Yesterday I went to a workshop sponsored by my church called "The Way of the Monk". We learned about several things I've been experimenting on my own with for the past couple years, namely centering prayer, praying with a prayer rope, and the divine hours - chanting the psalms.
It was very cool to finally try some of these things with other people, as I'm never quite sure if I'm doing something right when I'm following instruction from a book. Nothing covered was really new to me, which I think was good, as I could get straight to practically learning/improving.
After a brief introduction to the monastic orders and general way of life, we attempted centering prayer. We were instructed to remove our shoes (something I never have to be told twice - hate wearing shoes when sitting around, and the room was lovely with lots of rugs), and sit on the floor in a comfortable position but with a straight back. I have issues with the whole posture thing, so I cheated a wee bit by leaning up against a couch.
A helpful hint from the instructor was to use a timer. Otherwise compulsive types like me tend to be opening eyes to check clock every thirteen seconds. I was happy to learn when I got home that the watch I bought for the triathlon has a timer, with lights and lovely little bell. She also gave out "very powerful prayer tools" - earplugs! I've used earplugs for awhile, but generally to deal with snoring roommates on the road, never thought about using them for prayer. Makes sense tho - blocking out trains, traffic, dogs, my brother's radio in the other room (especially if the Whiners are on).
We started with six minutes, and it went rather well. After a few people discussed their experiences and we took a break. I wrote down the phrase and some stuff that came to mind in my notebook, but I don't think I will type it here. Suffice it to say that it was a good experience.
The next thing we played with, and I'll say played with because time was running short so we had no time to really experiment with them, was prayer ropes. I'd read about these in a couple places, and wanted one for awhile, but couldn't find one. I got a nice dark green one that is currently gracing the neck of Brother Ted (the monk bear I bought at Whitby Abbey). The instructor suggested as a use for them intercessory prayer, with each knot representing a person, and pray "Lord have mercy on so and so", which pretty much covers everything. I tried it this morning, and was amazed at what names came to mind.
The third thing we tried was the divine hours - chanting psalms. Was very cool. Half of the room faced the other, and sang the first couplet and then the other side of the room sang the second and so on, back and forth at each other. Absolutely gorgeous.
I signed up for both interest in starting a group to pray contemplatively, and interest in going on a retreat. So am very excited to see what happens next!