Centering as Practice or as Prayer



Making an Important Distinction
Technically, centering is NOT meditation.  This is an important distinction every student of meditation should know and discern, because many students are misled into thinking that their initial or introductory centering practice is already the very practice of meditation, itself.  As a result, they fail to enter into the true meditative state at the shortest developmental time possible, or they miss out on experiencing deeper states, stages or levels of meditation. It can delay or impede one’s spiritual development and journey along the path.

During my early spiritually formative years when I was trying to learn the practice of meditation from various “new age” or faddish schools and systems of pseudo-spirituality, I was introduced to many techniques, methods, exercises and practices that were being passed off as “meditation.”  Over time, I began to discern correctly and to “separate the chaff from the grain” where meditation was concerned.

It was then that I fully realized what the teaching of “the blind leading the blind” meant. There are many blind guides and teachers of meditation practice today more than ever, and you have to be wary of them. Do not allow them to mislead you with their spiritual ignorance.

Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?

Jesus replied, “Every plant not planted by my heavenly Father will be uprooted, so ignore them. They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch.(The Gospel According to Matthew 15:12-14, NLT)


A real difference exists, and a distinction should therefore be made, between centering or grounding practices and exercises that are intended to prepare the individual physically, mentally and emotionally for meditation, and the actual practice and experience of meditation, itself. Students should be made aware that centering as a practice or process is not, in itself, the end and all of spiritual practice: Rather, centering is only a means to a further end, which is the experience of the true meditative state.

Centering practices are normally intended as a discipline on the mind-body continuum, to disengage the mind from the ordinary normal waking state that is referred to as “everyday human awareness” and take the individual into a state of deep relaxation — the alpha-theta bridge referred to in the neuroscience of brainwave pattern functionality.

Centering is very relaxing, and the relaxation experience it produces is usually mistaken for actual meditation. As the cliché goes, it is only a meditation on one’s belly button. Not knowing this vital distinction often makes the student complacent with his or her current centering practice as THE spiritual practice of any lifetime. Such an attitude will prevent the student from actively exploring and pursuing authentic meditation practice.

Centering is NOT meditation. Centering is a preparation for meditation.

Meditation does not occur until the mind enters a state or dimension of inner stillness and silence — known in various spiritual systems as resting in the presence of God or simply resting in God, or experiencing emptiness or the void, or entering the Holy of Holies, or seeking refuge in the Secret Place of the Most High, and other euphemisms to describe a common meditative state of mind in which individual consciousness has disengaged fully from its everyday human awareness.

Centering, however, is only a preparation for the experience of meditation in the course of the contemplation process.  Its primary function is to detach awareness from “material sense” or to disengage the mind from “everyday human awareness.”

Centering Practice Model

CENTERING PRACTICE MODEL
(Make sure that the free PowerPoint Viewer by Microsoft is installed in your computer system.)



Practice, practice.





The Value and Role of a Centering Practice
Centering is critical and extremely vital especially to beginners for a number of reasons.

  • Centering allows the individual to disengage or detach from what is termed “everyday human awareness.”  It releases awareness from its inflexible attachment to the encrusted circumference of the human condition (the human state of consciousness), in which the human ego or the personal sense of self is heavily invested.
    Diagram of Human Attachment to Material Sense

  • Centering prepares the meditator by cultivating the essential qualities of openness and receptivity in awareness. It is likened to tilling the ground soil of the human mind.


  • From a neuroscientific perspective, centering engages the brain to switch functionally from an active and busy beta brainwave pattern, to the slower, relaxed alpha brainwave pattern.


    Beta is characteristic of externally-stimulated and outer-oriented brain activity such as when reading a Web page, driving a motor vehicle, using a computer or a smartphone, operating equipment or a machine, conversing with a person, crossing the street, etc. In those situations, human awareness is made to function outwardly by necessity and the force of circumstance, or is drawn naturally or spontaneously to external stimuli acting on the human organism.

