Prayer vs. Meditation: 3 Powerful Perspectives on God. ~ Morgan Dix

What is the relationship between meditation and prayer?

It’s a question that comes up a lot in contemporary spiritual circles, especially now, as yoga and other Eastern meditative practices become more mainstream in the West. Recently, I have been conducting a little comparative study through my own practice, and I wanted to share some of my initial findings and insights.

What is the relationship between prayer and meditation?

For a long time, I wondered about the relationship between prayer and meditation. My own practice developed in an eastern context, through spending 13 years living in an ashram, studying and practicing meditation in the tradition of Advaita Vedanta.

In meditation, I discovered a part of myself that was limitless, sacred and invincible. It was a part of me that couldn’t be tarnished by the world of time and experience. It was silent, whole and inherently peaceful. In that place, I wanted nothing at all. Through meditation, I found what I understood to be God, a place of perfect contentment within.

After this discovery, I struggled with the idea of prayer. If God is infinite and resides in the deepest part of me, to whom or what would I pray? Am I praying to myself? That seems kind of weird. Or, is there some lofty and mysterious patriarch on high that I am petitioning through prayer? That seems kind of old. Given my own understanding and discoveries through Advaita Vedanta, I just couldn’t relate to the Judeo/Christian notion of a God outside of myself.

Discovering The Three Faces of God

But then I discovered the work of philosopher Ken Wilber, and his very insightful Integral Theory. In Ken’s work, he provides us with three valid ways to relate to God or Spirit via three different perspectives. As author Karen Kelly describes it in her Unity Magazine article, Three Faces of God, “These perspectives determine whether we address God in the first, second, or third person:

  •  First Person: God as Ground of Being is the First Face of God. It is the experiential “I”—God within us, or God immanent.
  • Second Person: God as an entity to whom we relate and pray to is the Second Face. It is God as “Thou” or “You”.
  • Third Person: God present in the manifest world as the Web of Life, as Nature, as All That Is, is the Third Face. It is the ‘He/She/It’ and is understood through our senses.”

Ken has written about the Three Faces of God extensively in his book, Integral Spirituality. If you want a short audio primer on it, I recommend you look up Ken Wilber on Spotify and listen to his interview with Tami Simon on “The 1-2-3 of God.”

 The Power of Prayer to Deepen Meditation

What Ken’s insight helped me to find was a valid way to relate to prayer as just another way to access spirit. How could 2.1 billion Christians and 1.5 billions Muslims, be wrong? So recently, I started praying before meditation to explore that modality of spiritual practice and see if it bore fruit.

My basic approach is simple. It’s modeled after the Jewish practice of Hitbodedut, a kind of informal, spontaneous, and personal conversation with God.

I can’t say enough about how powerful this practice is. Before I meditate, I sit down alone in a quiet place on my cushion, and I just talk out loud to God. I share my aspirations, my goals, and my concerns. I ask God to watch out over my loved ones, and I share what’s on my mind. Sometimes, I just talk to God about God and express my gratitude for being healthy and alive. It’s a lot like talking to my best friend.

And what I found is that doing this before meditation has deepened my practice significantly. In a way, talking to God leaves me empty. After Hitbodedut, it is easier to let go of everything and free-fall into infinite space.

My initial findings from this metaphysical field study, in addition to the helpful insights from Wilber’s Integral Theory, have started to clear up my confusion. Meditation and prayer are not mutually exclusive. Clearly, these two modes of spiritual practice serve different functions, but both feel important, enriching, and mutually supportive.

 Here are a few ways that I observe the prayer influencing my meditation practice and daily life:

Mindfulness:  Throughout the day, I am more attentive to the still quiet place I discover in meditation. I am more mindful.

Selflessness: I find myself more concerned about others and aware of their problems, as much as my own.

Love:  I think about love. What is it? Am I expressing enough of it?

Meditation:  Meditation is deeper, richer, and I drop into formless awareness faster.

