For me, one of the greatest stumbling blocks to keeping up a Centering Prayer practice is perfectionism. It’s not that I hold up some lofty standard of excellence and compulsively strive to attain it. No–for me, just maintaining a minimum of effort can be difficult, so my perfectionism works at a low level and always in the negative: if I slack off at all, I feel like all of my previous efforts suddenly mean nothing, my commitment is a total lie, and I may as well give up and binge-watch another five episodes of Scandal.
A Spiritual Schlub?
If I miss one of my twice-daily CP sessions, or both of them, for a day, or two days, or several days, it’s proof positive to me that I’m a spiritual schlub who has no business pretending that he cares about conscious contact with God.
This nasty habit invades my actual CP sessions. If I spend most of the time daydreaming and forget to use my Sacred Word, I get depressed and wonder why I started this practice in the first place. I get visions of spiritual giants—Thomas Keatings and Thomas Mertons and Thérèses of Lisieux—their faces alight, their spirits swept up into the darkly glowing presence of God, while I sit slumped in my chair thinking about how I’m going to pay the house painter.
Come Back, Come Back
But if there’s one thing that most spiritual giants—great teachers, contemplatives, roshis, and rabbis—agree on, it’s that slacking off is inevitable and natural, and that the essence of real spiritual practice isn’t staying in a perfect groove—it’s starting back up again, and again, and again. Simply returning to the sacred word, the prayer, the breath, the practice, after falling off or falling away.
“If you break your vow ten thousand times,” the Islamic saint Rumi sang, “come back, come back.” A retreatant once complained to Thomas Keating that she had lost her concentration a thousand times during the CP session. Keating told her she was lucky—she’d had a thousand chances to reconnect with God.
So I am well advised, after three full days without any Centering Prayer at all, to simply return to my chair, set my timer, and whisper that sacred word in my head. Here I go once more, and when I run off the rails, I am perfectly capable of getting back on them again.
Crossposted from 12StepSpirituality.org