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I am excited to share with you my review of the Heart of Centering Prayer: Nondual Christianity in Theory and Practice. Modern day mystic, Episcopal priest, writer, and internationally known retreat leader, Cynthia Bourgeault divides her time between solitude at her seaside hermitage in Maine, and a demanding schedule traveling globally to teach and spread the recovery of the Christian contemplative and Wisdom path.
She has been a long-time advocate of the meditative practice of Centering Prayer and has worked closely with fellow teachers and colleagues including Thomas Keating, Bruno Barnhart, and Richard Rohr. Cynthia has actively participated in numerous inter-spiritual dialogues and events with luminaries and leaders such as A.H. Almaas, Kabir Helminski, Swami Atmarupananda, and Rami Shapiro.
Learn more about Cynthia at The Contemplative Society.
Cynthia’s book begins with, “It’s been more than a decade now since I wrote Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening. During those years, Centering Prayer has continued to be the mainstay of my spiritual practice, and my thinking on it has continued to evolve. The book you’re now holding in your hands is really the paper trail of that evolution.”
My practice also has evolved. I have been at it much less in duration, just short of three years, but I too have noticed that my thinking has continued to evolve. Along the way, I will share some of my evolution in this review.
The Heart of Centering Prayer discusses both theory and practice and is nicely divided into three parts:
Part One: A Short Course on Centering Prayer
Part Two: The Way of the Heart (Nonduality will be discussed.)
Part Three – The Cloud of Unknowing Revisited
(Father William Meninger located a paragraph within The Cloud of Unknowing that became the cornerstone for the method of Centering Prayer.)
Let me share five key takeaways from this wonderful book.
Spaces Between My Thoughts
“It’s in these gaps that Centering Prayer does its real transformative work.”
“….bit by bit you’ll discover that this inner spaciousness is no longer “a place you go to” but “a place you come from.” It begins to offer itself as a new home for your deepest sense of self hood.”
“In the nano second between the cessation of one thought and the arising of the next, there is a moment of pure consciousness where subject and object poles drop out and you’re simply there. For a nano second, there’s no “you” and no God. No experience and no experiencer. There’s simply a direct, undivided, sensate awareness of a single, unified field of being perceived from a far deeper place of aliveness.”
I call it the spaces between my thoughts. I enter them during my silent sit. Sometimes they are short. Other times they are longer in duration. I seem to emerge from my sit a new creation. I arise from my sit calm, peaceful, energized and excited to live life. I find I am very productive after my sit. I often discover solutions to problems that seemed to previously elude and hide from me.
“In those deeper waters of Centering Prayer, you are slowly acclimating to a whole new operating system: one that does not need to split the perceptual field in order to perceive. Think of it as an upgrade for your brain, if you like, but one way or another it will gradually help lay the physiological foundations for what’s known as nondual (or unitive) consciousness.”
“But there comes a time when the ego translator drops out, and we are simply there, hearing in responding directly in the native language of being. There is oneness. And that is fundamentally what is meant by nondual consciousness. Then this “inner wellspring” is no longer place you go to; it’s a place you come from. It’s a whole new structure of consciousness that can perceive without first splitting the field.”
This is one of the best definitions of nonduality that I have come across. It is a new operating system. I can access it by the entry into Centering Prayer. I arise from my sit better prepared to just let things “be”. I do not need to split the field so to speak. I am simply “there” during centering prayer. I can learn to also just be “there” during my non- centering times. I am more present. I see things I did not notice before. I enjoy life and better accept my present circumstances and surroundings. I am more alive. I am whole.
“It was ten years into my practice before I realized that the feel theological basis for Centering Prayer lies in the principle of kenosis, Jesus’s self-emptying love that forms the core of his own self-understanding and life practice.”
“…in fact, the gospels themselves make clear that he is specifically inviting us to this journey and modeling how to do it. Once you see this, it’s the touchtone throughout all his teaching. Lets go! Don’t cling! Don’t hoard! Don’t assert your importance! Don’t fret. “Do not be afraid, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom!”
The letting go gesture during centering prayer helps us bring this same gesture into our daily life. When I am worried, I can let it go. When I am anxious, I can let it go. When I receive an abundance, I can share it. I am not my job title, or other accomplishments. If I can let go of all of these things, I will truly have the kingdom.
Blessed Are The Pure In Heart
“Every heart is already a perfect holograph of the divine heart, carrying within itself full access to the information of the whole. But it does need to be purified, as Jesus himself observed.”
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Matthew 5:8
During Centering Prayer I am purified. As I purify my heart I begin to see God! I put on the mind of Christ. I become a walking Jesus who is inclusive and full of compassion and empathy. I will admit that I am work in progress! That is why I return each day to my Centering Prayer practice.
Silence Teaches Us Who We Are
“Like most beginners, I thought that the aim in Centering Prayer was to let go of thoughts so that God could “fill” me with his presence. One day I suddenly realized that the God story was the sideshow and the letting go was the main event. That was when the practice flipped for me, as I recognized that thoughts were not the obstacle; they were the raw material, as every opportunity to practice releasing that focal point for attention deepened the reservoir of “free attention” within me and strengthened the signal of the homing beacon of my heart.”
I too used to believe that I entered Centering Prayer to be filled with God. I now know that this is no longer true. I do not need to be filled with God. God never stopped being in me. I now realize that this is a place I come from. Centering prayer teaches me who I am. I am unconditionally loved by the Divine! Centering prayer teaches me how to live.
“The intent of Centering Prayer is not to “access” God through contemplative stillness or mystical experience, but to teach its practitioners how to spontaneously align with Jesus’s own continuously creative and enfolding presence through emulating his kenotic practice in all life situations.”
“Instead, it is found in the gradual but steady capacity to go to conform a person to “the mind of Christ”, and the life attitudes of compassion, generosity, and freedom that flow from this gesture.”
Centering Prayer is not a race. It is a marathon. A daily, weekly, monthly and yearly practice will transform you! It has transformed me!
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David Frenette’s book The Path of Centering Prayer reenergized the Centering Prayer tradition with its fresh insights and teachings. Centering Prayer Meditations: Effortless Contemplation to Deepen Your Experience of God is a wonderful companion audio program created to be equally rewarding as a stand-alone guide – gives listeners an immersive resource to learn contemplative prayer, step by step and in the moment. With clarity and compassionate presence, Frenette explains the essential principles of this contemplative practice for both new and seasoned practitioners.
Check out my review of Christian Prayer Methods by Dr. Philip St. Romain. It also works well in group studies too.
Listen to Simply Good News by New Testament scholar and author N. T. Wright. It is based upon his book Simply Good News. You will instantly get into the heart of the idea of ‘good news’ as it was understood by the 1st Century writers of the New Testament. Also works well in group studies.
Prepare to be immersed in the 1st Century A.D. context of the life, work, teachings, and actions of Jesus. Check out Simply Jesus by N. T. Wright.
Discover the Context, Content & Production of the New Testament in The Bible- An Introduction to the New Testament by Scott Metz.
Contemplative Light is a group of Spiritual Directors and writers. They offer a unique style of contemplative coaching based on the teachings and traditions of Christian Mysticism. Sign up for a Free Spiritual Map Session.