Excerpted from an interview with Thomas Keating and
Jonathon F.P. Rose of The Garrison Institute, October 2008
JR: Tell us about Centering Prayer, and
particularly the role of Centering Prayer in an uncentered time.
TK: [laughs] Well, obviously the role of Centering
Prayer in an unsettled time is to center. It’s a term that comes from
St. John of the Cross in The Living Flame of Love, one of his
most mature writings, and it’s not a bad term for what we're trying to
do, because as he says, the center of the soul is God and so as we leave
behind the perplexities and the suffering and the turmoil at least as an
obsession or over-emphasis on it, we turn towards our inmost center, and
we move from ordinary psychological awareness to the spiritual level of
our being, a level of intuition and our capacity for God. St. Thomas
says that the soul has a certain capacity for God. To open to this
capacity, we need to turn our attention from our preoccupations
temporarily to get the perspective on reality which has God as its
Some theologians have said God is reality, not just our
reality but everything that in a sense is God, in a sense of coming from
the Ultimate Reality as the source, whether you consider this personal
or impersonal God. The Ultimate Reality is probably both — it adjusts to
each thing that exists according to its nature. As we move towards the
inner self, one approaches what some folks call the true self; in the
Judeo-Christian tradition it would be called the image of God or the
image and likeness of God. The likeness is what we don’t have yet or
which we lost depending on what your religious understanding or perhaps
your scientific preference might be, because in the perspective of
evolution, especially spiritual evolution, we’re returning to our source
or as the Buddhists call it — and this is just a private interpretation,
I hope you’ll forgive me — emptiness is form and form is emptiness. …
So, Centering Prayer is a movement towards the center,
our own center, which is also the center of everything else that exists
which is the Ultimate Reality or God in the label given by the
Judeo-Christian traditions, but which could be called anything. … It’s
the faith in God as the center of our being that is not only supporting
as an existence but welcoming us into the divine hospitality, the only
host that can give not just gifts but Itself to us.
the December 2021 Contemplative Outreach News
“I sit with God
because I love God. I desire to go deeper and deeper into my
relationship with God. And see what happens. God’s depths are bottomless
like a vast ocean.”
This is an excerpt from a conversation between members of
the Denver Center for Contemplative Living and Thomas Keating on April
28th, 2016 at St. Benedict’s Monastery
Our ultimate goal is to integrate the active and
contemplative dimensions of reality within us and around us, which some
mystics call ever-present awareness, enlightenment, or waking up. To
handle the details of living a human life without being distracted from
this primary vision is not attained through thinking, but through what
might be called the practice of just being.
To take time just to be, which is to do nothing but be in
God’s presence for a regular period of time every day seems to be the
shortest access to the mystery that is beyond any conceptual
consideration. It leads to a communion with God that is more intimate
than anybody can imagine or foresee. Divine love never stops coming but
waits for us to shed the obstacles in us to awaken fully to the Divine
Presence within us.
It’s better to use the word “awakening” than
“discovering” because “discovering” suggests effort, and even when
effort is good, there is still some ego at work. It takes a while to
perceive what the obstacles are. We may ruin our health with extreme
bodily asceticism and die too soon. The spiritual journey normally takes
a long time.
If we experience emotional suffering, there is probably
something we haven’t quite surrendered yet. If we truly surrender
everything we possess, we will know the right thing to do spontaneously,
and action inspired by the Spirit is where Centering Prayer is preparing
us to go. It grows into contemplative prayer as presented in the
Christian contemplative tradition. Saint John of the Cross writes that
those who practice meditation keep moving to ever-deeper interior levels
until they reach their inmost center, which is where God dwells and is
waiting for us. …
At some point in the spiritual journey, there is a shift
where you realize that the best knowledge you can have of God is no
knowledge. That means letting go of every thought, memory, rigid belief
system, harmful forms of cultural conditioning, as well as all
possessions. It doesn’t mean you despise the values of belief systems
because most people need some kind of discipline of mind and body in the
beginning. The process of awakening normally takes time. Where is it
going and where does it end? It ends in God, which is to say it never
the June 2021 Contemplative Outreach News
“God will bring
people and events into our lives, and whatever we may think about them,
they are designed for the evolution of His life in us.” ...
