The Method of Centering Prayer
The Prayer of Consent by Thomas Keating
An 11th Step Meditation Practice for those in 12 Step Programs
“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry it out.”
This booklet was put together to help those searching for emotional sobriety and a method for the 11th Step to improve their conscious contact with their Higher Power.
“Sought through prayer and meditation” deals with our own personal attempt in communicating with a Higher Power. Many people in 12-Step programs have deepened their relationship with their Higher Power with the method of Centering Prayer. This is about you and your God “as you understand God.” It is not an attempt to change the instructions given in the Big Book but to support and supplement them.
About Centering Prayer
The practice of Centering Prayer, and the spiritual, historical and psychological basis of it, is described and elaborated in several of Father Keating’s works, including Open Mind, Open Heart and Invitation to Love.
The practice of Centering Prayer has extraordinary parallels with other traditional practices, and is remarkably simple and rewarding to practice.
For those who practice the 12 Steps found in AA, Al-Anon, and other 12-Step programs, there are striking parallels between Centering Prayer and the practice of the 12 Steps---the process of human transformation.
Centering Prayer deepens the 12 Step practice generally, and the 11th Step specifically, through daily immersion in prayer and meditation.
We believe that, when applied as a daily supplement to the 12 Steps, Centering Prayer opens us to the contemplative dimension of spirituality.
Thomas Keating, OCSO is one of the founders of the Centering Prayer Movement and Contemplative Outreach, a spiritual network that teaches Centering Prayer and provides a support system for those who practice it. He is the author of several books and video/audio tape series.
The 12 Step Outreach of Contemplative Outreach is dedicated to offering Centering Prayer to people in all 12 Step fellowships as an 11th Step prayer/meditation practice. We help individuals and groups establish a contemplative prayer practice through workshops, retreats and formation programs.
Some Practical Points
1) Twenty minutes of Centering Prayer twice a day is recommended. However, you may start with whatever amount of time you like.
2) If you notice slight physical or emotional pain arising during the prayer, pay no attention and return ever so gently to the sacred word.
3) It is suggested that you join a weekly Centering Prayer Group or find others in recovery willing to meet on a regular basis, to support one another in this practice.
4) The benefits of the meditation may be experienced more in daily life than during the period itself.
About 12 Step Outreach
Centering prayer works really well for 12 Step people. There are a lot of people in recovery who are already practicing this meditation.
12-Step Outreach offers retreats and introductory workshops that teach this method in more depth.
You can find information about workshops and retreats offered by the 12 Step Outreach at.www.cp12stepoutreach.org
Effects of Centering Prayer
- The positive effects of the prayer are experienced in daily life and not during the prayer period.
- During this prayer, avoid analyzing the experience,
- or having expectations such as achieving a spiritual experience.
- continuously repeating the special word;
- having no thoughts;
12step centering prayer share 2/2015 Jean P.
In late May of 2009, I attended an Al-Anon meeting. Like many before me, I did not want to be there and experienced a hard difficult start in the Al-Anon program. I ignored alcoholism and its effects on my development for my entire life. As long as I did what was “right and ethical”, I presumed I was on the “normal” life path. When alcoholism took hold in my immediate family, I intuitively knew how wrong my presumption was, and that I possessed zero internal resources to continue to face addiction alone. I also did not have others in my life that I felt I trusted and could confide in. I was heartbroken and graced to know powerlessness.
By fall of 2009, I mustered the courage to attend open AA meetings. Here I learned about the disease of alcoholism and heard from many individuals stories of pain, courage and hope. I also began attending an open AA 11th step meeting. The meeting begins with the St. Francis prayer, followed by a speaker sharing their own prayer and meditation 11th step practice and then group sharing. In this quiet evening meeting, I felt the first sense of hope and possibilities that maybe, maybe this could work for me.
I then attended my first 12step centering prayer retreat that same November. Here I learned the centering prayer method of meditation to consent to open to a relationship with a higher power, a power greater than me. All the teaching was quite interesting for a true novice. I had no relationship with a higher power, had at a young age closed my mind to any existence of such. As a youth I concluded that religion was make-believe to provide employment and structure for those needing it. The retreat leaders suggested two 20-minute sits a day for transformation. As an Al-Anon member open to following directions, I committed then to the practice.
