Putting Prayer in Action
Just as all the books in the world can't describe the beauty of the simple light that dances through the dozen facets of a single diamond, neither can millions of words hope to reveal the Living Light behind the true nature of prayer.
In some ways, the attempt to define prayer is a bit like stating that the form and function of one bird is the same as all others, even as it goes ignored that no feathered creature can leave the ground were it not for the wind beneath its wings. All this aside, yet not apart from these inherent limitations, we begin our work together with a short spiritual story. Its one lesson tells many truths.
The second day into their week-long trek through a high mountain pass, Marian noticed her husband, Jim, mumbling something under his breath. Besides being an unwanted intrusion into her own tranquility, she didn't want him to be unhappy on this frosty, but oh-so-fresh country morning. Searching for the right tone to her voice, she asked, "What's the matter honey?"
Jim paused and shifted the weight of his backpack. "I'm not really sure, but I can't seem to stay warm," to which he added one last thought. "I think this new Hi-tech Gortex coat is for the birds! It's really scratchy around my wrists and neck."
As he spoke, Marian drew him near enough to her to examine his coat. A moment later she began laughing out loud.
"What's so funny?" Jim said, not even trying to hide his irritation at her finding humor in his discomfort.
"Well, honey, for one thing, I believe I've found your problem."
"And what would that be, do tell."
Marian knew anyone could have made the same mistake her husband did, especially someone who didn't understand the special design of the coat's unique fabric, so she swallowed her grin as best she could.
"Sweetheart, it's no wonder you're cold and miserable." But she couldn't contain her laughter, and her words spilled out with it. "Anyone would be unhappy who managed to put his coat on turned inside out!"
Jim's gratitude for Marian's discovery outweighed his temporary embarrassment, and with his troubles resolved, the rest of his journey was a delight.
Spiritually speaking, we face a problem similar to Jim's. Something isn't quite right on our journey. Surely you've felt this. Everything seems to be in its right place, yet Something is turned around. But what is it?
In short Our attention is turned inside out and, as such, follows our awareness so that the very basis of what we see (experience) as being reality is reversed. How can this be?
Our present level of consciousness is not just merely fascinated with the sense of self provided for it by its interaction with this physical world, but this "self" has become literally hypnotized by life's ever-shifting conditions and dwells therein as an unsuspecting captive. So much so that we've fallen spiritually asleep to the existence of our true, permanent inner home, and the presence of the Divine Self residing there.
We mustn't discount this idea just because it's disagreeable with spiritually self-pleasing pictures. Instead, let's evaluate the facts that follow, keeping in mind that it is only in recognizing the truth of our current spiritual state that we can hope to transform it.
Day in and day out the bulk of our energies are invested more in the struggle to resolve our exterior concerns than to realize their actual inner cause. In other words, when challenged by life, we tend to always turn, face, and start struggling to "take control" of these outer conditions instead of realizing that the only condition we ever really "face" is a reflection of our own level of consciousness. The true words, "my experience is myself" are known to us But not their realization that sets us free.
Like all great truths, the solution to our as-yet unrealized inner situation rests right within our awareness of it. This rescuing awareness, like the Light that it is, dispels not only the darkness of self-ignorance, but also the secret suffering it serves to create and maintain.
To this end, we must learn to use each moment possible to awaken to ourselves. This action begins with deliberately, consciously, bringing our full attention and awareness to bear upon the whole of us so that no thought or feeling goes undetected or unattended.
Within this specialized inner light we are able to see that whatever these mental and emotional states may point to as being their "cause" is no excuse for their disruptive or punishing presence. Here's the happy result of this higher understanding brought about through this New Action. Instead of going into our usual mode of seeking exterior ways and means to deal with what we perceive as the disturbance, a "blaming mentality" that keeps us perpetual victims, now we are empowered by our own awareness to see the real source of what disturbs us. We see we are only mistakenly identified with some false thought or feeling about the nature of Real Life. We realize that this false sense of self is the source of our suffering. Freedom is at hand.
The following two Silent Prayers-in-Action, taken from my most recent book, "The Lost Secrets of Prayer," point toward a new kind of inner practice whose purpose is the transformation of experience for the realization of True Self. Within them is revealed the possibility of learning to use even the most mundane of our temporal, physical circumstances to realize an interior and Everlasting Consciousness.
Prayer-in-Action #1: Give up the last word to someone else who's obviously glad to take it. Only the unconscious and painful idea that not having the last word is the same as losing yourself could compel you to verbally do battle with another person. Choose instead to consciously drop this losing war of words and watch how the inner and outer, Higher and Lower, worlds part by themselves leaving you, at last, with the choice where you will live.
This special spiritual understanding, and the inner-diligence it calls for, will help you in other areas of your life as well. In learning to turn and walk away from all arguments in the outer world, you're slowly earning the spiritual strength you need to let go of those interior battles where any kind of fighting or resistance is secret futility. No one wins in a dark inner dialogue except for the darkness that drags you into such a struggle within yourself.
Yes, give the last word in any unpleasant disagreement to anyone who wants it. You can do something much, much higher. Instead of turning on that person, turn around and see the self within you that believes who you are, your kingdom, is measured by verbal wins and losses. Winning illusions isn't worth losing yourself. Let the world outside of you have all of its temporary conquests while you secretly claim the internal victory that wins something eternal.
Prayer-in-Action #2: Walk away from shallow social circles where gossip, sarcasm, and one-upmanship are the coin of the realm. Just walk away from them. This prayer-in-action will show you after you dare the judgment of others or the aloneness that attends from your refusal to join in society's sick circles that the real departure you must make is from your own internal circle of thrill-seeking thoughts and false convictions. The following insight more than proves the need for this special kind of self-quitting:
One quirk of human psychology, connected to the wrong use of imagination, is that when we don't understand the actual purpose of something, we invent one for it. A child too young to yet understand the purpose of a shoe will find ways to entertain himself with it, to use it for purposes that have nothing to do with what the shoe was created for.
When men and women fail to discover the true inner purpose of their lives, their invented ones can often be cruel. One small example of this can be seen in our unconscious treatment of one another in various business or social settings where, in an attempt to be seen by others as being "better" than some contemporary, we may unknowingly use sarcasm to cut someone down to make ourselves seem taller. This misunderstanding of life's purpose is secretly the same as self-ignorance. And our state of spiritual sleep actually perpetuates this unconscious assumption that winning friends and overcoming enemies is the purpose of our being because this outer struggle lends us such a strong sense of self.
We must work to turn away from any social situation where false purposes mask secret punishments, as well as from that false sense of self that seeks itself indiscriminately in these strained settings. Our willingness to be alone when necessary is a Prayer-in-Action. Being inwardly willing to walk away from this level of ourselves is the same as inviting Truth to provide us with a New Self; one which is already content because it is a living expression of true life at peace within true purpose.
There is beautiful scripture, both Western and Eastern, that alludes to an aspect of self that is little known, less practiced. Paraphrased from my memory it goes something like, "Birds fly, fish swim, man prays." This truthful idea speaks volumes, and hidden within it is its secret instruction.
Remembering the Divine begins by remembering that God dwells within each of us, and to enter into relationship with this Light of lights requires that we turn around within ourselves to face It. When we will work to use every moment to remember where our Real Heart lives, Real Life begins.