    Alpha is ideal for doing relaxation, prayer, affirmation work, contemplation on a scripture passage or a Truth teaching principle, or other similar metaphysical (mind) practice using certain thoughts and ideas to intentionally engage and anchor down the intellect mind. Centering is a valuable tool in preparing individual consciousness for contemplation practice. (Refer to the immediately preceding diagram above which illustrates how the practice of both centering and contemplation can influence and affect the psyche or soul for correct, proper meditation.)

  • The alpha state induced by a centering activity will readily facilitate a shift to the theta state of brainwave pattern across the so-called alpha-theta bridge.
    Theta is the actual meditative state of mind which a seasoned meditator experiences naturally especially during contemplation.

    Removed from the context of a meditation practice, deepening states of alpha will only induce drowsiness and sleepiness in the individual, as the brain prepares the human organism for the eventual onset of natural sleep upon reaching and crossing over the threshold of the alpha-theta bridge.
    Diagram comparing Alpha and Theta States of the Brain

  • Centering, therefore, acclimatizes the human mind and accustomizes bodily awareness to the experience and sensation of sitting quietly over an extended period of time without engaging the thinking mind actively in its usual modality of mental chatter and rambling thought patterns.


    It is a self-discipline requiring personal commitment and practice regularity. It disciplines the mind to quiet the raw human emotions and the unbridled thinking of the intellect mind. The meditator sinks into deepening relaxed states of mind while remaining alert and fully aware without slipping into the organism’s natural tendency to fall asleep at that point.

  • Centering slows down the individual’s mental processes to a point where the “here and now” can be experienced by the meditator as a continuous steady flow of wakeful, mindful moments, oblivious to the external world and without the reference points of matter-based time that we know ordinarily as the past and the future.


  • Centering accommodates the inner contemplative experience of what is profoundly described as sacred time and sacred space. The ancient Greeks had two concepts of time: Chronos (χρόνος) which meant the ordinary chronological (historical) or sequential (quantitative) time, and kairos (καιρός) which referred to a proper or opportune time for action. Chronos was fleeting and ephemeral, but kairos had a divine quality to time, a transcendent permanent nature.


    When we speak of “sacred time,” we are referring to the kairos notion of time. It is not a slice or moment of time that is sandwiched between past and future. It is beyond all human conceptualization of earthly time. It refers to a timelessness that exists only in the infinity of God and can only be experienced in the being of God, itself. Many pseudo-spiritual teachers, notably Mr. E. Tolle, fail to realize this distinction when they frame the mystical “now” in the context of an isolated moment between the past and the future.


Always remember the significant distinction between mere centering, on the one hand, and contemplation or meditation, on the other hand. Do not confuse one for the other. Each serves a definite and different purpose in the scheme of the spiritual journey. Both play important roles in your spiritual growth as your tools for unfolding mystical consciousness, and you need to cultivate them in devotional tandem to progress along the path.

Do not allow yourself to be led astray on the spiritual journey by the many alluring but misleading paths in this world and by the quackery of blind teachers.

Now let us proceed to an exposition of centering whether viewed as a spiritual practice or a religious prayer form. We begin with the matter of relaxing the body and quieting the mind.



Practice, practice, practice.





Relax the Body, Quiet the Mind
A  valid spiritual practice begins with relaxation. If you are a novice at meditation who is easily distracted by the human mind — particularly the incessant chatter or attention-getting gimmicks of the intellect/thinking mind — or who is unable to sit quietly and still for any short period of time, get “grounded” or “centered” physically, mentally and psychologically by taking up a centering practice.

Centering quiets the mind by taking away the busyness of everyday human awareness. Centering quiets the mind by bringing us to an awareness of the present moment, letting us flow with it thereby allowing us to let go of our grip on the past and the future. Centering quiets the mind by letting us experience a momentary feeling of release or a sense of freedom from our humanhood, right where we are, right at the moment.  It acclimatizes the mind to moments of silence and stillness, so the mind can pause in between constantly flowing words or thoughts or breaths, bring awareness to focus on the gaps of emptiness, and reveal in those gaps a glimpse of the soul.

Centering engages the mind at the moment, bringing it to a present awareness of the moment. In this regard, it is an essential preparation for spiritual contemplation.  The mind that has learned to be quiet and still is the “fertile soil” described in the parable of the soils: It is the soil in which seeds of Truth can germinate, grow to maturity fully, and produce a plentiful harvest in various aspects and areas of life. 

