Centering Prayer: Intro from Fr. Thomas Keating

One of the coping/healing tools that I have found very helpful is Centering Prayer.  So today I’d like to share some wisdom from Fr. Thomas Keating, whom I think of as one of my mentors.

Here is a repost about my experience with Centering Prayer.

The other day on the radio, I heard a country song– STOP– Side Bar — my daughter is going through a brief country music phase (let’s hope it’s brief). So I blame her for my few moments of listening to a country music station. Bleh. Something good did come out of it though.

So, I heard a song about a woman visiting her childhood home. Some strangers now inhabited it, but she talked about the bedroom upstairs in the back where she did homework and learned to play the guitar, and her favorite dog that was buried under the big tree in the backyard. She expressed the need to come “home” because perhaps that would help heal the brokenness that had occurred since she had left. I was touched by it. I thought it would be nice if I had a place I could go to, somewhere before I was “broken”.

Yes, I still feel broken in so many ways. There is hope though. I had a really great month which included Christmas. Since my oldest son is 18 and looking forward to leaving home this summer, this was our last Christmas “as a family.” I am grateful for that reprieve. The drawback, and I suppose in comparison it is a small price to pay, is the disappointment I felt at coming back to the pain. Still it did give me hope in a future where there is less pain and sorrow than this place I’m in now.

While I can’t go “home” to some physical place with healing memories, I have found a few things that give me “coming home moments”.

The first is contemplative or centering prayer. I’m LDS/Mormon so this has really not been a part of my faith tradition, but I see no conflict with it.  Centering Prayer is a form of meditation with the goal of bringing oneself closer to God. I think of it as the “listening” portion of prayer. It is a mantra-based meditation. I’m really new to it, so likely not the best person to explain it, but I’ll try anyway. If it peaks your interest, I’ll share a couple resources at the end of this post.

First, I want to clarify, when I say “meditation”, I don’t mean deep thinking, I mean meditation in the Eastern sense of attempting to clear your mind of thoughts and be still.  I start with a short “traditional” prayer. Much like the way we begin church meetings with prayer. Then I sit quietly and focus on my breath and repeat with my breaths a “sacred word” that I have chosen. The “sacred word” is whatever you chose. At first I used, Atonement, because I wanted to emphasize being one with God again. Later another idea came to me and I am using that now. I want to keep my new word sacred, something that I only share with God, but you get the idea.

During Centering Prayer you try to keep your mind quiet. As you can imagine, that is difficult to do as thoughts creep in and before you know it, you are in the middle of a “mental paragraph” before you remember that you were meditating and return to focusing on your breath, and your sacred word. That’s OK  I heard a story of a woman who went to a retreat for Centering Prayer. After one of the sessions, she approached the leader and expressed her feeling that she had failed because she got distracted about 80 times. He said, “How wonderful, 80 times of returning to God.”

Father Thomas Keating who has taught and written books about Contemplative Prayer recommends two sessions a day, 20 minutes each. I have not been able to make that much time in my day yet. And in fact I don’t dare. It is hard for me to sit quietly. Quite frankly, I am afraid of the repressed emotions that will use that time to come forward. This is not unique to me, Fr. Keating talks about this sort of thing happening in his seminar “Contemplative Prayer” (available on CDs). My therapist is encouraging of my meditation practice. He says if I can only start with 5 minutes at a time, that is fine. It’s a start. And so I do.

So far, I have found it to be amazingly refreshing and soothing. So much so that when I am in public and I start to feel stress or anxiety, I will take a couple deep breaths and repeat the sacred word to myself and it helps. It is powerful, and it is more than relaxation.  I have used relaxation techniques before that were helpful, but didn’t affect me in this same way.  It’s hard to explain how it works, different people have different ideas about this.  I will just share how I understand it.  I believe that I lived with God before I came to earth, I don’t remember it, but my Spirit does.  When I meditate, I believe it is a way to connect with my Spirit, that part of me that remembers God.  It is like reaching towards the Divine within myself and at the same time reaching toward Heavenly Father.

Another way I have found to come home is another form of meditation called mindfulness. I feel even less adequate to explain it, except to say that we live much of our lives either thinking about the past, or the future, mindfulness is about being in the moment we are in. And again in a way that is difficult to fully explain, I find it very healing as well. Though I had been introduced to the idea before, my interest really began with a book by Geneen Roth called Women, Food and God. It has really been influential for me.  Another proponent of this form of meditation is Jon Kabat-Zinn. He has a PhD and works with patients, teaching them mindfulness to help with chronic pain and stress reduction.

Women, Food and God is about compulsive eating, and Jon Kabat-Zinn uses it to help people with chronic pain. The Buddhists and some Christians (myself included) use it as part of their spiritual practice. And so I wonder, is there any part of our lives meditation doesn’t affect in positive ways? My experience so far is no. It is truly a form of coming home and working to heal the brokenness.

