Concentrate Yourself

Dear Cynthia,

I’ve got a well-established sitting practice and have been working with the Gurdjieff exercises for the last year or so. Recently I’ve begun to experience a hazy sleepiness in sitting that’s different from just being relaxed. I’ve had a high degree of concentration sitting before – and as far as I can tell, nothing else has changed. Any ideas with what might be going on and how to work with this?

Thank you!



Dear Henry,

My first take, Henry, is that your exposure to the Gurdjieff exercises has subtlized your understanding of concentration. As we explored during our June Stonington Wisdom gathering, people usually think of “concentrating” as meaning “concentrating ON”—i.e., paying close attention. As you become more attuned to the subtle energetics of your inner aliveness, your realize that it is you yourself who is becoming more concentrated—i.e., more intensely, compactly present, with no time at all for daydreaming, woolgathering, or being ‘out to lunch’.

The Gurdjieff exercises both require and cultivate a very intense kind of alert presence that is quite different from the energetic signature of Centering Prayer, and I suspect that you have gotten quite stimulated by this new subtlety of demand and it has become for now the leading edge of your spiritual work. So I suspect that either you are now finding Centering Prayer temporarily “boring,” since it doesn’t encourage this sort of exertion, or else are subconsciously using the prayer time to “relax” the demand on your consciousness being brought by the exercises (which is a little bit different from relaxing your body in general).

In any rate it is most likely a temporary hiccup in the learning curve and will smooth out of its own once you identify what’s actually going on inside you. And also recall that the point of Centering Prayer is not to attain or maintain a desired state of clarity/concentration, but to practice radical kenosis, or letting go, in the spirit of total self-giving. “Concentrate” yourself in the gesture of giving yourself completely away and see if your former sense of “a high degree of concentration” returns in a new and slightly more relaxed and spacious form.

Also, if you’re not doing this already, separate the two practices a bit so that you’re not doing both in a single session. I hope this helps.