Extending the effects of Centering Prayer
into daily life.
(Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart, pp.123-126.)
Centering Prayer is the keystone of a comprehensive commitment to the contemplative dimensions of the Gospel. Two periods a day of twenty to thirty minutes - one in the early morning and one halfway through the day or in the early evening - maintain the reservoir of interior silence at a high level at all times. Those who have more time at their disposal might begin with a brief reading of ten or fifteen minutes from the Gospel. For those who wish to give a full hour in the morning to interior silence, start with ten minutes of Gospel reading and then centre for twenty minutes. Do a slow, meditative walk around the room for five to seven minutes; sit down and do a second period of centring. You still have ten minutes for planning your day, praying for others, or conversing with the Lord.
To find time for a second period later in the day may require special effort. If you have to be available to your family as soon as you walk in the door, you might centre during your lunch hour. Or you might stop on the way home from work and centre in a church or park. If it is impossible to get a second period of prayer in, it is important that you lengthen the first one. There are also a number of other practices that can help maintain your reservoir of interior silence throughout the day and thus extend its effects into ordinary activities.
1. Cultivate a basic acceptance of yourself. Have a genuine compassion for yourself, including all your past history, failings, limitations, and sins. Expect to make many mistakes. But learn from them. To learn from experience is the path to wisdom.
2. Pick a prayer for action. This is a five to nine syllable sentence from scripture that you gradually work into your subconscious by repeating it mentally at times when your mind is relatively free, such as while washing up, doing light chores, walking, driving, waiting, etc. Synchronize it with your heartbeat. Eventually it says itself and thus maintains a link with your reservoir of interior silence throughout the day. If you have a tendency to scrupulosity and feel a compulsion to say the prayer over and over or if frequent repetition brings on a headache or a backache, this practice is not for you.
3. Spend time daily listening to the Word of God in Lectio Divina. Give fifteen minutes or longer every day to the reading of the New Testament or a spiritual book that speaks to your heart.
4. Carry a "Minute Book”. This is a series of short readings, a sentence or two, or at most a paragraph, from your favourite spiritual writers or from your own journal that reminds you of your commitment to Christ and to contemplative prayer. Carry it in your pocket or purse and when you have a stray minute or two, read a few lines.
5. Deliberately dismantle the emotional programming of the false self. Observe the emotions that most upset you and the events that set them off, but without analysing, rationalizing, or justifying your reactions. Name the chief emotion you are feeling and the particular event that triggered it and release the energy that is building up by a strong act of the will such as, "1 give up my desire for (security, esteem, control)! " The effort to dismantle the false self and the daily practice of contemplative prayer are the two engines of your spiritual jet that give you the thrust to get off the ground. The reason that Centering Prayer is not as effective as it could be is that when you emerge from it into the ordinary routines of daily life, your emotional programs start going off again. Upsetting emotions immediately start to drain the reservoir of interior silence that you had established during prayer. On the other hand, if you work at dismantling the energy centres that cause the upsetting emotions, your efforts will extend the good effects of centring into every aspect of daily life.
6. Practice guard of the heart. This is the practice of releasing upsetting emotions into the present moment. This can be done in one of three ways: doing what you are actually doing, turning your attention to some other occupation, or giving the feeling to Christ. The guard of the heart requires the prompt letting go of personal likes or dislikes. When something arises independently of our plans, we spontaneously try to modify it. Our first reaction, however, should be openness to what is actually happening so that if our plans are upset, we are not upset. The fruit of guard of the heart is the habitual willingness to change our plans at a moment's notice. It disposes us to accept painful situations as they arise. Then we can decide what to do with them, modifying, correcting or improving them. In other words, the ordinary events of daily life become our practice. 1 can't emphasize that too much. A monastic structure is not the path to holiness for lay folks. The routine of daily life is. Contemplative prayer is aimed at transforming daily life with its never ending round of ordinary activities.
7. Practice unconditional acceptance of others. This practice is especially powerful in quieting the emotions of the utility appetite: fear, anger, courage, hope, and despair. By accepting other people unconditionally, you discipline the emotions that want to get even with others or to get away from them. You allow people to be who they are with all their idiosyncrasies and with the particular behaviour that is disturbing you. The situation gets more complicated when you feel an obligation to correct someone. If you correct someone when you are upset, you are certain to get nowhere. This arouses the defences of others and gives them a handle for blaming the situation on you. Wait till you have calmed down and then offer correction out of genuine concern for them.
8. Deliberately dismantle excessive group identification. This is the practice of letting go of our cultural conditioning, preconceived ideas, and over identification with the values of our particular group. It also means openness to change in ourselves, openness to spiritual development beyond group loyalties, openness to whatever the future holds.
9. Celebrate the Eucharist regularly. Participate regularly in the mystery of Christ's passion, death, and resurrection, the source of Christian transformation.
10. Join a contemplative prayer group. Set up or join a support group that meets weekly to do Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina together and to encourage one another in the commitment to the contemplative dimensions of the Gospel.