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Welcoming Practice

BELOW YOU’LL FIND A DESCRIPTION OF THE WELCOMING PRACTICE (OR WELCOMING PRAYER).  The practice was developed by Mary Mrozowski, a spiritual teacher who was part of the earliest group who practiced Centering Prayer with Thomas Keating.  My notes say that this version of the Welcoming Practice came with attribution to Thomas Keating, but when I go to the Contemplative Outreach website, I can’t find this nice short version.  So I’m sorry, I’m not certain where I obtained it!  There is a longer pamphlet on the website that you might find helpful, written by Cherry Haisten.  

By the way, Cynthia Bourgeault argues this is a practice, not a prayer; I agree.  So I’ve labeled it as such.

Here’s the quick and dirty version:

The welcoming practice is a method that can be used in conjunction with centering prayer at times when we are being overwhelmed by an emotion during our prayer and can’t get centered or at any time in our daily lives when we are troubled by our feelings. When we find that it is difficult if not impossible to let go of an emotion or state of being, we can instead move deeper into that state. This is a way of accepting what is rather than trying to run away from it.

These are the steps of the practice:

1) Focusing – Notice the sensation in your body of the emotion or state of being. Where is it? What does it feel like? Is it moving around? Are you tensing parts of your body or breathing differently than usual? Is it a familiar sensation? Try to be fully present to this sensation rather than pushing it away. You don’t need to analyze or explain the sensation, just notice it.

2) Welcoming – Welcome the feeling by giving it a name and saying for example, “Welcome anger,” “Welcome frustration,” “Welcome anxiety.” Accept that it is there and that you can just be the way you are without trying to change.

3) Move back and forth between these two steps for as long as you need to until the feeling begins to dissipate naturally. Don’t try to make it go away; just notice and welcome until the overwhelming quality of the feeling begins to subside.

4) Letting Go – Then when you are ready, gently let go of the feeling, saying, “I let go of my anger.” You are not letting go of it forever, you will certainly feel angry again sometime. As Cynthia Bourgeault puts it, “This is not a final, forever renunciation of your anger or fear; it’s simply a way of gently waving farewell as the emotion starts to recede.”

Welcoming Practice is the practice that actively lets go of thoughts and feelings that support the false-self system. It embraces painful emotions experienced in the body rather than avoiding them or trying to suppress them. It does not embrace the suffering as such but the presence of the Holy Spirit in the particular pain, whether physical, emotional, or mental. Thus, it is the full acceptance of the content of the present moment. In giving the experience over to the Holy Spirit, the false-self system is gradually undermined and the true self liberated.

Thomas Keating

 


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