This is the third post in a four-part series about the four steps of Centering Prayer.
I say I’m too busy for contemplative prayer, but the truth is, there’s another, deeper reason.
I don’t want to be alone with my thoughts. To quote Anne Lamott, “My mind is a bad neighborhood I try not to go into alone.”
When I’m sitting there quietly, eyes closed, even just for fifteen minutes, I can’t escape how loud my brain is. How fearful, how shallow. How many times in a fifteen-minute period I think about what my next meal will be, or try to plan my next blog post, or think about what I should have said, or justify that thing I said and now regret.
The noise would seem to make prayer impossible. But the thing is, a lot of prayer is the process of letting that stuff go.
Over and over.
The hardest part is not to beat myself up in the moment over engaging with my thoughts again, because – guess what? – that starts up a whole new train of thought and I’m distracted again from just breathing, just being.
One of my friends takes her dog with her on hikes often, without a leash. She taught the dog the command “drop it,” because who knows what a dog can get into and eat before you know it out in the middle of nowhere. She doesn’t waste time yelling and berating her dog. The dog knows the words “drop it” mean “just let go, stop whatever you were doing.”
So I am training the curious puppy of my mind. Ever so gently, again and again, I can say “drop it,” when my mind sticks its nose into something that smells so delicious, so interesting, but is a distraction from the road ahead.
So when I realize I’m wrapped up in thoughts, I remind myself to go back to not-thinking, just-being. I repeat the sacred word, which fills the silence with intention.
Maybe that’s why they call it Centering Prayer: my thoughts whirl all around me, impossible to contain, but a small sacred word can help me dive into the sacred silence, the center of the storm. And there, in the stillness, I can center around God.
Today’s 15 minutes of prayer: Found another unoccupied conference room for 15 minutes of lunch. In the last few days I have just started to feel a change. My prayer practice doesn’t feel so much like a chore; I can actually look forward to just being and breathing. Instead of dreading the boredom of “just sitting there,” I’m starting to look forward to burdens lifted. It’s a subtle change, but it’s something.