The answer to prayer is the prayer.
March 15, 2023
December 12, 2021
In prayer, or when I meditate, my mind wanders incessantly and I have to keep bringing it back.
This is the human experience. The ordinary mind is continuously turning over with mostly meaningless content. I’m not aware of it during the day because my activities and body sensations are dominant. Ordinary life is grounding. When I am tired or sleeping, the ongoing mental content becomes more evident. It’s a kind of ongoing ‘subvocalization’ or commentary often entirely disconnected from my life. I call it the ‘backdrop’. It’s a whole fantasy dream world exposed when I become inactive.
This backdrop can be exposed in meditation or prayer.
The first remedy is always to place attention on sensation. Voluntary attention cuts the backdrop’s power cord.
But there is more. We are three part beings…body, psyche (thought and emotion) and presence. The psyche is in disorder so I cannot remain in the present. I am therefore vulnerable to being drawn into the backdrop. Entering the present with voluntary attention on sensation is a partial remedy. A further remedy is to encounter my timeless identity, the true ‘I’ that is found through the doorway of presence, where I meet myself as I always was. My original face before time began.
Prayer can enable you to meet your real self. The One who is remembered in prayer enables me to remember myself. I am called to my true identity, as I was created in the beginning. When this happens, you won’t be satisfied to live in the unstable, inexhaustible churning of the psyche. You will sense that something is missing.
Is this what it means to be present?
It fulfills presence. I can ask to be present in the present and dis-identify from my personality. That’s stepping up to the threshold. Someone or something calls me through to the other side where I am who I always was. I am re-membered. It may make you uncomfortable to think of this someone as God but this greater presence needs no name.
How do I know if I am having the experience of my original face?
This is hard to express in words but I’ll try. There is a deep feeling of familiarity with myself that is wordless and timeless…a feeling that is direct, not mediated or derived from something else. The state recognizes itself. There is a sensation as if my face is shining. And there is a sense of being seen, as if I am facing in the right direction for an intimate meeting with an honored guest. There is nothing grim or forced. It’s a feeling of perfect security as if I have come home.
April 15, 2019
I cannot know you
As you know yourself
Can I know myself
As you made me,
And exhaled me
Into your creation?
Your universe is the framework
I clumsily embroider
With broken understandings
As I fumble to recite
The words of your text
Reach into my life
Show me where our meanings meet
Where small gestures may reveal
The sacrifice you make
Sustaining your creation
I cannot change
The way of this unfolding
The pain and the loss
But can I find its meaning
In the spaces and moments
Where we meet
And behold together
The mystery of Being
January 28, 2019
The ancient ones spoke of the prayer of the heart. “Let the prayer of your tongue become the prayer of your heart,” they said, and even more curiously: “May you awaken the tongue of your heart.” Are these just metaphors? Or is there something more to it?
Perhaps you have noticed that the tensions that arise from your personal strivings and your fears and anxieties are held in the jaw and especially the tongue. Certain kinds of thoughts are associated with a tightening of the jaw and a rigidity of the tongue. When these tensions are released in me, my thinking changes and some habitual thoughts actually become completely unavailable. It doesn’t seem to work in the opposite direction; changing my thinking doesn’t seem to release the tension, at least not for long.
It is not surprising that my thinking is closely linked to my tongue. I learned to speak as I learned to think; they arose together. Can I be free of my automatic thinking if my tongue and jaw are locked in place?
Are my unconscious identities held by the habitual tensions of my tongue?
When I give voice to prayer or zikr, is the sound retained in the throat by the tension in my jaw and tongue? Or by relaxing this tension, can my voice find its way to the heart, resonating the chest like a drum? Perhaps this is the tongue of the heart?
The tongue is a medium for the voice, and the voice serves either the mind or the heart or, rarely, both. I find that I am able to speak and pray from the heart when my tongue is free of the tensions which reflect the anxieties of my mind and the preoccupations of my personal identities.
How do you relax the tensions you speak of?
Just thinking about relaxing has a very limited effect. The musculature quickly bounces back into its previous shape. Commanding yourself to relax is typically quite stressful, is it not? Most of the efforts we habitually make are initiated by tension. Another way is needed that does not trigger the automatic pushing force that we think of as will. There is an inner gesture of releasing, what I think of as an act of submission, which opens the way to another form of doing without tension. It is neither clinging nor averting but a third state between them and unlike the other two. You must look for it.
