Deepening the Practice of Centering Prayer by Cynthia Bourgeault

Notes #2 from Cynthia Bourgeault: Olympic Park Inst. Centering Prayer Retreat – Sept. 1-5, 2003

This post was originally published in Christopher Page’s blog, In A Spacious Place.


There are different kinds of mediation situated on a sliding scale from concentrative to receptive, with concentrative being the most attention based and the receptive being pure intention.

There are basically three schools of meditation, three stops on the scale:

1.  Concentrative practices based on attention.  Give you something simple to tether your mind to, pulls your mind back.  Christian Meditation uses the mantra for this purpose.  Following the breath.  Body based concentrative practices, moving attention around in the body.  Always tethering the mind to something.  Jesus Prayer.

2.  Awareness practices – Buddhist.  Goal to be able to step back and experience what usually goes on in our usual emotional , psychological state as simply energy phenomena happening at times so that you learn not to put your sense of identity in it.  So that when thoughts come up or feelings, you just go “angry thinking,” “fear,” “impulse.”  You watch, you label, you take a giant step back in your being and are able to keep your hands off it.  So you begin to see that you are not your emotional reactivity because, if you can watch it, you must be bigger than it.

3.  Surrender practices – CP works on that moment where you face a choice to go with the though or to let it go.  CP works over and over again on that moment.  The goal is not to clear your mind of thoughts.  The goal is to be able to be willing to let go when something calls your attention to the fact that you are thinking.

This gesture of surrender is the gateway; it’s the connecting of the finite with the infinite.  The gesture itself contains the whole thing.

Centering Prayer (CP) is a practice of surrender.  It is a meditation form based entirely on the gentle art of surrender.

Awareness practice goal = “clear mind.”  This is not the goal of CP.  The goal in CP = purity of heart.  The reward is in the freedom to give – how are you ever going to be closer to God, more like God than when you give away everything?

Trust the process.

CP is embodied prayer.  You’re not escaping from your body when you are doing CP.  What you are doing is you are going within the body that lives within your body.  Or, to put it another way, you are going into the body that your body lives within.  There is a whole field of aliveness which lives in you and which is you and which you are by and large completely unaware is there.  When you are in touch with that you are in touch with that which lives beyond death and it is right there in your body right now.

There are two fundamental motions required in the spiritual journey, two operations.  And you have to be proficient at both or you are incomplete: 1.  attention, 2. surrender.  They are the breathing of the spiritual life.

Attention = “I am here.”

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Full teaching available at: contemplative.org/store/audio “Deepening The Practice of Centering Prayer”

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