Issues, Etc. Journal - Spring 1998 - Vol. 3 No. 1
What Is Centering?
Can we find God or enhance our experience of Jesus by entering into an altered state of consciousness?
by Don Matzat
Historically, eastern mystics, religious contemplatives, occultists, and psychics have always employed a self-induced altered state of consciousness in the practice of their religion and arts. They entered into a "trance" and gazed into crystal balls, communicated with the dead, claimed to find the God within, and brought forth psychic predictions.
The famous psychic Edgar Cayce encouraged his disciples "to attune the deep springs of personhood to the Christ-spirit in order to attain the highest level of psychic experiences." (1)
Eighteenth century Lutheran theologian David Hollaz defined this mysterious trance as "a rare and extraordinary operation either of God, or of a corrupt imagination, or of the devil, alienating the mind of a man from his bodily senses, so that, the use of the latter ceasing, he becomes more ready and quick to receive the objects of imagination." (2)
With new insights from psychology, the growth of Eastern religions, and the advent of the New Age movement, the trance of the mystics and occultists is no longer rare and extraordinary. By using a variety of techniques, self-inducing the mystical altered state of consciousness has become a very popular activity, even for Christians. Amazingly, the technique has found numerous adherents within the Missouri Synod.
Lest we be deceived, it is important for us to understand the nature and roots of this new invasion of mysticism especially the popular technique called "centering."
Insights from Psychology
In 1920s, Dr. Hans Berger, a German psychiatrist, uncovered some interesting insights about the activity of the brain during various stages of human consciousness. By hooking-up patients to an electro-encephalograph, he discovered that the brain of the person actively using his or her five senses emits between 13 and 18 vibrations per second. He referred to these as "beta" rhythms. During sleep, the brain emitted between five to eight rhythms, or what he called "theta." The vibrations below five, found in the deep sleep of infants, he termed "delta" rhythms. The brain waves emitted between "beta" and "theta," the state of consciousness between normal mental activity and sleep, when the brain is emitting between eight to 13 vibrations per second, Berger termed "alpha" rhythms.
This is the basis for what is called the "alpha zone," a new definition for the trance of the mystics.
In the alpha zone, the human brain is in a state of receptivity. Images freely flow through the imagination. The critical, rational mind, as Jose Silva puts in, is on the back burner and the imaginative mind is up-front. (3) Getting the subject into alpha is the goal of the hypnotist and the ploy of the mental programmer.
It is important to point out that entering the alpha zone is a natural human condition and is experienced by everyone prior to falling asleep. We have all sensed the free flow of images that pass through the mind immediately before sleep. This is natural. This is alpha.
Also, there is good evidence to suggest that inducing this alpha state of consciousness does have value in stress management. Lowering brain waves produces relaxation, and we all need to relax.
The issue is not the natural experiences of human consciousness, but rather the relationship between the alpha level and spiritual experience. Does such a relationship exist? If so, is the Holy Spirit producing the experience or is there an alternative source? Should we be concerned that this altered state of consciousness is associated with a variety of occult practices?
Self-inducing alpha is the goal of a wide range of todays spiritual practitioners. Mystics alter their consciousness in order to seek a visualized experience with God. New Age advocates desire a personal, visualized "spirit guide" who will grant enlightened knowledge. Occultists continue to go after psychic phenomena. Followers of Eastern religions pursue the god within.
Those who are presently promoting this altered state of consciousness within the church are not theologians reviving medieval mysticism, but are rather psychologists or those influenced by psychology.
Some psychologists have discovered a wide range of uses for this altered state of consciousness. "Inner healing" counselors encourage entranced patients to relive past traumatic experiences. Recovered memory therapists employ the altered state to recover memories of alleged sexual abuse, past lives, and UFO abductions.
Based upon the theories of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, these "trained professionals" claim that the altered state of consciousness taps into the content of the unconscious mind where repressed memories of past trauma reside.
But what does this have to do with visualizing Jesus and spiritual experience?
Freud and Jung had a disagreement over the content of the unconscious mind. This led to their traumatic break-up. While Freud believed that repressed sexual content resided within the unconscious, Jung, based on his own experience, contended that the unconscious was also a receptacle for spiritual, religious, and mythological content. Freud admonished his young cohort and encouraged him to dogmatize the his sexual theory and raise it up as a bulwark against the "black mud of occultism." (4) Jung pursued his "spiritual" theories, proving Freud to be prophetic! We are encountering the "black mud of occultism."
The gurus of the new holistic transpersonal psychology, using Jungs notion of unconscious spirituality, see the altered state of consciousness as the touch-point between psychology and religion.
Centering describes the mental exercises used to self-induce the experience of alpha. From what I have been able to determine, the term was initially used by Jung to describe the affect of the mandala, a circular design used by eastern mystics. Staring at the mandala, or the yantra, produces a "centering" of mental activity. (5) Interestingly, Jung also suggested that UFOs or flying saucers are mandala figures projected on the sky by the human psyche, indicating mans search for inner wholeness. (6)
The purpose of centering is to enter into a state of deep relaxation or produce a self-hypnosis. The use of breathing techniques such as counting your breathes is generally used. Others encourage the seeker to visualize themselves in an elevator, counting themselves down to the bottom floor of an altered state of consciousness. Most suggest commanding each part of the body to relax. (7)
The initiates into Transcendental Meditation are given a mantra, a Sanskrit word they are to repeat over and over again. Christians who are taught the centering technique are told to repeat the "Jesus prayer," or to simply repeat the word "Jesus." Theresa and Mark Shaltanis give the following directions to the Lutheran Womens Missionary League:
Shut your eyes and note your breathing. As you inhale, say to yourself, "Be still." As you exhale, say, "and know that I am God." As your breath leaves your body, picture yourself moving closer to God. As you breathe in, see yourselves stopping and taking a close look at God. After a time of picturing yourself in this way, next focus more on the words. Keep breathing and saying the words in this pattern, but now drop off the end, and repeat until you are just saying "Be still." Continue your breathing and saying, "Be still" a few more times until you are ready for reading the Scriptures. (8)
The affect of the mantra, or repeating "Be still," has nothing to do with the meaning of the terms or phrases used. It produces the altered state because of the repetition, not because of the content. Buddhists can also repeat "Jesus" to attain an altered state.
