Q: When I was in college in the late 60's, I used psychedelic drugs a number of times. Now when I pray with Centering Prayer, I find myself seeking the same unitive, transcendent feelings I experienced at that time. Is this a legitimate goal of Centering Prayer, and, if not, how do I recognize a true experience of the living God?
A: This is a very frequently asked question. As we are sitting faithfully in prayer a little voice begins to whisper or shout, “shouldn't I be feeling something special?”
In Centering Prayer the focus is on the intention of simply consenting to God’s presence and action within, letting go of all thoughts. It is about consent and purification. The goal isn’t to “feel” anything special during the prayer itself. In a sense it is all about intention and not attention. The fruits are revealed outside of the prayer as shown by a new type of attention given to ordinary life. This is how one recognizes a true experience of the living God.
I have found the fruits in my life to be able to live in the present moment. “I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living”; this phrase from the psalms opens a whole world to me — the ability to be open to self- knowledge and seeing the presence of God in others, the ability to see the larger picture and trust that God is all in all.
Father Keating says it so well in Invitation from God: “The tendency of the Transforming Union as an abiding state is rather to be without extraordinary experiences and to lead ordinary daily life in an unobtrusive way. If one has special gifts, these are exercised in dependence on God. One is completely free of the results and does not draw one's identity from any glamorous [or unglamorous] role, but is simply, like God, the servant of creation."
I hope this was of some help.
Blessings, Fr Carl