Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Pray Like You Mean It

by John Boodhansingh of Zero Mindfulness

The other day I saw on a religious document the suggestion to pray to God for an increase in understanding, wisdom, and so on.

This reminded me of the Serenity Prayer:
grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
I think these prayers are good in theory and intention, but it seems most people remain unaware that such prayers must be accompanied by some type of action. These prayers must parallel a willingness to see and accept the truth, whatever it may be, and a willingness to change, whatever the seeming cost.

Similar is how people say, “Why worry when you can pray?” all the while worrying even though they pray regularly.

The reason for the similarity is that, in the vast majority of cases, prayer doesn’t automatically alleviate worry—or bestow understanding, wisdom, or whatever else might be prayed for.

If we want something, by all means we can pray about it—praise, request, affirm, be grateful—whatever feels right to any of us as individuals. But we must realize that we also have to make sure that we are making ourselves open and worthy of deserving our request.


Let’s say you feel ignorant and would like greater understanding.

You might begin by seeking intellectual growth. This isn’t inherently a problem, of course, for the intellect is an excellent tool of learning.

But maybe a year or three-quarters of a lifetime (or twenty-seven lifetimes) thereafter, you might come to realize that the intellect is quite limited and cannot provide you the understanding you seek.

You realize the physical world cannot give you what you want and feel compelled toward the spiritual. Here you decide to pray for understanding. But let’s hope this is not all you do.

For it is here where you must also do something. You can’t just sit on the laurels of your former lifestyle and pretend that God is going to drop the secrets of the universe into your lap because you’ve decided to regularly pray for as much.

If you want to understand life, then you must first understand yourself, from which true understanding will be given in equal measure.

This means you must self-inquire, meditate, heal old wounds, and so on. You must quiet your mind and develop impartiality. Otherwise you will be too overwhelmed by an endless cacophony of thoughts and too filled with judgments and false ideas to perceive what is really going on.

Your cup is already full, so you must empty it out before you can fill it anew.


Much the same could be said about wisdom as understanding except, so I feel, that understanding is more related to the mind while wisdom is more related to experience.

In this Western culture of ours, many people have come to believe that wisdom comes with age. A little wisdom is likely, but what is gained is mostly street smarts and knowledge. Because if wisdom came with age, this planet would hardly appear as it does to be going to hell in a handbasket. (More on that in a minute.)

Many have also come to believe that wisdom is gained through book learning and by listening to book-learned teachers. I’ve had a fair bit of experience with Roman Catholicism, and I can tell you that they say virtually nothing about personal experience. They might use phrases such as, “Receive Holy Communion and feel God dwelling within you,” but all such talk is empty; clergy speaks as though they have any idea what it’s like to feel God within them and as if any “good Catholic” can just receive Communion and have some blissful, loving feeling of God-oneness. Catholicism is so very much about the intellectual gathering of religious information, as though God is something to be conceptualized and categorized.

Unfortunately for all those who are hooked into this game, wisdom is not an intellectual knowing. You could read every book and scientific article and every piece of scripture on the planet but be none the wiser.

Wisdom is a spiritual quality, and it is born of self-awareness and the lessons learned from hard life experience. Intellect will be useful along the way, but so will be smarts, intuition, and the plain old struggle of trial and error.

To acquire wisdom, you must be willing to see all that is distorted in your thought, speech, action, and life circumstances and be willing to change yourself and your circumstances appropriately—and then do just that.

Such work is very difficult for most people because they’re generally quite stubborn and reluctant to take personal responsibility for the woes of their lives.

Vernon Law said, “Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward.” If you want wisdom, or “the lesson,” it is in passing the tests that life places before you.

How will you know when you’re being tested? You already know the tests. Maybe not all of them, but that hardly matters; you’ll come to each test at their appropriate times. I don’t doubt, though, that, perhaps with very few exceptions, people have some idea, “I have a drinking problem,” or, “I’m too critical of others,” or, “I’m lazy at work,” or, “I take too much shit from my wife.”

Wisdom begins just beyond where you are, but you have to take the first step, and then the second, and then the third, and so on, onward and upward.

