QUESTION: I’d like your take on the topic of prayer.

I’ve been through much pain and suffering the last several years, and in this time, the practice of meditation and prayer has deeply changed within me. Meditation used to be somewhat a form of discipline, where I would practice it every morning and evening with a bit of rigor, as my guru taught me. And prayer was asking for something: awakening for self and others.

As my system was repeatedly shocked by panic attacks and drained of life by clinical depression, the sense of helplessness and hopelessness grew, and so did the anger. I could not perceive anything from the “other side” anymore, and in my moment of greatest need - I felt abandoned by my guru and guides. I felt I could only rely on human beings: my friends and loved ones. 

As the months went by, I often thought about this topic. I didn’t miss either prayer or meditation, for I felt my healthy ego had grown in the meantime, feeling I could rely more and more on myself. This somewhat meant that, among other things, I had used meditation to help me connect with a higher spiritual reality in order to feel less anxiety in my aloneness. Prayer too was a form of anti-anxiety, where I hoped my guru and guides would look after me, sparing me the most painful experiences. But I came to realize that God, whatever that is, is not a guy that needs to be flattered into giving protection to his favorite person. I seriously doubt my guru would say: “What? You’re not meditating?? Fuck that, I ain’t looking after you!”

So, today I chose to quietly sit with myself for a few minutes because it gave me pleasure, not because “it’s good for me”. I’m finding new meaning in meditation - as a pleasurable moment with myself, not with whoever’s out there, but with whoever’s IN HERE. 

Prayer, on the other hand… it still isn’t clear to me what prayer is. And that’s why I wanted to ask you what prayer was for you, as today, honestly, I can’t really find a purpose or meaning for it. Not that I need to, but I do feel that there’s something I’m missing in relation to it. Today I feel I have the opportunity to develop a healthier relationship to the spiritual and would like your take on it.

ANSWER: What you have written is pretty much a synopsis of spiritual growth, and you have worded it nicely. Many of our spiritual paths start from a more child-parent relationship as you describe, both with our teacher as well as the divine/deity/God. There is an element of “if I am good enough/diligent enough/loyal enough then all will turn out well for me”. This is our ego hiding under the guise of spiritual practice and wanting what egos want: eternal satiation. It is always telling to observe people "thanking" God when perceived “good” things happen (for their egos): “I’d like to thank God for this win/Oscar/obliterating my enemies, etc.” It is never “I'd like to thank God for this divorce, losing my job, my illness, etc.”

In truth, as you have directly experienced, it is suffering that breaks down the ego and allows something deeper to be noticed/remembered. Not that this is an automatic thing; we can suffer a lifetime and not connect with anything deeper. But as many spiritual practices profess, we need to truly be grateful for the misfortunes as they open the possibility of a relationship with Self. This is not to say that horrible things are not horrible and do not suck. Just that when things go well, it is easy to stay asleep going from one thing to another. Misfortune and pain can ground us down to a halt and offer an opportunity to deeply examine life. Not a popular topic in this day and new age where we are constantly peddled “success”, “productivity”, and “manifesting your (ego’s) desires” as a part of the curriculum. It is rare to get a clear answer why we start on a spiritual path. Which, pretty much, is mostly from a place of pain. Besides things like not wanting to suffer, wanting to wake up, attain enlightenment, or what have you, what are we looking for? A deep relationship with Self, the “thing” we are seeking with and that is hiding in plain sight, might not be an obvious answer.

That is what you are experiencing now. To come full circle from pain that led to seeking, following, worshiping, suffering, feeling betrayed, letting go, and then low and behold - finding pleasure with just being is a wonderful thing. Not because “it is good for me” in your words, when you first started your practice. But simply because it is so damn yummy just to be here and now. No one will have to force you to sit now. You just have to remember that you are the one you have been looking for. It took ALL of what you have been through to have this discovery. All the teachers, practices, pains, and so on, to know that “this” has been here all along. 

Now, to your original question. The obvious answer is that meditation is listening and prayer is asking. Just like in life, listening is an art and takes practice. You are finally comfortable here. Prayer is connecting with “big mind”: it truly is all One and, as such, we are all interconnected. So it is not about praying to a deity, although there are many layers in this realm and such things do exist (and we give them power with our thoughts/intentions). I like to use the word conscious intent instead of prayer; as to my heart it is a more specific definition. This is more tricky as it can be the ego trying to do it’s own bidding. You know this from your own painful experience: we do not know what is good for us, so what do we pray for? Some of the most brutal and painful events in life can break long-held patterns. Surely, no one in their right mind (i.e. ego’s) would ask for such pain.

A conscious intent that was useful to me for a long time was this: gently burn away what does not serve me and help me remember who I am. Sort of like nicely asking to get beheaded… The one exception, in terms of prayer, is sending love/compassion/metta practice for others. Over time, this softens our overconcern with self, and strengthens the awareness of Oneness. This is something that I do for people under my care or that I am aware are suffering: sit with their names before and after treatment with as much love as I can muster. Not as a form of manipulation of outcome, but just to hold that intent. A side note here: any time one worries for someone or a situation, that energy is real and gets sent out. Better to replace that behavior with sending out love. Being all One and interconnected, we can pollute, keep neutral, or clean up our collective airwaves.

To sum it up: the path is to bring us back home to where we have been all along and never left. When we remember that we have been home all along and are the rightful owners, we do not need to talk to brokers or builders. Nor do we need to buzz the buzzer or bang on the door. Or pace around anxiously trying to get home while in our kitchen. We can experience being with our Self. This is not a sudden occurrence, it is gradual. The separation hypnosis is strong, so the prayer and meditation practices, from this vantage point, can be useful in helping us to keep loosening the knot.