Deepening the Practice of Centering Prayer by Cynthia Bourgeault

Notes #4 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.

Why is this non-clinging response so important?

1.  most of the world’s spiritual traditions have taught that bad, dark, negative, destructive, demonic things can only enter you through the imagination.  And the imagination can only be activated when you grab on.  Imagination is an organ of perception that has to be disciplined first.  And discipline means it has to be disconnected from the personal ego.  When we grab on to it and use our imagination, we can be opened up to all sorts of realms of small self stuff.

If we can let go and not grab on, we stay present at that deeper, clearer place, that clear light that is always there at the ground of our being.

What you are doing when you grab on to an insight or an illumination is that you are grabbing on to the form rather than to the consciousness itself.  And you are creating yourself or recreating yourself at the level of form, this one particular psychological being, rather than staying present to this immense opportunity you have during the prayer to simply flow as being itself.

2.  The moment you grab on with your spiritual materialism you are back into the experience/experiencer dualism.  You become the one who is having an experience.  You become the one that something is happening to.  God is giving you this little insight.  Dualistic consciousness cannot possibly experience unitive being.  As long as you want to hang on to the experience/experiencer dualism and be the one who wants to revel in all these “creatures”/experiences, where your journey will be stopped, no matter how good it feels, is at the level known as the illuminative (the middle stage between purgative and unitive).  The illuminative stage is characterized by the fact that there is a very contented ego that has wonderful mysterious unitive experiences.  But you are having experiences and you can go further than this dualistic consciousness which can have unitive experiences but cannot be unitive consciousness.

You don’t need to stop at the illuminative.  What can happen is that you can move right through it, hit the place where you really do suspend the subject/object dualism, become unitive being and then willingly flow back into the personal from the wholeness.  And then you operate in the world as a true saint who wears personal consciousness as a dress, as a mantle, as a kind of ornament and knows that it is necessary as service in this life, to wear the ornament.  But you are not confused for a moment that you are that.  The form comes and goes but you as consciousness are deeper than that form.  And you know that so clearly that it allows you to go through life clinging to nothing.  The great investments, the things that you build, you can leave at a moment’s notice.  There are no hooks any more.  You’re not doing anything to express yourself, or assert yourself, or acquire yourself.  And therefore you’re not manipulating anything.  You’re not lying.  You’re not trying to make the cosmos be the way you want it to be because you know that place where you can at a moment’s notice flow with Being itself and know that nothing is lost and everything is.  That’s the place CP is pointing you to.

In CP you are not making your mind a blank.  You are turning over the reigns of your being to a deeper intelligence.

We are all a combination of shadow and light for our entire lives.  Enlightenment is in each of us.  We all have a kataphatic and an apophatic self.  As you practice CP the capacity to be in touch with the Divine Wisdom in you increases.  The universe is drenched in Divine Wisdom.  And the only thing that causes most of us to miss it is our preoccupation with our psychological self.  As you begin to learn how to clear away the veils which are all created by your clinging on exclusively to your own story, you begin to breathe deep breaths of this wisdom.


Full teaching available at: “Deepening The Practice of Centering Prayer”

1 reply
  1. Cornelius G Swart
    Cornelius G Swart says:

    This is wise. I don’t think I would have understood this post if I didn’t already have a background in Buddhism and Orthodox Christian mysticism. Having that, this is a wonderful and elegant expression of the path that awaits those who practice stillness. Such a lovely post.

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