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.
I haven't studied this practice in depth, although I know there are a number of books out there on it - you can find them on Amazon.com if you want to learn more (and although it's not specifically a Christian technique, there are Christian-oriented books about it if that is the approach you prefer). But it's so simple, and works so well, I haven't felt the need to dig into it further - just the basics of what I have learned have served me well so far.
The basics of Ho'oponopono, despite it's long, complicated name, consist of a very simple prayer, or series of statements. You can do them in any order, either as is, or embellished with your own words of prayer. The phrases are:
"Please forgive me."
"I love you."
It doesn't sound like much, but the power in these words is actually amazing, and they work hand-in-hand with the Christian faith, incorporating the concepts of humility and surrender, along with praise and thanksgiving.
I don't use all of them all the time. When I feel like I need the surrender part, or I want forgiveness, I may use them all. Often I am just expressing gratitude, so I just use the last two. Sometimes I do make them more complex - incorporating for example, what I am sorry for, and/or what I am thankful for. Or sometimes I just use the phrases themselves.
This is the easiest, simplest way to pray that I know of. It accomplishes everything that I want prayer to do, providing peace, serenity, thankfulness, surrender, love, and connection to God. It helps me accept things that I am struggling with. It has even gotten me through a couple of extremely severe episodes of back pain. (There's something oddly calming about chanting "Thank you, I love you" rhythmically and repeatedly throughout a back spasm. It may sound odd, but it has helped me get out of bed in the morning when I didn't think I could.) Normally when I use this I pray it towards God - my source of spiritual light. But sometimes I pray it towards my body (especially the I'm sorry, please forgive me part!), or even mentally towards other people.
If you have trouble praying, or thinking of what to pray for, I encourage you to try this simple technique - you may be surprised at how much it can improve your prayer life.
The second technique I use I actually heard in a seminar I was listening to on my IPod. I am not sure exactly who said it, but I think perhaps it was Deepak Chopra? This one is great specifically for relationships - with others or even with yourself. It really helps you come to terms and make peace with the things you don't like about yourself or others, that may in time come to harm your relationships and your view of yourself.
It's a way of focusing on the positive - as I talked about a few weeks ago. But it's very specific and personal, and can really turn around your frame of mind, and change your emotions towards someone (or yourself) from negative to positive within just a few minutes - or even seconds. It dissolves your negative resistance towards something, and helps you accept and make peace with things that have been causing you mental stress and tension.
Again, it's a very simple phrase - with a couple of different variations depending on how you're using it. You can use "Thank you," or "I love you" interchangeably in the basic phrases below:
"Thank you (God) for making me/her/him just like this." (This one can be directed outwards, to God or the Divine.)
"I love you for being just like this." (This one can be directed towards yourself or someone else.)
Say/think/pray these phrases several times while thinking of the negative quality or behavior that was causing you to feel upset, until you feel your resistance/frustration/anger give way to acceptance and forgiveness.
This can take a bit of practice, and will probably feel a little uncomfortable at first. After all, you're basically saying, not only do I accept this quality or behavior and love you anyway, but I love you for actually having this quality or behavior that I don't like! There is bound to be a bit of resistance there, and I've found it's much stronger when applied to something about myself. (If you are directing this towards yourself, looking into a mirror as you say it may be helpful - although also uncomfortable!) But it's amazing how much stress and resentment can dissolve - very quickly - through regularly practicing this technique.
Basically you are offering love and gratitude towards parts of others, or yourself, that may not be so easy to love. In doing so, you are surrendering your feelings of resentment, and embracing those parts as perfect, regardless of whether you feel they benefit you or not. It is giving thanks (once again) to God for creating you in all your perfectly imperfect glory. It is freeing, peace-giving, and joyful. And that's what prayer should be.
Try these two prayerful methods of connecting and giving thanks, and see a positive shift in your frame of mind, attitude towards life, yourself, and others, and relationships - both to other people, yourself, and your Creator.
Give thanks this week, show appreciation to those important people in your life, and enjoy your time with your loved ones on this very special holiday dedicated to gratitude!