“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.”