Prayer & Meditation

“Those of us who have come to make regular use of prayer would no more do without it than we would refuse air, food, or sunshine. And for the same reason. When we refuse air, light, or food the body suffers. And when we turn away from meditation and prayer, we likewise deprive our minds, our emotions and our intuitions of vitally needed support. As the body can fail its purpose for lack of nourishment, so can the soul. We all need the light of the God’s reality, the nourishment of His strength, and the atmosphere of His grace.” (my italics)

The above quote is taken from the book, “The Twelve Steps and The Twelve Traditions.” I recently spent a few months with a mentor giving this text a close reading. The passage is from a commentary on Step 11 from Alcoholics Anonymous – widely accepted as one of the most impactful spiritual movements over the last century. Though, not in any way unique in its observance of prayer and meditation, over the last six years it has been my access point to these spiritual disciplines. This passage holds one of my favorite lines in all spiritual literature – “atmosphere of His grace.” It reminds me where I want to be and what I have to do to get there.

I really appreciate the analogy of meditation and prayer with other essential resources for life. It is much more than a nice play on words. From a physiological point-of-view, there is an order of importance for our essential needs – the rule of 3’s. We are the most dependent on air. The average human being will go unconscious after three minutes without oxygen. After about three days without water the body’s main systems will die, and after about three weeks, despite the amount of air or water one consumes, without food, the body will cease to metabolize and die. With each lighter element the dependency grows exponentially – the lighter the element the more important to immediate survival.

I have to remember that many find it an extravagant leap to conclude that spiritual energies – conscious thought – deeply affects living systems and human life.  The best research in transpersonal and depth psychology is conclusive, not to mention the momentum and impact of religious inspiration that is undeniably clear – we are built and sustained by a set of spiritual energies or principles, though subtle in nature, shape life-worlds more significantly than the air we breathe. Religious texts, including the New Testament, are reminding their readers over and over that one cannot live on mere bread alone, but must strive for righteousness – right relationship – with self, others, and their world.

I have been mentoring others for a number of years. I always insist that those I work with begin or grow meditation and prayer. Still, people balk when I suggest using prayer and meditation as essential tools for life. Don’t I just need to make more money? Or grow professionally? How will prayer give me a new degree? Or meditation pay my child support? At surface it seems so counter-intuitive that mindful, spiritual practices would improve our ability to meet life on life’s terms more effectively.

I like to think about the problem as a confusion about the order of things. I think we all intuitively know the order of things, but we get so grossly distracted – an apathy of attention or an excess comfort – that we forget what’s happening and we forget the order of things. We’re conditioned to confuse and forget that our material, grosser, problems are only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. We must get at the underlying causes and conditions and address our lack of resourcefulness – the source of all power, accessible to us all, more abundant than the air we breathe or the water we thirst – a source accessible in large part through the cultivation of prayer and meditation.

I know that I am absolutely committed to prayer and meditation, and I have been deepening my practice recently. I haven’t failed to notice how much fun I’ve been having, the quality of my elevated attitude, my increased ability to meet resistance and positively influence others. I haven’t failed to notice the direct correlation between the commitment to prayer and meditation and the empowering week that I’ve experienced.

There’s a great story about a master who meditates every day for one hour without fail. He is approached by a student exasperated with the idea that he could find an entire hour to meditate during his wildly important, busy day. He asks the master what he does when he’s faced with a packed schedule of real importance. “Oh,” the Master replied, “When I have a really important, busy day I meditate for two hours…just to be safe.”

 

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The Familiar Cycles

They’re like old friends or ghosts from the past. Why are they so familiar? Is it this season again? Already? I’m always hit with this conflict between wonder and bewilderment when I encounter one of my old patterns of behavior – the familiar cycles of struggle and conflict. Often I don’t even see them coming. Out of the blue, there goes my back. I threw out my damn back again! Should this show up on my medical record as “chronic” now? Or less physical and more spiritual – Did I just do that, curse a driver, beat my cat, get that ticket, freak out on my sister, hit my father up for money? Do I owe an apology for that!? I’m going to set myself on FIRE! Hey, all that happened this past year. It used to be much worse for me…but I’ve grown… Isn’t that nice?

Where I notice the familiar cycles the most are in, what I like to call, my character defects. Those areas of my life which I am deeply unskillful at surrendering. Finances. I’m like a baby. I remember when I would get on the phone with phone companies and just spew anger – projections, transference, whatever you want to call it. I was sick, and I loved to make other people wrong when it came down to my irresponsibility. “Oh, I get what the contract said, BUT… whatever! I’m right…” And…they’re still taking my money.

Now I’m a great deal better. I’m more a magician on the phone or is it just kindness? But still, those old cycles of familiar struggle come up. It was an insurance company last month. I didn’t cancel my insurance on time and they charged me for half a month, despite receiving a verbal commitment that they would ensure a full refund. The charge came right as my account reached zero. I was hit with an overdraft fee and a familiar set of emotional reactions that reminded me of someone I spent a great deal of time with in my 20s.
It hits you hard when you encounter one of these ghosts. I have worked hard and I continue to work hard to become someone whose relationship to money is one of attraction, empowerment, and abundance. The difference today is that I get my refunds back…eventually. Five years ago nothing ever came back.

I’m talking about all this because I’ve been working as a recovery grief specialist over the past year, and frequently I find my clients suffering from familiar cycles of struggle. It takes an encounter with grief to see it for what it is, to remember it. They seem – we seem – to attract that which we are, what we struggle with, our unique ghosts. I know it’s not a strange concept, but why do we forget so often? I should know myself by now! Right…?

The path of awakening is much more like a set of daily practices than any one-time revelation. We call that spiritual development of the educational variety. The more I practice the more encounters with my own b.s. I’ll find and therefore the more opportunities for growth will be present themselves. It’s strangely paradoxical that I must encounter the cycles of pain and frustration brought on by life in order to know them, and therefore overcome them with new practices. Without them – these familiar cycles – we are doomed to repeat our mistakes in unconscious darkness.

Grief, depression, addiction, anxiety, physical pain, financial or social struggles – none of it is cured with time. You do not recover by waiting long enough. One must practice a state of recovery-in-time – making more skillful decisions coupled with time.