The purpose of entering the altered state of consciousness is to entertain and interact with the images that arise in the imagination. Among those who teach the technique, some suggest creating in the imagination a private place, room, or workshop in which to entertain the visualized "visitors." Others encourage a more "guided imagery," such as imagining a Bible story and placing oneself into the scene and talking to Jesus.
Those who attend the Silva Mind Control seminars are taught the centering technique. Upon entering into a deeply relaxed frame of mind, they are instructed to create a comfortable workshop, perhaps with an easy chair, fire place, picture window, etc. In the workshop they are instructed to visualize two doors. Through those doors will pass the two wise counselors or spirit-guides of their choosing. Many who attend these seminars choose Jesus Christ to be their male spirit-guide. Mind Control seminars are an example of modern day occultism.
It is interesting to compare the methods of Silva with the methods taught in the book Harmony, a manual for emotional well-being produced and distributed by Aid Association for Lutherans. The book says,
Close your eyes so that you won't be distracted by anything in your surroundings. In your minds eye go deep within yourself and create a room there. You can furnish it however you wish, but make it a place that invites quiet reflection, perhaps with a large picture window overlooking a lake or a mountain landscape. This is a room for you and you alone, and others may enter only by invitation.
Picture Jesus standing at the door and knocking (Rev. 3: 20). He is there, not forcing his presence on you, but ready and eager to spend some time with you. Imagine what would happen from this point on, letting the experience unfold naturally without any expectation of specific outcome. (9)
There is no essential difference between what is offered in a Silva Mind Control course and in the book Harmony.
Why Mix Light and Darkness?
On Issues, Etc. I interview numerous cult and occult re-searchers such as James Walker and Craig Branch of Watchman Fellowship, Bob and Gretchen Passantino, Craig Hawkins, Tal Brooke of Spiritual Counterfeits Project, George Mather, and others. All of them would agree that it is utterly foolish to encourage Christians to use the centering technique as an entrance into spiritual experience. Most would contend that any spiritual content encountered while in the altered state of consciousness is demonic in origin the devil parading as an angel of light.
In his book Spirit Wars, Dr. Peter Jones, Professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary in California, says that "New Age channelers indicate that going within through the suspension of rational thought is the perfect means for spirit possession." He quotes from popular New Age advocate Ken Carey who received this message from his spirit-guide:
We are unable to communicate with humans whose vibrational fields are distorted by ego factors, emotional fields, excessive conceptualization, or past future orientation. (10)
In their New Age book Centering, Laurie and Tucker point out that the altered state of consciousness brings one into contact with a higher power that leads to paranormal experiences. (11)
Are we not being foolish if we allow these techniques to be visited upon Gods people especially the unsuspecting women of the LWML? What fellowship does light have with darkness? We should avoid every appearance of evil? Some suggest that the centering technique and the visualization of Jesus is neither contrary to Scripture nor to the Lutheran Confessions. This may be true, but neither is poking yourself in the eye with a stick!
Martin Luther soundly rejected the introversion of the German mystics. The very essence of sin was turning in on yourself. He believed that any introversion should result in the discovery of sin and perversion.
The reality of Christ is never discovered within but is always extra nos, outside of us. Christ is to be sought, not in the inner self nor in some questionable technique borrowed from occultism or the fringes of psychological theory, but in the external and objective means of Word and Sacrament.
The intrusion of these methods into the church should cause us great concern. We need to do our homework!
Table Of References
1. Bro, Harmon, Edgar Cayce on Religion and Psychic Experiences, (Wearner Books, 1970), p. 3.
2. Schmid, Heinrich, The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1875), p. 455.
3. Silva, Jose, Mind Control, p. 91.
4. Jung, C. G., Memories, Dreams, Reflections, (Vintage Books, 1965), p. 150.
5. Samuels, Mike and Nancy, Seeing with the Mind's Eye, (Random House, 1975), p. 28.
6. Jung, C. G., The Collected Works of Carl G. Jung, (Bollingen Series XX, Princeton University Press), Vol. 10, Flying Saucers: Modern Myth (1958).
7. For a thorough treatment of the centering technique, see Morton T. Kelsey, The Other Side of Silence, (Paulist Press, 1976), Part 3.
8. Shaltanis, Theresa and Mark, Quiet Time with God, (International Lutheran Women's Missionary League, 1977), p. 35.
9. Harmony: A Guide to Emotional Well-Being, (Aid Association for Lutherans, 1994), p. 60.
10. Jones, Peter, Spirit Wars, (Wine Press Publishing, 1997), p. 225.
11. Laurie, Sanders and Tucker, Melvin, Centering, (Destiny Books, 1978), p.10.
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