The Practice that I am recommending to everyone this year is prayer. Whoever you are, whatever your spiritual goals are, I can say without a doubt that you will get great results from praying every day.
I know, in the New Age/Yoga/Neo-Eastern spirituality scene, prayer is not well known. God or anything having to do with God is not popular among the Yogaboomer generation. The religious people have kind of ruined prayer. Prayer sounds religious, conservative, backward. But when I look back over the 28 years of my spiritual path, prayer has been the most consistent practice, and the one I most easily turn to. Up until now, I haven’t focused on it. I’ve focused on meditation and other inner practices, but prayer has been more of a personal thing. In 2015, I want to open up my treasure box and share this gem with you.
Essentially, prayer is the practice of expressing your thoughts, feelings, and intentions to “A Power Greater Than Yourself” – as you understand that power. Basically you’re having a meaningful conversation with God.
I don’t care if it freaks you out. I don’t care if you don’t like the word “God”. I want to make the case the for prayer – stay with me here. Prayer is something anyone can do. It can take as little or as long as you want, and it can take whatever form you want it to take. I also feel it’s in ideal compliment/addition/alternative to sitting meditation practice.
Let’s face it – meditation is difficult for a lot of people. In the past decades, the Buddhists have cornered the meditation market and have defined it as a passive peaceful practice where the mind is cleared or stilled. The way most modern meditation or mindfulness (the clever brand name the Buddhists have coined to sneak their practice into schools and public institutions) is taught, it’s stiff and godless and impersonal and really really boring. And if you’re trying to stop all of your random thoughts – and that’s your main objective – it’s really friggin hard. And as someone who has been teaching meditation to people for more than 20 years, I will tell you – people don’t do it. They don’t get it, they don’t feel successful. It’s boring and doesn’t yield results if people don’t get into it.
Prayer on the other hand gets instant results. No matter what form it takes, it quiets you down and connects you to what’s deeply important. The very act of praying requires you to turn inward a little bit. That’s why people bow their head, close their eyes, fold their hands, kneel, etc. Yes, part of these gestures is about making ourselves “humble before the Lord” – at least that’s what they’ll tell you in church. But looking at these gestures from a Yogic point of view you can see that they also all conspire to quiet your body and mind and focus your attention inward. Try it right now. Close your eyes, fold your hands and bow your head. Feel the effect.
Then, once you’re pulled inward, you examine: what do I want/need to express? This process is also instantly beneficial. It causes you to organize your priorities. What is so important that you want to express it to the Source of the Universe? You can pray about whatever you want to – however you want to. This way, even if your mind and emotions are hyperactive it’s fine. You just direct your thoughts and feelings toward the Highest. Don’t get pulled into the trap of seeing prayer only as the formal prayers you hear in religious contexts. Your prayers can be so personal, so intimate. When I pray I often include many expletives. I have a very robust life of prayer. I will not hesitate to cuss at God and demand help. But that’s me. The point is that you can make it totally custom fit to your needs and style. You don’t need to kneel or fold your hands or do any of that.
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
God??? Really?? I hope it’s needless to say here, but I will say it anyway: You don’t need to pray to anyone else’s version of God. If you have a specific understanding of a Higher Power that works for you – great. But even if you don’t you can still pray. When I pray, I am not praying to a personified God. That doesn’t make ANY sense to me. I think that “Great Father” idea is where most people get hung up. People have enough issues with human men – the last thing they need is some supremely powerful man looming over the Universe. When I pray I pray to a Force. I pray to the Force of Grace that creates, sustains, and transforms the Universe. When I pray I pray to the Source of all things, the Source of me, the Source of all of my life circumstances. When I pray, I pray to that unnameable power from which I came and to which I will return. That’s what works for me.
It’s also important to say here that my actual experience and understanding of the Divine Power is that it is non-dual. In other words, it is everywhere in everything. This includes myself. In my deepest experience, I experience my self as not-different from it’s Source. But in my day to day experience, there is definitely a David and Source of David. My prayer is the practice of David connecting with his Source.
Here are four of my favorite prayers. I offer these to you with great love and respect. There is almost nothing more personal that i can share with you.
1. The 3rd Step Prayer: This is a formal prayer that comes from the 12 Step tradition. I have recited the following version of the prayer every day upon waking for the better part of the past 28 years.
God I offer myself to you, to build with me and do with me as you will. Take away the bondage of myself that I may better do your will. Take away my difficulties that I may bear witness to your power, your love, and your way of life. May I always do your will.
I pray this prayer whenever I need to be reminded that I am here to serve, that I want to be in alignment with goodness and the “big picture”. I also pray this when I get into “the shit”. If the shit hits the fan and I have no idea what to do, this prayer will automatically arise in me. A short and dirty version of this one is the simple affirmation “Thy Will Be Done.”
2. The Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: The WTF Prayer or “What the Fuck??” Prayer is one of my feistier – and favorite- prayers. This prayer comes when some situation has come into my life that totally baffles me and is causing pain for me or someone I love. It is a totally informal prayer – usually more like a rant – where I am cussing at God and demanding some help. It usually goes something like this.
“What the fuck is the lesson in this?? God I don’t know what to do but this sucks! , I’ve done everything I can do to help and it’s still a mess. You created this mess – you fix it! Or give me the strength and the wisdom to fix it!”
Sometimes it’s even angrier
“How could you??? Motherf**ker! Help this person! Or give me the strength to help this person now! This is bullshit!”
I hope this doesn’t offend anyone. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t offend God.
3. The Rolodex: For those of you born after 1990, a Rolodex is that old-fashioned box with all of your contacts written on cards. The cards are attached to a wheel so you can flip through to find the contact you’re looking for. The Rolodex Prayer is a practice of praying for people. Whoever you want for whatever reason. You simply bring someone to mind and pray for all good things to come to them, or pray for their healing, or pray for them to be touched by Grace in some way. You can do whatever your heart is moved to do. Then when you finish with one person, you flip the Rolodex to the next person. You can go on and on like this. Many people believe that the prayers really do reach the people you’re praying for. I know that, if nothing else, it helps you and helps your relationship with those people. Do it with your friends. Do it with your enemies. Do it with world leaders. It helps – alot.
4. The Thanksgiving Prayer: If you don’t do anything else, this is a great one. Simply turn inward and start counting and giving thanks for all of your blessings big and small. Your thanks can be quiet and humble, or they can be explosive and celebratory. This practice is very juicy if you connect to deep heart-felt gratitude. But it also works when your heart is feeling dry and shitty and ungrateful. It is a prayer that is almost guaranteed to shift your state.
How and where to Pray: You can pray anywhere anytime. But I suggest doing it in private moments when you can more easily turn inward. I love to pray in bed while I’m falling asleep or waking up. I love to pray in the middle of the night when I wake up for whatever reason. I also find praying in the wilderness to be a profoundly powerful practice. Sometimes I like to pray out loud, but usually I do it silently. I will usually incorporate it into my meditation practice – either as a warm up to the practice or at the end when my heart is particularly open. Sometimes meditation is described as the listening part of the conversation with God. Over the years I have also used my journal for prayer. Writing your prayers can help to focus your mind and capture your questions to God – sometimes the answers too!
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