Few personages in the history of Christianity have the
rare combination of intellectual astuteness, daring rhetoric, radical
message, and contemplative insight that the medieval German Dominican
mystic Meister Eckhart had. In his day, roughly 1260-1328, Eckhart was a
noted academic, an able administrator, a fascinating spiritual guide,
and a compelling preacher. He was a mystic in the marketplace, unafraid
of engaging the world while plunging into the mystery of God.
Eckhart’s message to us is to follow Jesus Christ through
the practice of detachment, that we might give birth to the Divine Word
within us and break through into oneness with God. Essentially, the
mysticism of Meister Eckhart focuses on nothing but God. He invites us
to follow Christ into oneness with God by practicing detachment: “God
does not ask anything else of you except that you let yourself go and
let God be God in you.”1 The Meister wants to center us on
God and that means letting go of everything else. This is where he
offers Centering Prayer practitioners a wonderful gift.
As a presenter of Centering Prayer, I have noticed that
one of the biggest issues people face in Centering Prayer has to do with
effort. We are trying too hard. Keating teaches us that Centering Prayer
“is an exercise of effortlessness, of letting go; to try is a thought.”2
So, it is not even that we’re trying too hard, it is that we are trying
at all! We are, in other words, putting way too much effort into our
practice. I often hear people talk about their attempts to push thoughts
out of their heads or throw their mental content away. At times, when we
sit for a period of Centering Prayer, our bodies reflect this inner
effort. Our brows furrow in concentration, our neck and shoulder muscles
tighten, and our faces become tense.
In the introductory program to Centering Prayer, we teach
the “4 R’s”: resist no thought, retain no thought, react to no thought,
and return to the sacred word. Of course, in practice, we have a
tendency to resist, retain, and react to our thoughts. This causes us to
try to let go, to shove thinking out of our minds. Meister
Eckhart steps in to offer us a precious gift. He beckons us to relax. He
preaches a way of relaxing our efforts and our thinking to release
ourselves into the mystery of God. I believe Meister Eckhart would
recommend adding a fifth R to our current “4 R’s,” which would be “relax
Meister Eckhart preaches only one contemplative practice:
detachment. He writes, “Detachment makes me receptive of nothing but
God.”3 Detachment is the work we do to remove everything
getting between us and God. But this doesn't have to be hard work. It
can also be an effortless flowing into the mystery of God. Many Eckhart
commentators refer to this aspect of detachment as gelassenheit.
Instead of the hard-sounding practice of detaching, gelassenheit
communicates gentleness. Though hard to translate, some scholars have
suggested that gelassenheit means “release,” “loosen,” or “let
be.” The Meister also uses words like “self-abandonment,” “flow,” and
“sinking.” Here is an example: “You ought to sink down out of all your
your-ness, and flow into his his-ness, and your ‘yours’ and his ‘his’
ought to become one ‘mine,’ so completely that you with him perceive
forever his uncreated is-ness, and his nothingness, for which there is
no name.”4 We are invited to sink into the divine is-ness and
flow into the divine nothingness without forceful effort or trying.
For Eckhart, gelassenheit means the effortlessness
of detachment. It is as if Eckhart is telling us to take it easy and be
laidback about letting go. One of the images that comes to my mind is
dropping luggage after a long trip. It is a relief. One of Eckhart’s
best images for gelassenheit is found in his treatise On
Detachment where he writes, “The soul … loses its name and draws God
into itself, so that in itself it becomes nothing, as the sun draws the
red dawn into itself so that it becomes nothing.”5 Just as
effortlessly, one relaxes into the ever-present mystery of God.
