Twelve of us gathered in a hospital conference room to experience a taste of mindfulness meditation together last week. I was offering an introductory session for physicians and staff. Some have been practicing various forms of meditation and others were having their first moments of sitting in stillness. All in all, I think we had a meaningful beginning. And I felt so very blessed with another opportunity to be serving as a meditation teacher.
In my experience, mindfulness is a prelude to spiritual centering. And centering is a prelude to contemplative prayer. In mindfulness we cultivate inner stillness and pay attention in the present moment as the stream of thoughts and feelings pass. In spiritual centering we let go of arising thoughts and feelings to turn our attention to our heart center. There we open the heart for direct communion with God, beyond words. When we are graced with the gift of entering that union we are entering contemplative prayer, even if it is only for a moment.
Father Thomas Keating is one of the best authors for describing this movement, especially in his foundational text, Open Mind, Open Heart. Use the following quotes from pages 136-137 to feel God drawing you into contemplative Presence. Move into practice, and don’t spend much time with the analytical mind assessing the words about the practice.
“The root of prayer is interior silence…Deep prayer is the laying aside of thoughts. It is the opening of the mind and heart, body and feelings–our whole being–to God, the Ultimate Mystery, beyond words, thoughts, and emotions…We open our awareness to the Ultimate Mystery whom we know by faith is within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than choosing–closer than consciousness itself. The Ultimate Mystery is the ground in which our being is rooted, the Source from whom our life emerges at every moment.
We do not try to feel anything, reflect about anything…we sink into this Presence, letting everything else go. Let love alone speak: the simple desire to be one with the Presence, to forget self, and to rest in the Ultimate Mystery.”
Now, move into practice. Then find a weekly group to support your practice. That is contemplation 101.
For more stories like this see Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic Culture.