I have come back to Centering Prayer as a means of communing with God. I have heard it said that the difference between prayer and meditation is that prayer is talking and meditation is listening. Since I am going through an existential season and feel I have nothing of worth to contribute to a conversation, whether it be with God or anyone else, I have resigned myself to listening.
To my practical mind, prayer is such a worthless endeavor. It is good I ignore my practical mind from time to time. Still, spending minutes and hours listening to nothing (which is everything) and everything (which is nothing) puts the busy mind to the test.
There is a story of an old peasant who used to sit in a chapel for hours and hours, doing nothing. The priest asked, "What are you doing all these hours?" The old peasant answered, "I look at him, he looks at me, and we are happy."
How I listen is this: I lie down on my mat, or sit, and get quiet. Then I focus by hanging on to each breath, rolling it between my thumbs, looking for clues that God might have left. I pretend that a lion is prowling around looking to eat me. Knowing each breath could be my last, I become taunt as a bowstring, careful not to set off any vibrations. I hear things in the background--footsteps, cars, the shattering of rain drops--but I fail to experience them as a unified whole; if I tune in to one sound it is at the expense of all the others.
It is not long before thoughts--the most ridiculous thoughts--appear. I climb aboard one and drift away mindlessly, comforted by the diversion. Before I know it, though, I am downstream far from where I started and so I abandon ship and make my way back. I spend much of my time in meditation leapfrogging to and from my place of Being. If there is any progress to be made in sitting with God in silence, it is infinitesimal, like the movement of the earth's plates or the melting of the ice caps.
This kind of prayer seems like a long, arduous route to God. Without a concrete destination, how does one gauge one's progress? This kind of mind must be checked at the door. There is no beginning, no end. When did you start breathing? Have you ever stopped? Drawn as the first and last, the Alpha and Omega can be found in a single breath.