Prayer in Spiritual Practice
Besides ecstatic dance, I combine a variety of practices into my spiritual connection time. Typically I include breath meditation, some tantric breathing, prayer (like, good, old-fashioned talking to God), energy work, and sometimes compassion meditation or just quiet attention for my altar items.
It’s quite a variety, and has probably changed 7 or 8 times in the last dozen years. The variety is due to my training: I went to an interfaith seminary.
In seminary, we learned about many, many different faiths. I was introduced to the beauty and usefulness of each one. I sort of fell in love with each of them, in some different way.
It was like falling in love with God’s eyes, then her lips, then his ears, then its body.
Each of the faith practices I use helps me connect to some part of the Greater Whole. (And, quite often, just the Whole of the Greater Whole.)
What Is Kept, What Is Released
As I rotated through different faith practices, I kept some pieces and let others filter through. One of the things I loved about Goddess/Pagan practices was the phrase, ‘Blessed Be.’ It is calming, affirming, a prayer, an invocation, and a benediction. Incredibly flexible and useful.
I also find its simplicity quite beautiful and it has remained a part of my practice, even as my beliefs have changed.
Susan Piver, who practices the same lineage of Buddhism that I do (Shambhala), has talked about – both in her books and on her blog – the advice her teacher gave to her for finishing each meditation session. He suggested she end with these words:
“May whatever good has arisen here today be used in the service of others.”
She writes that saying these words at the end of the session is akin to hitting the ‘Save’ button when you’re done writing a text document. I like the metaphor and I like the idea that benediction is an important part of the whole prayer cycle.
(Obviously, I also like the intent: that whatever insight or change we develop in our meditation brings deeper value when it is used in service to others.)
I use this phrase as part of my benediction as well.
Teach Me to See The Answers to My Prayers
Lately I have been experimenting with something that I think may be as important to my spiritual development as the phrase from Susan Piver.
At the conclusion of my spiritual practice, I usually repeat three phrases.
1. Help me to discern (see) the path that is set for me.
2. Give me the strength to follow the path.
3. Help me to see the answers to my prayers.
Items 1 and 2 are similar to what many traditions suggest their followers ask: that the will of god be made known to them. And that they have the inner, mental, or spiritual strength to follow that guidance.
Number 3, is a little different, though. And it is helping me to refine my awareness and discernment.
Praying for X, Getting Y (or So We Think)
So often on the spiritual path we pray for specific things.
Please help me get X.
Please help me understand Y.
Please bring peace to Q.
Many, myself included, hope that our prayers will be answered exactly as requested or envisioned.
Sometimes that happens.
But, in my own experience, and certainly that of others, often what we envision and what we get look very different.
And when we don’t get what we envisioned we:
- think something is wrong with us (and our ability to ‘manifest’ or whatever),
- or that something is wrong with God (obviously, did not get the recipe right),
- or that we don’t deserve that Exact Thing. And it can lead to all kinds of anger, despair, and frustration.
Re-framing Our Perception
I am not entirely convinced that the difference between our vision and the (different-looking) outcome is a bad thing.
I think this is a problem of mis-perception.
Our human mind is so very small, so limited (you know, compared to God’s mind). It cannot imagine what our highest good might look like. It can only guess a tiny way down the road. So we ask for X. Or Y. Or Q. With no real understanding of what we’re doing.
It’s as if we are Central Park chess players and God is Bobby Fisher. The Universe can see so very much farther forwards and backwards than we can.
I believe, that in my asking to be made aware of my answered prayers, I am aligning my mind more with that of the Divine Intelligence. I am asking to see through the eyes of God, rather than my own.
I do not believe, as I was taught in my youth, that my eyes are faulty or sinful.
They are, though, habituated to human perception.
Asking to be shown answers to prayers opens me up to a greater awareness and understanding of my life. Being given the gift of seeing answered prayers, especially those that don’t ‘fit,’ broadens my mind and my soul.
It is, without a doubt, one of the tougher requests I make. It takes humility to ask to be shown the way. It takes faith to ask for the strength to walk the way. But it takes humility, faith, mental flexibility and patience to ask to be shown answered prayers.
There have been answers that were difficult to see, difficult to accept. But at no time have the answered prayers disappointed. They have always supported my growth. And that’s what we’re here to do.