All that being said, pray as you will for increased wisdom. But you must necessarily resolve the distortions, recognized by their discomfort and the dis-ease of your own conscience, contained within your daily life experiences, for these are the stepping stones toward a wiser you.

It Isn’t Easy

The process of getting what you pray for will probably not be easy. At least not in the beginning.

This is for the reason that the extent to which you want what is ever more real and true is the extent to which you must let go of whatever is false, no matter how dearly you hold it to be otherwise.

For example, you might be super religious and you might pray for understanding regarding a certain tenet put forth by your religion. If the truth is that the tenet is false and has been professed by a corrupt leadership, you must be willing to accept this. And not only this, for if religious integrity has been broken once, then it’s most likely been broken repeatedly.

New understanding comes not so much like choosing dinner from a menu but more like the menu choosing dinner for you. You may at times pick the restaurant, but what you are served is at the whims of life rather than personal desire.

Furthermore, understanding is not like intellectual growth. With the latter you can be very selective about whatever it is you wish to learn about. Understanding (and other such qualities) comes more often from unexpected places and at unexpected times.

If you’re looking to understand that religious tenet but it’s false, you’re not then going to get the understanding you seek by searching deeper within the religion you hold so dear. Instead, in some form you’re probably not going to expect and in one you may not like, you are going to be shown an alternate path. You’ll be somehow shown that the tenet is wrong (to whatever degree that may be), and you’ll be shown (as appropriate) what is correct in its place.

In a different example, let’s suppose you want “the serenity to accept the things [you] cannot change.”

You recognize that all too often when you don’t get what you want you freak out about it. You may start using the Serenity Prayer and think that that alone will help you to become more serene.

I really can’t say to what degree the prayer is going to help you, but there’s a “hidden” yet critical rule that you must obey here: you simultaneously have to do the inner work of figuring out and resolving what makes you so imbalanced and reactive.

By all means, keep up the praying. But know that the praying alone cannot remove from you the false beliefs you’d learned in your childhood about how to act when you don’t get what you want; prayer alone cannot release you from numerous fears telling you that there’s a problem if you don’t get your way; prayer alone cannot replace the care of a healer who may be required to help resolve any repressed, inhibiting traumas.

Your prayers may afford you some greater yet minimal level of serenity by virtue of your mind’s focus on serenity and your belief in the power of the prayer. However, your prayers will act more prominently as a light to reveal any internal obstructing darkness so that you can, with attention and intention, heal and become more self-aware, and in consequence arrive at the serenity you seek.

This path is highly rewarding, but it’s scarcely for the faint of heart.

Pray Right or Go Wrong

I spent the first 23 or so years of my life as a Roman Catholic (going to weekly mass, 12 years of Catholic education, etc.). Being religious, following one of the most significant religions on the planet, it might be assumed that I’d been taught how to pray effectively.

Well, I wasn’t.

I was taught some prayers, yes, and I was told to say them before bed or before dinner or whatever, but no one ever told me how prayers actually work or how not to pray lest my prayers go unanswered. No one ever told me that praying in fear and worry negates the act of praying. No one ever told me that I would do well to do something in tandem with praying, as though what I requested would more or less miraculously come to me with no further effort on my part.

I’ve no doubt that billions of people have been educated (or not) in like manner.

For it doesn’t seem, to me, remotely possible that if even a bare majority of all the religious people in the world have been praying effectively for the last few centuries or millennia while simultaneously living in alignment with their prayers that our world could be in the shape it is currently in—it’s a reflection of each of us collectively, after all.

How many people pray for wisdom but deal with uncomfortable experiences and feelings by complaining, going to the bar, or getting lost in their cellphones?

How many people pray for understanding but shun alternate lines of thought?

How many people pray for peace but support war?

How many people pray for health but smoke or drink or eat junk food?

How many people pray for truth but watch reality TV and mainstream news?

How many people pray for kindness but insistently criticize their fellow man?

How many people pray for transparency but allow their “authorities” to get away with crimes against humanity?

How many people pray for serenity but blame others for their anger?

How many people pray to little if any effect whatsoever because they want change but they really don’t have any desire to be the change they seek?