In this follow-up to last week's post, I will share the second part of my experience with learning to pray. It's a timely one, with the holiday of 'Thanks-giving" later this week! (First of all pardon me for any typos and such - I've had a bit of a cold the past few days, and my brain is a little foggy...But I will try not to ramble on too long!)
Last week I discussed the first part of a successful prayer life (for me, at least) - learning what to pray for. This week I will discuss the second part - how to actually do it. Again, even if you're not a Christian, this can be a very helpful tool in your spiritual and life growth! If you would prefer not to call it prayer, then don't. The way I do it, some people might not call it prayer anyway, but to me it's all one and the same.
Let me start though, with a reference to Christianity. If you've ever read the Bible, and studied the way that Jesus prayed, you might have noticed something interesting. Almost every time that Jesus prays as recorded in the Bible, he starts not by asking for something, but by giving thanks! That's right - he doesn't say "give me this, Lord," he says "thank you" FIRST - before receiving!
Isn't that interesting? For those who have studied modern non-Christian spiritual teachings such as 'The Law of Attraction," you may remember that in order to receive something, you have to first act as if you already have it. This can be difficult for some - how can you pretend to have something you don't? The easiest and most natural way to do this, is to give thanks for it!
Jesus obviously knew this. After all, remember the loaves and the fishes? Jesus didn't sit down to pray to the Lord and say, "God, can you please give us some more bread? Oh, and while you're at it, can you also multiply these fish enough to feed five thousand?" It does not say this in the Bible at all. Instead, it simply says "Jesus gave thanks." Then he broke the bread and divided up the fishes, and lo and behold, "they all ate and were satisfied." Giving thanks is pretty powerful stuff!
This is all well and good, but in actual prayer practice, do you just sit down and close your eyes, and say 'Thank You" to God/the Universe/the Divine - whatever you pray to? Sure you can - that's a great start! I've found there is no better way to instantly create a feeling of peace and satisfaction - even calming the most troubled mind - than to think of all the things I am thankful for. But there are a few specific ways in which I express gratitude in prayer that have proven very helpful to me - maybe they will be to you as well.
This week (and next - in the spirit of the season), I'm going to "get religious" on you - just fair warning. :-) But for those who may intend to tune out, I encourage you to stick with me. Even if you're not a Christian believer, prayer is not as far from your life as you might think. In fact, if you're a practitioner of any kind of meditation - as many people seeking balance in their lives may be - this is really just a form of prayer if you think about it. Both involve mentally focusing on something outside of yourself - something larger to which we are trying to connect. Both seek to achieve peace, health, and well-being in our minds, bodies, and spirits.
But here is where some may think the difference lies - and I'm not sure exactly how this happened, but somehow we seem to have come to think of prayer as asking FOR something. Not that there's anything wrong with asking for help when you need it, and Jesus does say "ask and ye shall receive." Maybe that's where it comes from, but in disregarding the rest of what the Bible says about prayer, we're pretty much throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Not to mention, I'm fairly certain that Jesus wasn't talking about a new Playstation, Jeep, or even a new house. What he was talking about receiving was the presence, peace, and strength of the Lord. And whether or not you call it "God" or not, this is also what most forms of meditation seek to achieve as well. So if you would prefer not to call it "prayer," to call it "meditation," "mindfulness," or something else, that's fine. Either way, it is something that we - all of us seeking to lead a balanced and fulfilled life - need to engage in regularly in some fashion. Engaging in communication with God, the creator, the Great Divine, is what gives us our juice, our own force of creativity and vision, our inspiration to take what we have been given and make something greater out of it - something that will benefit not just ourselves, but others as well. And without that, what are we all doing here?
Pardon me for climbing onto my soapbox for a bit today.... It seems that one of our greatest flaws as human beings is laziness. Or perhaps this is a particularly American flaw? We were not founded on laziness - indeed, our founding fathers (and mothers) espoused just the opposite. Personal responsibility was the word of the day, and is even the basis for our Constitution - the government was to give us the freedom to take responsibility for our own lives in most areas.
But somewhere these values seem to have been lost along the way.... Indeed, it now almost seems that we equate "freedom" with LACK of responsibility. In America today, we seem to think that to be "free" means to have others take care of everything for us, and that is a dangerous philosophy indeed.
Relying on someone else, whether it be your government, your doctor, or even your spouse to decide what is in your best interest and make your decisions for you is to be well on the way to losing all freedom entirely.
But I will try not to get too political today! As you may suspect, one of the areas where I am most concerned about this trend is health and our healthcare. (I use the term "healthcare" loosely here as what we commonly call "healthcare" is really sickcare.) While you may have your own views on politics, and how much control we have over the direction of our country and our nation, one thing we all DO have control over (at least so far) is our own health. And I'm not talking about health insurance or the "Affordable Care Act" or anything like that. (That, again, goes back to "sickcare.")
What I am talking about is our ability to take charge of our own health, and stay healthy and well - so that we hopefully rarely, if ever, truly need to resort to the use of our current "sickcare" system.
I heard this tip a number of years ago, listening to a seminar on relationships. I don't remember what the seminar was, or who said it, but I do remember this idea very well, because it stood out to me as something that we all too often let slip by the wayside as we get comfortable in a relationship and start taking each other for granted.
Focusing on the things we love and appreciate about each other, rather than the things we aren't so crazy about, is probably the most important thing you can do to keep your relationship strong and happy.
While the idea is certainly true for both partners, from what I have seen and experienced in my own life, it is particularly something that women succumb to. I don't know why, but it seems to be female nature - maybe it goes all the way back to "the fall" in Genesis, where God says, "you will desire to control your husband." :-)
Keep in mind I am speaking in generalities here - I'm sure there are men who would like to change things about their partners, but interestingly enough, while men are known as "fixers" when it comes to physical things, women are much likely to want to "fix" things about their mates. Don't get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting your beloved to be the best that he or she can be. But it's a slippery slope that, if we're not careful, can lead to dissatisfaction, resentment, and eventually even the end of a relationship.