Doesn’t it seem like as we age (I think I’m going to go with “age” instead of “get older” because good wine gets better with age, whereas old is just … um … OLD, but I digress 🙂 Doesn’t it seem like as we age, there are more and more bits of wisdom and goodness that have been hidden right in front of our eyes our whole lives, yet we didn’t see them? Truth was in plain sight, but we missed it? Or is it just me?
For instance, the point of and joy in life is really, really, really simple. YET, for years I worried about making a name for myself, earning lots of money, and getting really cool things. In truth, though: Life is NOT a game, LIFE is a GIFT. The purpose of life is NOT winning; the PURPOSE of life is LEARNING TO LOVE. Period. It’s THAT simple, and while this Truth was in front of me my whole life, it seems like I’ve only realized it recently.
The same thing has happened to me when it comes to prayer. Prayer has the power to transform our lives, minds, and the world … at least when we see its riches that have been hidden in plain sight. (Note, while in what follows I’ll link prayer to God, the benefits of these mentalities/practices apply to atheists, agnostics, theists, and everything in between.) Richard Rohr summarized this for me recently by pointing out the juiciness Paul’s Letter to the Philippians contains in just a few verses. Philippians 4.4-9 in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) reads:
Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS; again I say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on DOING the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. (Emphasis mine)
Here we see, as Rohr notes, “First, you must begin with the positive, with gratitude (which might take your WHOLE prayer time).” Paul wrote Philippians while in jail, YET it’s easily his most joyful letter. Let that statement sink in. What leads a person to be full of bliss when trapped and facing death? What would lead you to gladness in the midst of suck?
Gratitude. Gratitude is basically a natural, healthy, and good mental, physical, and spiritual drug. Choosing gratitude (and friends it IS a choice we can ALL make) rewires our brains to see and focus on the goodness that’s erupting both in and all around us all the time. Rejoice for this breath. Celebrate this meal. Marvel over the beauty of a sunrise. Smile at a kind word. Enjoy a hug. Applaud how incredible it is you can think, walk, run, dance, play, sing, or any number of other things your body, mind, and spirit work together to do.
I say gratitude is like a legal and healthy drug of goodness from experience. When I was at the lowest point of my life, in the midst of my second divorce, a person I follow invited people to try keeping a gratitude journal for a month. The “task” was simple, at the end of the day, jot down three or more things from that day you were thankful for. I did it for a month … then two … then six … then for well over a year. And I kid you not by saying it was instrumental in turning my sorrow and despair over divorce, love lost, and “lonely” future into immense joy from life, family, friends, nature, and connection.
Note in Philippians how Paul links and follows gratitude with a reminder our Creator is near, an encouragement to present EVERYTHING to God, and how we will receive a peace that’s beyond rationality. Our Source cares about ALL of us, as well as EVERYTHING in our lives, and when we lay ourselves “out there,” fully surrendered and vulnerable, we’ll find an incomprehensible peace floods in to fill our minds, bodies, and spirits. Here Father Rohr writes: “You need to pray as long as it takes you to find ‘peace,’ to get to a place beyond agitation (whether five minutes or five hours or five days).”
What that brings to my mind is yoga and meditation. For most of my life I thought prayer was pretty much all about you or I talking to God. Did I sometimes hear I was supposed to also listen? Sure, but that didn’t seem very practical or realistic. This, for me, is where yoga, meditation, contemplation, and other similar practices come into play. In yoga our bodies pray, our minds (i.e. thoughts) quiet, and we practice just BEING. By wearing our bodies out and focusing attention on our breath and bodies, we more and more come to a place of inner receptivity and surrender. Yoga, I think, helps us LISTEN to God. By tuning into our bodies and breath we quiet our minds, which opens us and allows us to hear the Divine.
We lay ourselves fully opened and surrendered before the Divine, ready and willing to receive. I’m a yoga teacher, and time after time students leave after class in a state of peaceful bliss, they’re “zenned out” because (in my mind) they’ve received our Creator’s peace that’s beneath rational thoughts and comprehension.
