How to Pray | What Is Prayer | Modern Mysticism

You Life is a Living Example, and Practice in, Prayer

As I write this piece this morning, I realize, it’s taken me years to become this version of myself I see I am today. I also realize it will take me many more years to become the version I seek to be. In that journey, I’ve watched, read, and listened to hundreds of podcasts, books, videos.

From everything I’ve consumed, I learned something. I challenged my beliefs, biases and perceptions. Sometimes to the point of burnout. As I enter another year, I’ve reached a place where I want to share knowledge and maybe add to it, for those of you that read my work. 

In the next two weeks, I’m going to write a how-to series that encompasses embodying practices that I’ve found to be most helpful to me, and the people I work with. I will tell you now, I am not a guru, nor am I promising you radical transformation via my work. 

Why? Because what you already need is already within you, and you can excavate that yourself, you don’t need someone to help you.  But I will also say, having support along the way (people and practices) helps you develop the skills for self-excavation. 

What Is Prayer?

The first one in the series is going to be prayer. I grew up in different denominations of Christianity. The church was a good place for me, but where “church” and I parted ways was in the area of beliefs. 

I couldn't believe that God hated or condemned someone for not believing in him in a way that particular faith did. I couldn’t believe that God hated someone and would send them to hell for loving someone of the same sex. I also didn’t think God put women on Earth to serve the needs of men. In fact, I didn’t even think God was a man, and I didn’t believe in that definition of Hell. 

In church, prayer was pretty linear. It asked for God’s help in curing something or someone, helping to alleviate suffering or situation, or to give me something in exchange for everlasting devotion. Prayer always involves asking for intervention to end/get out of/etc. And in this definition, prayer only leads to thanks and praise if something was “received.”

As I began what I consider my own spiritual awakening, I couldn’t believe that was a way to pray. So I started to explore what prayer could mean in a different context. So this entry isn’t about prayer in the traditional Judaeo-Christian sense, nor is it a new age manifestation, positive vibes only use case. 

This is about looking at prayer in the sense of talking to creation (call it God, Goddess, Source, Higher Power - whatever you speak to it as), and asking to see or know. It’s about asking for heavenly intervention to begin the journey to consciousness and awareness. It’s the experience of PRAYER I had where I started, when I woke up, and it’s where I realized I could not go back to sleep.

“Help” is a prayer

In my search for redefining how to pray, and also then learn to do it, I found the work of Caroline Myss, one of the first things I read from her was the statement, “Help is a prayer.” A signal word. 

A single word could speak the volumes of my heart, soul, and head. I sat on the floor, closed my eyes, took a deep breath in and out, and said out loud, “Help.” I then followed “Help” with the questions: 

“What do you want me to do with my life? What would you have me do right now?”

And the answer to my question came in the form of Knowing. I could hear the answer in the back of my neck, I felt it in my heart, and in my stomach. The Knowing was my intuition. By simply asking the energy that created this world (which I am going to refer as GOD) for help, and being willing to fully surrender to wanting to fulfill my purpose, I received my answer.

Prayer is a state of surrender

Prayer is about, and starts with, surrender. As Caroline Myss writes in Intimate Conversations with the Divine:

Surrender is an act of awakening. We consciously step into the flow of our lives and into the conscious stream of guidance and grace that is already flowing through our soul. We do not give up when we surrender. Surrender is an act of recognition, an acknowledgement of the order of the Universe. Surrendering our power to God as the act of ultimate trust, consciously merging the power of our soul with the universe. 

Surrendering allows you to move beyond ego, the stories you tell yourself, the biases and narrow beliefs you hold. When you let go of what is happening in your head, you open, and you can hear from the heart. That’s where intuition comes in. Prayer is surrendering, so that you can open and learn to listen to the voice in your heart versus the voice in your head. The voice you want hear. 

Prayer isn’t always verbal

I’ve also learned that prayer isn’t always verbal. Prayer is defined by the Judaeo and Christian Mystics as the raising of one’s mind and heart to God.