When it comes to our practice of Centering Prayer,
Eckhart teaches us to let go of pressure, agitation, and any stress
regarding the method. When we relax into God, we don’t try at all. We
sink into the holy mystery who is always and forever already one with
us. Relaxing is a spiritual attitude, one of faith in God and ongoing
Eckhart preaches, “You should love [God] as he is a
non-God, a non-spirit, a non-person, a non-image, but as he is a pure,
unmixed bright ‘One,’ separated from all duality; and in that One we
should eternally sink down, out of something into nothing.”6
Here, Eckhart invites us to practice the “Fifth R” or relaxing
into God by not thinking, not judging, but remaining in a state of
nothingness. What do we do with our thinking? Nothing! Instead, we let
all our thinking, fade away into nothing. We do not engage them, resist
them, retain them, or react to them. When we think our thoughts, we
allow non-thinking nothingness. Every time we ever-so-gently return to
the word, the ego is softly released. It is gradually reduced to nothing
so there’s nothing between God and us at all.
Relax into God is a good synonym to Meister
Eckhart’s “sink down out of something into nothing.” Sinking is
effortless; the “something” is the effort to make something happen. It
is trying to manufacture contemplation. We don’t have to get it right,
though. We only need to show up and trust in silence. We tend to
complicate things. Trying to do the method of Centering Prayer right,
better, or perfectly may, in fact, be the trap of perfectionism. We wind
up reinforcing the false self and its need to control. Relaxing into
God, as a spiritual attitude, dissipates the need to make things the way
we think they’re supposed to be. We think our Centering Prayer is
supposed to be without thoughts and so we go about trying to create that
condition. Instead of the effort to rid our minds of thoughts, we gently
return to our sacred symbol and remain relaxed, not talking back even as
our thoughts are constantly talking to us.
Eckhart says, “Now put aside ‘this’ and ‘that,’ and what
remains is nothing but God.”7 We are gently releasing
thoughts and feelings (“this” and “that”), until we awaken to God. In
our Centering Prayer, we release the tension of expectations,
assumptions, and fixed ideas. Our hearts relax and drop any preconceived
notions about how everything should be. We relax into God. Now, heeding
the wisdom of Meister Eckhart, the teaching could be, “resist no
thought, retain no thought, react to no thought, return to the sacred
word, and relax into God.”
 Fox, Matthew, Meditations with Meister
Eckhart, Santa Fe, NM: Bear and Company, 1983. Kindle Edition
 Keating, Thomas, Open Mind, Open Heart: The
Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel, NY: Continuum, 2006, p
 The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart,Translated
by Maurice O’Connell Walshe and Bernard McGinn, NY: Crossroad, 2009, p.
 Meister Eckhart: Essential Sermons, Commentaries,
Treatises, and Defense, Translated by Edmund Colledge and Bernard
McGinn, NY: Paulist, 1981, p. 207
 Meister Eckhart: Essential Sermons, p. 292.
 Meister Eckhart: Essential Sermons, p. 208.
 The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart, p.
L.J. Milone serves as the Director of Faith
Formation for a Catholic Church in SilverSpring, MD. He writes weekly
articles for the parish bulletin on Scripture and mysticism. He is the
author of a book about Meister Eckhart called Nothing but God: The
Everyday Mysticism of Meister Eckhart, which is available on Amazon. He
also teaches Centering Prayer and leads contemplative retreats in the
Washington, DC metropolitan area. He lives in Columbia, Maryland with
his wife and four children.
the December 2019 Contemplative Outreach News
“Silence teaches me
who I am. Silence shows me the actions I should take. Silence teaches me
what actions not to take because someone else is best suited for the
task. Silence shows me the way forward. I need both silence and action.
They make me whole.”
God will bring people and events into our lives and
whatever we may think about them, they are for the evolution of God’s
life in us.” Thomas Keating, A Rising Tide of Silence film
My introduction to Thomas Keating was in the nineties when a copy of
Open Mind Open Heart was thrust into my hand. I remember distinctly
saying to my husband, “You know, there is something in this book!”
