November 11th, 2008

Generic Meditation Issues: Centering Prayer

Tonight I met with seven other people to begin a discussion of "Mystical Christianity,"  John Sanford's study of the Gospel According to St. John.  Normally, a discussion of John's gospel would be one of the last things I would want to be involved in, especially if all the other participants were Roman Catholics.  But this is a special group of people to me, all associated with the Catholic Worker Movement with whom I share almost everything except religion and theology.  They all know my agnostic and eastern leanings and feel they add to the discussions,  I have been missing from the group for several months and have felt the loss of that contact deeply.  Surprisingly, what I missed most was the twenty minutes of silent meditation that begins each meeting.

Catholics call this meditation centering prayer and it grows out of an attempt by the Cistercians to revive ancient techniques of meditation which were cast aside during the theological revolutions of the twelve century, the general corruption of religion and society in Europe during the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, and the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counterreformation of the sixteenth century.  By the seventeenth century, there was no longer a role for contemplative prayer or silent mediition in Western Christianity, Protestant or Catholic.  The Quakers and few other small sects and cults valued silence. but it was dismissed as useless (Liberal view) or dangerous (conservative view) by the hyperactive industrial culture.  Fortunately, the Catholics are trying to revive interest in contemplation, this revival centers in the Cistercian order, and perhaps one of the best introductions to Christian contemplation and to Centering Prayer specifically is Thomas Keating's "Open Mind, Open Heart."

Stripped of its theological costume, centering prayer is simply the practice of mindulness or Zen Buddhist sitting meditation.  One sits in a comfortable, relaxed position and focuses on just being aware without being aware of any specific thing except maybe the simplest thing--a single word or one's own breathing.  Thoughts, even high and beneficial thoughts, are gently pushed aside and the meditator continues  the process of just being aware.

Somebody (I wish I could remember who) said that meditation was like having a hyperactive monkey jumping around inside his skull.  I can't say that my experience so far has been much better,  I do know, however, that I feel much better, much more relaxed, much more in control of my emotions and thoughts when I meditate even occasionally than when I don't do it at all.  I am trying to make a twenty minute silent meditation part of my daily routine.  When and if I succeed, I will report the results in this forum (if I have not been raptured up, ha ha)