October 4, 2018
What are we to do with our memories of past mistakes and failures? Many times every day, I am suddenly reminded of the embarrassing things I have done or failed to do.
This is one of the great burdens of being human. There is no easy answer. Do you think about the positive things you have done or the good things that were done to you?
Do you also remember the negative things done to you?
No. I never think about them. I’m obsessed with my own faults.
Perhaps we can agree that we humans like to place blame for the fact that our life is full of difficulties. Some blame others and some blame themselves.
Do you actually remember accurately? Often, I do not. My memory is selective. I tend to remember the worst of my actions and not the efforts I made to undo them or correct them. When you take a walk down memory lane, begin the journey with a little humility…all that you remember is partial and prone to error. I say this not to give you an easy pass but rather to acknowledge that frailty is in all things, including the ability to remember and bring myself to account.
Recite the Compassion Prayer. Every one of us is caught in a cycle of insufficiency…guilt by limitation. To quote from a musical, we’re depraved on account of we’re deprived. If we were conscious, we would do better but we are asleep. For this, which is the ordinary state of things, we should feel compassion, for ourselves, for others, for all sentient beings and for the One Who made us all.
Clearly, it is best if you can undo the wrong you have done but often this is not possible. However, serious transgressions can be re-entered. Allow the memory to arise. Allow the sensations of remorse, guilt and shame. Do not turn away; avoidance enables these reactions to persist. Acknowledge your failing. Ask for forgiveness. Pledge to do better. This is a process that can bring relief and perhaps even correct the past.
The memories that disturb us are electrical anomalies held in the nervous system and the muscles. That’s where the unpleasant sensations of remorse, guilt and shame remain. Voluntarily bringing them to consciousness, facing them and asking forgiveness for self and others…this is a wonderful practice within the Christian tradition…contrition, confession and penance. What penance, you ask? This process itself is penance.
Attention and the higher emotions of compassion and forgiveness can ‘digest’ the anomaly, the one in myself and perhaps also the anomaly in the person I may have injured. Our experience is shared, so why not also its resolution? I have seen this work. Undoing the knot in myself, the other also finds freedom from the past.
As always, sincerity is the key.
June 26, 2018
What is meant by objective prayer? Isn’t prayer by its very nature subjective?
There are different kinds of prayer and they serve different purposes. Let’s start with petitionary prayer. I pray for something for myself or for others. My prayer is therefore a wish. To whom do I pray? Perhaps I think of myself praying to God, the Absolute, His Endlessness or the Universe. The concept does not matter. In my opinion, it has no relevance. What matters is that I reach outside myself, I ask for help.
Asking is the beginning of humility and it has the possibility of aligning my wish with greater forces. The way is opened to relationship and relationship can bring an action of the heart.
Petitionary prayer is subjective. I do not know what is best. I do not know what the consequences will be if my wish is fulfilled.
Isn’t this kind of prayer an expression of weakness?
Yes, and isn’t that much of its value? If I wish for something, who better to ask than the One to whom I pray? Self-reliance is a great thing. Taking responsibility is admirable. But these qualities assume their rightful place when I recognize my limitations. Otherwise, do I not become arrogant and foolish?
Now, there is another form of prayer which takes me deeper. It can be seen in the Jesus prayer, “Our Father…” This prayer has petitionary aspects but it also has something else, which is found in the line “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This means I no longer pray only for what I wish. I pray that His purpose should be fulfilled. To me, this is objective. It is also recognition that, in this world, His will is not fully sovereign.
I think we can go still further. Objective Prayer would seek to fulfill His purpose within the prayer itself. What would such a prayer consist of? Would it not serve His pleasure? This prayer would express His qualities, such as love and glorification, which are not often found in this world. This prayer would celebrate my relationship with Him, revealing part of His nature to Himself through me, as a kind of mirror. In this prayer, my longing is His response and in this reciprocity there is mutual satisfaction.
This is the purpose of zikr?
Yes. By invocation, it may be possible to bring the bounty of His qualities into being. This would be objective prayer.