Centering Prayer became the next step in my search for meaning after
over twenty years of studying and practising different spiritual and
Centering Prayer and its psychological background widened my perception
and understanding of the Christian faith. There was something about this
receptive practise called Centering Prayer that was drawing me. I recall
a visit to Raimon Panikkar when reflecting on different traditions. He
said that he left Europe for India as a Christian, discovered he was a
Hindu and returned as a Buddhist without ever having ceased to be a
Christian. And as Thomas Keating said, Christ is bigger than
I engaged enthusiastically with Thomas Keating's
teaching, Centering Prayer, Lectio Divina, the Welcoming Prayer Practice
and volunteered for everything! I trained in the UK and US, attended
retreats led by Fr Thomas and annual conferences. I taught others,
co-founded Contemplative Outreach London. I resonated with the nuances
and background that Cynthia Bourgeault brought to Centering Prayer and
supported her visits to the UK.
In 2018, I was invited to join a newly formed global team
representing English-speaking countries. As we continued to meet, the
concept “global” acquired a new significance for me. I experienced a
fluidity; there was no longer a fixed centre. The centre is wherever the
practice takes place. We are members of one body. The body of Christ.
Paradoxically, the pandemic, a global phenomenon with no
fixed centre, has had the effect of bringing into the same online space
people from many countries, transcending barriers and lineages of
Centering Prayer. The practise of Centering Prayer has responded to this
global longing for unity and love. United in one body of prayer.
I continued to be inspired by how Fr Thomas never ceased
to share his explorations, gather around him teachers of other
traditions, and follow scientific and psychological developments to
enrich our understanding and living experience of the Divine life. His
later recordings show his developing insights about his earlier
There is a sense that the Christian contemplative life is
growing in recognition among spiritual seekers and Christians alike.
Thomas Keating’s final gift, the eight poems, A Secret Embrace,
illuminated by Cynthia Bourgeault's profound reflections, offer us
further insights into Unity.
In my never-ceasing explorations, I was invited eight
years ago to explore the process of Focusing as a contemplative
practice. Since then, the process, which I now teach, has become an
embodied way of life, deepening Presence. It develops the capacity to
turn toward our present moment response to ourselves and others with
interest, non-judgement, empathy, and radical acceptance.
I could fill this page with the names of those I have met
on this journey that I would love to thank and share the joy. I know
this one thing; Centering Prayer deepens faith and whilst true faith is
imperceptible, at times I sense a sweet embrace of confidence.
May you have a blessed Advent.
Jill Benet has been a part of Contemplative
Outreach for over 20 years, serving as a prayer group facilitator,
Introductory Workshop presenter and trainer, and retreat leader. She was
co-founder of Contemplative Outreach London and the Silence in the City
series of talks on the Christian contemplative life. Her "day jobs"
included teaching art and creating crystal chandeliers. Jill is
currently completing certification as a teacher and guide as an Inner
Relationship Focusing Professional. She lives between London and
Barcelona with her husband and spiritual companion Antonio Benet.
the December 2021 Contemplative Outreach News
“The heart of the
Christian spiritual journey is God’s determined will to transmit to us
the maximum of divine light, life, love and happiness that we can
It is there for us to
receive. God loves us more than we will ever comprehend. Let go and open
to God’s unconditional love. Trust God!
however, is a fire so intense that no one can be fully exposed to it in
this life without turning into a grease spot.”
God’s love is strong
The spiritual life combines an ever-deepening practice of
interior silence and service of others motivated by the love for God.
Both are necessary for the spiritual journey because they cultivate a
disposition of alert receptivity and openness to the guidance of the
Contemplation and action are manifested in the practice of servant
leadership. For a while, the Church of the Middle Ages nearly lost the
vision of Christ as servant leader and joined forces with the political
powers of the time. Maybe that was historically inevitable because there
was no other kind of force to establish a safe society for people than
the institutional Church. But when any group affirms its elite status or
superiority over all other groups, there is a hazard that the ego will
take possession of that idea and go for it, because now it has an excuse
or motive for justifying all kinds of egoic forms of domination.
Jesus emphasized servant leadership to his apostles over and over again.
What we do for others
is not to fix them, which presumes that we know how to fix them and
presupposes that we are coming from a superior position. We are called
by God to care for others as a privilege. All the members of the human
family are members of what St. Paul calls the Mystical Body of Christ.