He taught them by telling many stories in the form of parables, such as this one:

Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn’t have deep roots, it died. Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” Then he said, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.
(The Gospel According to Mark 4:2-9, NLT)

 
In the following sections, we shall discuss and explore some common forms, practices and techniques for centering. Feel free to explore and adopt them to the degree you can feel comfortable with them as a regular practice. You may need to have more than one centering practice form and to switch techniques occasionally. It is not unusual for the human mind to “get bored” with a repeated activity over time, but give a particular practice enough chance and time to take root in you and to flourish as your own.



Practice, practice, practice, practice.



Centering by Doing Repetitions
One of the easiest ways of centering yourself is by doing word or sound repetitions: You can try repeating a mantra (referred to as japam yoga or mantram yoga in eastern traditions) or a short calming affirmation over and over again, audibly or silently in the mind, for a set length of time.  (The Internet and many books and spiritual centers are good sources of information for this type of centering practice; try exploring them.)

  • Literally any word or combination of words in any language (preferably short words and not more than three) or brief phonetic sound combinations can be used as a mantra, provided that they do not evoke negative emotions nor provoke reactions but rather induce relaxation and peacefulness in you.


    Here are some common examples: aum, om, om shanti, hu, hum, peace, shalom (Hebrew for peace), salaam (Arabic for peace), love, amor (Spanish for love), amore (Italian for love), bliss, nirvana, neti neti (Sanskrit for not this, not this), I am, relax and let go, peace… be still, BE-ing, here… now, and so forth and so on.

  • Your mantra need not be personally or spiritually meaningful to you at the start; however, you might wish to cultivate spiritual edification or devotion (bhakti yoga) from the very beginning or at some later time in your practice, in which case, you may opt to use more spiritually meaningful faith expressions or adopt deific names you are comfortable with, that are associated with your religious culture or preferred spiritual system.  Nearly all religious or spiritual systems normally incorporate and include this practice in their liturgical rites or rituals, in one form or another.


    Examples of this would be: Elohim, Yahweh, Jehovah, Jehovah-Jireh (and other variations of God’s name in Judaism), Adonai, Christ, Jesus, Yēšûă‘ (Hebrew-Aramaic for Jesus), Yĕhōšuă‘ (Hebrew for Jesus), Christ Jesus, Buddha, Siddharta Gautama, Krishna, Hare Krishna, Vishnu, Rama, Ramakrishna, Shiva, Brahman, Atman, Father-Mother-God, Divine Father, Divine Mother, Yin-Yang, “Holy, holy, holy,” Allah, mercy, blessings, oneness, allness, spiritus (Latin for spirit), Holy Spirit, “Veni, Sancte Spiritus (Latin for “Come, Holy Spirit”),” “Lord, have mercy,” “Christ, have mercy,” Praise be the Lord, Praise be God, Praise be Allah, maranatha (the prayer-word recommended by the late Fr. John Main OSB), the Jesus Prayer popular in the Christian orthodox sects, the Roman Catholic recitation of the Holy Rosary, prayer litanies and novenas, and so forth.

  • You can use and work with short calming affirmations which resonate with the Truth teaching.  Your Truth statements may or may not be associated with your religious culture or system.  Remember to keep them brief.  


    Examples of these would be: “Where I am, God is.”; “I am that I am.” (Hebrew: “Ehyeh asher ehyeh.”); “I and the Father are one.”; “Om mani padme hum.”; the Shema of the Jewish religion, “ayam ātmā brahma” (Sanskrit for “The Self or the Soul is Brahman.” from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.4.5); and so forth.

  • Start with a few minutes practice of repetitions; then build up gradually to ten (10) minutes, then fifteen (15) or twenty (20) minutes in one sitting, for a regular daily centering practice session.  See if you can regularly do at least two (2) centering sessions in a day, one upon waking up in the morning and another shortly after sunset or day’s end; squeeze in a third session at noontime if you can.  


