Q. I realised I have never spoken to you about prayer, and I would like to. That might be a missing part of my practice.
A. Prayer is difficult to identify outside of a conventional religious context. But it’s important to gain a deeper understanding because I think prayer belongs alongside meditation and contemplation as a trinity of practice -- mutually dependent, overlapping and inter-twining, but distinct.
The terms prayer, meditation and contemplation considered together, suggest a western theistic background, ‘contemplation’ in particular, but all traditions and ways of inner work have related practices. And I think we need to recognise that the essence of prayer is much more than the common association with formal religious recitations, or petitions, or even personal verbal communion.
In which case, what is prayer, and how might it be distinguished from other spiritual endeavour?
Today I read the sentence: “Prayer is a vision of harmony’. I pondered the question of what would constitute real harmony in the apparent confusion and superficiality of the world we walk through daily. What sort of vision does one need to see it?
I’m sure that true vision is always a plunge into the depths, well below the patina and the turbulence of merely keeping afloat in life. It’s like a dive through the maelstrom into still waters beneath, and then further, to where a spring bubbles up perpetually from the source. From here the currents which generate the world can be seen, circulating in great convolutions, and rising in eddies to the surface where they disperse into agitation.
Q. That may be a vision of harmony, but how is it prayer?
A. If this kind of vision is genuine, it can only come from cultivating an ability to see below the surface of life, which begins with longing. Longing tracks back to a desire to reach out, to unify, and hence initiates the act or state we call prayer. The thing is, most people go no further, and link this longing to something conceivable (God) as an anchor in the rapids, naturally framing it according to the religious authority they accept. Only a few understand that nothing deeper can be seen or actually known until the water is still.
This begins commitment to a quiet mind and meditation. Meditation is the first part of the dive, to where the water is clear and tranquil. From there, from quiet or silence, it’s possible to perceive that water springs forth spontaneously from an infinite source, void of form. This part I equate with Contemplation. It’s a knowing, a seeing, or a gazing. There’s insight in it, but personal striving is no longer relevant.
However, to make it possible to hold awareness of the source/void, as well as to operate in the world with this knowledge, the mind needs to create structures. In other words, esoteric teachings and metaphysical Law, currents and patterns created from the void and arising with the streams of life.
It’s all mind: chaotic mind, organised mind, clear mind, transformed mind and illumined mind, where awareness of the source infuses perception, and which recognises, on a daily basis, the forces which continuously generate the world, and is at peace. It’s a contemplative mind by this stage, but I think it includes the prayerful heart as a foundation.
The world’s appearance doesn’t change; violence is still violence, delusion is still delusion. But however disunited it appears, it is all in the Harmony, continuously generated, and conforming to the laws of manifestation.
From this perspective, are you sure prayer’s ‘missing’ from your practice?
Q. Well, I don’t look at things this way, or remember often enough, especially when I look around and feel total despair, as if the world has gone mad. I know it’s not helpful to adopt a negative vision, though everyone seems to positively enjoy this schadenfreude, like a disease which is extremely contagious! It’s hard not to be affected by anxiety and fear.
But if when tempted, I remember and hold a deeper vision instead, that will be prayer…..?
Hmm….yes, I have a feeling it would be a powerful act, a heart-turning…. And so I suppose, it is a way of prayer.
A. So long as it’s a genuine vision, ie. your vision. My words just throw a raft your way so you can keep steady long enough to plot your dive! (It’s a raft of straw, by the way, ….!)
However, I think we both know how to dive, and therefore do know something about prayer.