If true self-care requires self-death, how do we practice dying while remaining in these physical forms?

This is the essential question of the spiritual life. You cannot think your way into death. This is not a mental process or an intellectual concept. You can only die by dying. Death is a practice of letting go; it is the discipline of surrender.

I Peter 4:7 says,

The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of prayer.

Prayer is practice in letting our small self die because, when we pray, we shift the locus of our identity away from what we do or what we have accomplished, or what we hope to achieve, to the living presence of God at the heart of our being. Any prayer can do this, because prayer is an acknowledgement that we are not the ultimate source of power in this world.

In my personal life, the form of prayer that enables me most deeply to practice self-death, is the prayer known as “Centering Prayer.”

If you read on from Isaiah’s great self-care passage at the end of chapter 40 into chapter 41, you will discover that having held out his stirring vision of a life in which it is possible to live with renewed strength and without growing weary, or becoming faint, the prophet goes on to say,

Listen to me in silence, O coastlands. (Isaiah 41:1)

Centering Prayer is a practice of silent prayer in which we exercise the muscles of surrender. We are well-practiced in grasping, clutching and holding on to our hard-won little privileges and perks in life. Centering Prayer invites us to practice the opposite response to life.

In Centering Prayer the practitioner returns again and again to an expression of the intention to let go of those thoughts and feelings that fill so much of our lives and that all centre around our determination to control the world and avoid those circumstances or feelings we find threatening.

Centering Prayer is exercise in putting down the details and obsessions of my life. When I pray in this way, I say to the rest of my life, “You go over there for a little while, sit down, and be quiet; I am going over here to open myself to an awareness of the vast presence and inexhaustible action of God in my life and in all of creation.”

It is not that the details of my life are unimportant. It is not that I stop caring about the things in my life that need my attention. But I stop allowing those things to be the centre of my being. I relocate my identity from all those external concerns to the reality of God’s presence that resides at the centre of my being. I am expressing my intention to no longer be defined by any of those “forms” in the external world in which I have previously sought meaning and purpose.

My prayer life patterns into my being the awareness that I am, before anything else, a child of God, created in the image of God. I am a luminous spark emanating from the heart of the Divine.

My theme song is not

This little light of mine.

The theme song of the surrendered self is,

This little light of thine I’m going to let it shine.

I am no longer interested in letting my little light shine. I understand that I have no light apart from the divine presence who dwells in my heart and shines out through the cracks in my life when I finally give up my futile attempts to paper over those cracks with my achievements, accomplishments and accolades. I do not have to cause the “light” that is “thine” to shine. I need only to give up my determination to let my light shine and the “thine light” will naturally emerge.

In prayer I express my desire to live in that light that shines through all eternity and to cooperate with that will that is greater than my own and more wise and true than anything that can ever be reached by my small self. I open myself to that “understanding” that is “unsearchable.” I start to live from that grounded place of peace and truth that is the only basis upon which wise choices are made and true power begins to be at work in my life.

Having surrendered my need to build my own little identity and then protect that fragile ego structure I have created. As Thomas Merton wrote in New Seeds of Contemplation,

As long as you have to defend the imaginary self that you think is important, you lose your peace of heart. 57

Having discovered my true identity that does not need to be defended, I am free to encounter the world with love and openness. I no longer need to impose my will upon life. I am able to enter into every situation fully trusting that there is a strength and a wisdom within me that is greater and more lasting than anything by which I might ever feel threatened.

This is true “Self-care.” And there are no forces in life or death that can overwhelm me when I rest deeply in this eternal abiding Self that resides at the heart of my being.