Inside my '09 Experiment: Centering Prayer

I was invited by Leo Babauta to participate in his The Power of Less 30 Day Challenge.  Not really prepared for "going public" with a New Year's resolution, I dove in and posted what came first to my mind.

10 minutes of centering prayer a day.

Little did I know how difficult centering prayer would be.  First, a little bit about this ancient method of prayer.  Centering prayer is a technique of daily meditation during which a sacred word or phrase is repeated in order to push back distracting thoughts.  Monks have used centering prayer for centuries as a way to stay grounded, pursue silence and retain a state of calm throughout the day.  The sacred word is less of a brick and more of a feather being dropped into a body of still water.  It's meant to be gentle as all get out.

Sounds easy right?  Not so fast.


I first began with a period of 5-10 minutes each night.  I would sit on my bed and just ... well, be.  My sacred word varied from "Lord" to "Jesus" or whatever else came to mind.  As a Christian, these words hold tremendous value for me.  For someone without a faith tradition, centering prayer can still be a helpful way of staying grounded during the day.  Just shift the sacred word and jump right in.

After a few days, I was feeling like I was being antisocial.  My wife would be watching TV in the next room and I would just extract myself in order to go and pray.  It wasn't working.

My second week was a series of hits and misses.  The couch was too cold (leather).  Lying on my stomach was too restrictive and I nearly fell asleep.  On a nightly basis, I was tempted to ditch my little experiment.  What difference is this making anyways,  I would tell myself over an over again.  Just fending off the negative voices in my head was more of a practice than the blessed 10 minutes that I was supposed to be doing.


So here I am after three weeks of centering prayer.  I've settled on a great spot- a comfortably wide chair in my living room.  I can look out the window at the stars if I get distracted.  As for my sacred word, I've tried hard not to hedge myself in on one phrase.  Sometimes I go back to "Lord" and at other times I just go with whatever feels right for the moment.  Not surprisingly, I'm ok with where I am for now.  With ten days to go, I am confident that I can keep with it and hopefully see the effects of centering prayer in the rest of my daily life.

More to come in follow up posts...stay tuned.


Resting in God's Presence, Fr. Thomas Keating

About Centering Prayer, Wikipedia

Origins of Centering Prayer, Basil Pennington

Extending the Benefits of Centering Prayer in Daily Life, Fr. Thomas Keating