08/28/2012 12:06 am ET Updated Oct 27, 2012

Having Difficulty Meditating? Try This

In this post I will share a daily spiritual practice that helped me work through a life-threatening illness and discover new fulfillment, in case it may benefit you or someone you know.

For me, meditation was a lofty goal but the last item on my real to-do list. I felt grossly uncomfortable sitting still and frustrated by my chattering "monkey mind." Paying attention to my breathing was boring and left me with a sense of failure.

The turning point was learning a simple technique called "Centering Prayer" or "Contemplative Prayer" taught by a minister who looked like a Benedictine monk! He was wonderful.

He said: This simple practice will change your life. Don't take my word for it. Try it for 30 days. Then look at your life. If it has not improved for the better, don't continue.

I followed his advice, and in 30 days my life had changed in wonderful ways. In addition to feeling clearer and happier, I had made the decision to move and found a new job!

The practice could be called "silent prayer." It is the phase of prayer when we listen instead of speak. I think of it as meditation.

The method is simple: Sit in a comfortable and quiet place. Choose a word that expresses the divine to you: peace, harmony, divine love, whatever gives you a sense of the sacred. Close your eyes and breathe normally. Say your word a few times as a means to clear your thoughts. Then simply be with God in an open, devotional state of mind. Whenever a thought enters (or a chain of thoughts carries you to past memories or future imaginings) say your word and bring yourself back to center.

Do this two times a day for 15 minutes each. In time, your word will begin to have an automatic calming and harmonizing effect on your subconscious.

Importantly, during the meditation there is no predetermined state of mind that you are trying to achieve. Don't judge what happens during the 15 minutes, because that's not the point. Don't expect nirvana or wait for fireworks, bells and whistles. If your head is full of negative thoughts and emotions such as anger, sorrow, sadness, agitation, simply notice them, say your word, and come back to center. If you start to cry, observe in a loving way, say your word, and come back to center.

As I said, 30 days of this practice yielded remarkable results for me. But did I continue? Of course not! It took a life-threatening illness to get me to discipline myself to do this on a daily basis.

Now, I have integrated "centering prayer" twice a day for more than a year and am enjoying a measure of well-being and happiness that I never imagined possible.

How does it work? From my experience, brief periods spent with God as the only focus and centering as the only activity alters how the brain functions. Amazingly, the ability to center carries over to everyday life... for example, when I am about to go off on a tangent (getting enmeshed in negative situations, wasting time on pointless arguments, letting my feelings overpower me, getting distracted from something I need to do), I now more readily see that I have a choice and return to center (my core intentions and values). Gradually, the dark alleys are disappearing from my life, replaced by increasing fulfillment.

Try this or some other centering practice, with or without the "nudge" of a life-threatening illness! Peace and blessings!

For more by N. E. Marsden, click here.

For more on meditation, click here.