Today, I have curated wisdom from Tara Brach regarding prayer. Prayer is a discussion that James Cowles (our Thursday skeptic writer) and I have been discussing for a while.
Tara Brach reminds us that prayer, "when offered with presence and sincerity...can reveal the source of what your heart most deeply longs for—the loving essence of who you are. Perhaps without naming it as prayer, in times of great need and distress you may already spontaneously experience the act of doing so. For instance, you might find yourself saying something like, “Oh please, oh please” as you call out for relief from pain, for someone to take care of you, for help for a loved one, for a way to avoid great loss."
She then offers some reminders that I will summarize (and add my own twist into):
If you feel a moment of prayerful need rising, ask yourself questions about that need. What is prompting this? What am I praying for? What am I praying to? Interrogate yourself to discover your own habits of the heart. Becoming aware of your spontaneous habits can lead to deepening intentionality (a foundation of mindfulness)
Once you have started the interrogation of your prayer practice, there are some things to consider:
What is your posture? Kneeling? Palms together? Hand at heart? Open eyes? Closed eyes? Bowed head? All the things! What do you do with your body? The drive is to find the position that feels most open-hearted or loving towards yourself.
Begin by arriving within yourself. We might call this centering. Use a mindfulness practice that brings you to the present, creates intention within yourself, allows your to experience this moment as new, and is non-judgmental. Or accepting. Perhaps the words loving kindness would apply. Practices that aid in arriving might be breathing practices or candle gazing.
Listen to your heart, to the tension, to where there is pain. Check-in with your body, especially major centers like the throat, chest, and belly. Where are your feelings the strongest? Is this emotion centering in your throat, choking off your voice? Take time here to fully connect to that tension or pain. In connecting, find the longing for healing. Is the healing directed towards a parent? God?
Begin to express the prayer. Use your words here. Let the vulnerable cry of your heart find voice. Whatever you need, listen to it, feel it, and express it. It could be, "Mommy, please help me." or "God, please take care of my partner." As you are speaking from your vulnerability and longing, your prayer will deepen. You could even use a breath prayer practice (breathe in, say who you're talking to; breathe out, name your desire).
The expression of prayer will not contain the fullness of who we are nor will it contain the fullness of whom we cry out to. When we name God, our image of God is not the totality of God. When we name self, we do not see that which is hidden from our own selves in our shadow. But our experience of expressing our longing to whomever we are calling upon lead deeper to an experience of a deeper source of compassion than we even knew.
As you begin to express your prayer of longing, begin to ask yourself, "What am I yearning for? If I got what I wanted, what would it feel like?"
Use your prayer imagination to enter into this exploration. Imagine a loving hug from your mother. A compassionate warmth from God. The pure essence of surrendering to love or peace or whatever you are yearning for.
Throughout the day, recall your time of prayer. This will help you to stay attuned to loving kindness that you experienced during your deeper prayer practice.
My prayer for you this day is that you experience loving kindness that touches your heart.
Breathe in: Compassionate Spirit
Breathe out: Love us all
Article adapted from Prayer in the Face of Difficulty by Tara Brach