  • Have you ever entertained the idea that no words are necessary to pray because prayer can take place in your heart, and not your mouth?
  • Have you ever asked for guidance internally, and waited for an internal answer? Have you spent time in silent reflection (meditation) waiting for a feeling to arise?

That’s prayer. 

Prayer is expressed in conscious action

For me, I want to live my life in a walking, awakened meditation. With that, prayer can be an embodied experience of presence, not just a contemplative one. 

  • How do you show gratitude in your daily life? 
  • How do those practices of gratitude reverberate out through your being? 
  • How have you built moments of mindfulness in your life in order to care for your inner wellbeing? 

Gratitude and mindfulness can be embodied moments of prayer. 

Your daily life is a practice in prayer, do you see it?

How often do you find yourself listening to podcasts about a topic in order to expand your understanding or awareness. 

  • How often do you listen to music that elevates your mood or helps you to relax?
  • How many times per week do you take a walk or hike in nature to take a step back from all the stress and work in your life? 
  • How many times have you taken a day trip and find yourself experiencing awe? 

Guess what? You’re in prayer.  To me, prayer involves an experience or activity I’m present in that results in a conscious shift of feeling, emotions or thoughts. When I’m outside, I am fully present in the experience. Oftentimes, after just a few hours, I realize that the situation that I’ve been replaying in my head that causes a ridiculous amount of inner turmoil, is not as bad as I’ve made it out to be. 

When I focus on the task in front of me, say grooming a horse or even shoveling manure, I realize that my overthinking was just that, overthinking. My mind is trying to make sense of something that it’s feeling threatened by. And when I surrender, and let go of the replay, I relax. The presence recenters me, most of the time, the answer that I seek comes to me in small, short, but very clear Knowing. That’s a prayer. 

Being of service to others is prayer

Have you ever thought that being of service to others is a prayer? Guess what, it is. Think about your day, how may you help others in a way that may not register with you consciously?

  • Do you write a blog that helps others support their mental health in constructive ways? 
  • Do you produce podcasts that help people challenge constructive ways of thinking by talking about other ways to view something? 
  • Do you donate your time to non-profit organizations or causes? 
  • Did you stop what you were doing in order to help a friend or family member with something challenging? 
  • Are you dedicating time to your team at work to help build systems and processes that allow you to work better together, while also coaching and mentoring them?

Being of service is an answer to many unspoken, but heartfelt prayers. So how are you serving someone? How did you answer a prayer someone may not even know their heart uttered? 

Look at your life, isn’t at least part of it a practice in prayer?

So what is prayer, and how much of your life is related to prayer? 

Sally Fritsche, the author of, An Atheist’s Prayer, published by Harvard Divinity School, wrote:

Prayer cannot bring water to parched land, nor mend a broken bridge, nor rebuild a ruined city, but prayer can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart, and rebuild a weakened will.

Abraham Joshua Heschel also wrote in Prayer:

To pray is to take notice of the wonder, to regain the sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the divine margin in all attainments. Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living.The focus of prayer is not the self. It is the momentary disregard of our personal concerns. Prayer takes the mind out of the narrowness of self-interest, and enables us to see the world in the mirror of the holy.
For when we beat ourselves to the extreme opposite of the ego, we can behold a situation from the aspect of God.  Prayer is a way to master what is inferior in us, to discern between the signal and the trivial, between the vital and the futile, by taking counsel with what we know about the will of God, by seeing our fate in proportion to God. 
Prayer clarifies our hopes and intentions. It helps us discover our true aspirations, the pangs we ignore, the longings we forget. It is an act of self-purification, a quarantine for the soul. It gives us the opportunity to be honest, to say what we believe, and to stand for what we say. For the accord of assertion and conviction, of thought and conscience, is the basis of all prayer.

Prayer is about surrender. Prayer is about letting go. Prayer is about asking for support and knowing without attachment to the answer. Prayer about acceptance and channel. Prayer is about service. So how much of your life is already a practice in prayer? And what have you learned so far? 

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