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A Simple Prayer, A Profound Freedom



Half a century of monastic life has taught Father Thomas Keating that there is a simple path that leads us away from our “false self” and the crippling addictions that keep us there

This article appeared in our October 2003 issue. To the Trappist monk Thomas Keating, “Prayer is essentially relationship. You can have an awkward, get-acquainted relationship with God, or it can be an at-ease relationship.” His goal is to make monastic tools for such an at-ease relationship to God available to the general public, and his centering prayer movement has opened the conversation for millions. Keating sees contemplative practice as more than relief of stress; for him it is a kind of “divine therapy,” a way to shed the destructive influence of what he calls the “false self.” To ask what that means, we caught up with him at the recent Spiritual Formation Conference in North Carolina. Thomas Keating: The false self is the opposite of the true self — the image of God in us, which always remains no matter what happens. S&H: Why do we have a false self? TK: The false self develops when we have no experience of the true self. It grows out of the need for happiness — translated as pleasure or gratification of the instinctual needs of an infant, such as security, approval, affec …

Stephen Kiesling is a former Olympic rower, cocreator of the Nike Cross Training System, and editor at large of Spirituality & Health. A 35th anniversary edition of The Shell Game: Reflections on Rowing and the Pursuit of Excellence has just been published.

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