Thanks to Beyond Blue reader Barbara Bowman who is always turning me on to new spiritual authors and thinkers. She and many other regular readers know that I am on a forever quest to meditate. But this article she lead me to, by Phil Fox Rose, may be simple enough to get me started. Phil writes for the hip website I’ve mentioned on Beyond Blue several times, BustedHalo.com. You can get to his entire insightful piece on meditation by clicking here. Below, I’ve excerpted his seven simple steps to get started on Centering Prayer.
There are many forms of meditation. I believe Centering Prayer is particularly good for cultivating surrender to and acceptance of God’s Will in my life, but if a different practice speaks to you, or if your friend or church offers support in another form, consider that. I discourage you, though, from any practice that’s goal-oriented, complicated or overly attached to form. As Thomas Merton said, “Contemplative prayer has to be always very simple, confined to the simplest of acts.”
If you don’t know where to start, I offer this simple framework, from my Centering Prayer tradition:
1. Choose a sacred word, one or two syllables, with spiritual meaning but not distractingly important to you. — Mine is “Oneness.”
2. Sit comfortably. — I kneel with a sitting cushion, or sit in a chair, as long as I can plant my feet with my back supported. I don’t believe in sitting uncomfortably.
3. Time 20 minutes. Use a method where you don’t have to check. — I use a timer. You can record 20 minutes of silence followed by a sound and hit play. There are also expensive meditation clocks, and I’m going to check out one of the iPhone apps that does everything they do for a few dollars. (If you can’t do 20 minutes at first, do less rather than not doing it, but something happens to the stillness around 10 to 15 minutes in, that you will miss. That’s why 20+ is nearly universal.)
4. Eyes open or closed. — I keep mine open, unfocused and glancing down slightly. I learned early on that if my eyes are closed I’m more prone to daydream. Open helps keep me more alert. Others prefer eyes closed.
5. Settle briefly, and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.
6. Resist no thought; retain no thought; react to no thought. When you realize you are engaged with your thoughts, including sensations and feelings, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word. — This is what it’s all about. You may drift into not needing the word, just “resting in God.” Or you may stay in this attachment-surrender loop the whole time. I’m pretty good now at centering quickly, but there are days when my meditation is filled with thoughts. As Father Thomas Keating, the founder of Centering Prayer, says, ten thousand thoughts means “ten thousand opportunities to return to God.” Your aim is what The Cloud of Unknowing calls “naked intent direct to God” and Saint Romuald, founder of the Camaldolese Order, calls “to be totally open to God.” The goal is not emptiness. As Cynthia Bourgeault says, “striving for emptiness is a surefire way to guarantee that your meditation will be a constant stream of thoughts.”
7. At the end of the period, remain in silence for a couple of minutes.