Here are some resources if you would like to learn more:

Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth  I love this book.  I found it immensely helpful and healing.

Mormon Matters: The Kingdom of God is Within You–http://mormonmatters.org/2012/12/17/144-145-the-kingdom-of-god-is-within-you-believing-it-trusting-it-accessing-it/   In this podcast Dan Wotherspoon interviews two LDS men who have a meditative practice.  This podcast and Geneen Roth’s book both resonated with me, partially because what they talk about is similar to things I have learned/experienced through therapy.

Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Keating is available on CD (I borrowed it from the library) It is an a recording of a Seminar he gave on the topic.

Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault I am reading this now, I haven’t finished, but I am enjoying it so far.

Jon Kabat Zinn– He has written so many books on Mindfulness it is hard to know where to begin, but he is next on my list of “must reads”.

PTSD and Mindfulness: Stop the Time Travel

English: signs and symptoms ptsd
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are a lot of articles recently talking about how Mindfulness is helping people with PTSD.  Apparently it is looking very promising.  I am not surprised.

SIDE BAR:  Small rant–can someone tell the media that military people are not the only ones with PTSD?  Survivors of sexual abuse often have it too, and since that is 1 in 3 women, and 1 in 6 men, I think we are worthy of mention.  OK..rant complete. Back to the post.

Applied Awareness, a blog I recently started reading asked readers What is Mindfulness?

That post was very timely for me because I had been asking myself the same question, how can I explain what mindfulness is for me?  Is my answer “correct”.  I don’t know.

Here is my disclaimer, I only started learning about Mindfulness mediation a few months ago.  I certainly don’t claim to be an expert, or even qualified for novice level.  But it has had such an impact on my life that I want to share my experiences, such as they are.

When I started reading about Mindfulness in Geneen Roth’s book Women, Food and God, and in a couple other places…I thought, “Yes! This is very similar to some really helpful things I have learned in therapy.  I want to learn more about this.”

For me, Mindfulness is grounding.  It stops time-travel.  You probably think I’m joking about the time-travel, but I’m not.  With PTSD, triggers can catapult you into the past.  The emotions, feelings and terror is there as if you had literally gone back in time.

Through therapy I have learned to be more aware of the signs of being triggered.  When I start to feel my breath quickening, and my muscles tensing,  I know I have to act quickly.  I have to be Mindful in order to stay in the present moment and not time travel.

I believe it was Jon Kabat Zinn (a master on Mindfulness) that taught me, through his writing, that we are often thinking about the past or the future, and rarely about the present moment.  (We could call this another form of time-travel, couldn’t we?)  It is important to make time in our busy lives to stop and be in the moment we are in.

When I recognize that I am feeling triggered, I focus all my concentration on the present moment: the sounds I hear, for example right now, I hear the clicking of keys on a keyboard…it is a rhythmic comforting sound, otherwise the room is blissfully quiet.   I feel the room around me.  I check in with how I am feeling in my body.  And for me, most helpful is to find something beautiful to focus on.  Right now that would be a picture on my wall of boats sitting idly in the water, waiting.  I love the colors and I love the serenity that the artist captured.  Later, when I am calmer, I try to discern what triggered me and talk about it with my therapist.

But you don’t have to have PTSD to benefit from Mindfulness.  It can bring more joy to everyday life for anyone who tries it.  For example, one day I was feeling tired, stressed and a bit anxious.  This was everyday stuff that anyone might feel.  Then I remembered Mindfulness.  “Be in the moment you are in, Leslie.”

Andreas Kontokanis
Photo credit: Andreas Kontokanis

At that moment I was in a chess class I teach at my kid’s home school co-op.  The room was buzzing with laughter and talking (and you thought chess was a quiet game!).  I looked around at my eighteen students having fun playing chess. I love chess (though I am a self-proclaimed chess klutz).   And I love sharing chess with kids.  I thought, “Wow, I did this.  I brought these kids together and look what a great time they are having.”

Suddenly, I didn’t feel stressed, tired or anxious.  I felt great!  Even now writing about that moment brings back the joy of it.

However you define it, Mindfulness is powerful.  If you want more joy in your life, give it a try.

Coming Home through Centering Prayer

The other day on the radio, I heard a country song– STOP– Side Bar — my daughter is going through a brief country music phase (let’s hope it’s brief). So I blame her for my few moments of listening to a country music station. Bleh. Something good did come out of it though.

So, I heard a song about a woman visiting her childhood home. Some strangers now inhabited it, but she talked about the bedroom upstairs in the back where she did homework and learned to play the guitar, and her favorite dog that was buried under the big tree in the backyard. She expressed the need to come “home” because perhaps that would help heal the brokenness that had occurred since she had left. I was touched by it. I thought it would be nice if I had a place I could go to, somewhere before I was “broken”.

