From David Frenette
Introducing Heartfulness Practice

Why Pure Contemplation Isn’t Enough
July 2013

My decades of experience with Centering Prayer, especially its movement into pure contemplation, has made me appreciate the receptive formless practices of Eastern spiritual traditions, practices like Shikan Taza, Advaita Vendanta and Mahamudra. These approaches are all oriented towards a very profound spiritual realization. In theological language, a receptive formless practice opens us towards union with God at the deepest level of our spirit. Our life in God’s Being is beyond linear time, beyond the contingencies of our bodies, our minds, and our hearts, and beyond the unique contours of this life with its pains and gifts.

Over years of teaching meditation, I’ve noticed something curious: even though they may realize profound spiritual experiences through receptive formless contemplative practices, few young people easily continue with them. I’ve also noticed that some long-time practitioners struggle with or drift away from these practices. Why is this so?

I believe this is because our human nature includes body, mind and heart, as well as spirit. Many meditators in our fragmented and distracted world are seeking a well-rounded and fully grounded contemplative practice that cultivates – along with a receptive formless realization – embodied attention, focused mind and awakened devotion. The eternal, the Divine, needs to be expressed in the temporal, the human. Then, the profound awakening into our spiritual nature, which receptive formless contemplative practice fosters, is more easily integrated into the human fabric of our existence – our livelihoods, our relationships, our service, our ethical actions, this ordinary moment.

Many young people seek this type of embodied contemplative path, and many established practitioners find that they, too, require it. Some of the Eastern receptive formless approaches mentioned above offer ways for integrating and expressing spirit in body, mind and heart. However, practitioners of Christian contemplative prayer have not often been exposed to the experience of more embodied and holistic practice.

In response, we have developed an embodied approach to contemplation, now called “Heartfulness Practice.” We’ve been teaching students this practice with an emphasis on sacred attention during the past six months, including with classes in Boulder, on a retreat day at the Center for Contemplative Living in Denver, and on a new week-long retreat at the Garrison Institute in New York. People have been grateful to be introduced to a heartful and embodied way of relating to God, to others and to themselves; they find that this approach enriches their receptive formless contemplative practice. Through positive response arising from a genuine need, we have been sensing support from God to move Heartfulness Practice from gestation into greater life.

Close students of Fr. Thomas Keating may be aware that a few years ago he used the term “heartfulness” as the title for a DVD series on Centering Prayer. A Heartfulness Centering Prayer retreat was also developed at which these DVDs are shown. These resources provide valuable theological richness for the practice of Centering Prayer – a profound receptive formless practice. After recognizing that the new approach to contemplative practice brings his concept of heartfulness to life in a more concrete way, last winter Fr. Thomas gave his blessing for us to utilize the term “heartfulness” for the specific new embodied practices now being developed and taught.

The Heartfulness Practice is one example of the work of the “Contemplative Initiative.” The goals of the Contemplative Initiative include supporting meditators in deepening their practice into pure contemplation through the teachings in the book The Path of Centering Prayer, developing resources for the more embodied Heartfulness Practice, and researching additional supports for the emerging needs of young seekers and long-term meditators.

As we continue with the other goals of the Contemplative Initiative, we are developing two opportunities for those interested in learning Heartfulness Practice: a nine-day retreat at the Garrison Institute, March 14-22, 2014, and an online course. Stay tuned this fall to this page and our newsletter for information on the online course. You can sample the flavor of our heartfulness approach with my just-recorded Sounds True “Heartful Presence” guided meditation, available at this link here. I will also be leading Heartfulness Practice-based meditations daily at the Sounds True Wake Up Festival this August.

We offer gratitude to the Spirit for purifying, supporting and bringing to fruition this contemplative initiative. May all experience a heartful, embodied and receptive relationship with God!