Floating in God
"Contemplation is a lot like floating. You might use a life preserver to learn to float in a pool. You hold onto the life preserver, then you let go of the poolside wall. Your legs lift off the bottom. You move around, still making contact with the walls of the pool, but able to let go; you don't have to hold onto the walls as you did before. You feel supported, while at the same time you are getting a sense of what the water is like. You feel the water's buoyancy. As you use the life preserver in this way, you begin to trust more in the unseen qualities of the water. You let yourself be in the water. The pool walls are there, but they do not hold you anymore. Something else does. You are floating.
"This is what contemplative practice is like: you let go of the thoughts and emotions that are like walls limiting you, and you learn to let be, as if you were floating in God. In centering prayer, your sacred symbol is like a life preserver that helps you let go of thoughts, enabling you to move into the deeper waters of life with God. As contemplation comes to life in you, you learn how to let all thoughts just be, by returning very easily to your sacred symbol or not returning to the manifest form of the symbol at all.
"As centering prayer deepens into contemplation, you use the sacred symbol the way someone who is learning to float uses a life preserver. You introduce the sacred symbol and return to it when engaged with other thoughts. But as you progress, you also learn how to lightly return to the sacred symbol, barely touching it in your mind. You go further when you learn how to let it go to test the waters of the prayer. Then you let it go completely when you are ready to rest in the indwelling spirit of God.
"In the depths of contemplation, you just let all things be, in the Beingness of God. In God's Being, all thoughts and emotions rise and fall on their own. Letting all thoughts be is a very receptive and mature contemplative attitude. Your growing trust in just being in the waters of the Spirit allows you to let go of even the thing that brought you there. In the depths of contemplation, holding onto a symbol, no matter how sacred, is preserving the wrong life — a life of form. Holding onto a sacred symbol keeps you in the active attitude of letting go when really you are being drawn into the more receptive attitude of letting be.
"You may wonder, how do you let go of the sacred symbol? You can't try to let it go. You just let it be in your mind, let it refine itself so that the sacred word becomes a sacred whisper, the sacred breath just breathes in you, the sacred glance becomes a subtle seeing within, the sacred nothingness is everything, everywhere. Then God lets the symbol go in you. Your attitude of letting be lets God let go in you. Your actions become aligned with God's action in you. The delicacy of contemplative practice is in learning to sense when God is letting the sacred symbol go in you. Then you cooperate with the deeper inner movement by letting it be and letting it go. Learning in contemplative practice is subtle and experiential, like learning to float. You cannot really describe how to float, just as you cannot really describe how to pray contemplatively. Contemplation and floating have to be experienced to be understood and have to be practiced to be learned. However, knowing and practicing the contemplative attitudes of letting go and letting be helps you recognize how your own direct experience is teaching you."