Resisting Centering?

by | Feb 28, 2024 | Christine Hall's Blog, Front Page Featured

This is my third reflection in a series on spiritual centering. Read about the experience of centering in Eat Your Spiritual Oatmeal, or about the difference it makes in our actions in Spiritual Contagion.


IF YOU HAVE TROUBLE EVEN “SHOWING UP”  for a spiritual centering practice, you’re not alone! There’s so much to do. Our minds and hearts are so cluttered. Our bodies are restless, achy, or plain worn out.

When I’ve taught spiritual centering, people report a wide variety of resistances. I want to reassure folks. A contemplative practice like Centering Prayer is all about silence, stillness, and solitude. Most people have some push back about one or more of the three. Our lives and the dominant culture amplify noise, action, and going along with the crowd in the worst ways. If you manage to show up at all for quiet with God at the center of your life, I’m grateful!


Practical Tips

  • Pick a consistent time of day you are most likely to actually do it. Some of us are morning people, others prefer evening centering.
  • Make an agreement with yourself to do it for a limited trial period. Most master teachers recommend six months to settle into it.
  • Allow others to help you be answer-able for your intention, especially if they too are committed to centering.
  • If your mind is over-active, cue your thoughts to stand down before you center. Use prayer beads with simple memorized phrases. You could recite a longer prayer aloud, like a lovingkindness meditation.
  • If your body is restless, do a simple movement practice before you sit down to center. Or you could center by laying flat on the floor, physically embodying trust, surrender, and humility.
  • If your body gets sleepy, do some vigorous movement before you sit for centering. Get your blood moving— shake it up, march in place, raise your arms, or do squats.
  • If your feelings are churning, journal first to honor and process your emotional reality. Practice groaning or shouting your prayers. Then before you center, engage a calming movement practice.


No Finger Wagging

No need to judge yourself harshly about your resistance to spiritual centering. My premise is that resistance is not a bad thing. It’s a natural and rather predictable part of the human experience. I suspect that it’s not primarily about willpower, as if we’re spiritually weak or immature when part of us does’t want to do this strange thing.

Willpower doesn’t usually shift anything about us permanently. Otherwise there would be more long term success with diets or new years resolutions. The problem with will power is that is uses the same limited personality software that creates the trouble in the first place. We can’t use the same tools of our ego to move beyond that limited sense of our identity.

A spiritual practice like Centering Prayer is aiming for a whole new operating system—the contemplative mind. Richard Rohr calls it an “identity transplant.” Paul of Tarsus might have called it the mind of Christ. With contemplative practice, wise teachers say we’re eventually able to let go and allow the Spirit to do our interior decorating. Resistance tends to fall away naturally rather than with our own forced determination.


Inner Hospitality

Something surprising happens when we turn toward our resistance with kindness and curiosity. My shorthand for this reorientation is “inner hospitality.” Yes, outer circumstances matter as we seek to establish a contemplative centering practice, but less than we might imagine. Unless we’re parenting small children, caregiving a sick relative, or are living through a crisis of health, grief, or trauma, we can usually make time for centering.

I’m saying that what hinders our centering may be connected to who we think we are. The invitation is to look at resistance as an inner phenomenon, rather than an outer problem. When we shift our attention and intention toward the Center of our life, beneath the outer layers, our sense of our identity can change. So moving through resistance isn’t about self-blame. It’s more about warm, welcoming attention toward your inner life.

Again, there is nothing shameful about resistance to contemplative openness and trust. It’s natural, but it’s also an illusion of our limited sense of self. As we show up more regularly for contemplative practice, resistance tends to fall away naturally without big effort on our part. We find ourselves living in spacious freedom from the essential goodness of our identity in God.


A Dialogue with Resistant-You

In a recent  workshop on spiritual centering, I offered an exercise, an experiment in inner hospitality. For 20 minutes, each person wrote a free-form dialogue between a resistant part of themselves and a more centered part of themselves. They could even label the “voices” like a script: Resistant-me and Centered-me, or other names they chose.

I encouraged writing without judgement or analysis. I offered some prompts, but there were no right or wrong “answers.” I suggested that the centered voice begin with a kind hello and encourage respectful conversation. People wrote from resistant and centered perspectives as honestly as they could.

The point is that sometimes we take “Resistant-me” as the whole story, but there’s more wisdom within than we imagine. To write as “Centered-you”, it helps to recall a felt sense of your own contemplative practice. Breathe deeply and offer a prayer of invitation to the Spirit to be present through the writing. You’ll aim to drop into wider spiritual awareness, opening to that of the Spirit within you. In that awareness, a more spacious and trusting part of you can speak. Centered-you can be welcoming and present to Resistant-you without believing everything it says.

After this workshop experiment, people shared remarkable insights: Several realized how little they trusted their centered-selves, though they sensed invitation to grow in that direction. One person’s dialogue became a form of much-needed self-care. Another’s inner characters shifted from either-or perspectives to a shared concern for “us,” integrated and “in it together.” Another participant expressed wonder at the sweet and deep faith in God she saw in herself.


Worthwhile Wrestling

We are so different! Yet God meets us exactly as we are and invites us to grow. Whatever your resistance to spiritual centering, a consistent practice is worth some inner wrestling. I’ll restate my top reasons to get ourselves centered this year:

  • For less reactive, less anxious responses to contemporary turmoil.
  • For praying through anger, discouragement and despair.
  • For clearing mental and emotional space to better receive Spirit’s guidance in the Law of Love, Jesus’ central teaching or “greatest commandment” (Matthew 22: 36-40).
  • For strength and courage to do hard, caring things.


Anchor the eternity of love in your own soul and embed this planet with goodness. Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart… —John Lewis (1940-2020)