell me when twenty minutes is over. It’s called “Insight Timer.”
3. Two centering periods per day are recommended for maximum impact. I do my first session before breakfast. I feed my mind before I feed my body. It’s a time of day when my brain hasn’t begun racing. When I first started this practice many years ago, I centered once a day for six months. When I added a second session, I noticed a significant improvement in my ability to empty my thoughts. Plus, on a hectic day, the second session brings you back to your center, giving you a sense of control in a world that appears to have gone out of control.
4. Before you begin your centering time, choose a one or two syllable word that will be used as your sacred word. When your mind is full of activity, softly saying the sacred word will help you remember your intent – to help you release thoughts as they grasp for your attention. You see, this kind of prayer teaches you to be where you are. You’re not working at anything. You’re simply learning to gain some control over what you allow into your conscious thoughts.
Choose a word like pax (Latin for peace), elpis (Greek for hope), karis (grace), pistis (faith), kara (joy). Okay, so you can tell I’m a biblical language nerd. You can use the English, but I find using a familiar word tends to make me starting thinking about it which defeats the purpose of using the word.
The sacred word is called upon when you catch yourself thinking about what you need to do during the day, what you want to do next week, how mad your coworker made you and what you’re going to say to her the next time you see her, etc. As you become aware that you are thinking and not being, softly speak the sacred word in your mind as a sign of your intention to submit your total presence to the One who waits to commune with you.
5. Begin your prayer time. Visualize nothing. Focus on nothing. Empty your mind of words, images, feelings, etc. If a thought or mental activity floats into your mind, simply let it float through and out. Don’t hold onto it or let it carry you with it. Let it go. When you reach the end of your allotted time, give thanks for time well spent.
This is not a “win” or “lose” kind of activity. Thoughts will float in. Sometimes one right after another. You can’t stop them. It’s okay. This practice will help you learn to let go of thoughts, especially those that lead you a direction you know will not benefit you or others. It takes time and practice to build the strength to let go of negative thoughts. Beginning is half done. You won’t get better at it without practice. So make like a doctor and start practicing.
The Fruits of Centering Prayer
One of the hard parts to understand about centering prayer is that the desired results of it come in everyday life, not necessarily during the prayer session itself. The goal is not to develop a sense of internal euphoria during the 20 minute session. That’s a physical and surface goal that may happen, and you’ll enjoy it, but it will become the goal and thus a distraction that leads you instead of allowing you to chart your own course.
The benefits of centering prayer will come as you watch how you gain greater control of your thoughts in everyday life rather than letting them control you. More than likely, someone who knows you well will recognize it before you notice it yourself. After I had been practicing this method for six months, my wife said to me, “There’s something different about you. You’re not reacting to things as much as you used to.”
To me that meant I wasn’t reacting to thoughts stirred by my emotions but taking the time to choose responses because I had a clearer view of the overall situation and the long term consequences of my choices. I’ve still got a long way to go, but that’s why I continue to work at centering prayer.
Do you have another way that helps you make choices objectively?