“The vigilant monk is a fisher of thoughts” – St. John Climacus, 600 CE
Please read the first post to understand some of the terms we will use in this conversation. The PraXis routine is to do 20 minutes of light exercise followed by 10–20 minutes of Christian Mindfulness, also known as contemplation. Ideally these sessions would be followed by a meat- and dairy-free fasting meal.
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Christian Mindfulness is the term we use to describe contemplative prayer practices that help us to sit silently and wait on the presence of the Lord. Contemplation is a form of sacred silence that deepens our relationship with God. While in Contemplation, we also train our minds and our hearts to be more peaceful, flexible, and calm in the face of anxiety, stress, and depression. Medical science calls this type of resilience neuroplasticity.
“Be Still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10
The training challenge
Contemplation is a form of spiritual training. Perhaps the most challenging form. The oldest contemplative tradition in Christianity is simply known as hesychia, the Greek word for stillness. Think of it as stilling the waters of a turbulent mind. When the waters are still, there is a moment in which God can emerge.
Contemplation is about sitting and waiting on the presence of the Lord. As one Christian has said, “We spend most of our prayer time asking the Lord for things. How often do we use our prayer time to simply sit and be in God’s presence. Just to be with Him.” Exactly. And it’s in the silence of stillness that God’s presence can emerge.
Silence and stillness, however, are actually very difficult to come by. It’s not only because we live in a world where we are constantly being stimulated by TV, mobile apps, social media, and earbuds blasting music into our brains, it’s just something most people don’t want to do. Studies have shown that 60% of respondents would rather give themselves an electric shock than sit in silence [citation pending]. When we still our bodies, and still our mouths (stop talking) we find that it is very hard to actually still our minds. We immediately see how many thoughts are popping in and out of our minds. And it can feel like our minds are out of control. That can be scary. But it’s very normal.
Our minds pump out thoughts in the same way our hearts pump blood. Thoughts come and they go. Just like clouds in the sky come and go. The monks of the Eastern Church call these thoughts logismoi—tiny words that pop in and out of our minds. And as we practice stillness and silence, we learn how to let these thoughts go, or just ignore them. Eventually the thoughts slow down, and this opens up a still and silent space in which God will emerge.
There are a number of different Christian practices that we can do to bring about this stillness. The most common one is called Centering Prayer.
This is the basic prayer we use in our own daily PraXis. This is a modern distillation of mental prayers that have been practiced through Christian history all the way back to the fourth century.
The practice is simple.
Set a time for ten minutes (at first)
Sit comfortably: As you sit, you may find your body itches, or wants to move this way or that. Just ignore those urges. In time, those urges will pass. This will set an example to you. Just as these bodily urges pass, so too will your thoughts pass.
Set your intention: Open your heart and invite the presence of God, wording it in any way you see fit.
Choose a sacred word: This is a single syllable word, or short word like Abba (Aramaic for father), or Mar (Aramaic for Lord), or Kyrie (Greek for Lord), Christ, or Love. It should only be a short word.
Sit in silence: Just sit with your eyes closed (or in a relaxed, unfocused, gaze in one direction if that is less distracting than closed eyes).
Thoughts arise: As thoughts, feelings, sensations, and images arise, do not repeat them, judge them, add to them, or cling to them. As soon as you realize you are thinking, gently put the thought to the side, and repeat your sacred word to yourself silently. Try to once again rest in stillness.
Timer goes off: Slowly come back into your sense of your self and your body. Say a closing prayer thanking the Lord.
Goal: 20-minute sits, twice a day.
There are many resources out there for Centering Prayer. Go here for more support and information.
Easier in Groups
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” Matt. 18:20
It takes practice to feel like you are getting anywhere. Like most forms of training, spiritual training takes repetition. That can be very hard when you are doing it alone. So finding a group that can support you is vital. It will help your mind, body, and spirit to practice with other Christians.
That said, many people find this kind of silent prayer VERY challenging. So, in our next post, we will show you some other forms of Christian Mindfulness that will help you ease gradually into deeper forms of stillness.
GO TO PART THREE