Prayer and meditation are two very useful spiritual practices. Most people tend to incorporate either meditation or prayer into their spiritual practices, but not both. (Or they at least tend to emphasize one over the other.) Sometimes there is a perception that the two are the same thing. But generally speaking: prayer is talking to God, and meditation is listening to God.
One of the most common functions of prayer is to request something from God. It could be to ask for something material, or to protect someone, or to make a request on behalf of someone’s health. But the general concept is that you want something to be a certain way, and you are asking God’s help in getting this accomplished.
It should be noted, however, that God already knows what we want. Furthermore, God also knows and already provides everything that we actually need in life. We do not have to ask for it. What we need may not be what we want, but what we have in life is exactly what we need to have at that moment in time.
What this also means is that what will happen in life is what needs to happen. So when we make a request from God via prayer, it is vitally important that we keep in mind – and confirm – that these are our desires, and that we will always accept and be grateful for whatever outcome actually occurs.
Building a relationship with God
One useful function for prayer is for building a relationship with God. You can talk to God about what is going on in your life and how you feel. If you are grateful for something, express thanks. If you are worried about something, talk about what it is that is bothering you and ask for help. If you are confused about something, state what it is that is that is not clear, and ask for guidance.
Another helpful role of prayer is in reaffirming your commitment to something that might happen in your life. For instance, you might be single and you may want a partner. Note that we always have free choice, and even if finding a partner would be good for us, we don’t have to “accept” a partner. By talking about your situation, i.e., that you are single and want someone in your life, you are making a confirmation that this is what you truly want.
The reason for this exercise is that when you make the commitment, you can then check in with yourself to make sure you are 100% committed. Perhaps there is a part of you that is holding back: you might be nervous about a new relationship. Acknowledge the nervousness, and then ask for God’s help in committing yourself 100% to this new relationship. The same concept applies to other life changes such as a new career, a child, or maybe a move to a new location.
Always make a habit of closing your prayers with gratitude for all the blessings you already have in life, and for the blessing yet to come.
If you go to a bookstore, you might discover many different books on how to meditate, each with different techniques. This can make the whole concept a bit confusing. Meditation can be useful for learning to control the mind, enhance high-sense perception (sometimes referred to as psychic powers), and reach different states of consciousness. The purpose of meditation could be for relaxation, grounding, balancing one’s energy, etc. For the purposes of this article, I will suggest that the general purpose of meditation is to listen to God. And the ultimate purpose of meditation is to achieve a personal awareness of God.
In order to be aware of God, we need to listen to God. And to listen to God, we need to keep in mind that God is in fact everything. So we listen or experience God by fully experiencing reality as it is in the moment.
Generally speaking, to be a good listener means to let a person talk without interrupting. Try to understand what the speaker is saying. Likewise, to ensure we don’t “interrupt God” while we meditate, there is one main rule: do not “manipulate” anything.
“Quieting the Mind”
Many of you may already have certain meditation techniques such as breathing a certain way, sitting a certain way, following the breath, etc. I am not suggesting that these techniques are wrong; rather what I’d like to point out is that these are techniques used in meditation in order to “quiet the mind”.
Unfortunately, the phrase “to quiet the mind” is misleading, because it makes us think we need to somehow stop thinking. This is in fact not possible: there will always be thoughts in our heads. The point of meditation of the initial stage is to not get lost in those thoughts, but instead observe them as if watching a movie. I.e., dis-identify with the thoughts. View them as not “your thoughts”, but simply “thoughts that popped into your head”.
If you try to stop thinking, you will spend your whole life fighting with your mind. This is because you strengthen what you focus on, and what you put your emotions into. If you don’t add any emotion to your thoughts, they will eventually quiet down on their own.
The Meditation Practice
The idea behind “no manipulation” is that we don’t try to change anything. In fact, we want to fully accept that everything is at it should be and simply observe what is there.
To observe means being curious: what is it that is happening right now? Don’t judge anything. For instance, if you feel a pain in your shoulder, don’t think: “oh no, there’s a pain in my shoulder! I shouldn’t have this pain.” Instead, simply observe: “There is a pain in my shoulder.” Then watch what happens to the pain. Does it stay? Does it move to a different location. Simply observe.
How are you breathing? Is it deep? Shallow? Don’t change your breath, simply observe what your breath is doing.
Note: this doesn’t mean you should sit in meditation and endure sharp physical pain. If you feel the need to adjust or stop the meditative practice, by all means use your best judgement.
With this exercise of meditation, you are allowing everything to be as it is. And accepting everything to be how it is. In other words, you are allowing God, and you are accepting God. And with each breath, you are steadily connecting more deeply with God.
- Adyashanti. True Meditation: Discover the Freedom of Pure Awareness. Sounds True. 2006.
- Joel S. Goldsmith. Man Was Not Born to Cry. Acropolis Books. 2004.