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Approaching Prayer And Meditation


JenellYB
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I think the new 'pinned' post Mike has introduced under 'personal stories and journeys' is a great idea!

 

Something I've thought about raising here, and Mike's new thread today seems a good time for it.

 

Is there something(s) about how you personally approach prayer and meditation that helps you, that you think others might find useful or inspiring in their own approach to prayer and/or meditation?

 

Perhaps things like, do you have a certain time you set aside? A place? Perhaps a ritual, that helps you prepare yourself to enter a prayerful or meditative state? Or way of focusing your mind in some way? Perhaps how you hold any particular person and their needs in your mind and prayer?

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I'll lead off with a few thoughts from my own expereinces..

 

I find it helpful to set for myself certain times for prayer, though not neccessarily set by exact hour or minute. Such as, during morning coffee, or upon finishing lunch, or during my evening bath. I have also experienced positive results from "attuning" my prayer time with others doing the same, whether a family or spiritual group I'm in relationship with, even though others of the 'prayer circle' are all in different places. I've found this particularly powerful when the attuned group have a mutual emotional attachment with the recipient of the prayer or each other, in times of illness or other very difficult circumstance.

 

I find it helpful in clearing my mind of competing and distracting thoughts if I clear a space, or chose a clear space...no books or other 'interesting' distractions before me, computer and tv off, no clutter on the table to remind me I need to deal with it...

 

I have at times used a little ritual of laying out something of an 'altar' for prayer. Nothing fancy, just something like a cleared coffee table, whe I may set out such things as a candle or incense burner, a small vase with a single fresh flower, or perhaps an inspiring figurine such as a special porcelain angel from my little collection...even the choice of which one to use can be predicated upon the nature of the prayer session I feel I need to enter into. That can be different whether seeking personal guidance, strength, or intercessory for another.

 

Requests or personal thoughts of prayers for certain reasons may arise throughout the day, and sometimes I may forget some of them during prayer...so I often sit and write a list as part of my preparation, sitting quietly to think, before entering deeper prayer. Something I used to do I just thought of, I think I may take it back up, is the practice of tearing off strips of paper from the list, each with a specific name or key words for a situation or concern, as I pray about it. Then I place each of the little scraps of paper under the base of one of my angel figurines, each chosen for some way how I feel about that figurine relates to the prayer recipient or concern. Sometimes I leave enough paper sticking out from under the base to be able to see at a glance who/what is written on it. In subsequent prayers about the same person or matter, I may or may not gather up the papers, often I remember which is under which angel, and just look across the room at that one, as I pray regarding that person or situation.

 

Doing this isn't about any kind of 'magic ritual' or 'spell' as I've heard express concern for, but simply a way of focusing and attuning.

 

Meditation, I usually make use of music, pieces have have selected for how I know they affect and move me, and the cadence with which I hope to enter a meditative state, varying as well according to my planned focus in that meditation. I also often use 'moving meditation', Tai Chi or free form dance or other movements in time and rythym of the music to help facilitate my move through states of consciousness and emotion.

Edited by JenellYB
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Jennell,

 

Thank you for starting this thread. As I've implied in another thread, I'm looking to re-invent my spiritual practices, and hope to gain some ideas from how others respond to this post. Just now, my practices have no set time or ritual or anything, and my spirituality is suffering for it. Part of it, I think, is that since I had the stroke, there is no structure or rhythm to my life. I pray when and where it strikes me to do so. While spontaneous prayer is wonderful, and something I have always done, I have found that having "sacred" space, time, and ritual enhances my prayer experience (sacred meaning set apart.) Speaking of spontaneous prayer, when I was going through my painful growth period and felt I could not pray, my spiritual partner pointed out that the desire to pray is a prayer in itself.

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Yvonne, we do seem to be so much at points in our lives in which we are having to confront some very similar issues, both in our material lives and circumstance, and personal growth.

 

I too am good at what i refer to a 'praying on the run', both in a sense of offering up spontaneous prayers in response to events of myday, and that 'praying continuously', trying to stay in a prayerful state, aware of and responsive to spiritual present.

 

But I have found that taking time and deliberate effort in the 'designated' sessions of prayer help greatly in my being able to maintain that feeling of 'connection', being plugged in and tuned in, as a more consistent state the rest of the time. When i am already in that 'connected state' as I go about my day, its easier to drop into a deeper state of prayer spontaneously, to "pray through in an instant", as some of my elders have put it. Sort of like maintianing a constant 'open line' rather than having to dial the number, wait for the ring, and someone to answer on the other end.