Strangely enough, almost any human activity when done mindfully and with full awareness can be the subject of a centering practice, from the repetitive act of scrubbing and wiping soiled dishes in the course of washing them in the kitchen sink or peeling the skin of a bagful of potatoes, to the use of very mundane things including a profanity. For example, incredibly the “F” word can function effectively as a mantra for centering practice as the following video demonstrates.

[Acknowledgements to Meditations with Rasa Lukosiute channel for the YouTube video above.]

The important thing to keep in mind is to get the mind-body continuum to relax as swiftly and as deeply as possible, to shift the brainwave pattern of the meditator from the beta state to the deepest possible alpha state.

Impose and apply self-discipline in observing your practice sitting times and sessions.  Do not shorten your centering periods or cut corners with your practice.  If you happen to fall asleep during your centering practice session, simply resume your practice upon returning to wakefulness.  Avoid having your practice session on a full stomach after consuming a meal. Try to take a nap or get rested first when your body is feeling exhausted or fatigued.



Practice, practice, practice, practice, practice.





Centering with Your Breathing
Cultivate your hara energy center (Japanese, meaning “belly“; Chinese: dāntián). During periods of inactivity when you have nothing else to do, sit relaxed and silently, and bring your awareness to an area just below the navel — about three finger widths below the navel and two finger widths into the body behind the navel area.  This is where the hara center is located.  Keep awareness focused there at the hara as you breathe deeply, inhaling and exhaling slowly in the process.

“Becoming aware of this center is going to help you tremendously. So the more you abide there, the better. It will create a great centering in your life energies.  You just have to start looking into it and it will start functioning; you will start feeling that the whole of life moves around the center.  It is from the hara that life begins, and it is in the hara that life ends.  All our body centers are far away; the hara is exctly in the center – that is where we are balanced and rooted.  So once one becomes aware of the hara, many things start happening.

“For example, there will be less thinking because energy will not move to the head, it will go to the hara.

The more you think of the hara, the more you concentrate there, the more you will find a discipline arising in you. That comes naturally, it has not to be forced.

“The more you are aware of the hara, the less you will become afraid of life and death — because that is the center of life and death. Once you become attuned to the hara center, you can live courageously. Courage arises out of it; less thinking, more silence, less uncontrolled momenmts, natural discipline, courage and rootedness, a groundedness.”
— Osho (Sri Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh) —



[Acknowledgment to MBS Fitness for posting the video above on YouTube.]

You can try practicing breath awareness — the practice of ānāpānasati in the Buddhist tradition or prāṇāyāma in the Hindu yogic tradition  (Watch the videos above and below for a guided basic pranayama practice for deepening and slowing the breath, increasing your peaceful state of mind, and decreasing stress.), or just have regular daily exercise sessions of mindfully doing deep diaphragmatic breathing. Spiritual teacher Ram Dass has a good breathing meditation instruction and guide, that is worth listening to.

[Acknowledgment to centerformindfulness for posting the video above on YouTube.]




Practice, practice, practice, practice, and practice.

 




Chanting and Other Ways of Centering
You can try to chant by yourself or with a group. If you are of the Christian persuasion, participate at a local Taize contemplative gathering (view the video below).

[Acknowledgment: Our gratitude to Elizabeat for posting the video above on YouTube.com.]

Many Hindu chants are purely vibrational and rhythmic. You do not have to know or understand the lyrics of the chant. Just lose yourself to the rhythm of the music and flow along with the vibration of the chant vocals. If your body feels like swaying to the beat of the tabla, by all means let the body go; let it sway away like the blades of tall grass do in the wind. Try listening to the chant below three or four times continuously in a row with your eyes closed, and see its effect on you.

[Acknowledgment: Our gratitude to TinaTurnerBlog for posting the video above on YouTube.com.]

At times, a chant can be so quieting and peaceful to listen to. It feels as if the sound is drawing you within yourself. You feel like a vast cavern or an immense echo chamber gently filling up with soft echoes of peacefulness. As you listen to the chant below, allow your head to resonate to the chant. Let the rise and fall of your breathing cycles act like bellows that increase and thicken the inner quiet you are experiencing. You can couple this chant with the “hara awareness” technique presented earlier in the preceding segment. Continue listening as long as you want, following the chant mindfully without falling asleep.

