“For God alone my soul waits in silence” Ps 62:1
The practice of centering prayer seeks to still the activity of the mind in order to experience a loving awareness of God’s presence.
1. Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within you. Silently repeat the chosen sacred word or phrase in your mind. It may be helpful to link this repetition to the rhythm of your breath, for example repeating shalom with each in- and out-breath. The word or phrase can also be split, repeating “sha-” while breathing in and “–lom” when breathing out, or breathing in. The breathing technique should consist of breathing in slowly for a count of 4-7 seconds, then breathing out slowly for an equal length of time while silently saying your sacred word in rhythm with your breathing. I prefer to use the word Maranatha (Aramaic for Come Lord). Here is an audio example of using Maranatha as your sacred word. Other suggestions: Jesus, Abba, Freedom, Stillness, Shalom.
2. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed. You can sit cross-legged; full or half lotus; kneeling with a cushion or bench under your rear; or sitting in a chair, as long as the chair fits you so you can plant your feet with your back supported. All of these are fine. The point is simply to balance the body in an upright posture, so there is no need for adjustments while sitting, and to encourage alertness. Settle briefly and silently, to yourself, introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within. The goal is that silently repeating (or remembering) the sacred word to yourself will lead you to an inner silence.
3. When you become aware of thoughts, sensations, feelings–any perception whatsoever–return ever-so-gently to the sacred word. Remember the three Rs: Resist no thought, React to no thought, Retain no thought. You will drift into not needing the word, into the inner silence where you are “resting in God.” When you realize you’re thinking about something, say the sacred word to yourself and let the thought go. The silence may last a while, or you may stay in the attachment-surrender loop the whole time. The goal is not constant emptiness. As Reverend Cynthia Bourgeault says, “striving for emptiness is a surefire way to guarantee that your meditation will be a constant stream of thoughts.”
4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes. Before coming out of your meditation, start breathing deeper and more actively and become aware of your surroundings. You might also want to stretch your arms, yawn, sigh or rub your eyes before opening your eyes. You may choose to end your practice by saying a short prayer.
For best results do this 20 – 30 minutes in the morning and in the evening. If you can’t do 20 minutes at first, do less rather than not doing it, but something happens to the stillness around 10 to 15 minutes into the practice that you will miss. That’s why 20+ is nearly universal. (you can set a gentle sounding timer to let you know when the allotted time is up)