 

I'm actually somewhat ashamed of myself and embarrassed to admit that a lot of what has influenced me away from those regular practices as such daily routines has been feeling inhibited by the presence of others that have spent time in my home with me in recent years, feeling uncomfortable, maybe feeling they may be uncomfortable with, my engaging in those behaviors. Adding to that, I experience feeling more connected, more intimately connected, when i spend at least part of my prayer time talking to God aloud, as I would to another person i may be telling, explaining, my situation and feeling to, in a most intimate way. I can't, don't think anyone really can, do that within hearing of another person. The same for my using selected music and moviing meditation,such as free-form dance...its just too inhibiting.

 

But I'm alone here again now, and that excuse just isnt there anymore. I need to get over that. And, i need to realize that when again I am sharing daily life with someone else, I need to explain to them that I NEED such alone time, and expect the request for it to be respected and honored. I really didn't do that in those times. I would just try to 'steal' time for it, grab it at opportune times when they happened to be away from home. I didn't respect for myself, that this is a NEED for me, just as are eating and sleeping, my mind, soul, spirit, NEEDS to be fed, rested, refreshed regularly, just as my body does.

 

Jenell

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I get up at 4:30 so I can do my meditation and yoga before breakfast and work. I do the same at night. My wife and children when they are at home understand and respect my time even thought they don't partake. Sometimes, they will say go meditate and then we will..........................................................

 

I find my stomach gets hungry at a certain times because I usually eat at that time. Well, my mind desires silence at a certain time so I can re-center. I know this is not for everyone, but it serves me well. I find diet also helps calm my mind as foods are chemicals and when I want to make a big change, event or cleansing then fasting is a good technique. 40 years ago when I was at the university I worked with a professor doing research on spiritual practices and how they alter the consciousness. Yes, I need to taste the alternate universe every now and then and it seems to make me more efficient in the physical universe where I enjoy most of my time. I don't find my spiritual practices as running away, but running to something. I wish I could share the joy they bring to me in the spiritual, mental and physical realms, but everyone has their own way.

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Soma wrote: I don't find my spiritual practices as running away, but running to something.

 

I guess in situations with another person around, I kind of find myself caught between that run toward the spiritual expereince, but at the same time feeling maybe I'm rude to run away from that person, lol.

 

Thanks for mentioning the effects of things like food. I've discovered some foods and beverages affect both how I feel physcially and emotionally, and that very much also affects my spiritual state as well. The fasting...when I underwent my spontaneous 'spiritual emergency' some years ago, I was drawn spontaneously into a lot of changes in my usual routines and lifestyle, that I didn't learn until much later were the very things those such as shamans and other 'spiritual people' use to facilitate moving into ranges of altered consciousness. Changes in the foods I wanted to eat, and those I just didn't want at all, as well as fasting,without even thinking about it, were part of it. I'd just have no appetite or thought of food, even 'forget' to eat. that happened easily becasue I was alone,when others were around, of course having to think of them eating brought it to my mind too. I also became more phycially active, feeling spontaneous desire to run. I lost 30 lbs in 3 months, 60 lbs in a year, which was a very positive change.

 

One unpleasant 'side-effect' on me of the over 5 yrs my sister was here going through cancer treatment, until she passed away 3 yrs ago, was that our life here was so constantly "food-focused". Constantly trying to keep her eating well, to keep her strength and weight up, finding and preparing tempting foods to help overcome her unhealthy lack of appetite, as well as the psychological aversion conditioning to eating that she naturally developed because she suffered so much abdominal pain every time she ate, as well as terrible nausea and often difficulty keeping it down when she did eat it, then more pain as it worked through her intestines and bowels, really was bad for me, Added to my more sedentary lifestyle dictated by being at the time also a full-time college student, I gained an awful lot of weight back, and it has been very slow coming back off. Such physical things definitely affect usin every way.

 

Jenell

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To me, Life is one continual prayer.

 

There was a time when I would have vigorously disagreed with that. Now, however, I agree wholeheartedly. And yet, for me, I find it necessary to both my spiritual and psychological well-being to set time aside to focus on prayer, study, and being truly in that moment aware of the divine presence. My spiritual partner and I were talking about just this subject. He reminded me of a time in my life when I chose to set aside time each day for bible study, journaling the book I was reading, and focused prayer.

 

Jenell, I believe this form of prayer has been most beneficial to me.

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All that we may do in regards to prayer and meditation IS for our own benefit, toward our our well-being. No, there is no 'requirement' by a God or a force or whatever...I don't believe in such an egotisitc god that demands worship. Nor that what and how we do or don't has any 'power' within itself...just as I noted about my placing the strips of paper under the angels...its just anaction, it 'does' nothing, has no 'magic power'....but it does help me to focus, my thoughts, my energies, toward where I want them to be.

