Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Four Rs of Centering Prayer: Advice for Managing our Thoughts

The classic advice from Thomas Keating and Cynthia Bourgeault on managing our stream of thoughts in Centering Prayer is this:

Resist no thought.
Retain no thought.
React to no thought.
Return ever so gently to the sacred word.

These “Four R’s” are full of wisdom. They remind us of the core principle of centering prayer–the surrender of our thoughts and our return to the intention to sit in silence before God. We cannot control our thoughts. They may be beautiful; they may be embarrassing; they may be random. Regardless, when we recognize that they’ve grabbed our attention, we release them and return to the silence with our sacred word.

Resist no thought

Recognize that we spend most of our days lost in loops of thought. Our minds bounce endlessly from one thought to another. Buddhists call this the “monkey mind.” To practice centering prayer does not mean fighting against thinking. The goal is not to erase our minds. This is impossible. You will likely have hundreds if not thousands of thoughts during a centering prayer session. The key is recognizing when this happens and surrendering it. This leads to the next “R”.

Retain no thought. 

In centering prayer, we release our thoughts whenever we find ourselves paying attention to one. This is easy if it’s a random thought about dinner or about a bug buzzing in your ear. However, if you generate a helpful solution to a problem you’ve struggled with, it is harder to let go. But let go we must. Good or bad or neutral–we surrender each thought and return to the silence.

React to no thought

Thoughts are just thoughts. We have little control of what moves into our conscious mind. You may encounter beautiful thoughts or disturbing ones. A painful memory may emerge from the depths of your soul. You may get caught up in a fantasy. Regardless the practice centering prayer involves our commitment to make no judgments regarding our thoughts. Instead, we release them to God. 

Return ever so gently to the sacred word. 

The elegance of centering prayer is its simplicity. It’s all about our intention to spend time with God in silence. The sacred word serves as a means of breaking our attention to thoughts, words, images, and feelings so that we can return to the silence.

To learn more about centering prayer, check out this brief video introduction: Centering Prayer: the Basics

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