The following is drawn from Cynthia Bourgeault’s book The Heart of Centering Prayer: Christian Nonduality in Theory and Practice
The Welcoming Practice takes the core of Centering Prayer out into daily life; that is, the witnessing component which is one of the most transformative of the Christian spiritual practices. According to Cynthia Bourgeault, it is important to identify this as a practice and not a prayer, maintaining the emphasis on the action of letting go as opposed to passive acquiescence to external circumstances.
The practice was developed by Mary Mrozowski in the early 1980s, drawing on her work with biofeedback training, Jean Pierre de Caussade’s Abandonment to Divine Providence, and her integration of Thomas Keating’s teachings on the “false-self system”. It is intended to cultivate surrender to our deeper Self in times when attachment is tempting: difficult feelings and situations, feelings of inflation (eg. smugness, pride, vainglory), and even the “highs” (eg. “I don’t want this to end!”).
STEP 1: Focus or sink in – feel the feeling
When the first indications of an emotion or physical upset arise, focus on the sensation in the body. Where in the body is the emotion felt? Feel it without judgment. Don’t think about why the emotion is there or what it means, don’t tell stories – just feel it.
When we can stop and observe the emotion without repressing or justifying it, we can more easily dissipate the energy in it. There is no need to do anything – just notice.
STEP 2: Welcome – the turning point
Whatever the sensation is, welcome it by saying internally, “Welcome, pain” or “Welcome, frustration”. It is the sensation that was felt in the first step that is being welcomed, not the situation that brought it on. By doing this, an inner hospitality and unconditional presence is developed. In Cynthia’s words, “’You’ as pure consciousness have trumped ‘you’ as the victim of any story or situation…connected to sensation but separated from story, the inner shift can be extremely powerful”.
By welcoming the sensation, we are thanking our body for alerting us to a provoking situation. Our attitude toward strong emotions that arise from these situations is transformed with practice.
STEP 3: Letting go – freedom to choose
The letting go step incorporates the attitude of “let it be”. Surrender requires us to leave behind our wants, needs, and demands on the spiritual journey, giving up the adversarial or grasping position and making space to experience our union with God as the primary importance.
Don’t rush to let go – stay with the physical sensation, alternating between observing and welcoming. Let go of the need to fix anything, to attach stories to the feeling, and wait until the emotional spike has passed. Do not attach to a happy ending. The dissipation of the emotion will make space for heart-centred awareness, creating the inner freedom needed for conscious action, freeing us from the mercy of patterned reactions and victimhood.
STEP 4: Summary – Cynthia says it best
“’By the power of the Divine Indwelling active within me, I unconditionally embrace this moment, no matter its physical or psychological content’. And by this same indwelling strength, once inner wholeness is restored, I then choose how to deal with the outer situation, be it by acceptance or by spirited resistance. If the latter course is chosen, the actions taken – reflecting that higher coherence of witnessing presence – will have a greater effectiveness, bearing the right force and appropriate timing that Buddhist teaching classically designates as ‘skillful means’”.