Even though I practice mindfulness daily, I’m not just a “mindfulness meditation” practioner. I hope this distinction will become clear.
In fact, over the last twenty years or so, I’ve been primarily studying and practicing both Centering Prayer and Dzogchen Meditation.
As Cynthia Bourgeault notes in her book, The Heart of Centering Prayer: Nondual Christianity in Theory and Practice, Centering Prayer and Dzogchen Meditation share a kinship with one another in their focus on effortlessness, receptivity, and the development of objectless awareness.
Sorry if that last sentence was kind of a mouthful. It’s not my intention to get bogged down in comparative religious studies here, although I will say I appreciate Cynthia’s analysis and couldn’t agree more.
Along these lines, what Spirit seems to be calling me to write about is a deeper opening into divine reality and what’s beyond mindfulness. That’s why, for me, it’s super important to understand the difference between mindfulness as a quality of consciousness and mindfulness as a practice.
I would even suggest that mindfulness as a quality of consciousness is extremely important in Centering Prayer practice.
Let’s think about it for a moment. Jon Kabat-Zinn succinctly defines mindfulness as follows:
Paying attention – on purpose – in the present moment – non-judgmentally.
Now, let me translate that for Centering Prayer practitioners…
Being attentive to God – through intention – as God appears in this moment – without judging yourself, God, or your experience.
Centering Prayer practitioners, Does this resonate?
Here’s what I’m suggesting. Those of us who practice Centering Prayer have been utilizing the mind’s basic capacity for mindfulness all along.
HOWEVER…mindfulness as a practice is a different story. In fact, the methodology of Mindfulness Meditation as it’s traditionally taught within Buddhism — at least in the beginning stages — is practically a polar opposite. Mindfulness as a practice utilizes focused attention on an object of meditation as a way of disengaging from thought in order to develop a highly clarified state of mind.
Centering Prayer does not.
In Centering Prayer (and in Dzogchen Meditation by the way), we learn to withdraw our attention from any kind of focal point (collectively identified as thoughts) in order to rest in a gentle, open awareness attentive to divine reality itself.
Therefore, to summarize, while Centering Prayer and Mindfulness Meditation utilize very different techniques, both make use of the mind’s basic capacity for mindfulness in their own unique ways. That’s why I believe mindfulness is an important topic to discuss; it’s ubiquitous in spiritual practice.
Try It Now
If you would like, close your eyes and join me for a brief meditative experience of open awareness.
Take three deep breaths.
As you breathe out, let go of any tension you might be holding.
Now, breathing normally, just relax with what is.
If it helps, pretend for just a moment that it’s the first day of a long-awaited vacation. Maybe you’re sitting on a beach in Hawaii. The warm sun touches your skin. A cool breeze tickles your face. You have absolutely nothing to do but sit on this beach and listen to the waves gracing the shore. For the first time in ages, you feel present and relaxed.
That little imagining is just to give you a sense of what relaxing with “what is” feels like.
Of course, what is isn’t always as pleasant as a perfect day on the beach. However, the more you can bring that same sense of gentle, open awareness to your experience, the more you’ll be able to see divine reality permeating all life.
Just rest in this awareness for a minute or two.
This exercise is not intended to replace your current practice, only to point toward where it’s all leading.
I hope you find it helpful.
The Heart of Centering Prayer by Cynthia Bourgeault is one of my favorite books, as well as one of the best books I’ve ever read. I wholeheartedly recommend it to all Centering Prayer practitioners and anyone engaged in nondual practices like Dzogchen.
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