OK, the secret is out, I can make lots of excuses on why not to do or complete my session of Centering Prayer. I have 1,000 of them. They range from why I can’t take time to pray, to once in my prayer thoughts get to me and I want to stop. The last few weeks, I started a list on the reasons of what got in my way with Centering Prayer (CP).
Listing them did make me smile. On reflecting on some of them, like the one above, I laughed. Think about it God vs. eggs! Even better, the eggs won! Yes, I can do an analogy of the Pascal Mystery and an Easter thing or two, but eggs! The best part in doing this exercise was the ability to smile, laugh, and not take myself so seriously.
But excuses are a problem for me. So, what to do? Part is getting back to some “basics.” Not Centering Prayer basics, but John Murphy’s basics. I have studied a variety of authors in CP and other wisdom teachers in other traditions. I have internalized many of them. A few I will mention in this article come from traditions either outside of CP traditions, or my own quirky ways that help me stay true to the silent time I spend with my Creator.
First: Why do Centering Prayer? Why did I start this journey in the first place? In other words, what is my intention? I had a dear friend introduce me to meditation at the Shambhala Meditation Center in North East Minneapolis. It was fantastic. I learned a ton. But as I sat there, I felt a thought. Yes, of course I let it go! But after meditation I thought: What the heck are the Catholics or Christians doing about meditation. OK, I am Catholic. But more fundamentally, what about Theists, what do they do? For me, as I sat there in meditation, I sensed what Jesus told the Pharisees as to why his disciples were picking and eating corn. Matthew 12:6: “there is something greater here then the temple.” For me, that greater thing is God. So, from time to time I need to go back to that story. With a smile, I boldly tell myself: “John, when you sit, you sense that something is greater here than you. And that is building a relationship with God. The eggs can wait.” It is amazing what that pep talk can do.
Second: Making place for Centering Prayer. I love the stories on how people can etch out a specific time each day in their calendars for Centering Prayer. It makes perfect sense. But first thing in my morning is a run. I need to exercise for several reasons I will not go into here. My schedule changes so much that I cannot carve out a set time. Each day is “predictable” with a schedule but not from day to day. So, my time with God changes and adapts to my schedule. I put in a time slot to help alleviate the excuses of being too busy or needing to do something else “more important.” This takes some thinking. Not a good thing during CP but very good to get you there. To stay steadfast to my commitment, I often find needing to state to myself phrases like: “Once returning home, put your stuff down, light a candle and start. Do not go to the KITCHEN!!!” I will not go into another food excuse.
Third: This may sounds odd, but I forget why I am doing the practice all together. I have taken my seat, I am keeping my back strong, I gently say my sacred word… and in less than 5 minutes, I am gone. My mind is overwhelmed with thought, or worse I am basically sleeping. I gently return to my sacred word. But this time, it doesn’t work to simply and gently say the sacred word. My mind is just so busy and thoughts and story lines are going so strong, that a billboard with neon lights flashing my sacred word wouldn’t even catch my attention. I am just unaware of any intention that I started with at the beginning of the session. Not a clue why I am sitting in a chair, and could care less about “god knows what.” So for me, returning ever so gently to the sacred word does not “work.” This is when some techniques in meditation study have helped. It may be the same thing as Centering Prayer Teachings, but this different approach has worked for me with these severe times of being lost in thoughts, storylines or sleeping. I remember my meditation teacher telling me: “Start over.” To gently stop, remember your intention, and simply start over. So there I am, several minutes into my Centering Prayer lost in my false ego self, and I start afresh. The process is quiet, gentle and friendly to myself. I do not reset the timer, instead, I gently take a mental fresh seat as if I am just beginning a CP session. For me the process is following my breath, checking my posture, and stating my intention. “I am here God!” I take a few breaths in and out. I introduce my sacred word and let go. I am back! I am happy. Then if a thought comes up, the sacred word works fine and I can complete my relationship time with God.
Fourth: I take all of it so seriously.
When will I see God? Oops, am I doing it “right.” When will I be a saint? Oops another thought, can’t I get this straight? When will I have wisdom? No, no, no, do not have expectations!
Oh, the mental battles are something else. It helps me to remember to keep it soft and simple. Again, I remind myself: “John, lighten up.” So I take a tip from Tich Nat Han. I heard him state on a recording after telling us to breathe in and out slowly: “If you like, you can smile.” What great wisdom teaching. From time to time, I will say my sacred word and spontaneously smile. After all isn’t this a joyous time with our Creator? I know God smiles. You just need to look at all of us struggling so… and I can see our Creator tossing out loving energy to encourage us: “Just be.”
So I still struggle. I still make excuses. I try my best with a light heart, but at times, my thinking and small mind gets the best of me. I was telling this to a person just starting her journey. She exclaimed: “Really! And I thought it was just me.”
The intent of this article is to share with you how I have dealt with distractions to my Centering Prayer. From my perspective, I have found that over the years, I have taken some suggestions outside of Centering Prayer teachings and incorporated them in my prayer. This has assisted me in developing a stronger prayer life, and keeps me dedicated to my silent time with God. My hope is that some of my tips, can help you look at your tips. Because, to be very businesslike, the bottom line, at the end of the day, the result based evidence is: I enjoy being in silence with my Loving Energy that created me. It makes me smile and tear up at the same time… and remember, the eggs can wait.