The discussion about centering prayer, Questions about Centering Prayer, has covered a lot of good ground, and so it is time to start a new page to pursue the theme further.
contemplation & Centering prayer
I had heard about Centering prayer, but as I was secure on the way God had chosen for me, I felt no urge to try it. A holy woman in my parish involved in prison ministry however, said it was wonderful; she has been doing it some years. But this same woman a year ago said that she now has to pray for protection from the Devil before engaging in her centering prayer. She was having "unpleasant" experiences durning prayer, which obviously disturbed her. She did not seem to have good guidance to help her deal with this. Why should a person with a healthy prayer life, and supposedly a good spiritual director, need a therapist? This sounded odd to me--!
Then I went to the Carmelite Conference in San Antonio in ?July 2001. There were Carmelites of both branches and all stripes there, priests and cloistered nuns, a few hermits, and many laymen, --including some third-order novices who, in conversation, revealed that they barely had a notion of what contemplative prayer really was. One of the general assembly sessions, to hundreds of people, was an explanation of and an experience of Centering prayer. I was openminded, obeyed all the instructions, and experienced an altered state of consciousness which, while impressive with what is I suppose is termed "kundalini" energy, ending with an amazing image of a shining Monstrance, it was nothing like the "real thing" which is the profoundly powerful imageless, and peaceful gift of God I was already familiar with. Discernment over the next few days told me this experience was a desolation, not a consolation--it disturbed my interior peace and was not of God. Though no neurophysiologist, I did study biology, ( I am a retired ornithogist ) and came to the conclusion that centering prayer --in me at least-- was moving my brain waves from an alpha to a theta state; this was in fact a kind of self-manipulation of the mind-consciousness. Even if done with the intention of pleasing God, Centering Prayer could present serious problems for mentally or emotionally stressed or potentially unstable individuals. I found it disturbing therefore, that this technique was taught to a huge crowd, without knowing if it was suitable for all in the audience, especially at a Carmelite conference; it was presenting Centering Prayer as endorsed by the Carmelite Order. This bothers without upsetting me; God and Our Lady protect and guide the superiors of the Carmelite Order without regard to my opinions, which are entirely insignificant.
Now it so happens that I am formation director of a third order O.Carm. community at my parish; the question of whether I recommend Centering Prayer to beginners on the way of perfection is an important one. I think Centering Prayer may do no harm to those long past the purgative way, and this of course includes its teachers. However, after much prayer and discernment, I am emphatically not recommending it if any novice in my group asks me about it, recommending instead the classic Carmelite ways. firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor's CommentsLet me comment, in turn, on a couple of points. First, the woman who has to pray for protection from the devil. This seems to indicate some real activation of the psyche, and it points in the same direction as the experience you relate which you liken to an awakening of kundalini energy. I have touched on some of these issues in my book, "From St. John of the Cross to Us" when talking about Thomas Keating's work. It is online at http//www.innerexplorations.com/catchspmys/fromst1.htm
I really have to wonder whether the Carmelites are turning to various alternatives to Teresa and St. John's understanding of contemplation because they are simply not attuned to it. If there is a vacuum it will tend to be filled by things like centering prayer, or even Eastern forms of meditation like Vipassana that some Carmelites are promoting. In the book I just mentioned I try to look at the historical reasons - the why and how - this took place. Clearly it seems to be that most people do not go by the way of manifest contemplation, but equally clearly, this is what the great Carmelite mystics were talking about, so this is a practical issue that needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, centering prayer seems to side-step this problem by acting as if what it does is equivalent or identical to St. John's contemplation.
Richard Parker on Centering Prayer and Kundalini
I am a 54 year old Catholic professor in Educational Psychology.
I began Centering Prayer two months ago after reading three of Fr. Keating's books and attending a 1-day introduction by him. I began 20 minutes twice a day, but found the practice rewarding, and so expanded to 40 minutes, usually three times per day (when schedule permits).
I used my sacred word to pull myself back from distractions, as advised, though these distractions were few after a few weeks. After about a week, I had the odd sensation of splitting awareness, with half of my awareness resting in loving euphoria, and unable to even recall the sacred word. This reoccured only a few times.
After two weeks another interesting event occurred; I was simply removed from time, and my 40-minute buzzer seemed to sound only shortly after I clicked it on. Leaving and re-entering a sense of time were marked by a faint click or pop about the brain.
