Deepening the Practice of Centering Prayer by Cynthia Bourgeault

Notes #7 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 (#4 and #6).

Wednesday a.m. 

Serene light shining in the ground of my being,
Draw me to yourself.
Draw me past the snares of the senses,
Out of the mazes of the mind.
Free me from symbols, from words,
That I may discover the Signified,
The Word unspoken in the darkness
That fills the ground of my being.

“Subtle perception” is the birthright and the necessity of a maturing human being.

What to the ego looks like darkness, or the void, or emptiness, is actually crawling with light at a subtle level.  It is not that it is really dark, it is just that we have been using too small a part of ourselves.

In the fog you have to orient yourself according to where you are.

It is not emptiness.  If you open up and use a whole different set of senses you discover a sense of belonging to a whole.  You discover the world as a luminous web coming to us in every flower, stone, sharp edge.

Inside this thing we call our physical senses there is a whole other more subtle system at work in us, a whole other different kind of coherent instrument of perception.  In Christian terms it is often referred to as the “spiritual senses.”  It is generally just alluded to and not explained by people like Bernard of Clairvaux in his Commentary on “Song of Songs,” talking about continuity between something that is outward and physical and something that is inward and much more subtle.  They are connected without being the same thing.

This is something more subtle than energy.

Matter = condensed form of energy.  Energy = condensed form of psychic force which is the realm of attention, will, love.  Psychic force = realm Sufis call “names of God.”  These things have power.

What is it in the prayer that comes up and reminds you of your intention, that comes up out of your depths?  Trust it = powerful expression of psychic force.

God breaks into this sphere in the forms of measurable qualities: love, generosity which result in energies.

Key piece in system of subtle perception = the heart.  In the modern West we tend to minimize heart to the seat of my personal emotional life, my personal affectivity.  We use it as shorthand for someone who is in touch with their emotions.

There are two overlapping senses of heart:

1.  Semitic = symbol for core of human person, seat of the personal, true self.

2. Eastern Orthodox & Sufi = organ of perception, purpose to connect us to subtle senses.

We pick up information with more than just the mind.  And this information is vital to our well-being and to the well-being of the planet.

The heart is given to us as an antenna to pick up the qualities of God and to re-transmit them.  As you begin to learn to use and trust the heart you begin to find where you are.  The heart is the gateway to subtle perception.  It receives and it transmits.  We move out from and in alignment with that which we receive.

You can’t think your way to the heart.  The heart works by obedience.  Obedience is not knuckling under.  It comes from the Latin Ob Audire, “to listen deeply.”  The heart is the compass needle that always pulls North.  The heart tugs.  You begin to feel your heart pulling you.  So you can tell when you are on and off by a certain quality of aliveness.  As that pull to centre gets stronger so you are more reliably able to follow your true trajectory.  So our real business in the spiritual life is not so much deconstructing the ego as it is nurturing the heart.  So we can recognize that tug in us which is not just an emotional thing but is sensate.

As your heart becomes stronger in its ability to pick up the sonar it relativizes egoic consciousness so that egoic consciousness just isn’t as interesting any more.  The loss of aliveness you get when you run off into your egoic schemes is instantly recognizable and the loss of visceral connection to true centre is so heart breaking that you move back on.

In CP your heart is becoming attuned and you are getting more and more able to follow it.


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

2 replies
  1. Keenan Quesinberry
    Keenan Quesinberry says:

    Sometimes you’ll meet people and you’ll see the pain-body looking at you through their eyes. These people will be hosting pain parasites that are impatiently waiting for an excuse–any excuse–to provoke a conflict so that they can feed on more pain. They are ready and waiting to begin pushing all your buttons and so the conversation may begin with them probing for information about you so that they can use it to their advantage. Or they’ll simply bring up a topic such as religion or politics so that they can be on the opposite side of the argument. The pain-body instinctively knows that the more controversial the topic, the better chance they have of extracting a painful reaction from you.’

    My own, personal blog site

  2. Carole Pentony
    Carole Pentony says:

    Cynthia, this is so clarifying. We were talking about heartfulness after our Centering Prayer group today, and I have sent this link on to them.

    With gratitude,

    Carole Pentony

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