Mind Open Heart
The Contemplative Dimension
of the Gospel
by Father Thomas
Methods of Extending the
of Contemplative Prayer Into Daily Life
Centering prayer is the keystone of a
comprehensive commitment to the contemplative dimensions of the Gospel.
Two periods a day of twenty to thirty minutes--one in the early morning
and one halfway through the day or in the early evening--maintain the
reservoir of interior silence at a high level at all times. Those who have
more time at their disposal might begin with a brief reading of ten or
fifteen minutes from the Gospel. For those who wish to give a full hour in
the morning to interior silence, start with ten minutes of Gospel reading
and then center for twenty minutes. Do a slow, meditative walk around the
room for five to several minutes; sit down and do a second period of
centering. You still have ten minutes for planning your day, praying for
others, or conversing with the Lord.
To find time for a second period later
in the day may require special effort. If you have to be available to your
family as soon as you walk in the door you might center during your lunch
hour. Or you might stop on the way home from work and center in a church
or park. If it is impossible to get a second period of prayer in, it is
important that you lengthen the first one. There are a number of practices
that can help maintain your reservoir of interior silence throughout the
day and thus extend its effects into ordinary activities.
Means of Extending the
Effects of Centering Prayer into Daily Life
- Cultivate a basic acceptance of yourself. Have a
genuine compassion for yourself, including all your past history,
failings, limitations, and sins. Expect to make many mistakes. But learn
from them. To learn from experience is the path to wisdom.
- Pick a prayer for action. This is a five to
nine-syllable sentence from scripture that you gradually work into your
subconscious by repeating it mentally at times when your mind is
relatively free, such as while washing up, doing light chores, walking,
driving, waiting, etc. Synchronize it with your heartbeat. Eventually it
says itself and thus maintains a link with your reservoir of interior
silence throughout the day. If you have a tendency to scrupulosity and
feel a compulsion to say the prayer over and over or if frequent
repetition brings on a headache or a backache, this practice is not for
- Spend time daily listening to the Word of God in
lectio divina. Give fifteen minutes or longer every day to the
reading of the New Testament or a spiritual book that speaks to your
- Carry a "Minute Book". This is a series of short
readings--a sentence or two, or at most a paragraph--from your favorite
spiritual writers or from your own journal that reminds you of your
commitment to Christ and to contemplative prayer. Carry it in your
pocket or purse and when you have a stray minute or two, read a few
- Deliberately dismantle the emotional programming of
the false self. Observe the emotions that most upset you and the
events that set them off, but without analyzing, rationalizing, or
justifying your reactions. Name the chief emotion you are feeling and
the particular event that triggered it and release the energy that is
building up by a strong act of the will such as, "I give up my desire
for (security, esteem, control)!"2
The effort to dismantle the false self and the daily practice of
contemplative prayer are the two engines of your spiritual jet that give
you the thrust to get off the ground. The reason that centering prayer
is not as effective as it could be is that when you emerge from it into
the ordinary routines of daily life, your emotional programs start going
off again. Upsetting emotions immediately start to drain the reservoir
of interior silence, that you had established during prayer. On the
other hand, if you work at dismantling the energy centers that cause the
upsetting emotions, your efforts will extend the good effects of
centering into every aspect of daily life.
- Practice guard of the heart. This is the
practice of releasing upsetting emotions into the present moment. This
can be done in one of three ways: doing what you are actually doing,
turning your attention to some other occupation, or giving the feeling
to Christ. The guard of the heart requires the prompt letting go of
personal likes or dislikes. When something arises independently of our
plans, we spontaneously try to modify it. Our first reaction, however,
should be openness to what is actually happening so that if our plans
are upset, we are not upset. The fruit of guard of the heart is the
habitual willingness to change our plans at a moment's notice. It
disposes us to accept painful situations as they arise. Then we can
decide what to do with them, modifying, correcting or improving them. In
other words, the ordinary events of daily life become our practice. I
can't emphasize that too much. A monastic structure is not the path to
holiness for lay folks. The routine of daily life is. Contemplative
prayer is aimed at transforming daily life with its never-ending round
of ordinary activities.
- Practice unconditional acceptance of others.
This practice is especially powerful in quieting the emotions of the
utility appetite: fear, anger, courage, hope, and despair. By accepting
other people unconditionally, you discipline the emotions that want to
get even with others or to get away from them. You allow people to be
who they are with all their idiosyncrasies and with the particular
behavior that is disturbing you. The situation gets more complicated
when you feel an obligation to correct someone. If you correct someone
when you are upset, you are certain to get nowhere. This arouses the
defenses of others and gives them a handle for blaming the situation on
you. Wait till you have calmed down and then offer correction out of
genuine concern for them.
- Deliberately dismantle excessive group
identification. This is the practice of letting go of our cultural
conditioning, preconceived ideas, and over identification with the
values of our particular group. It also means openness to change in
values, openness to spiritual development beyond group loyalties,
openness to whatever the future holds.
- Celebrate the Eucharist regularly. Participate
regularly in the mystery of Christ's passion, death, and resurrection,
the source of Christian transformation.
- Join a contemplative prayer group. Set up or
join a support group that meets weekly to do centering prayer and lectio
divina together and to encourage one another in the commitment to the
contemplative dimensions of the Gospel.3
BASIC TOOLS FOR TIMES OF
- Determination to persevere in the spiritual
- Trust in the infinite mercy of God.
- Continuous practice of the presence of God through
prayer and openness to His inspirations.
Appendix A: The Active Prayer.
2. Cf. Keyes, Handbook to
Higher Consciousness, Chapters 14 and 15.
3. Cf. Appendix
B: The Weekly Support Group.
More information can be obtained by reading the book
Open Mind Open Heart by Fr. Thomas Keating. It is offered
in our Bookstore.