At that same time, I began to feel energy or electrical current rushes through my body, and some stomach muscle cramping. For the next few weeks, these sensations intensified, and bodily shaking/twitching began, lasting from several seconds to perhaps 5 or 10 minutes. A mild euphoria accompanied.
I could willfully stop these sensations, but instead prayed fervently to Christ to help lead me away from them if they were not efficacious to his will. I offered them up to him, and strived to remove any ego involvement in them. My more fervent focus on loving Christ tended to accelerate these symptoms.
Presently, my physical sensations are intensifying both during Centering Prayer and beginning to show during the rest of my waking and sleeping hours as well. My first goal has always been to become personally transformed to a better moral, social and spiritual being, and maybe there is some progress there, but not great. The major change has been my enthrallment with the liturgy and with Christian mystical writing generally. I give a much more "interior, mystical" and experiential reading to scripture. This is probably the first Lenten season where I am actually living the liturgical calendar, and I love it!1. What kind of prayer or meditation do you practice?
A. What do you do?
40 minutes of prayer, usually 3 times per day
B. Do you have regular times for it?
Yes; AM, PM, mid-day when possible.
C. A special place?
Corner of bedroom before a large cross.
D. What are its effects on you?
Very positive; keeps me focused on spiritual universe. Reduces importance of the mundane. May make me a better social being, but I am not certain yet about that.
E. What happens if you skip it?
I long for it--has become an addiction.
2. What got you started in your life of prayer or meditation?
Divorce and depression.
3. How has your prayer or meditation changed over time?
It's only 2 months old, but changes every week. Seems to be developmental.
4. What expectations do you have for the future?What would you like to see happen?
Infused prayer, and a personal social transformation.
5. Do you belong to a particular religious tradition?
Yes, returned Catholic.
A. How has it helped your life of prayer or meditation?
Provided me with a Liturgy, much writing, and a fine history of mystics.
B. How has it hindered?
Would hinder only if I took the structure and certain teachings too seriously.
C. How much have you looked outside your own tradition?
I am doing increased reading in all other faiths, especially Hinduism and Buddhism.
D. What hopes and fears do other traditions inspire in you?
Eastern religions offer much wisdom on meditation techniques. Layayoga may help explain some of the strange physical symptoms I am experiencing in prayer.
E. Have you ever switched your tradition and why?
In the past, I was Protestant for 4 years, some Pentacostal experience. But found that much narrower than what the Catholic church, at its best, can offer.
F. What are the good and bad points of your own tradition?
I believe one of the Berrigan brothers brothers said the Catholic church is part angel and part whore. How can you not love and hate her, given her history?
6. What effectively taught you about the life of prayer or meditation?
Books by Fr. Thomas Keating.
B. Spiritual friends? No.
C. Your own experience? Yes, after reading.
D. Going to your place of worship or meditation? No.
E. A spiritual teacher or spiritual director? No.
7. How has your spiritual teacher helped or hindered you? N/A
8. How does your life of prayer or meditation effect your emotions? Am not sure.
9. Have you ever had out of the ordinary experiences connected with your prayer or meditation?
A. Energy movements or inner lights or sounds? Yes -- strong and chronic--building.
B. Visions or revelations or communications from beyond? No, not recently. In early years, however I did have a visual and auditory experience of Christ, which told me to shape up and follow him. I chose not to shape up at that time.
C. What importance did you give to these experiences? Kundalini-like experiences are strong. I am just going for the ride, trying to stay Christ-centered, and hoping for the best.
10. What lifestyle issues effect your life of prayer or meditation?
To meditate, I am finding a need to clean up my life. Have made good progress, but more subtle areas still need attention.
A. Time or the lack of it?
Have lots of independent time to pursue Centering Prayer.
B. Single or married life; children?
Recently divorced, and live alone, so I can blame nobody for my failings.
Am a professor with very flexible hours.
D. Diet, sleep, sexual activities, etc.?
Diet and sleep are quite good / well regulated. I do not yet know the affect of sex on my contemplative journey.
