Turning prayer into practice

Turning prayer into practice
by Nancy B. Loughlin
Published in News Press on December 9, 2014.  Posted with permission.

I came up with a great prayer last year.

“I have the patience to accept and reach all people where they are. I have the serenity to forgive anyone who knowingly or unknowingly harms me. I have the strength to thrive despite all loss and challenge that may cross my path.”

I’ve always been a fan of triples, and I said this prayer (or intention, meditation, affirmation) for a week during my morning mindfulness practices, and I repeated it before I slept so it could seep into my subconscious.

All hell broke loose.

I found myself surrounded by people who disappointed me, several of whom hurled slings and arrows with malicious intent. Meanwhile, loss and challenge were driving my freight train into a brick wall.

I tried to retract the prayer like “Young Frankenstein’s” Gene Wilder begging to be saved from the rampaging Creature of his own making. “Don’t you know a joke when you hear one?” I shrieked, and I pounded the locked door.

Too late. The monster broke free of his chains.

“So, you want patience, serenity and strength? How about now?” The universe baited me.

Or did it?

I get there is no reality without consciousness. I know calming the fluctuations of my mind can reduce my stress and yield physical benefits. But, call me a skeptic because I’ve never bought into the New Age axiom that thought can rearrange the universe. I don’t believe that deities will magically intervene on my behalf upon request. I chuckle when people suggest that we can attract life goodies by merely focusing our mental powers and switching on the tractor beam, no action needed.

Don’t think I haven’t tried.

Prayer and Positive Thinking

In 2010, I was a finalist for a significant teaching award. This was my fifth time in the finals, and my ego demanded victory.

I asked the universe to deliver, and I used prayer, positive thinking and visualization to get it. It couldn’t hurt, I figured.

I articulated my desires and wishes as if I already had them, and I prayed to benevolent forces that conspire in my favor. Given that these entities are wiser than I am, I knew they could have chosen to give me exactly what I needed instead of what I wanted.

.

How convenient.

Regardless, I proceeded with the affirmations, and I started acting like a winner. I cleared space on my shelf for the trophy. I mentally spent the award prize. I wrote my acceptance speech.

In my daily meditations and prayers, I expressed gratitude for the award and respect for everyone involved. I prayed that all would happen for the greater good, and that greater good was for me to win.

And I won. It worked, I thought.

But I was wrong, or maybe I was half-right. One fine lesson from “Don Quixote” is to act like a knight if you want to be a knight. So, behaving like I had already won and asking for divine intervention wasn’t all I did. I changed my style of dress to be more conservative. I painted my face with make-up. I laughed louder, forced more smiles and told Rated-G jokes.

The only thing I didn’t change was how I taught in the classroom.

No divine forces delivered for me. My tactics didn’t rearrange the universe. I rearranged myself.

I still pray and throw my cares to the universe when they’ve exhausted me. But, I don’t call it “prayer” anymore. I call it “practice.”

Practicing Prayer

The discussion drifted to prayer during a recent yoga workshop.

One attendee said her prayer was simple: “To live in love.” The instructor asked her if she was insane. She said the universe would respond with test after test as if to ask, “How’s that love thing working out for you now?’”

The instructor wasn’t off-base. Prayer, in my experience, is not communication or communion with the divine. It’s communication and communion with myself, and, in some belief systems, the divine and the Self (note the capital S) are the same.

When I practiced patience, serenity and strength last year, I was activating a filter on how I processed and derived meaning from my life experiences.

That prayer I uttered for days didn’t rally the troops. It rallied my perceptions.

I was waiting for people I could identify as falling short of my expectations so I could launch my patience. My forgiveness was hyper-vigilant for those I could label as careless with my feelings. And if I wanted to categorize natural ebbs and flows of life as loss and challenge, serenity was in the wings.

It’s like my horoscope filter. If I read it in the morning, it will set the tone for the day. If I read it at night, I’ll backtrack and reinterpret the day’s events.

I’ve always had issues with patience, strength and serenity, and I chose that prayer to give me an opportunity to focus on knowing mySelf.

Prayer, for me, is svadhyaya, the yogic practice of self-study. As I write this, I know what my next prayer will be: “I have the courage to speak my truth, and I can endure and respect and learn from the criticism and disagreement of others.”

Nancy B. Loughlin is a writer and yogi in Ft. Myers. Visit her website www.NamasteNancy.com or Twitter @NancyLoughlin

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