Monday, February 4, 2013
Coming Home through Centering Prayer
The other day on the radio, I heard a country song-- STOP-- Side Bar -- my daughter is going through a brief country music phase (let's hope it's brief). So I blame her for my few moments of listening to a country music station. Bleh. Something good did come out of it though.
So, I heard a song about a woman visiting her childhood home. Some strangers now inhabited it, but she talked about the bedroom upstairs in the back where she did homework and learned to play the guitar, and her favorite dog that was buried under the big tree in the backyard. She expressed the need to come "home" because perhaps that would help heal the brokeness that had occured since she had left. I was touched by it. I thought it would be nice if I had a place I could go to, somewhere before I was "broken".
Yes, I still feel broken in so many ways. There is hope though. I had a really great month which included Christmas. Since my oldest son is 18 and looking forward to leaving home this summer, this was our last Christmas "as a family." I am grateful for that reprieve. The drawback, and I suppose in comparison it is a small price to pay, is the disappointment I felt at coming back to the pain. Still it did give me hope in a future where there is less pain and sorrow than this place I'm in now.
While I can't go "home" to some physical place with healing memories, I have found a few things that give me "coming home moments".
The first is contemplative or centering prayer. I'm LDS/Mormon so this has really not been a part of my faith tradition, but I see no conflict with it. Centering Prayer is a form of meditation with the goal of bringing oneself closer to God. I think of it as the "listening" portion of prayer. It is a mantra-based meditation. I'm really new to it, so likely not the best person to explain it, but I'll try anyway. If it peaks your interest, I'll share a couple resources at the end of this post.
First, I want to clarify, when I say "meditation", I don't mean deep thinking, I mean meditation in the Eastern sense of attemptling to clear your mind of thoughts and be still. I start with a short "traditional" prayer. Much like the way we begin church meetings with prayer. Then I sit quietly and focus on my breath and repeat with my breaths a "sacred word" that I have chosen. The "sacred word" is whatever you chose. At first I used, Atonement, because I wanted to emphasize being one with God again. Later another idea came to me and I am using that now. I want to keep my new word sacred, something that I only share with God, but you get the idea.
During Centering Prayer you try to keep your mind quiet. As you can imagine, that is difficult to do as thoughts creep in and before you know it, you are in the middle of a "mental paragaph" before you remember that you were meditating and return to focusing on your breath, and your sacred word. That's ok. I heard a story of a woman who went to a retreat for Centering Prayer. After one of the sessions, she approached the leader and expressed her feeling that she had failed because she got distracted about 80 times. He said, "How wonderful, 80 times of returning to God."
Father Thomas Keating who has taught and written books about Contemplative Prayer recommends two sessions a day, 20 minutes each. I have not been able to make that much time in my day yet. And in fact I don't dare. It is hard for me to sit quietly. Quite frankly, I am afraid of the repressed emotions that will use that time to come forward. This is not unique to me, Fr. Keating talks about this sort of thing happening in his seminar "Contemplative Prayer" (available on CDs). My therapist is encouraging of my meditation practice. He says if I can only start with 5 minutes at a time, that is fine. It's a start. And so I do.
So far, I have found it to be amazingly refreshing and soothing. So much so that when I am in public and I start to feel stress or anxiety, I will take a couple deep breaths and repeat the sacred word to myself and it helps. It is powerful, and it is more than relaxation. I have used relaxation techniques before that were helpful, but didn't affect me in this same way. It's hard to explain how it works, different people have different ideas about this. I will just share how I understand it. I believe that I lived with God before I came to earth, I don't remember it, but my Spirit does. When I meditate, I believe it is a way to connect with my Spirit, that part of me that remembers God. It is like reaching towards the Divine within myself and at the same time reaching toward Heavenly Father.
Another way I have found to come home is another form of meditation called Mindfullness. I feel even less adequate to explain it, except to say that we live much of our lives either thinking about the past, or the future, mindfulness is about being in the moment we are in. And again in a way that is difficult to fully explain, I find it very healing as well. Though I had been introduced to the idea before, my interest really began with a book by Geneen Roth called Women, Food and God. It has really been influential for me. Another proponent of this form of meditation is Jon Kabat-Zinn. He has a PhD and works with patients, teaching them mindfulness to help with chronic pain and stress reduction.
Women, Food and God is about compulsive eating, and Jon Kabat-Zinn uses it to help people with chronic pain. The Buddists and some Christians (myself included) use it as part of their spiritual practice. And so I wonder, is there any part of our lives meditation doesn't affect in postive ways? My experience so far is no. It is truly a form of coming home and working to heal the brokeness.
Here are some resources if you would like to learn more:
Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth I love this book. I found it immensely helpful and healing.
Mormon Matters: The Kingdom of God is Within You--http://mormonmatters.org/2012/12/17/144-145-the-kingdom-of-god-is-within-you-believing-it-trusting-it-accessing-it/ In this podcast Dan Wotherspoon interviews two LDS men who have a meditative practice. This podcast and Geneen Roth's book both resonated with me, partially because what they talk about is similar to things I have learned/experienced through therapy.
Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Keating is available on CD (I borrowed it from the library) It is an a recording of a Seminar he gave on the topic.
Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault I am reading this now, I haven't finished, but I am enjoying it so far.
Jon Kabat Zinn-- He has written so many books on Mindfulness it is hard to know where to begin, but he is next on my list of "must reads".
Photo Attribution: George Hodan again. I love his work. See more of it here.