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Thursday, October 02, 2014         

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'Centering prayer' retunes thoughts to inner harmony

By Pat Gee

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With the hectic holidays about to descend, taking time to do a Christian method of meditation might help practitioners acquire more peace and good will toward men.

It is called "centering prayer," says Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler, a founding member of the international Contemplative Outreach Ltd. She will speak on "finding peace in a frenzied world" today from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at Central Union Church's Atherton Chapel. The free presentation is sponsored by Contemplative Outreach of Hawaii. The program was also presented Thursday at St. Michael and All Angels Church on Kauai.

"Centering prayer has been effective for Christians who have already tried other kinds of meditation," said Fitzpatrick-Hopler, president of the international organization, founded in 1984 in New York. "They didn't know there was a Christian form of meditation, and it seems to connect the dots for them. I call it a gift from God that lasts forever."

Most Asian methods require practitioners to focus on an object, a word or mantra like "om" or on their breathing to empty their mind. But many give up, frustrated with their failure to push their thoughts away or control what is often called their "monkey mind," which hops all over the place.

"In this particular form (centering prayer), it's the intention that makes the difference," she said.

The practice involves sitting quietly with your eyes closed for 20 minutes twice a day, and when your thoughts start dominating, "return to your sacred word," Fitzpatrick-Hopler said. "Let it be a symbol to you that you're saying 'yes' to allowing God to help you live your life in a new and different way."

It can be a word like "peace" or "love," or one that you can ask God to give you, but it is not a mantra that you repeat nonstop, she added.

"There is no right or wrong way. ... I tell them it doesn't matter how many times you use it."

The reward is "you begin to have a different worldview," said Fitzpatrick-Hopler, who has been going to her quiet inner space for more than 30 years. "It helps you stop and smell the roses, and listen in a different way. People tell me they feel heard and they really appreciate it.

"It helps you not to take yourself so seriously. We drive ourselves crazy with our thoughts. With centering prayer the interior critic takes a back seat," she said.

"That's what the good news is; you don't have to live under the tyranny of your inner thoughts ... or try to be the person you think you have to be. You can just be who you are -- that's very freeing. It's a real blessing," Fitzpatrick-Hopler said.

"It (centering prayer) does not require a church affiliation, though many people believe in a high power or God but are not connected with a particular church or denomination." she added. "Oftentimes, over time they get reacquainted with a church of their childhood or get connected again in a new way."

The method, developed in the early 1970s by Trappist monks, was drawn notably from the anonymous 14th-century classic "The Cloud of Unknowing." It is also based, she said, on the teachings of Jesus, described in Matthew 6:6 (New American Bible): "When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will repay you."

Contemplative Outreach of Hawaii provides several silent retreats at St. Anthony's Retreat Center in Kalihi yearly, and supports more than 15 Centering Prayer Groups on Oahu, Kauai and Maui.

For information, e-mail cohi@lava.net, call 536-6090 or visit www.cochapters.com/hawaii.html.






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