August 20, 2013

A New Way to Pray: 4 Steps to an Embodied Prayer Life.

In the hallowed space of the body the ego cannot breathe. It dies.

A self-centered mind is an insecure mind. It is acutely aware of its impotence or powerlessness. No matter how hard it tries, the ego knows all too well, that everything it creates will come tumbling down before it’s very eyes. It is haunted by the truth of powerlessness.

So, we live in constant terror of the looming apocalypse—the big breakup, the day we get fired or laid off, fail out of school, or retire after a long and successful career, only to find out that we are uncomfortable in our own skin. We spend every waking moment trying to avoid such a catastrophe. Therefore, an insecure mind is a busy mind.

When people arrive at the practice of meditation most of them complain of this busy-ness. They have no idea that it is a symptom of insecurity. All they know is that their mind is a war zone. Their thoughts are going 90-to-nothing. They lack clarity or focus. Fatigue has gripped them, and they feel completely lifeless. In order to address this busy-ness, one must address the insecurity that finances it. So, how does one address insecurity?

First, it is important to understand that insecurity is a mental construct. It is a consequence of self-consciousness—we replace the intuition of being with the tendency to think about ourselves. We walk into a room full of people and begin to think about the fact that we are naked or innately open and sensitive. This transforms our naked body into our blind-spot. Now we feel disembodied and vulnerable.

Albert Einstein famously remarked, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Therefore, we cannot sit back and analyze our insecurity. We cannot think our way out of paranoia. We will only drive ourselves to the point of no return.

For the same reason a knife cannot cut itself and a pen cannot write on itself, the thinking mind will not be able to think its way out of a problem it thought its way into. This is where many of us throw our hands up in frustration and despair—we get so mad we just want to cry.

Thinking about stuff is all we know. It is all we have ever been taught. We feel hopelessly stuck because we do not know any other way to relate to our Self.

We have never been taught how to trust. An insecure mind is always trying to prove something or earn something. There is no trust, only paranoia. Trust is silent. It falls into the intuition of being, rather than standing back at a safe distance speculating about life.

Paranoia is concerned with two things. First, who or what I am. Second, whether this image is profitable or not.

Trust is concerned only with the fact that I am. T

he self-conscious mind views awareness or our naked body as a liability or blind spot. It is forever trying to fill this void with all sorts of entertainment—TV, conversation, books, relationships, video games, etc. On the other hand, silence recognizes this deep inescapable abyss as the ground of meaning and being that substantiates our life. In silence we embody sensitivity. If we want to effectively address the insecurity that fuels our neurosis, we must learn how to practice trust.

The application of trust is commonly referred to as prayer. In the west, prayer is typically presented as an exercise in mindless chatter, or it is avoided altogether. This is sad because it drains spiritual practice of heart and vitality. The prayer of which I speak is not the discursive, needy prayer most of us were taught growing up. It is embodied prayer.

So, how does one practice embodied prayer? Embodied prayer consists of four stages: pacification, recollection, intention, and death. I will be describing these four stages within the context of practice and daily life.

Stage One:

Especially in the midst of a difficult situation, we need to begin by pacifying our mind. When someone says something that pushes our buttons and we go flash red, we need to settle our mind. This reduces the chances that we will project our fear and aggression onto the other person. When we project our inner life we, not only ignore our responsibility to work with our own mind states, but we separate ourselves from the source of life. We step out of reality and into a lifeless delusion, and there we will remain until we come back and reclaim responsibility for the journey that is unfolding from within.

In order to pacify our minds under such strenuous circumstances, we may need to step away. Find a bathroom stall or a park bench where you can take a seat and settle your mind using basic meditation practice. Just take a moment and connect with the breath at the tip of the nose. Feel the breath as it enters and exits. Breathe in and out fully, but not in an uncomfortable manner. Count the exhalations until you reach 10.

You may not always be able to walk away. In such demanding conditions, take a deep breath. By deep, I do not necessarily mean a laborious breath, but instead an engaged breath—really feel the breath deeply.

Connect with the coolness of the in-breath at the tip of the nose, and allow the breath to guide your awareness deep into the body. Feel the breath crack through the tension in your chest. Feel your abdomen and chest as they contract with the exhalation. Finally, connect with the warmth of the out breath as it exits your nostrils. Repeat if necessary.

Within the confines of our home and daily practice we will find that it is much easier to calm our minds. We may require nothing more than ringing a bell or one deep breath. Some find a few formal prayers recited or chanted daily work beautifully to settle the mind. Or perhaps it will take 10 minutes of sitting before our minds are pacified. At any rate, it is important to note that we do not need to completely silence our minds before we are ready for the next stage. We need only to restore our minds to manageable state. It may take only the sound of the bell or an entire day of coming back to the breath, but the mind will settle. Every state of mind is workable.