I have no doubt that the awakening of kundalini-like symptoms in the context of trying to lead a more contemplative life would be quite exciting, but since we have heard from a considerable number of people with analogous experiences I would have one cautionary note to sound. It is not at all clear, in fact, I doubt that kundalini phenomena, per se, can be identified with the Christian contemplative path. If this is true, then you have to be careful about pursuing the kundalini dimension of the experience, not only because it might make the attainment of your ultimate goal more difficult, but because the activation of kundalini can take on a life of its own and be difficult to control. Clearly this is a very complex issue, i.e., the interface between the kundalini experience and the Christian contemplative one, and it is just being worked out in our own times. Perhaps you are familiar with the book of Philip St. Romain, Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality which is very helpful in this regard. I hope this does not sound too negative to you, but as you will see from some of the comments on the website, some people have had a hard time with kundalini.
Your comments sound sensible. I don't mistake these experiences to be movement of the holy spirit; they feel too much part of a psycho-physical agenda. Though they do clearly interact with my more traditionally religious sensibilities, they are different. I am self-monitoring daily to see if they could be serving as obstacles or diversions to my Christian path. So far, the answer is no, except for occasional odd mood swings, concentration problems and headaches. It is clear that this force is emerging, accelerating, and has a life of its own, so it could probably only be stopped if I quit my Centering Prayer practice altogether. I did just the other day read Philip St. Romain's book--enough to give anyone pause. I also did quick-reads on two books specifically on Kundalini, and the non-spiritual manipulations of energy are really not attractive to me at my age.
I look back and can now see a developmental sequence in my Centering Prayer:
1. Week One: learning to quiet my thoughts and emotions.
2. Week One and Two: learning where to put my attention, how to handle breathing, and how much to say my sacred word. I decided to focus my attention on my heart, instead of out into space or some uncertain space. It is natural to match the saying of the word with breathing, so I decided to say my word on the out-breath. I also determined to transform the word to a sentiment or "heart-urge" of devotion to God through Christ. Trying out various prayer stools--eventually made my own. Tried John Main's 'Maranatha', but it seemed ridiculous; the less I say, the better.
3. Weeks 3-4: I learned how to accept the "out of normal consciousness" or "splitting of awareness" experiences without thinking "oh-my-gosh; what is happening?" or dwelling on them. Strong electricity-like energy currents and pressures through body. Spontaneous crying with gratitude after each session.
4. Week 7-8: First energy currents noted during the day when I am simply introspecting and relaxed, causing me to pray--very pleasant experience. Awakening interest in church liturgy, sacred music. Copious crying after Centering Prayer and at various times during the day. Some unpleasant cottony headaches begin, lasting all day. I learn how to partially control the energy flow through a "sub-breath" (allied to breathing, but more subtle in nature).
5. Weeks 9-10 (current): Each session is composed of 4 different activities, with me having little say about the order or duration of each. There may be some iteration.
A. Adoring attention to Christ from my heart, with shallow breathing of love into the heart. I am planful and active in this activity. This tends to result in "B" and or "C" below.
B. Self-propelled currents of warm, euphoric electric-like energy emanating from my torso, heart, head, etc. I must be completely passive and devotional for this. If I think about it or try to direct it, it dries up, but then will restart on its own.
C. Trembling/shaking from minor to major throughout the body, emanating from the spinal area. May be a few seconds or several minutes. I am not at all in control; could stop it if I wished, but it seems wise not to. Not unpleasant sensations, but can become a little alarming when excessive.
D. Prolonged muscle contractions/cramping in orderly succession from tailbone area, to stomach, to chest, to throat (mouth is flung and locked open). Energy eventually seems to settle/rest in crown of head. I am, of course, completely out of control, and amazed at my contortions (and glad no one is around watching).
In the last few weeks, I have also become aware during the day, at times of repose, of the energy flowing or radiating through my body. If I focus on it to tightly, my muscles can begin to spasm, so I just regard it lovingly but more distantly.
The net result so far on me as a social being is difficult for me to judge, but these seem pronounced effects:
1. My first real desire for Mass and the Eucharist, and to delve into the liturgy.
2. My first real interest in sacred music, both the worship and the deep lyrics.
3. My first real understanding of new testament passages, more subtle, interior meanings.
4. Strong interest in mystical, worshipful writing--nothing too analytical.
5. Sadness and self-upbraiding when I catch myself in mean-spirited or ego-inflating thoughts.
"What a long, strange trip it's been" (Grateful Dead)
Richard Parker, email@example.com
A further report from Richard
I am now at day 127 meditating daily twice per day, at 40-80 minutes per sitting. The time is variable, because I stop when I am fatigued or when there is a break in the process. The process is one of strong energy flows up and down my spine, usually up, down, and then up again, "buzzing" euphoria, spine-twisting or face contorting, etc. Although I am able to find little written on this experience in Christian writing (contrary to Hindu and Buddhist), I pray that Christ will be Lord over these experiences and use them do deepen my Christian journey.
