Monkey Mind on Steroids


Q: I have been doing Centering Prayer for about 7 years, and I have changed in positive ways that my wife, some others in the CP group, and even I, have noticed, so I know it’s “working” in some way. However I have never gotten to the place where I’m really “centered.” My monkey mind is virtually always on steroids. I have never been diagnosed, but I’m pretty sure I would qualify as having ADHD. Are there any tricks or methods beyond using the sacred word, over and over, that are found to be helpful for one with ADHD? Thanks!

A: It is so good to hear that you have been continuing your practice for 7 years, even though you don’t feel “centered”! It’s a pretty humbling practice, isn’t it – we don’t actually produce anything, and our own “efforts” have no results; we are simply letting go, over and over, to God. And that is life-changing. As you have noticed, God works in secret, deep within us, even when we are not aware of it. With our regular practice of surrender to God over and over, we are cultivating a new way of being. We can start to see our inner reactions to people or circumstances, and see our own trains of obsessive thoughts and emotions, but we can also see that these are not the whole story; much as our thoughts are not the whole story in Centering Prayer. We can be in the world in alignment with a deeper way of being within us, thoughtfully responding to the world rather than knee-jerk reacting.

In your note I hear your patience, and also your delight at the fruits of your prayer. You really don’t need to change anything that you are doing in your prayer – you are doing beautifully, showing up day after day exactly as you are, and consenting over and over to God’s presence and action in your life. That said, all of us can benefit from some sort of grounding in the body before and during our prayer. On our retreats we often take a few minutes to center ourselves in breathing, body prayers and/or sacred chanting before we begin. On my own I sometimes add practices such as gentle yoga, qi gong, or mindful walking. You could try an experiment of practicing your favorite flavor of body awareness practice, even very briefly, before you begin your Centering Prayer. Much as with Centering Prayer, it’s more about your quality of presence than about doing something perfectly. Simply showing up and bowing sincerely, anchored in your body, can make a huge difference.

Body awareness is also helpful during the prayer. I wonder if you have ever noticed that those monkey mind thoughts have echoes in your body. I’ve noticed that when my face tenses up, or my shoulders raise up, I’ve been distracted from my intention, for example by a thought, emotion, or sensation. When I treat these body tensions as ‘thoughts’ and invite them to relax, letting go to God with my sacred word, often the thoughts will relax too, even if just for a moment. And then I might find them creep back – and let go again and again.

Our prayer is not meant to meet our mind’s imagination of what a perfect spiritual experience might look like. Instead we are putting our desire in action, to keep letting go of what distracts us from hanging out with God. And God loves us through the whole thing, exactly as we are, no matter how many ‘thoughts’ we have. What more could we ask than that?

I hope this is helpful. Please keep in touch and let us know how it goes.

Blessings on your journey,