Stage Two:

Though our minds have been pacified, they remained scattered. There is no clarity or focus. A pacified state is simply a manageable condition of mind. The energy of wakefulness remains fragmented and scattered, so there is no single-pointedness.

A scattered mind is like an expanding universe of competing ideas and clusters of discursive thoughts. In an emotionally charged situation, these thoughts will be particularly sharp and obsessive. At any rate, we want to hitch our thoughts to the breath. So, take a medium to full in-breath and allow your thoughts to ride the energy of the breath. On the saddle of the breath, bring your scattered thoughts back to their center, back to a single point. It is almost as if you are hitting rewind on a tape recording of the big-bang, where all of the mental and emotional debris that is scattered in each of the ten directions is returning to the singularity of energy from which they emerged.

Stage Three:

Once we have drawn all the mental and emotional debris into a single point of awareness, we immediately want to give direction to this dense ball of energy. This energy is commonly referred to as, “the will” or spirit. The will needs intent. Without direction it becomes too dense. It detonates. Then all of it’s energy is lost in the worry of many things. But before we can give it shape or definition, we must develop an understanding of it’s purpose.

So, what is the proper use of the will? When our point of view and our actions are directly inspired by truth we are sane. We know that sanity is our natural condition because it is marked by wakefulness or vitality. When our point of view is substantiated, not by what is real and true within us, but by what we think about things our will is inbred and neurotic. So, the spirit is feminine in nature. She is willing, not willful. Since truth is revealed in and through the body, the proper use of the will is to consent to the body.

Summoned by the in-breath, the energy of the will or the spirit has gathered into a single point. Now we must give her form or intention. Between the inhalation and exhalation we will give shape and direction to the will. This gap between the inhalation and exhalation should not be so long that it causes stress or discomfort. We generate intent in this gap by silently and clearly forming the words, “I am now willing that you should have all of me.”

There is a subliminal emphasis at work here that is indispensable, but difficult to express in words. Intention must include feeling and tone—you have to put your heart into it. It is as if these words are being spoken by the will and addressed to this soft spot deep in the core of our being, the seat of our true Self. So our intention should include a tenderness toward the heart or body.

In an emotionally charged situation, we will find that a passive announcement will not suffice. There needs to be a great deal of clarity. We should watch attentively as each word rolls off of the lips of the mind—witnessing as each word is born out of the nothingness in the center of our skull. In the midst of explosive circumstances, we may also find that it helps to add, “I am now willing that you should have all of me, the good and the bad.” Noting that “the good and the bad” means that we are giving even our aggressive tendencies over to the vastness of the body.

Stage Four:

As the old saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” We must be willing to follow through with our intention. The energy contained in that singularity is too great to be contained by empty words. If we do not express this intention immediately, the energy contained within this singularity will explode and our mind will once again be lost in multiplicity.

We act on this intention by relaxing into the deep formless silence of the body. Like a leaf falling from the branch of a tree, our words, “I am now willing that you should have all of me,” gently descend into darkness of the body. Our intention falls from the branch with the out-breath. This gives you a fair idea of how long this process takes. Stage two is initiated by the in-breath. Stage three takes place during the gap between the inhalation and exhalation. Stage three is executed on the out breath. Once the mind has been pacified we are talking about seconds. This is an extremely portable practice.

As we fall into the body we are dying to the illusion of separation and control. We are letting go of all the noise. We are giving up our self image, our opinions, and our agenda. With the out breath we are renouncing the world. This is the practical application of acceptance. In silence, the ego embraces its impotence.

The silence kills us. The body is, according to St. Paul, the temple—the body is the house of God. Written on the pages of the Talmud is this eerie word of caution: “He and I cannot dwell together in this world.” In the hallowed space of the body the ego cannot breathe. It dies.

Sisters of Mercy

People are always asking, “How come God does not speak to people like He supposedly did back in the day of Moses or Jesus?” What if he does… What if people do not listen like they did back in the day of Moses or Jesus?

“God’s first language is silence,” suggests Fr. Thomas Keating. From this point of view, it ain’t that God isn’t speaking, but that people do not know how to listen. We do not know how to hear silence. We think that silence is the proof of absence. We panic and immediately begin to fill that space with noise.

Mother Teresa said, “When I pray I say nothing. I just listen.” To which, a cocky reporter asked, “And what does God say, Mother?” With incredible depth and confidence Mother responded, “He says nothing. He just listens…” Silence is not the proof of absence. It is the sign of love. Only love can heal insecurity.

Learn how to sit in silence. This is the meaning of prayer.

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Ed: Sara Crolick

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