Yes, I still feel broken in so many ways. There is hope though. I had a really great month which included Christmas. Since my oldest son is 18 and looking forward to leaving home this summer, this was our last Christmas “as a family.” I am grateful for that reprieve. The drawback, and I suppose in comparison it is a small price to pay, is the disappointment I felt at coming back to the pain. Still it did give me hope in a future where there is less pain and sorrow than this place I’m in now.

While I can’t go “home” to some physical place with healing memories, I have found a few things that give me “coming home moments”.

The first is contemplative or centering prayer. I’m LDS/Mormon so this has really not been a part of my faith tradition, but I see no conflict with it.  Centering Prayer is a form of meditation with the goal of bringing oneself closer to God. I think of it as the “listening” portion of prayer. It is a mantra-based meditation. I’m really new to it, so likely not the best person to explain it, but I’ll try anyway. If it peaks your interest, I’ll share a couple resources at the end of this post.

First, I want to clarify, when I say “meditation”, I don’t mean deep thinking, I mean meditation in the Eastern sense of attempting to clear your mind of thoughts and be still.  I start with a short “traditional” prayer. Much like the way we begin church meetings with prayer. Then I sit quietly and focus on my breath and repeat with my breaths a “sacred word” that I have chosen. The “sacred word” is whatever you chose. At first I used, Atonement, because I wanted to emphasize being one with God again. Later another idea came to me and I am using that now. I want to keep my new word sacred, something that I only share with God, but you get the idea.

During Centering Prayer you try to keep your mind quiet. As you can imagine, that is difficult to do as thoughts creep in and before you know it, you are in the middle of a “mental paragraph” before you remember that you were meditating and return to focusing on your breath, and your sacred word. That’s OK  I heard a story of a woman who went to a retreat for Centering Prayer. After one of the sessions, she approached the leader and expressed her feeling that she had failed because she got distracted about 80 times. He said, “How wonderful, 80 times of returning to God.”

Father Thomas Keating who has taught and written books about Contemplative Prayer recommends two sessions a day, 20 minutes each. I have not been able to make that much time in my day yet. And in fact I don’t dare. It is hard for me to sit quietly. Quite frankly, I am afraid of the repressed emotions that will use that time to come forward. This is not unique to me, Fr. Keating talks about this sort of thing happening in his seminar “Contemplative Prayer” (available on CDs). My therapist is encouraging of my meditation practice. He says if I can only start with 5 minutes at a time, that is fine. It’s a start. And so I do.

So far, I have found it to be amazingly refreshing and soothing. So much so that when I am in public and I start to feel stress or anxiety, I will take a couple deep breaths and repeat the sacred word to myself and it helps. It is powerful, and it is more than relaxation.  I have used relaxation techniques before that were helpful, but didn’t affect me in this same way.  It’s hard to explain how it works, different people have different ideas about this.  I will just share how I understand it.  I believe that I lived with God before I came to earth, I don’t remember it, but my Spirit does.  When I meditate, I believe it is a way to connect with my Spirit, that part of me that remembers God.  It is like reaching towards the Divine within myself and at the same time reaching toward Heavenly Father.

Another way I have found to come home is another form of meditation called mindfulness. I feel even less adequate to explain it, except to say that we live much of our lives either thinking about the past, or the future, mindfulness is about being in the moment we are in. And again in a way that is difficult to fully explain, I find it very healing as well. Though I had been introduced to the idea before, my interest really began with a book by Geneen Roth called Women, Food and God. It has really been influential for me.  Another proponent of this form of meditation is Jon Kabat-Zinn. He has a PhD and works with patients, teaching them mindfulness to help with chronic pain and stress reduction.

Women, Food and God is about compulsive eating, and Jon Kabat-Zinn uses it to help people with chronic pain. The Buddhists and some Christians (myself included) use it as part of their spiritual practice. And so I wonder, is there any part of our lives meditation doesn’t affect in positive ways? My experience so far is no. It is truly a form of coming home and working to heal the brokenness.

Here are some resources if you would like to learn more:

Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth  I love this book.  I found it immensely helpful and healing.

Mormon Matters: The Kingdom of God is Within Youhttp://mormonmatters.org/2012/12/17/144-145-the-kingdom-of-god-is-within-you-believing-it-trusting-it-accessing-it/   In this podcast Dan Wotherspoon interviews two LDS men who have a meditative practice.  This podcast and Geneen Roth’s book both resonated with me, partially because what they talk about is similar to things I have learned/experienced through therapy.

Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Keating is available on CD (I borrowed it from the library) It is an a recording of a Seminar he gave on the topic.

Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault I am reading this now, I haven’t finished, but I am enjoying it so far.

Jon Kabat Zinn– He has written so many books on Mindfulness it is hard to know where to begin, but he is next on my list of “must reads”.

Photo Attribution:  George Hodan again.  I love his work.  See more of it here.