The Contemplative Dimension of the Twelve Steps

With Thomas Keating

In this video series Thomas Keating speaks with a group of people in 12-Step recovery who are interested in Centering Prayer as an 11th step practice. He teaches the method of Centering Prayer along with its conceptual background. While acknowledging that Centering Prayer is rooted in the Christian contemplative tradition, his teaching makes this practice accessible to everyone. Throughout the video series he relates the spiritual process one experiences with a Centering Prayer practice to the process one experiences in working the 12 steps and living a life in recovery. He notes that while Centering Prayer and the 12 Steps come from different places, they seem to reach the same conclusion: the way to true happiness, freedom, and love is a genuine, healthy dependence on God.

Session 1: The Inner Room
Fr. Thomas covers the conceptual background of Centering Prayer from the wisdom saying of Jesus in Matthew 6:6, the relationship of Centering Prayer to the 11th Step, our basic core of goodness, and the addictive process and how it relates to the human condition.
Session 2: Prayer in Secret
Fr. Thomas continues exploring the conceptual background of Centering Prayer through the wisdom saying of Jesus from Matthew 6:6, through the deepening of our relationship to “God, as we understood Him,” at the very center of our being (in secret), the spiritual level of our being.
Session 3: The Method of Centering Prayer
Fr. Thomas leads us into the practice of Centering Prayer through choosing a sacred word and then into a guided meditation to quiet us down leading into 20 minutes of silent prayer.
Session 4: Thoughts and Use of the Sacred Word
Fr. Thomas explains thoughts as an umbrella term for any perceptions we experience, the different kinds of thoughts, and some nuances of using the sacred word.
Session 5: Thoughts are Integral
Fr. Thomas shows us how thoughts are integral to Centering Prayer by introducing us to the unloading of the unconscious and the divine therapy which leads us to experiencing healing and the fruits of Centering Prayer.
Session 6: Prayer as Relationship
Fr. Thomas talks about the spiritual level of our being and Centering Prayer as a Way of Life.
Session 7: Where Are You?
Fr. Thomas suggests that the story of Adam and Eve is the story of how we each experience the pain of separation from God. God is the one asking, “Where are you?” because it’s the circumstances of our human condition and cultural conditioning that cause the feeling of separation. The spiritual journey and the 12-Step programs offer us a process of examining where we are which is the first step towards healing the pain of separation.
Session 8: Who Are You?
Fr. Thomas leads us into a deeper exploration of the human condition and the false-self system which he also calls the homemade self. It is the self that we create unknowingly as we move from childhood into adulthood, continuing to try to get our needs met through childish or even infantile means. He suggests there is a better, more mature way. The 12-Step program and the spiritual journey start us down the path of discovering who we are starting with and honest and sometimes painful look at the homemade self.
Session 9: Our Lives Had Become Unmanageable
The Energy Centers are part of the false-self system, what Fr. Thomas calls our emotional programs for happiness on the unconscious level (that can’t possibly work) and these are what lead to our lives becoming unmanageable. Fr. Thomas explores how working the 12-Step program, along with the divine therapy a practice of Centering Prayer offers, shows us how turning our lives over to God starts the divine action of dismantling the emotional programs so we can experience inner freedom.
Session 10: The 11th Step and Centering Prayer
Fr. Thomas introduces putting the 11th step into practice to assist the movement of the Spirit in our daily life. He offers practical suggestions for establishing a daily Centering Prayer practice, explains some of the effects of a regular practice in our lives, and cautions us to be considerate of our loved ones as we navigate our new life in recovery and on the spiritual journey.
Session 11: Unloading of the Unconscious
The deep rest we experience in Centering Prayer uncovers from the unconscious not only what troubles or upsets us in our interior life, but also what interferes in our relationships with others in community. Fr. Thomas offers us two points that assist us in consenting to the divine therapy, what can cause us unease in daily life. The first is self- acceptance—honestly accepting who we are without our defenses and projections. The second is reminding ourselves of our basic goodness.
Session 12: Practice for Daily Life: The Welcoming Prayer
Fr. Thomas was once heard to say that next to Centering Prayer, the Welcoming Prayer is our second most important prayer practice. We have Centering Prayer for an hour a day and the Welcoming Prayer for the other twenty-three. While this video is not a “how to” on the Welcoming Prayer, it provides the conceptual background that underlies the prayer practice—dismantling the emotional programs for happiness.
Session 13: The 12 Steps and Centering Prayer
Fr. Thomas returns to quotes from Bill W that describe his struggles with the human condition and daily life. In finding references from Bill W’s writing Fr. Thomas notes that while Centering Prayer and the 12 Steps come from different places, they seem to reach the same conclusion: the way to true happiness, freedom, and love is a genuine, healthy dependence on God.
Session 14: The Active Prayer Sentence and the Attention/Intention Practice
In previous sessions Fr. Thomas discussed how the deep rest we experience in Centering Prayer starts to uncover repressed material from our unconscious both in our interior life and in relationships and events in our daily life. Here he offers practices that complement our Centering Prayer practice and help us to cope with afflictive emotions and circumstances we encounter in daily life.
Session 15: What is Contemplation?
Fr. Thomas explains that meditation and contemplation have distinct meanings in different religions. He further distinguishes between acquired contemplation and infused contemplation. He compares Centering Prayer and the 12-Step Programs as different paths that lead to transformation.
Session 16: A Case for Introducing Centering Prayer Earlier than Step 11
Fr. Thomas talks about the history of Centering Prayer and how it evolved over time. When it was first introduced it was thought people needed preliminary practices before moving into a deep meditation practice, but eventually it was discovered that most people were ready for Centering Prayer without the preliminaries. He sees an analogy between Centering Prayer and 12-Step Programs and suggests that those experienced in both Centering Prayer and a 12-Step Program explore the potential evolution of the steps in regard to introducing Centering Prayer sooner than the 11th step. He reminds us that the Spirit guides us the process and will send us back to previous steps according to our individual needs.
Additional Resources for 12 Step Recovery
Some addional materiel from Father Thomas Keating talking about 12 Step Recovery