What is called “centering prayer” is in fact a form of meditation or contemplation. It has become known to the public through the writings of people like Father Wayne Tysdale, the untiring promoter of what is called interreligious dialogue between the main religions, Cynthia Bourgeault, author of the most beautiful biography of Jesus I have read (The Wisdom Jesus), Father Thomas Keating, the founder of Contemplative Outreach, and especially Basil Pennington, author of the international best-seller Centering Prayer.
It is a very simple practice. Choose a word (two or three at the most) which has for you a sacred meaning and which touches you deeply on the level of feeling – e.g., love, compassion, serenity, Jesus, the Muslim invocation «All’ il Allah » (God alone is God), Mary… each person will find the right word. Then you repeat it slowly, silently or softly for at least 15-20 minutes, really feeling its deeper meaning, its healing power.
The most important aspect of this practice is the power of your intention. Wayne Dyer, who left us a year ago, wrote an excellent book with this title. (In the original classical version – which I have somewhat broadened – the intention is to establish and maintain the will to consent to God’s presence and action). What is your deepest intention, your objective or goal, your ardent desire? One cannot realize anything of true significance in life without a clear intention. Especially on the spiritual path, it is essential that this intention be like a flame that burns in the heart and that motivates the whole of life, all of our activities. This avoids spreading our energy in all directions.
You will no doubt be assailed by all sorts of parasitic thoughts which will attempt to distract you. Do not give them any power by fighting them, and especially do not feel guilty because they assail you. They are not your thoughts but are simply the mental mosquitoes that abound in the collective consciousness of our societies. They even have a very positive aspect, as they enable us to strengthen our intention: those with a weak intention will become discouraged by this mental invasion and will rapidly abandon. You can also see these intruding thoughts as clouds passing in front of a perfectly blue sky: you are the sky, not the clouds!
I think of a dear friend, Anna, who practices this form of meditation. She once had a very powerful mystical experience centering on the fact that love is the basis of absolutely everything Hence the word she has chosen for this meditation is simply love. However, for my friend, because of her mystical experience, which was 100 per cent on the level of feeling, this word exudes an exceptional energy, at the same time powerful, gentle and immensely comforting.
She just stays there, with this burning desire to express only love (which constitutes the essence of each reader of this blog and of all humankind – see our December 2015 blog) in everything she does. She has this ardent desire to think only love, see all with the eyes of love, speak with love, act with love and feel only love in all circumstances. She will just hold in thought the word “love” – and at times it might be with the image of Amma or Jesus in front of her eyes – or gently repeats “love always,” or “Only love” … and other similar terms. And it is always with this ardent intention to express that love (which, once more, constitutes the essence of our being – of every single being on this planet, including those society describes as the most degenerate criminals.
And she continues, peacefully, smiling at the passing clouds before returning to her occupations. And during the day, she often turns to this inner haven where she is simply present to this Presence of love in herself and expressing itself through her, AS her, to heal the world – and herself.