How to pray - even if you're not religious

Posted by Karen M. Wyatt on May 3, 2012 at 12:00 PM

Today is the National Day of Prayer, when people of all faiths are asked to pray for the nation, and some groups are not comfortable with the fact that Congress has endorsed this observance. But that discomfort occurs because they associate the act of prayer with religion and believe this proclamation violates the principle of the separation of church and state.

But I maintain that prayer is an act of communication that can be performed by anyone with or without religious beliefs. In fact, setting aside a special time every day for quiet contemplation can take your spiritual practice to the next level and bring peace and joy into your life. Even if you are not sure you believe in God you can still benefit from a daily practice of intentional solitude.

Furthermore, prayer may be even more beneficial when it is removed from a religious setting to become a private, personal act that is spontaneous and not rehearsed or memorized. Even Jesus admonished his followers to “go into a closet” to pray, rather than pray in public to win the admiration of others.

Why pray?

The Sufi poet Rumi wrote: “When the world pushes you to your knees, you are in the perfect position to pray.” This is certainly a time in our nation’s history when we have been “pushed to our knees” in many ways. The economy continues to flounder and homelessness, unemployment, and poverty have reached staggering levels while the country’s infrastructure is crumbling and global climate change threatens the environment.

The word “prayer” comes from a root word that means “to ask” and is also the root for the word “precarious.” So prayer, in a sense, means to ask for help in precarious times, which is precisely why it is an appropriate practice for today. Pray because it will help you connect with others in the world who are suffering; pray because it will help you tap into the energy of all of life for sustenance; pray because it is an intentional act of goodness that far exceeds doing nothing.

How to pray?

While there is no shortage of issues to consider during a time of prayer, you may feel uncertain about how to actually pray. Here are some pointers for beginning your own practice of prayer:  

  • Create a quiet space. Try sitting, kneeling or even lying down in a comfortable place where you won’t be disturbed.  
  • Calm yourself by taking a few deep breaths. 
  • Contemplate the concerns you have and set your intention on holding them in your heart during this time. You may want to begin with concerns for yourself, then expand to others in your life, your community, nation, planet, etc. 
  • Connect with the flow of energy around you. Allow yourself to sense the pulse of life and creativity that infuses everything. For some this is called Spirit or God or the Divine, but you might simply perceive it as an energetic life force. 
  • Communicate either silently or aloud by naming your concern, then visualize sending your own love and compassion to that person or place.

Studies that have been done by Spindrift Research using prayer have shown that all forms of prayer can be effective, but that “non-directed” prayer can have the greatest impact. This means praying for the greatest good for all rather than asking for a specific outcome. In this way you acknowledge that there is greater wisdom in this Universe than your own and that you may not be able to see the best outcome for the situation, but you are still sending your own loving intention for the good to that person or place.

What to pray for?

Whenever possible let your prayers arise spontaneously from within you rather than planning them in advance. But if you feel insecure about this at first, here are some specific things you might pray for:

  • Growth in wisdom, love, compassion and insight for yourself, others, the leaders of our nation and other countries 
  • Wholeness of body, mind, spirit and planet 
  • Peace and understanding – send your loving energy to the citizens of war-torn countries who are suffering greatly in their quest for freedom 
  • Guidance for yourself and others to make wise decisions 
  • Survival skills such as strength, courage, patience and endurance to help you get through difficult times 
  • Gratitude – let every prayer begin and end with thankfulness for all creation and the opportunity you have been given to experience life

Even if you’ve never prayed before, today is the perfect day to start. Open your mind and heart for just a few moments and connect with the breath of life that surrounds you. Let your own love flow out toward others as you receive the shining, pure light that has been waiting for you all along. This is the light that may help you find the very path you have been seeking, so don’t turn it away!

Categories: Spiritual Practice, Spirituality

Copyright ©2010 Karen Wyatt, MD

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