After meditation, I am left with a tingly face and neck (sometimes arms) and a full or pressured feeling inside my crown. In recent weeks, I am getting more release as the energy eventually gently fizzes out of the top of my head. Sometimes I walk around with my "attention center" bobbing above my head by 5 or 10 inches. Also, euphoric energy flows come more or less continuously during the day when I am at rest, intruding on reading and school work.
Other new effects over the past month:
*My body frequently seems to be vibrating.
*My hands are emanating focussed energy: Energy from my fingers or palms can be felt on my face, arm or leg, out at about 2 feet away--a buzzing cool/warm focussed breeze. This energy can be felt by some other people, and not by others.
*I can "hear" differences between different colors with my hands at about 8 inches away.
*I can feel energy ridges around my body with my hand as far away as I
stretch my arm.
*When people are close to me--even my back--as when shopping, I get a sense of a different energy field entering mine, and they all feel different.
*Bringing a palm within a foot from my heart chakra is like physically squeezing it, and can actually make me cry.
*My diet is changing substantially. I eat much less, and meat makes me nauseous.
I know your website has discussed whether this sort of energy is the holy spirit. From my limited experience with both, I would say yes and no. This energy is conscious, benign and pervasive, but otherwise rather neutral and organic. My sense is that this energy can be molded and directed by other spirtual entities, and even given unique characteristics. My sense also is that the holy spirit partakes of and transforms this energy into a special case. Of course, I could be wrong.
A recently-developed goal is to develop healing which I can integrate into my work within the Catholic Church and/or within my professional work with children with disabilities. Regards, Richard
Thanks for the update. We hear periodically from people who have experienced some kind of kundalini awakening, which then has become a problem for them in their daily lives. Do you have any concerns like this for yourself, and would you actively recommend to people that they seek a kundalini awakening?
Richard Parker's response
Yes, the saga does continue, with marked changes almost weekly (today being day 170 of intensive Centering Prayer--approx. 2 hrs per day). I think of the effects more as Pranic or Chi energy release, rather than Kundalini, because descriptions I've read of the latter seem so violent. Mine, on the contrary, is insistent but courteous to my need to maintain a somewhat normal professional life. Sometimes awkward and uncomfortable, yes, but not for long. I feel consciously cared or or looked after in this process. I need to make some small adjustments: short time-outs during the day to sit and let the euphoric flows run their course, and let the crown of my head to "lift" or open to release the pressure. Also, I cannot read as much. But if I am prayerful and seek His guidance, it is all do-able.
I can state with certainty that the energy flows and emanations and sensitivity in my hands are quite real, and verifiable, but I can only intuit their source. As the flows were initiated by, and accelerate with, Christ-centered prayer, I surmise they are not incompatible with the Christian faith. This energy does feel like the Holy Spirit, but more automatic and routine (I say "organic") than experiences I've had in the past which were more intense, personal and communicative. This feels more like a gradual cleansing operation which is often euphoric, and can rarely even be ecstatic, but all within what feels like an organized, routine program.
You asked whether I thought seeking a Kundalini awakening is wise (assuming this is Kundalini). My answer is that if you have a fruitful prayer life, and it includes meditational prayer and other times of dedicated tranquility, mindfulness, some fasting, and that prayer life is pervading your normal waking life, then Kundalini would be only a technique to accelerate, bringing an unanticipatable mixture of annoyances and benefits. My energy flow is making me very sensitive to what and how much I eat, what I think, how I spend my recreational time, etc. Yet I could and should have shaped myself up in these areas prior to now. Using breathing and posture techniques etc. to bring on Kundalini seems hazardous to me, because you are taking personal ego control. How then (and at what point) would you hand it over to God, and ask him to drive the rest of the distance? I could foresee problems.
I did not seek these experienes, so can offer them up to Christ to either mold for his
will, or to help get rid of. I think what matters most is what entity or spirit you will
to guide your life--in its mundane and otherworldly aspects. By middle age, most of us
know that taking the wheel ourselves for too long almost guarantees a wrong turn or a car
wreck. Richard Parker