Yoga helps us reconnect aspects of ourselves I think were never meant to be disconnected. One of the gifts of Western civilization has been the development of our minds, yet this has also been one of its curses. We’ve overemphasized the importance of our brains and disconnected it from our bodies and spirits by proclaiming it superior. Our mind, body, and spirit are meant to be united, integrated, and work together in a way that defies words and rational thought. A big purpose of yoga is this reunion, and in this place of wholeness, we receive the gift of Divine peace.
While I dig yoga and think it’s a practice for everybody and every body, I get it might not be your thing at this point in time. 🙂 So, what are some other ways to go about achieving an open state of receptivity and surrender? While there are many, I’ll give you two specific ones, both involving breath. Simply sit comfortably and mindfully breathe. Slow inhale. Slow exhale. Feel the inhale. Feel the exhale. Mentally think: “Inhale … Exhale,” as you breathe deeply, over and over until your thoughts quiet and peace descends.
Alternatively, but similarly, you can breathe a mantra, like “Let” on the in breath, and “Go” on the out breath. Or perhaps, “I am” on the inhale, and “Loved” on the exhale. As Rohr said, keep doing this until your mind stills and peace enters your soul.
Like Paul, I’d like to wrap this up with two final aspects of this form of prayer. Starting our prayers with gratitude and putting ALL of ourselves out there by coming to a place of pure being, opens us up to receive the gift of peace. This transformative process is immensely aided by turning our minds to the positive (contemplation), and is completed ONLY when we turn our blessing into doing to benefit others.
In a different letter, Paul says we should pray ALWAYS. Prayer, in my mind, is a fully connected way (i.e. mind, body, and spirit) of being fully connected to God, one another, and the world. This means it’s something we actually can constantly be doing. Quite literally, whenever we’re present to ourselves, others, the Divine, and/or creation we’re praying. I mention this because at the end of this passage it seems to me Paul makes no differentiation between our “prayers” (i.e. thoughts) and our “lives”. With that in mind, we’re to fill our thoughts, period and full stop, on things good, true, just, and loving.
Some people have named this “the power of positive thinking”. Richard Rohr calls it “replacement therapy”. The point is, our thoughts are powerful and quite literally shape who we are, who we become, and what we do. Our behaviors are just a response to and fruit of our thoughts. Until we focus our minds on love, kindness, care, giving, vulnerability, compassion, and encouragement, we won’t become the amazing people we’re created to be. We have negative thoughts. We complain and gripe in our heads. We have obsessive patterns of thinking. We have resentments. We have grudges. We have sorrows. Left to the push and pull of our culture and society, our lives will go the direction of victimhood, bitterness, and entitlement … at least UNTIL you and I replace our negativity with positivity, with love and compassion.
When we mindfully choose positivity, a realistic one that recognizes the hurts and harms in the world and our lives, the natural and inevitable result is we will do good things. Here we see this pattern/style of prayer come full circle. It starts with choosing gratitude and proceeds to putting ALL of ourselves (hurts, wishes, dark bits, and all) out there. In this naked state, we just are, we allow ourselves to just be and listen to God, who answers us with peace. From a peaceful and centered space, we mindfully choose more and more positivity, which we then bring into the world by loving and caring for others … potentially being the very answers to her or his prayers, just as he or she is for ours.
Prayer is powerful stuff. It can change you and the world. It’s as simple as choosing gratitude, being and baring your WHOLE self and allowing yourself to just be, receiving the amazing peace that fills us when we do this, mindfully choosing positive thoughts, and then enacting good into the world. What do you think? What’s your experience of and thoughts on prayer?
If you enjoyed this blog you can sign up for email notifications of future ones on the right. Additionally, I have a Facebook page where I regularly post articles, blogs, quotes, meditations, etc. to encourage us to more Light and Love. Again, to the right there’s a link for you to “Like” the page. <3
Grace and peace,