He doesn’t need our leadership talents. But he does appreciate and need
our practical love and humble service. He manifested the divine humility
by sacrificing all the honor and privileges of his nature as the Son of
God. If we made that disposition our own, trying to fix situations would
change into allowing God to heal the wounds that are impossible for us
to deal with, let alone to fix. By making ourselves the servant of those
we serve, the divine healing work of Christ can flow through us without
our egos getting in the way. Servant leadership leads to gratitude for
being able to serve.
The most profound truth regarding the spiritual journey is that we are
being transformed into Christ. We are turning ourselves over completely
to God in the full consciousness that this is a service that we are
offering for the healing of the whole human family, not just for our
Our heart in the sense of our inmost being has to become big enough
through grace to take into
it everyone who has ever lived – past, present, and to come. We are
loved by God to the point of his becoming one with us and our particular
experience of the human condition. The cross is suffering endured out of
love for all the members of the Mystical Body and their transformation
into oneness with the Father.
— From the June 2018 Contemplative Outreach News
God is more us than
We were in his mind
forever and we will be with him in due time, forever, too.
Humility is an
attitude of honesty with God, oneself, and all reality. It enables us to
be at peace in the presence of our powerlessness and to rest in the
forgetfulness of self.
The essence and
heart of Centering Prayer is consenting to God’s presence and action
within. It leads to contemplation and its continuing development.
qualities reveal how this consent deepens through daily practice.
arises in consenting to God’s presence within. External silence supports
this movement and leads to interior silence.
flows from interior silence. It disregards the endless conversation we
have with ourselves and rests in the experience of God’s presence.
is the growing awareness of our oneness with the whole human family and
with all creation. It is sensitive to the ever-present inspirations of
the Spirit, not only during the time of formal prayer, but in the
details of everyday life.
is an expression of solidarity that is an inner call to serve God and
others based on the realization that God is loving and serving them
through us. In other words, God in us is serving God in others.
is what Jesus called “prayer in secret” (Matt. 6:6). This is the
experience of God’s presence beyond rational concepts and preoccupation
with our thoughts and desires. Interior silence tends to move into
solitude and then into stillness. Stillness is the habitat of
contemplative prayer. As Saint John of the Cross teaches, contemplation
is the inflowing of God into our souls, and in the Christian tradition,
is looked upon as pure gift. In actual fact, it is a gift that has
already been given. Just by being human, one has this capacity. Many
advanced mystics affirm that contemplation is the natural state of human
consciousness, of which the Garden of Eden in Genesis is a symbol.
is the growing capacity to live in the midst of the dualities of daily
life in such a way as to integrate contemplation and action. Even in
enormous activity, endless distraction, and immense concerns, we can
remain in the divine presence. That presence invites us to enter the
inmost center of our being where God dwells and where the Spirit
inspires all our actions. Simplicity is the final integration and
unification of all our human capabilities. It is the peak sustained by a
whole mountain of interconnected and interdependent parts, in which each
acts according to its particular nature in complete harmony with every
other part. Simplicity arises out of the immense complexity of human
nature as it is brought into unity through letting go of attachments and
trusting in God.
The first step
towards this simplicity is simplicity of lifestyle and the cultivation
of interior silence through contemplation. Contemplative prayer and
action under its influence gradually liberates us from attachments both
conscious and unconscious that cause the loss of interior peace. It
moderates the tumultuous emotions that can tear us apart and undermine
the sense of being rooted in God and in the state of life we have
not the same as action, but they are not separate. They are distinct,
but God is
as much in one as in the other. It is we who may not be present to one
or the other. Simplicity is based on the truth about ourselves and the
experience of God. It is the acceptance of everything just as it is. The
Holy Spirit can then move us to change what needs to be changed or do
what needs to be done.
Surrender is the total gift of self to God, a movement from divine
union to unity. It marks the beginning of what Jesus calls “eternal
life” as an abiding state of consciousness. Self-surrender through the
practice of Centering Prayer is a traditional path to divine union. The
movements of self-surrender and trust are the work of the Fruits and
Gifts of the Spirit, and of the increasing joy of giving oneself
completely to God.
Ultimate Reality as Unmanifest is to lose oneself completely. This is
the invitation of
the amazing texts in Saint John’s Gospel about our being in God and
God living in us. (cf. Jn 17: 20-22).