Over the last five years of committed, consistent practice, I have experienced a slow opening of my mind and heart that I can share. I emphasize slow as I have gotten stuck along the way and scared at times and just keep doing the practice. Three gifts stand out for me now: unconditional love, experiential learning, and faith.
I’ve become aware of painful truths about myself. Some are behaviors that were apparent to others upon meeting me yet unknown to myself. Awkward to realize as an adult that one is immature. A friend shared the thought of being emotionally/spiritually an idiot savant. I visualized my unbalanced, lopsided self with this large crazy-head thinker, a buried wounded heart, and a disconnected tense body. Through meditation and time, I learned compassion toward myself and acceptance of the basic core of goodness within each of us. I do not have to do anything, this goodness has always existed within me. This is the unconditional love that our higher power has for us.
The next gift continues these experiential learnings from the practice. I do not do anything, just sit down and do the practice. I consent to God’s presence and action within. I am learning to be receptive. Strange and difficult feelings have come up from doing the practice. Another friend suggested being curious and gentle and friendly toward what arises. Here is where I am experiencing courage to feel these feelings, to seek counsel when needed, and to learn that we have all the time in the world to continue our practice and spiritual growth.
The last gift is a growing faith. Through meetings and teachings, I learned how one can move from me- centered to God-centered. I also learned that one moves from believing to knowing. A year ago, I heard Brother Charlie speak during a service at a Snowmass retreat. This is a paraphrase of what I heard: “It is better to have faith; what you believe in may turn out not to be true; with faith and commitment to this path, this path is eternally true and will support and sustain one.” I am discovering faith. Things I believed in as true, were not. I have faith this path, though difficult at times, has sustained and supported me these last five years of struggle and growth. I also feel the courage now to continue on without knowing exactly where it will lead and trusting the process completely.
It is important not to judge the success of your prayer period. The only thing you can do wrong in this prayer is to get up and leave. You may find yourself getting in touch with feelings of pain, lust, or fear, even remembering feelings or events you forgot about long ago.
Everyone moves at their own pace in Centering prayer, finding the “closer communication” and peace that comes from letting go. There is no way to change or repair the damage of a lifetime EASILY or QUICKLY.
Just doing the prayer and opening yourself to the presence of your Higher Power in silence will encourage you to keep going.
The growth is certain to happen when you work the 12 Steps in the context of this prayer:
- Enhances our ability to “Let Go and Let God”
- A nonjudgmental attitude of ourselves and others emerges
- Growing in self knowledge which may be painful
- A growing capacity to listen and service to others gradually emerges
- Our ability to live in the present moment develops and matures
1. Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.
2. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.
3. When engaged with your thoughts*, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.
4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.
*thoughts include body sensations, feelings, images, and reflections
1. The sacred word is sacred not because of its inherent meaning, but because of the meaning we give it as the expression of our intention and consent. Examples: Love, Let Go, Serenity, Peace, Silence, Faith, Trust, etc.
2. “Sitting comfortably” means relatively comfortably so as not to encourage sleep during the time of prayer.
3. By “returning ever-so-gently to the sacred word” a minimum of effort is indicated. This is the only activity we initiate during the time of Centering Prayer.
Freedom from the Bondage of Self
Whether you have been in recovery for a long time or are just beginning, you probably have experienced a lot of frustrated feelings that didn’t just go away when you got sober…problems with relationships, work, anxiety, depression, or feelings of emptiness. These feelings are natural for us no matter what your addiction and the amount of time in recovery you have. But we don’t have to let them rule our lives. The 11th Step offers us a solution! Through this simple method you can improve your relationship with the Ultimate Power of life. This is true whether you call that power God, Allah, Mother, another name, or no name.
This process works for anyone who is willing to put forth the effort to practice it. Every system of belief in the world, including Buddhism and Hinduism as well as Western Religions, knows some form of this simple and powerful practice. A poet once said about silence: “a view where language is inside seeing.”
This type of prayer has been used over the centuries, but it is different from what you may think of as prayer. It is not the type of prayer we are used to, like praying for something we want. It is simply moving deep within yourself, in silence, saying nothing, asking fornothing, just being and allowing your Higher Power to be with you.
For those who are working a recovery program, parallels can be found between the transformation that Centering Prayer brings and the process of growth facilitated as we work the 12 Steps.