As far as I can understand, the door of entry into this castle is prayer and meditation: I do not say mental prayer rather than vocal, for, if it is prayer at all, it must be accompanied by meditation. (Teresa of Avila: First Mansion, Chapter One)
Teresa’s teaching on prayer is detailed and complex. In describing various types of prayer she uses terminology unfamiliar to some of us: Vocal Prayer, Mental Prayer, Prayer of Union, Prayer of Recollection, and Prayer of Quiet are just a few examples. Types of prayer can be difficult to distinguish and challenging to comprehend even after studying them. One helpful way to better understand prayer is to separate it into two categories: Ascetic Prayer and Mystical Prayer. Ascetic Prayer is action we initiate with God (e.g. Vocal Prayer or Meditation). In Mystical Prayer God initiates the action and this may include illumination, visions, and ecstatic experiences. Mystical prayer is dealt with in the latter part of the Interior Castle.
In the First Mansion Teresa mentions Vocal Prayer. This can be our own prayer or a formula prayer we recite like the “Our Father”. She says Vocal Prayer should include Meditation. Meditation is important because it centers our mind on who God is and to whom we are speaking. If meditation is new to us, it is important to know this is a learned practice. Below are three suggestions to get you started and can be done in 15 minutes a day.
Breathing: Close your eyes and breathe through your nose and deep into your side ribs for a count of four. You should feel your side ribs expand — pause for a count or two – then exhale through your mouth for a count of four. Do this several times allowing your breathing to become balanced and rhythmic. You can then go back to normal breathing but continue to pay attention to your breathing keeping it balanced between the in and out breaths. This exercise helps in meditation because it focuses our attention on one point – our breathing. This develops concentration for deeper meditation.
Our Father: Some react negatively to reciting or repeating the Our Father because Jesus cautioned about “meaningless repetition” or “empty phrases”. His warning, however, was against spiritual earning or putting on a religious show through our prayers. Jesus actually taught a formula prayer: In the book of Luke when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. He said, “When you pray, say: Father . . . .” Repeating the Our Father for five minutes can be very helpful in centering our minds on God and his kingdom.
Silence: Finally dedicate five minutes to silence. Silence is helpful in centering ourselves and hearing God. If your thoughts are flying all over the place don’t worry about it — this is normal and expected. As time goes on your focus will increase.
I encourage you to schedule 15 minutes a day to concentrate on your breathing, reciting the Our Father, and being silent. This will help you begin (or return to) your practice of meditation.
For Prayer and Meditation Part Two: Click Here