Ever So Gently Return To Your Sacred Word

Last week I discussed Step 2 of Centering Prayer.  (On March 12, I provided a summary of Centering Prayer if you need to take a peek to remind yourself.)

Today I will review Step 3:

When you become aware of thoughts, emotions and physical sensations, return ever so gently to your sacred word.

Image Credit: Terri Lynn Cook

On March 19 I discussed Step 1: The Sacred Word.  Feel free to refer to it if you need to.  If you recall, we begin our prayer with a sacred word, sacred image, sacred glance or even our breath.  We need to choose what is most comfortable for us.

Over time we might change our word or even change from the sacred word to the sacred image for example. I found I was attracted to a sacred image and have stuck with it for now.

Each time you begin to plan your day, think about a past activity that aggravates you or you worry about the endless tasks you might need to do today, gently let them go and return to your sacred word.

You might  need to do this over and over again.  Sometimes there is more and more space between your thoughts and you do not need to return to your sacred word as frequently.

Other times you will discover that you are able to let go of your thoughts, emotions and physical sensations without the intervention of the sacred word.  Don’t worry.  That is perfectly okay too.

Cynthia Bourgeault reminds us,…”thoughts are not an obstacle in Centering Prayer, but an opportunity.  Each new thought gives you chance to exercise that “muscle” of letting go.”

Next week I will discuss Step 4:

At the end of the centering prayer session, remain in silence for a minute or two before you resume your daily activities.

I hope you will continue to join me next week.

Go Further:

A “Secret Weapon” of Centering Prayer by Marc Thomas Shaw

David Frenette, The Path of Centering Prayer

Cynthia Bourgeault, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening

Cynthia Bourgeault, The Heart of Centering Prayer: Nondual Christianity in Theory and Practice

Thomas Keating, Intimacy with God: An Introduction to Centering Prayer

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6 thoughts on “Ever So Gently Return To Your Sacred Word”

  1. very nice column as usual, Rich.

    About the sacred word:

    I first encountered centering prayer at a “center prayer” mass led by Basil Pennington in 1981, at St. Ann’s church in lower Manhattan.

    Centering prayer itself, at the time, was not at all appealing to me. It seemed mechanical and superficial compared to the Tibetan Buddhist, Sufi, Vedantic and even other Christian mystical practices I knew of. (the mass was great – I was a choir director at a Catholic Church at the time, so I particularly appreciated that, instead of a sermon, there was 20 minutes of silence – now, that’s the way to do church!:>))

    So centering prayer never made sense to me until I read Heart of Centering Prayer. For the first time, I understood deeply that the sacred word wasn’t the point. In fact, Cynthia makes it clear, as long as you’re “in” the silence between thoughts, you don’t need to use the sacred word at all.

    Now this is a practice that makes sense to me. The whole point is to be in surrender, to be in the silence. If the word helps,., great, if not, great if not better! Now we’re doing (or not-doing!) a nondual practice.

    I like the way you brought in the silence between thoughts. There’s the whole magilla right there!

    1. Hello Don

      I particularly like your comments below:
      Now this is a practice that makes sense to me. The whole point is to be in surrender, to be in the silence. If the word helps,., great, if not, great if not better! Now we’re doing (or not-doing!) a nondual practice.
      I like the way you brought in the silence between thoughts. There’s the whole magilla right there!

      I also came to the same conclusion and then read it too in Cynthia’s book. David Frenette in his book The Path of Centering Prayer refers to it as the Sacred Nothingness. I am moving more and more in this direction and find that less and less do I use my sacred icon. My friend Amos uses the sacred glance. He just stares at a spot out in front of him.

      1. I’ve found over the years that it’s been very interesting playing with technique vs no-technique.

        My first “guide” to practice was Krishnamurti, who was almost dogmatic about NOT using techniques. Just “rest” in choiceless awareness.” I struggled with this, being also drawn to techniques, but one day I just dropped it all, sat down, went into my heart (I have no idea how), my mind became still, and I rested in that peace and quiet joy, effortlessly. I did this daily for six months (this was back in 1973) until my doubts got the best of me and I figured, “This couldn’t be right – it’s too easy:>)!!

        A year later, I met a teacher who taught repetition of the Divine Name as a yearning of the soul for the descent of the Holy Spirit (It was an Indian teacher but I’m giving it a Christian framework for ease:>). So there I was, for 10 years, doing the exact thing Krishnamurti said never to do.

        I left that teacher in 1984, and for 8 years, let go of all techniques and just practiced opening to the Silence and to Being. I went back and forth for some years and then I finally found the integration that made the most sense to me.

        Jan (my wife) and I began studying with Roy Eugene Davis in 2006 (he understood that we were rooted in the tradition of Sri Aurobindo, having been so since 1976). Roy would also start his guided meditations by saying something like, “Let your innate aspiration to awaken to and open to God guide your meditation. If you need a technique, go ahead and do so, and when your mind is calm, let go of the technique and let the meditation proceed spontaneously.”

        That was the most sensible thing I’d ever heard, and interestingly, in many ways, it is how Cynthia teaches Centering Prayer. If you need the word (image, glance, breath, etc), fine, no problem, if you don’t, even better!


        no rules….

  2. Just re-read this (got it again in an email)

    Other times you will discover that you are able to let go of your thoughts, emotions and physical sensations without the intervention of the sacred word. Don’t worry. That is perfectly okay too.

    Perfect! perfect, perfect (be ye, as Jesus is!!)

    You should write to contemplative outreach and tell them to add this to their instructions on centering prayer (in fact, this is clear enough you might write Cynthia as well).

    The clearest phrase I’ve seen yet on when NOT to use one’s sacred glance/word/image/etc.

  3. Hello Rich. Thanks for this column. I want to ask you about the “space between your thoughts”.
    What is that exactly?I understand meditating on your breath for example as then you have something to attach your mind to, like an anchor.
    But I find this “space between your thoughts” more difficult to grasp.
    Is it about awareness in the present moment but without something specific to think of? Is it like a knowing of the here and now?

    1. Hi Peter
      I like how Cynthia Bourgeault describes it. It is objectless awareness. You are present and alert but your attention is focused on no particular thing.

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