Restlessness During Centering Prayer

Q:  I was a regular practitioner of Centering Prayer in the 1990’s. For the last few years, however, I make time for it in the mornings after reading some Scripture, but can’t seem to settle down. I cannot seem to empty my thoughts and focus on the sacred word. I get restless to sit for more than 5-10 minutes.  Do I need to just grit my teeth and make myself do this? (I do try to stay connected during the day with my sacred word.) Or, as some wise persons have said, perhaps God is calling you to another form of prayer. Thanks for your insight.

A:  Thank you for your faithfulness to a life of prayer.

You mentioned that you were a regular practitioner of Centering Prayer in the 1990‚Äôs.  Perhaps that was when you attended a workshop on the prayer and were touch by the Spirit to express your love of God through this prayer.  I would suggest that you take some time to review the method of Centering Prayer.  No matter how long I have prayed this prayer, I find I need to refine my understanding of the intention and purpose of the prayer.   Please prayerfully read this brochure on our website about the Centering Prayer practice.

Restlessness is a common experience during Centering Prayer and can happen to people just starting the prayer and to people like you who have been doing the prayer for decades.  The restlessness you are feeling may be part of the letting go of some of your stuff to make room for the Spirit to work on a deeper level.  If you have been faithful to Centering Prayer for a while, it could be that you are experiencing what Thomas Keating calls the “unloading of the unconscious” on a deeper level.  Chapters 7 & 8 in Fr. Keating‚Äôs book, Intimacy with God, detail the process and experience of God calling us to deeper levels of spiritual awareness and receptivity to God‚Äôs presence and action within.  He likens it to an archaeological dig.  You might review these chapters, or perhaps sections of Open Mind, Open Heart to refresh your understanding of the normal experiences of a dedicated prayer practice like this.

It is also advisable to reserve your sacred word for use only used during the prayer time and not use it throughout the day. During the day, the active prayer sentence is an excellent way and a gentle reminder that we are walking in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living.  Some examples of active prayer might be ‚ÄúOh God, come to my assistance‚Äù; ‚ÄúLord have mercy‚Äù; ‚ÄúMy Lord and my God‚Äù; or other short prayers or excerpts from Scripture.  There is a list of suggestions in the back of Open Mind, Open Heart.  Or, you can use any phrase that keeps God close in your mind and heart.

It sounds as if the last few years you are praying the prayer after reading some Scripture. Since the ’90‚Äôs, we have found that sitting in Centering Prayer first, before the reading of Scripture, seems to open one to the power of the word of God on a much deeper level.   If you are attracted to Scripture, you might read this brochure on Lectio Divina to develop this prayer practice and also connect it to your practice of Centering Prayer.

Finally, your wise friend gave you good advice – it may be God calling you to another form of prayer – who knows?  However, before you let this prayer go, take a second look and see what the Spirit is telling you.  Let us see what unfolds.

In prayer, Fr. Carl