[Acknowledgment: Our gratitude to Meditative Mind for posting the video above on YouTube.com.]

You can try the following, also:

    • Recite/pray the rosary regardless of religious affiliation (Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, etc.).
    • Do verbal or mental repetitions with mantra prayer beads.
    • Pick up a yoga or other eastern body-mind disciplinary practice.
    • Do deep relaxation exercises regularly.
    • Listen continuously or repeatedly to deeply relaxing sounds or melodies over an extended period of time (just flow with the sound or melody releasing yourself to it). Here is a perfectly good example using the sound of Tibetan singing bowls.

      [Acknowledgment: Our gratitude to Interdreamer for posting the video above on YouTube.com.]

    • Set up your own special meditation corner or room where you can just sit, relax and be quiet (or do your spiritual practice) with candles and/or incense burning.
    • Explore brain entrainment techniques.

. . . or simply do Centering Prayer for a starter.



Practice, practice, practice, practice, and practice more.




Centering Prayer
If you happen to have a definite Christian orientation, you might want to consider Centering Prayer as taught by Abbot Thomas Keating, OCSO.

Centering Prayer is a method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, prayer in which we experience God’s presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself.  This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship. (Contemplative Outreach)

The relationship aspect of Centering Prayer makes it a good spiritual practice for beginners on the mystical path. It prepares them for actual contemplation practice, which is a process of growing in intimacy with God — in the inner realization of oneness and truth, — and the deeper stages and states of meditation.


The following are the Centering Prayer guidelines prescribed by Fr. Keating in the Centering Prayer informational brochure and guide.

  1. Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent
    to God’s presence and action within.


  2. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.

  3. When engaged with your thoughts*, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.

  4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.

__________________________
*Thoughts include body sensations, feelings, images, and reflections

 

Here is an introduction by Fr. Keating to the practice of centering prayer and its methodology.

[Acknowledgment to lawrenceweiss for posting the centering prayer video above on YouTube.]

Fr. Keating continues his presentation on centering prayer in the next video in which he discusses the matter of thoughts arising during practice. For a more comprehensive compilation of Fr. Keating’s lectures and teachings on the matter, check out our video playlist at YouTube.

[Acknowledgment to lawrenceweiss for posting the centering prayer video above on YouTube.]




Practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, and practice.





Zen Buddhist Practice
Here are some easy to follow instructions on practicing zazen or zen sitting meditation, given by Roshi John Daido Loori from the Zen Buddhist tradition, whom I have considered a helpful teacher along the path.

[Acknowledgment: Our appreciation and gratitude to dharmacom for publishing the video on YouTube.com.]

Zen is particularly rich in the practice of mindfulness, and neuroscience research confirms its benefits and effectiveness.  In the Buddhist system of mysticism, mindfulness is not only a centering practice, but it is also a meditation practice in itself which can bring one to a moment of awakened consciousness or satori.  

Try to cultivate “mindfulness” daily while doing your routine activities as you go about your day, such as washing the dishes, taking a shower, brushing your teeth, washing your hands, walking down the street, vacuuming the carpet, sweeping the floor, shopping for groceries, etc. — including even the most mundane activity of breathing air, inhaling and exhaling with your lungs.  You can weave mindfulness easily into your daily life. Watch the video below and learn how.

[Acknowledgment to Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D., (and MBSRWorkbook) for posting the video on YouTube.]




So practice, practice, practice, practice, and PRACTICE.




 

Photo of Joel S. Goldsmith

Your persistence on the spiritual path means that the spirit of God has already touched you.  You have not chosen God.  God has chosen you, and God will not let you go until you arrive safely at home in His bosom.  The constant recognition that the spirit of God has touched you and will not let you go is one of the greatest helps on the way.
— Joel S. Goldsmith —



Your persistence on the spiritual path means that the spirit of God has already touched you.

 

 

Portrait of Krishna

Krishna (Sanskriit: Kṛṣṇa),
Avatara of Lord Vishnu

“Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer or give away, and whatever austerities you perform — do that… as an offering to Me.”
(Krishna, Bhagavad Gita 9.27)




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