Re-patterning Our Life
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Guest writer Cynthia Bourgeault continues exploring the contemplative practice of Centering Prayer.
In Centering Prayer, the letting go of thoughts is seen as “consenting to the presence and action of God.” It carries that core sense of “Not my will but thine be done, O Lord,” the words uttered by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion. Recent neuroscience suggests that learning to let go of what we’re clinging to, mentally as well as emotionally, actually catalyzes some revolutionary—and evolutionary—changes in our neural wiring.
The usual explanations given for why we let go of all thoughts in Centering Prayer have to do with “making yourself empty so that you can be filled with God” or reminders that a cluttered, preoccupied mind is hardly likely to be fully present—true enough. In my own teaching, I prefer to come at it from a slightly different angle, gently but firmly insisting that one does not release a thought in order to achieve some desired result; the releasing itself is the full meaning of the prayer.
I have attempted to explain this theologically on the basis of kenosis, or “letting go,” which Saint Paul specifies in Philippians 2:5-11, as the very essence of “putting on the mind of Christ.” Each time you manage to disengage from a thought, you are doing so in solidarity with Jesus’ own kenotic stance and in the process patterning that stance more and more deeply into your being until it eventually becomes your default response to all life’s situations.
Have you ever watched really closely what happens when you release a thought? Yes, in most cases more thoughts come rushing back in. But notice how there is a slight gap between them; if only for a nanosecond, there occurs a moment when you are present and alert, but in which your attention is focused on no particular thing. You are briefly in a state of objectless awareness.
This fleeting taste, in the gap between thoughts, of a whole different bandwidth of consciousness is commented on extensively in the Eastern meditation traditions and in some small pockets of inner work in the Western esoteric tradition. If you stay with these moments of objectless spaciousness, they will open up a whole new approach not only to your own spiritual evolution, but also to understanding some of those more formidable masterpieces of our own Western spiritual tradition, such as The Cloud of Unknowing.
Gateway to Silence:
Return to God.
Adapted from Cynthia Bourgeault, The Heart of Centering Prayer: Nondual Christianity in Theory and Practice (Shambhala: 2016), 15, 128-129.