What role does prayer have in our lives? Most ‘modern’ people would answer – none. But is this true? Have we understood the meaning of prayer?
As we have seen in the previous posts – our reaction to strong and unpleasant events is primarily an emotional one. That is to say, we get impacted emotionally, but the mind converts it into blame or pity by forming a narrative around it. Our inability to accept strong emotions, makes us overthink. Thinking is a desperate attempt by our body-mind system to resolve this emotion. Most of us have never faced our emotions and we have become escapists. We escape it by thinking, by worrying, by blaming, and criticizing.
The role of prayer is a profound one. It breaks this vicious cycle – where emotions spawn thoughts and thoughts, in turn, spawn emotions. In prayer, we offer these intense emotions to the diety of our choice. We acknowledge vulnerability and seek help. Understand that while this sounds illogical, the very point of offering these intense emotions is to transcend the mind, to transcend reason. Trying to resolve the emotions logically, doesn’t work. We need to be able to resolve emotions emotionally. In prayer, we say I’m feeling terrible and don’t like it, please help me. This assumption of the lower position is a position of vulnerability. In vulnerability, we find the strength to accept the emotion and eventually transcend it.
Prayer is not a petition to God to satisfy desires. Rather it is an act of illogically asking for help when we are gripped with an intense desire. It is asking for help for a resolution on an emotional level, and not necessarily for its resolution in the material plane. True prayer is total vulnerability. True prayer is the total acceptance of the painful emotion. True prayer is inherently illogical, for it resolves that which cannot be solved by logic.
Surrender is the highest form of prayer and the easiest way to resolve the emotion. Most modern societies think that surrender is a form of weakness. This is misconstrued. Surrender is in fact the highest possible strength. Surrender is opening oneself totally to being vulnerable, to feel the emotional pain. Surrender takes the attitude: Let this pain be in me. Let me offer this to the one that gave the pain to me. Surrender is not cowardice. It doesn’t mean that we succumb to emotional pain. On the contrary, it is the courage to accept what is in the here-now. And when the acceptance is so total, we can transcend the pain. This happens when we realize that the pain is in me, but not me. The pain does not harm the ‘I-awareness’ in me in any way.
Surrender is the highest form of prayer. And this is exactly what we do in meditation. The aim of meditation is not to bring about an ecstatic experience. Nor is it to attain any special realm of consciousness. Nor is it a means to become thought-free. Meditation is the total acceptance of thoughts and emotions as they arise spontaneously in oneself. In meditation, we do not want to get rid of thoughts or emotions but see them as they arise, and as they slowly disappear. This openness to all experiences without wanting to change anything at all is the essence of meditation. And that is why it is a form of surrender. In prayer, we verbalize the pain “God help me”, after which we feel the emotions intensely as a witnessing awareness. This slowly moves into meditation. In short, meditation can be viewed as silent surrendered prayer.
Most advanced meditators also have an opinion that prayer is for lesser evolved mortals. But this opinion is unfortunately misplaced. When faced with storms of emotions, prayer is the best, quickest, and most efficient tool to bring us out of thinking and to the witnessing of our emotions. This is, in my opinion, the quickest way to resolve emotions within ourselves.
Today’s societies desperately need prayer. The increasing incidents of depression and suicide indicate that rational modern man is unable to cope with emotionally difficult situations. We lack emotional training thanks to an education solely focussed on developing the intellect. As societies have abandoned religion, the support structure for people to vent out their emotions has crumbled. One need not be religious to pray. Prayer can be a helpful psychological tool that can be adopted even by atheists. Our rational societies have laughed at people who pray, calling it unscientific. We have forgotten that man is essentially a feeling creature. We all feel deeply. And in order to bring back healing into the world, we need to tell people that it is okay to be vulnerable, that it is okay to feel deeply. This makes us human. And prayer, surrender, and meditation are valuable tools in the process of healing and managing our deepest wounds.