Centering Prayer and Mental Illness

Q:  I am hoping to get some direction for myself and a community I work with.  I have schizo-affective mental illness, diagnosed when I was 28.  I have had regular bouts with varying degrees of psychosis.  Meds never controls that aspect of our lives completely.  The group I work with has the same issues.  We are hoping to find a safe and effective way to embrace silence and solitude for a part of our recovery process.    The challenge for us is that stillness and quiet leads to very disturbing hallucinations that we are all at varying degrees of knowing how to deal with.  Silence and stillness means we are confronted by these disturbing voices and have to struggle with the feelings of paranoia that are part of this.  I am hoping to introduce the  walking of the finger labyrinth as a way of focusing with this challenge.  Do you have any suggestions for those of us who have frequent involuntary muscle movements as part of our condition.  The directions of using a sacred word  seem not to be enough for us to have success with Centering Prayer.

A:  I would support your Centering Prayer with the practice of Lectio Divina – praying the Scriptures. Try this with your group:  Pick a Scripture passage and read it four times — once to listen to it, once to think about it, once to pray/respond with it and then once to rest in it/be with it. Then move into your Centering Prayer using your thought about the Scripture as your sacred symbol for consenting to God’s presence and action in your life. Repeat the thought whenever you begin to think of anything else or when muscle movements occur.  Perhaps by having a larger symbol it will help you focus on consenting and have a particle of silence and stillness in the process. Let me know how that works for you and your group. You might read about Lectio Divina on our website. You might also try shorter lengths of time for Centering Prayer, gradually increasing the time as seems appropriate for the group.  

It is always very important to discuss these suggestions with your mental healthcare providers to discern the best path forward.

– Blessings,

Fr Carl