Suffering is the
consequence of the fact of living in an imperfect world. For that there
is no cure. Sharing the divine life does not mean that created things
are not good; it is just that they are incapable of fulfilling our
boundless desire for perfect happiness. Nothing could be more down to
earth or more humbling than this ever-present Presence, which just is.
It does not have to prove itself. It does not need to acquire anything.
It just is. Its desire is to make us equal to Itself in the expanding
interior freedom that goes with that unity.
As we experience
the dynamic unfolding of grace, our perspective changes in regard to
God, the spiritual journey, and ourselves. In between these stages there
may be delightful plateaus which are great blessings and have huge
physical, mental, and spiritual effects. The dark nights are
psychological states, and the darkest of all is the spiritual suffering
that arises from being a creature, unable because of our weakness to
handle the difficulties we encounter in this life, but going through
them with invincible confidence in God’s infinite mercy.
— Taken from the Contemplative Outreach December 2017 Newsletter
“If we experience
emotional suffering, there is probably something we haven’t quite
NEW: Contemplative Life: Discovering Our Path into The Heart of God
by Julie Saad
This book begins with this
sentence: "Contemplative life begins when we take the first step into
the silence of our heart.”
And continues: "It’s a
pilgrimage—a journey that takes us first to the inner reaches of who we
really are, and from there, into the life we were meant to live. We
don’t usually start a journey like this unless we’re searching, even
longing, for a different way of life. The search often begins when we
experience an existential crisis, a trauma, a loss, or sometimes just a
weariness with the way life is. It may be a search for purpose or
meaning, or a desire for a deeper connection with the Ultimate Mystery.
As any spiritual pilgrim knows, the journey is one of mystery and
discovery. It’s a different path for every person with one experience
common to all: every person who embarks on the journey will be changed
by it. It doesn’t matter where you are on your life’s path, whether
you’re young or old, experienced in prayer or a novice, religious,
spiritual, agnostic, or none of the above. What matters is that
something deep in the silence of your heart called you to take the first
Writing from her lived
experience on the contemplative journey for well over 30 years, Julie’s
book shows how a life dedicated to contemplative life can be
Thomas Keating, with
Betty Sue Flowers
A digital download pdf, this
companion book is an edited transcript of the Heartfulness:
Transformation in Christ video series, with beautiful images and
additional resources for further study, pondering and spiritual
practice. 212 pages with over 90 four-color images - beautiful!
Hardcopy on sale
Online video and PDF guidebook
CONTEMPLATIVE OUTREACH YOU TUBE CHANNEL
To watch videos on You Tube
Jesus did not teach a
specific method of meditation or bodily discipline for quieting the
imagination, memory and emotions. We should choose a spiritual practice
adapted to our particular and natural disposition. We must also be
willing to dispense with it when called by the spirit to surrender to
his direct guidance. The Spirit is above every method or practice. To
follow his inspiration is the sure path to perfect freedom.
— Thomas Keating
THE BENEFITS OF CENTERING PRAYER
Centering Prayer is a
receptive method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift
of contemplative prayer, prayer in which we experience God's presence
within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than
consciousness itself. This method of prayer is both a relationship with
God and a discipline to foster that relationship.
Centering Prayer is not
meant to replace other kinds of prayer. Rather, it adds depth of meaning
to all prayer and facilitates the movement from more active modes of
prayer - verbal, mental or affective prayer - into a receptive prayer of
resting in God. Centering Prayer emphasizes prayer as a personal
relationship with God and as a movement beyond conversation with Christ
to communion with Christ.
To watch on YouTube, please
"Our ultimate goal is
to integrate the active and contemplative dimensions of reality within
us and around us, which some mystics call ever-present awareness,
enlightenment, or waking up. To handle the details of living a human
life without being distracted from this primary vision is not attained
through thinking, but through what might be called the practice of just
being. To take time just to be, which is to do nothing but be in God’s
presence for a regular period of time every day seems to be the shortest
access to the mystery that is beyond any conceptual consideration."
—Thomas Keating, June 2021 newsletter