Centering prayer is my practice. I have been practicing for about twelve years… In centering prayer we sit comfortably with back straight. Then a sacred word is introduced, which is a symbol of our intention to enter into silence in anticipation of God’s presence. The sacred word is a gentle reminder to return to our silent center. Whenever distractions arise during centering prayer, I gently and inaudible recite my sacred word to redirect focus to the pregnant silence. This ancient prayer form has roots dating back to the third century. Centering prayer is made contemporary today by the work of Thomas Keating, Cynthia Bourgeault, and many others. The point of silent prayer in all its various forms is to achieve naked awareness/stillness of mind.
In the beginning, the untrained mind will get distracted every few seconds. With training, our level of concentration gradually lengthens. The length of distracted periods simultaneously shortens. During periods of extended relaxed awareness free from distractions, spaces between thoughts get longer until minutes can go by without a single thought entering the mind.
An analogy for silent prayer practice is training a puppy to sit in the center of a circle. At first the puppy cannot sit still for even a moment. It habitually wonders off again and again. The point is to gently and repeatedly bring the puppy back to the circle’s center. This process is tedious. But, with much practice, eventually the puppy sits still for a few moments without wandering—a triumph. Finally, with months and years of practice, the puppy sits in the center of the circle for two, five, ten minutes…
One last analogy… The cumulative practice of centering prayer is like a cloud—a cloud of unknowing. Every day we practice is a drop of water that adds to the cloud, until eventually the cloud expands to include all the activities and relationships of our lives.