I do know that prayer and meditation serve positive purpose and function in myself, my life. It helps me to 'center', stay balanced. It isn't something I 'have' to do, or 'should' do, dictated from any source outside. But for the benefit I find in it, I'd suggest anyone consider it something that could bring something positive to their own well-being and life.

 

Jenell

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Thanks for this thread Jenell.

 

As far as the practice of prayer and meditation goes, I've borrowed a great deal from Zen Buddhism. I think it best to set some time aside either in the morning or evening (or perhaps both) to sit and de-clutter the mind. In my understanding, spirituality involves the whole body and mind, the rational and the a-rational. It is all a living (and lived) energy.

 

Rhythm, sound, and scent are very sensual aspects of our existence, but are nonetheless appealed to in mantra and burning incense. Olfaction being our most potent sense as far as triggering certain responses, I find that incense, when used for meditation only, is a very fast way to prepare the mind for a time of meditation.

 

Peace,

Mike

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Mike: "....when used for meditation only, is a very fast way to prepare the mind for a time of meditation."

 

 

This succinctly states it...what any and all of these things we may "use" in connection to entering meditative or prayerful or any other state is pretty easily explained by principles of psychological behavioralism, as we make intentional use of "conditioned response."

When at first Pavlov's dogs heard the keys rattle, it ellicited no more response in them than mere attention and curiousity. Ot was only after repeated incidents of food shortly following the sound of the keys that the animals' natural response to food became connected to that sound, and could be invoked even when no food was present.

When any of us first put into practice any ritual or other element of our invironment as we prepare for and enter into prayer and meditation, whatever it is has immediately limited usefulness, or 'power'. At the start, it has no usefulness beyond immediate effect, such as facilitating our efforts at clearing our mind of distracting thoughts, relaxing and letting go of tensions..the actions themselves, as well as their natural effects such as soothing scents and sounds and visual impressions, are useful to us in those ways.

But after having repeatedly followed these actions with seeking into and entering the meditative and prayerful state, a conditioned response will begin to form, until the mere presence of the objects or sounds or smells, and the mere routine of our performing the actions, take on themselves 'power' to draw us more quickly and easily into those states with which we have associated them . We form those kind of associations throughout our lives, without even thought or planning, accidentally and circumstantially, but we can intentionally make use of it with knowledge of the process.

 

This is, btw, why we may experience a sense of having come into "Divine presence" upon entering such as a church or chapel, it is not that there really is such a divine presence there more than anyplace else, but that that environment contains elements of what had been involved in our lives that we have associated with invoking that state within ourselves. Its a conditioned response.

 

Jenell

Edited by JenellYB
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I suppose that's true, Jenell.

 

It's good to develop good mental habits. The mind is always conditioned by something, excepting possible states of pure consciousness. Much of the mind's conditionedness -- its habits, or in Buddhism its karmic structure -- inhibits the mind's functioning. Like Pavlov's dogs, we are bound to all sorts of associations that may or may not be justified (much of the time probably 'not'). But cultivating good habits is necessary to counter this. Good associations -- like with the incense, which is naturally very pleasant and potent to the senses anyway -- can allow us to ease into and embrace our practice more deeply. The deeper the associations, the more it can evoke from us. Everything is intimate and interconnected; ultimately the experience is its own Source.

 

Peace,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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When theories of behavioralism and the power of conditioned response in behavior modification techniques and therapies, there was a good bit of stir among lay society, even a flurry of b-grade suspense/horror movies, about fears of 'mind control'.

Such techniques, along with others, have been intentionally and unintentionally used for mind control probably for as long as there's been humans, whether understood or not.The simply fact is, it is a basic part of human development, how we are shaped and formed into how we act and respond to anything. Most takes place without anyone's deliberate intent or purpose.

 

The positive advantage of knowledge and awareness of such phenomenon is being able to actually take some charge over the process, whether in self-therapy or with others whom might benefit by it. While in college, I served an internship as an assistant behavioral therapiist withthe TexasYoung Autism Project. The therapy involved in that project with very young children affected by autism is an very intensive program of behavioral modification techniques. What is really facinating is the mind-body connection, that can actually be observed through such technology asfMRI, that reveals as the intense behavioral modification exercises proceed, the actual physical structure and activation of neural responses in the brain are being changed as well.

 

Understanding these principles can be useful to any of us in influencing and modifying out own behaviors and responses. In this matter of meditation and prayer, intentional manipulation of natural behavioral responses in our body and mind can be an effective tool to breaking through the everyday common barriers to moving into deeper states of mind and consciousness.

 

Btw, Mike, one observation...."habit" and "conditioned response" as a term in psychological behavioralism are not the same thing, are not appropriately used interchangeably..

 

Jenell

Edited by JenellYB
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