As a spiritual director, it is my gift to spend time with fellow souls on their journey of life. Sometimes, it will be a moving forward with the next step on their path. Other times, it will be sitting with them in the pain and questions of a struggle or trauma. Still other times, it will be exploring the patterns and finding the Divine (or higher self, or whatever word works for you) among the chaos. In all cases, the space is the same – sacred. It is sacred because we make it so. There is an intention by myself and the directee to come together in a single place and time with an invitation for the Divine to be with us in this space, for this moment.
As I hold space for these souls, I must also remember to honor and continue on my own journey. Sitting with my spiritual director is definitely a rich and connecting experience, but it is not the only practice I have to honor and continue my sacred story. Another way I do this is through centering prayer. I have been on this path long enough to know that what this term may mean to you is, most likely, not what it means to me. So I will share with you what it means to me and how it has been helpful on my journey.
I did my studies at a center called Stillpoint: The Center for Christian Spirituality in Pasadena, California. It was not until a couple years after my program was complete that the full concept of ‘stillpoint’ clicked for me. I have tried to find definitions and concepts that align with my experience of this stillpoint, but I have not been successful. This has provided proof of what I have suspected for quite some time; spirituality is a deeply individual experience that can be enriched with exploration and a sense of adventure, holding what resonates and releasing that which does not. It was with this attitude that I embraced centering prayer and found my stillpoint.
I was first introduced to centering prayer through the book Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault. She also spoke about this subject at the 2017 Festival of Faiths. Centering prayer is similar to meditation and contemplative prayer, but not the same. The difference is that centering prayer is one of seeking connection, while the others are prayers of asking (for guidance, release, etc). In my practice, I begin with centering prayer and then go into the next prayer, which is often one of meditation or contemplation.
In centering prayer, you begin with sacred word. The intention of the word is not to be repeated over and over to calm the mind, but rather to be used, when distracted by thought, to return you back to your intention to be present with the Divine. Next, sit comfortably – making sure your back is supported and you have a light cover if you tend to get chilled. I sometimes do this laying down. Next, close your eyes gently and simply be. If you find yourself thinking (and you will), do not be angry or frustrated with yourself. Instead intentionally release the thought, even if it is a really really good one. If the thought is meant to be actioned, it will return at another time. This moment is a moment to just be, so let the thought go. If it persists, say or think your sacred word. This will bring you back into the intentional space that you are here, in this moment, to connect with the Divine. At the end of the time, take a few moments to come back into activity. To keep time, you can set an alarm on your clock or phone. I find the app Insight Timer very helpful. This app not only has a timer that ends with a gentle sound (that you can choose), it also has a community of people and groups you can connect with, as well as guided meditations.
So that is how the practice works. I will now describe what my inner life looks like going through this process. I have incense or a scented candle burning when I get ready. The incense is going and I breathe in the aroma, it begins to intertwine with my energy and with the next deep breath, I am in prayer. Not even a second passes and the first thought comes my way – look at the beautiful red color, is that my root chakra. I do not want to release. . . It is so beautiful. I gently introduce. . . Just . . . Be. . . and take a deep breath back to be present with the Divine. This continues for several minutes until finally, I reach center. Center for me looks like a secret garden, the sights and smells and sounds are incredible. I am there for a few minutes and then I reach stillpoint – the point where everything pauses and for a brief moment I am fully connected with the universal Divine of all that is. Then just as quickly it releases me and I continue in the presence until the bell sounds. In this space, the conversation can begin and my sacred story continues.
Bridgette Goldstein is a spiritual director and founder of Arid Spirit . She is passionate about bringing the Divine spark to those who have been wounded by organized religion and victims of domestic violence. Finding the Divine in unlikely places is one of her pleasures. She lives in North Texas.
Centering prayer held me in peace as I went through my treatment for breast cancer. Thank you for the reminder to return to the practice.