Category Archives: Within the Practice

Contemporary Traditions #2: More on Word-Based Prayer

In addition to using prompts meant to guide and deepen your word-based prayers, there are some ways to enhance the experience.  Consider the following:

  1. Bring an empty chair into your prayer space.  After centering yourself, envision that God is sitting there, across from you.  Speak the words that come into your heart to that empty chair. Speak them out loud if you can.
  2. There are good reasons for saying grace: a prayer before a meal.  There are many things connected to food: the systems which bring the food to you, the job which earns the money, the healthy body systems working to digest and excrete the food.  Grace is a time to thank God for these, and for the people who worked together to create and enjoy the food. So say grace before a meal today. Say it in your head, or better yet, out loud with people you love.
  3. Just as their are good reasons for the tradition of praying before a meal, there are also good reasons for praying before bed.  PErhaps you will go super old school and kneel by your bed if health permits. Look back over the day. Share the best and the worst of it, and everything in between.  Thank God for the people you enjoyed and for the people who you didn’t. Ask God for what you need. Look foreward to tomorrow in your prayers. Ask for sound sleep for you and yours.
  4. Early Christians followed their Jewish predeccors in comitting to a schedule of multiple prayers each day.   Praying the Hours is making a comittment to pray through out the day,  One modern pattern is to pray at dawn, 9 AM, noon, mid-afternoon, sundown, and bed time,  In our time, we have the advantafe of setting alarms on devices to help us keep track of this comittment.  As you decide how much to commit to this discipline, a related question is what will you pray? Perhaps you will merely check in with God.  Maybe you will make your way through the psalms. Perhaps you will say the same prayer each time.
  5. There is a tradition that adresses God in a formal way.  Sometimes we use archaic language, sometimes we dress in our very best for church,  Connecting with God in this way has both value and limitations. Some of us who might not observe these traditions might be hung up by God’s eternal wisdom and power.  It can be difficult to talk to God. Today, do your best to put thoughts of formality and eternity out of your mind, Talk to God as if you were speaking to a friend. Have a chat with him!  
  6. In the bible, Paul tells us to pray constantly.  Let that be your goal today. Don’t set aside a few minutes to talk with God seperately.  Rather, do your best to mantain an all-day dialogue with God. As you get ready, consider some ways that you can help yourself be focused on this.  It might mean asking for somebody to check in with you, setting up alarms, etc.
  7. We all have scripts; negative self talk that gets in our way.  Words, perhaps internalized from people around us in our childhood that can be destructive.  It can be a life’s work, to detect the scripts which constantly play within our own minds. However, a regular spiritual practice of contemplation can start to untangle this.  Making a conscious effort can help even more. Today, begin by centering and calming yourself. Then spend some time listening for the constant, negative statements that weigh you down.  Write down the words which you think you hear at the end of the contemplation time. We will use them over the next couple days. Try and be open all day to destructive thought patterns. Be ready to add to your list if need be.
  8. Get the list of negative statements you created yesterday.  After spending some time calming yourself, read them, one at a time.  Speak to God about these destructive statements. Talk to him about where they came from.  Hear God’s words about the impact they have. Ask God to take them up from you. But hold onto the list.  We are going to work with these one more day.
  9. Today is your last day with that terrible list of scripts we play in our head.  Your job today is to create a positive affirmation that negates each of these on a seperate sheet of paper.  For example, if you wrote down “I am not enough.” The negation is “I am enough.” If you wrote down “No one loves me.”  The negation is “I am loved” or “God loves me.” After you have written these down, stay with them. Give yourself at least a single breath of saying these words.  Maybe there are some that you should choose to affirm for the next several days or weeks. When you are done, you might wish to think about ritualistically releasing the list with the negatives; bury it or burn it or throw it away.  You might wish to take your affirmations and place them somewhere visible as a reminder.
  10. And let today be your day of confession.  None of us are perfect. All of us fall short.  To admit these short comings is a powerful thing.  Fully own your mistakes and the troubles that they have caused.  Ask God for forgiveness and assistance in not walking down that road again.
  11. The Jewish scriptures have a precedent for collective sin as well as individual ones.  Today, confess the sins of the groups that you belong to. Perhaps they are the result of privilige.  Consider your family, ethnic background, personal life, and work groups. Think about the groups you belong to today, and the groups you have belonged to in the past.  Ask God for guidance in how to be a more responsible member of this community.

Strategy #2: What’re You Listening To?

Should we listen to music while meditating?  Should we find some white noise while engaged in contemplative activities?  Should we try to create a perfectly silent sanctum for ourselves?

Out of all of our senses, it seems like hearing is the one we are most tempted to ask these questions about.  I suppose this is because it seems like sounds are the most likely intrusions on our contemplative times.  We can shut our eyes.  Tastes, and feelings and smells are unlikely so suddenly show up.  So we are left with the question: What should we do with these sounds that intrude?

I am not sure that sounds are always the intrustion they appear to be.  In this post, I want to spend a little bit of time exploring the question of whether we even want to cover  sounds.

I used to think that the objective during my contemplations was to get 100% in my thoughts.  I thought the end-game was to escape my body.  I thought I was going to find this mystical realm, beyond such mundane things as noises which might interrupt me.

Increasingly, I am learning that this is not generally what I want at all.  The growth happens in releasing the things that I don’t want or need.  The growth does not come from creating an environment where they don’t exist at all.

One interesting thing is that most of us are pretty inconsistent around what sounds create problems for us.  If we are praying outside, the distant ‘caw’ of a bird can seem rather wonderful.  But when we hear the ‘thump-thump-thump’ of someone’s blasting car radio, this can feel like the problem.

After I did some reflecting on this fact, I realized that I was willing to give a pass to the sounds which seem like they belong to the environment I am.  Things that seem natural are ones which I did not allow to distract me.

As I thought about this question, though, I realized that this is pretty arbitrary.  Which soounds belong?  What does ‘natural’ mean, anyway?

The thing is, all the sounds that happen are in some sense, natural.  One of the reasons I meditate is to embrace the fact that ‘everything belongs.’  Adjusting my feelings about the sounds I hear is probably a good place to start.

In terms of my spiritual practice, a few years ago, I always listened to music, white noise, or other tones of my choosing when I meditated.  As the years have moved on, I am shifting.  The practice of returning to myself after surprise is a good practice.   Living the reality that all the sounds belong is an important thing to do.

Much more than half the time, this is enough.  This change in attitude is really all that need.  My challenge to you today is to give a try to meditating, praying, and contemplating with out something covering up the sounds in your environment.  I hope that most of the time, you won’t need anything.

Occasionally, a little something extra, a sound designed to cover up other sounds, is worth finding.  In the next strategy, we will explore just what that sound might seem be.


Strategy 1: Time, Time, Time See What’s Become of Me…

Often, when I meditate, I do it for “a while.”  I sit until I am uncomfortable.  And then I stop.

Can I tell you something?  I am not really accomplishing much.

Very close to every intense spiritual experience I have ever had, while engaged in spiritual exercises, happened after I wanted to be done for the day.  The unfortunate truth is this: when I am uncomfortable is when growth happens.

When I decide to just pray for a while, or engage this contemplative activity for a bit, as soon as things begin to stir deeply within me, I find a reason to be done.  This is good work.  It is powerful work.  It is not easy.  There are lots of parts of me that want to run away from it.

Timers are incredibly helpful.  Some, like the insight meditation timer integrate features like white noise, music, and data about how consistently we have been practicing.  So my suggestion is that you decide how long would be comfortable.  And then, add a little bit.  Try to get yourself –just a little bit–into the uncomfortable range.