DESERT SPIRITUALITY — Liberating the True Self through Centering Prayer

Desert apatheia has a daughter whose name is

love. —  Evagrius of Pontius

Because of the damage resulting from our fallen human condition, we are not normally in touch with our spiritual nature. Our actual psychological consciousness on a day-to-day level consists of our homemade self manifesting itself and not God.

The spiritual journey is initiated when I become more aware that my ordinary psychological consciousness is dominated by the false self with its programs for happiness and over identification with our cultural conditioning. The spiritual journey involves an inner change of attitude beginning with the recognition of being out of contact with our spiritual nature and our true self, and taking means to return. Only then can my true self and the potentiality that God has given me to live the divine life be manifested. Contemplative service is action coming from the true self, from my inmost being.


Centering Prayer is completely at the service of this program. It would be a mistake to think of it as a mere rest period or a period of relaxation, although it sometimes provides these things. Neither is it a journey to bliss. You might get a little bliss along the way, but you will also have to endure the wear and tear of the discipline of cultivating interior silence. Thinking our usual thoughts is the chief way that human nature has devised to hide from the unconscious.

So when our minds begin to quiet down in Centering Prayer, up comes the emotional debris of a lifetime, in the form of gradual and sometimes dramatic realizations of what the false self is, and how this homemade self that we constructed in early childhood to deal with unbearable pain became misdirected from genuine human values into seeking substitutes for God Images that don’t really have any existence except in our imagination are projected on other people instead of facing head-on their source in ourselves.

When I emerge from Centering Prayer, the present moment is what happens when I first open my eyes.  I’m in the present moment of prayer when I’m completely open to the divine life and action within me. Now I get up out of the chair and I continue daily life. This is where attentiveness to the content of the present moment is a way of putting order into the myriad occupations, thoughts and events of daily life. Attention to this context simply means to do what I’m doing. This was one of the principal recommendations of the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the fourth century. The disciple would come for instruction and say, “I’m interested in finding the true self and becoming a contemplative. What should I do?” The Desert guides would reply in the most prosaic language. “Do what you’re doing”… which means, bring your attention to the present moment and to whatever is its immediate content and keep it there.