Connection: I feel less alone. I’m not so much aware of God as other but more God as wing man. A partner in crime who is seeing what I see, thinking what I think, knowing what I know, but with a billion times more nuance and subtlety than me. (I am obviously the wing man in this equation, but you get the drift.)

Now, I look back to the views I held about prayer from just a few weeks ago, and they seem kind of small and a little silly to me. Sure, I love my own tradition, but what a difference it makes to cut a new groove and embrace a new perspective.

Love elephant and want to go steady?

Sign up for our (curated) daily and weekly newsletters!


 Assistant Editor: Kerrie Shebiel/Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: elephant archives

You must be logged in to post a comment. Create an account.

Shoba A Singh Mar 17, 2014 12:47pm

Having started my spiritual "quest" through prayer and in a place of deep introspection and all of the tools available to me,I embarked on a journey of meditation.Being a "layman",It was fraught with the dilemma of quietening my mind while maintaining "the posture".With perseverance and ,after abondoning my so called "dilemma" I experienced "something"

I realised I had to be as comfortable as possible by my standards.I opted to a meditative practise,lying down!Paid no attention to my thoughts and focused on my breath!The thoughts ,I realised,was who I had conditioned myself to being,and just let them be!After about 7 months of dedication to it my experience was one of an indescribable warmth and safeness!The term "expansion of self" finally understood!

Then what was prayer?Maybe its the subconscious mind knowing our connection to source,which through conditioning we have forgotten,goading us on to that place of oneness?

Medtation always leaves me "complete" and now I find there is no "guilt" from lack of prayer!

Gratitude I have embraced!…..just my experiential perspective!

Morgan Dix Feb 12, 2014 7:37am

Dear Laura,
Hello to you too and thanks so much for your thoughtful reflections on this article. Your Master's degree sounds fascinating and compelling and I love how you describe coming at all this originally from more of a second face of God vantage point. I also really like how you re-frame Andrew's 1st tenet in the context of an I-Thou relationship and wanting connection with God more than anything else and the cascading results. I too have found that the I-Thou context for practice opens my heart in a way that the first person practice I have been doing for the last 15 years didn't. They both seem to touch different parts of me and both feel important to me for different reasons. So glad we can share this exploration together as well. It's definitely one of the benefits of being, as you said, "on the loose" 🙂

Laura Madsen Feb 1, 2014 10:27pm

Hello Morgan,
I enjoyed reading your comments on Wilber's 3 faces. I also have found him very helpful for locating the direction of our interior world of spirit. Interesting, that I am coming from the opposite direction from you: from strong second person experiences, to slowly integrating first and third through studying with various "Evolutionaries" of late. Many of whom are Andrew Cohen's senior students who are now "on the loose." I only met Andrew in Nov. 2012 and did a ten day Being and Becoming retreat with him just over a year ago.
I have not attended church in my lifetime, but the gospel stories rang very deeply for me when I first read them at age 11 with a friend of my mother's. That experience led me to reading the Bible on my own every night for 3 years ages 11 to 14. Which, led me to studying Theology and receiving my Master's degree in 2011 with a research thesis: Surrendering to Silence: A Heart Centred Practice. My results were stunning and, of the 5 themes for Silence Practice that I researched and developed, the "Yearning" theme was the fast-track to Silence Practice. i.e., when we want connection with God more than anything else, things really have a way of settling down! The mind included. The heart opens and its Universal intelligence (very impersonal and deeply personal) becomes very available. I am also aware of my deep resistance (another theme!) and fear around this direct relationship with God, as it really is a death of the habit-self skin I am quite comfortable wearing. So, it is very helpful for me to work within Cohen's collective that can support the transformation process. So, I agree with you, these 3 faces of God are mutually supportive.

Read The Best Articles of March
You voted with your hearts, comments, views, and shares.

Morgan Dix

Morgan Dix is a blogger who writes about spirituality and culture. He is the co-founder of About Meditation, an online guide for the modern meditator. A recent article from Morgan that elephant journal readers might like is A Little Known Secret about Sex & Meditation, which you can read here.