In meditative or contemplative practices, the advice on dealing with so-called ‘distractions’ is to come back either to your breath, or to a word, phrase or mantra.
I want to write about attention to this body in contrast to, or in concert with, the breath or a word.
I have just prayed. When I noticed I was thinking I came back to the desire of my heart to be with God. It is a gentle sensation, “like water on a sponge“, softly soaking in, easy to miss, and yet a delight. I find that, “I just want to be with You.”
Cynthia Bourgeault suggests in Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening (p.21) that you return to your intention in ‘surrender’ practices like Centring Prayer. And so I return to this gentle, soft longing – “I just want to be with You” – that I feel as a sensation in my heart.
What do you want? What brings you to prayer?
I don’t mean the initial concerns of your heart and mind, the worries and troubles that you would like God to answer and sort out. These are important, of course. God cares about these because God cares about you. But beyond these immediate concerns, what do you really want from God?
Of course, you may not know what you want, but keep this question in mind and let your prayer suggest an answer in time. This is what is meant by the ‘purification of desire’: not that your desires become more wholesome, more holy, but that you find the desire beneath the desire beneath the desires. If all your concerns were answered, if there were no worries left, what would be left? What, in the end, do you want?
That all your desires are met may be a scary thought. What if you no longer want anything? What then is left? What if there is nothing?
When you know what you want – really, really want, deep down – then the question: where in this body do you feel this deep desire? What is its quality?
Then, in prayer, when you are distracted, return to the physical place of the sensation of your desire in this body. This is where you remember the truth of who you are, the self you are in God.