Reflections after a retreat at the Abbey of Gesthemani.

I’m just back from a retreat at the Abbey of Gesthemani in KY that I’ve been to before. I had found in the months leading up to the retreat that although I was spending more time in prayer I was having trouble quieting my mind both in that setting and “in the world”. It took until the second day to slow down which is evidence of the benefit of longer, more quiet retreats. As this visit fell by happenstance the weekend before Ash Wednesday I hope my experiences will manifest as metanoia as befits the Lenten season.

The message I hope more deeply settles is to be gentler towards the world.

This insight inserted itself especially as it applies to the physical/natural world during a “mind as sky” meditation. I was seated on a rise overlooking a fallow hay field. I could hear sounds rising around me – bird song, woodpecker pecks, the wind in the trees, a far distant airplane. I could feel things – my right foot falling asleep, the cold air as I breathed in. I could see things – the lines of yellow field, green copse of firs, grey sandstone outcrop, pale blue sky, white cirrus clouds. I could think things – where shall I walk next, what should I read later. For a few breaths these all became individual experiences separate from my spirit yet all natural processes of which I am a part unfurling in God’s creation – a brief but powerful moment. Today I see the metaphor of the experience as a stream – drifting ice crusts , whirlpools, riffles – all following their separate paths yet all influenced by each other. Be gentle towards the world to which I am intimately related.

Loving Kindness meditation was my first practice and is still my most personally important. The Buddhists suggest a series of specific prayers during Loving Kindness directed first at yourself then your family then your friends then your enemies then all the world. I have rarely been able to move beyond a few friends or the occasional vague enemy. I was blessed with being able to briefly get to all the world during this retreat. I also had several very emotional experiences of my love for my family during this exercise. One occurred while at Gesthemani’s version of an Irish Holy well – the Rosary House – where written prayers are left. As I tried to write one for my family after an intense sitting I found myself clumsily scratching out a plea in school-child block printing complete with backward Rs and the like. It was a deeply concrete evocation of God’s love for me as I am his child as I love my children – and around and around.

Apart from these more profound episodes I had a particularly pleasing experience on the third day. My prayer technique is to say a rosary and at each decade pursue a more specific meditative goal. I’ve mentioned 2 above. Another is centering prayer. At this sitting I used Praise God as my Sacred Word – it just felt better than Hallelujah. As I hit “crown of thorns’ in the Sorrowful Mysteries a thrush began to sing loudly from the bramble patch next to me. I acknowledged a partner in my song of praise. Then the bells in the Abbey rang for the afternoon liturgy and I knew that soon the monks would join us.

By Conrad Foley

Practices for a Deeper Commitment To the Contemplative Life

Notes on “Practices for a Deeper Commitment To the Contemplative Life” 

a weekend retreat with Mary Dwyer
Nancy Moran
     What a spiritually enriching weekend it was with Mary Dwyer presenting on “Practices for a Deeper Commitment to the Contemplative Life” on October 2,3 and 4.  This retreat sponsored by CONEO at River’s Edge Retreat Center in Cleveland focused on Deepening Centering Prayer, The Welcoming Prayer, The Forgiveness Prayer and Integration and Transformation.
     I had never heard her speak before last weekend and I was delighted to discover that Mary Dwyer is a spiritual leader who embodies and transmits the wisdom of Father Thomas Keating, Mary Mrozowski, the originator of the welcoming prayer, and Mary Dwyer’s own wisdom teachings on spiritual practices.  All of us present at the retreat were invited to learn with our hearts as well as with our minds.
     There was so much to learn but I will jot down here just a few notes and quotes from Mary over the 3 days.  For more information on the Spiritual Practices themselves and how to do them please go to contemplative  There are books, pamphlets and listings of retreats available to learn about and experience these practices in depth.
Centering Prayer:
       – The deeper you go the more there is to learn.
       – As Father Keating says, sit in the chair every day 2 times and be quiet.  The more you show up to the chair the easier it gets to go to the chair.
       – God is waiting to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
       – There are no rules because who is doing the prayer?  God’s spirit in us is doing the praying.
       – We have 4 simple guidelines for Centering Prayer – but we never know what God will do with us
       – Simple practice…..Profound results.
       -The present moment contains all we need to be happy, no matter what the psychological content. God is present…..All is well.
The Welcoming Prayer:
       – We need a second engine to lift us off throughout the ordinariness of our daily lives. The Welcoming Prayer helps us actively let go of thoughts and feelings that support the false self system.  It helps us embrace painful emotions rather than avoiding or suppressing them.
       – The Welcoming Prayer helps us while stuff is happening…..Consent on the go…..
       – Experience, not intellectual understanding is where it all begins.
       – I can only do work to the level of consciousness I am at now.
       – Some things take years.   The 1st moment is the process of seeing it.
       – A meditation practice is foundational for these other practices to take hold.
The Forgiveness Prayer:
       – We need the Forgiveness practice for what is still “sticky” after Welcoming.
       – St. Theresa of Avila, “A contemplative can have many faults except the inability to forgive.”
       – Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation.
       – Forgiveness practice needs a lot of safety and safe space.  The practice is done in our own time and space.
       – Sometimes the forgiveness process takes years….. and sometimes this process takes minutes.
       – Forgiveness does not mean we are allowing it to happen again.  Forgiveness changes things….. making things conscious… it is less likely to happen again.
       – We do the Forgiveness Practice after Centering Prayer when we are in a space of open heartedness.
Let me end this with gratitude for Mary for her time, teachings, presence and authenticity and for helping all of us to let our light shine a little brighter.