Oh, the “p” word. Many of us—particularly in the West—have been conditioned to avoid discussing prayer in mixed company. Prayer is shrouded in mystery and misunderstanding. It’s emotionally and even politically charged. And yet so many of us are doing it in private, often several times a day, as well as in group settings. Whether you come from a religious background, or are non-secular, prayer can be a healing and impactful practice. It is a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to any object of worship, or simply a wish.
Heidi Smith, a psychosomatic therapist, herbalist, and flower essence practitioner, urges people to consider that “prayer has been a part of every civilization, pre-colonization, and our misconceptions lie not in the truth of it, but the way it’s been stolen, misapplied, and in many cases, used to thwart the very power it holds to help us.”
She continues, “the word God is a polarizing term, and perhaps you’d rather use Spirit, Soul, Universe, or Nature. Perhaps your personal cosmology and beliefs about divinity are evolving and you’re not sure what words to use—that’s ok too! I'm more interested in the spiritual, non-secular application of prayer as a liberatory practice.” She encourages individuals to use whatever term feels like the best fit for them, “I use prayer interchangeably with the words: spell, mantra, meditation, and resonant language.”
Healer, mentor and writer Kim Pence, whose work interweaves neuroscience and spirituality, states, “for me, prayer has nothing to do with religion, it is an intimate conversation with creator, god, goddess, the great mystery, the universe, godsource, jehovah, allah, the one. I have struggled with and come to terms with prayer over the years. The way I was taught to pray felt inauthentic because it was a bargaining tool. I wanted to feel empowered by prayer so I began to simply have a conversation with the Universe. That conversation became an indelible, unbreakable connection with my cosmic best friend, the Beloved, who loves me unconditionally and wants the best for me.
Through prayer we are able to guide our minds with intention. We are showing up to Life, Creator, God, Goddess and saying with our physical and subtle body, our words, our minds: ‘This is who I am and this is what matters to me.’ –Mikyö Black-Wangmo
Ramesh Tarun Narine, a breathwork, mediation and self-massage instructor at WellSet, shares: “Semantic language is helpful to some. This seems to be a subjective thing. For me, it was a way in. Once I found the boundaries of that space, I needed to redesign the architecture. That was my choice. It worked for me.” He continues, “When people have faith, and believe in something greater than themselves, and that their efforts should move towards the highest benefit for all, whatever mechanism you pull on matters little.”
“To me, prayer is a communication with Life,” states Mikyö Black-Wangmo, a Qigong practitioner and grief counselor. “Through prayer we are able to guide our minds with intention. We are showing up to Life, Creator, God, Goddess and saying with our physical and subtle body, our words, our minds: ‘This is who I am and this is what matters to me.’”
And why is this so important? Through prayer we can connect, ask for help, and express gratitude. Pence says: “The two most powerful prayers I know of are ‘Help’ and ‘Thank you’. These two prayers are complete in and of themselves and are always answered. They raise one’s vibration to the highest expression and activate a state of grace opening one's heart. They are a statement of humility and reverence for one's life.”
Add to this the many health benefits of prayer: decreased loneliness, less aggressiveness in relationships, an inclination to be more forgiving, less anxiety, emotional support, deeper connection—both to a higher source, ancestors, and to those people and elements around us. Also, prayer tends to help steady our breath, which directly and immediately helps to calm the nervous system.
“There is a growing body of data that supports that prayer, meditation, and mindfulness have a variety of benefits including: better sleep, increased focus, memory, and resilience, and reduced stress levels,” says Smith.
Of course, all of this can be difficult to study. According to a recent WSJ article, The Science of Prayer, “scientists have no way to measure the existence of a higher power, of course. And they’ve done little research on any health benefits of prayer, largely because of a lack of funding in the medical community for spiritual research,” says David H. Rosmarin, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and director of the Spirituality and Mental Health Program at McLean Hospital, in Belmont, Mass.
There is a growing body of data that supports that prayer, meditation, and mindfulness have a variety of benefits including: better sleep, increased focus, memory, and resilience, and reduced stress levels. –Heidi Smith
However, prayer is a form of meditation and meditation is shown to have health benefits. According to Dr. Rosmarin prayer “can calm your nervous system, shutting down your fight or flight response. It can make you less reactive to negative emotions and less angry. However, says Dr. Rosmarin, “prayer is only likely to have mental-health benefits for those who are open to it.”
Here are a few suggestions of where to start or, if you already pray, how to build on your practice in new and powerful ways:
Prayer as a Prompt to Shift a Presenting Issue - From Heidi Smith
Smith has developed a unique prayer prompt to help her clients shift their relationship to a presenting issue. “We are living in times of unprecedented anxiety, and while it isn't always possible to override our biology and/or circumstances, it is possible to trust in our bodies’ inherent intelligence in concert with the natural world - we do have what we need to heal and come into balance. I’m interested in how our beliefs and perceptions underlie our emotional and physical health. In my work, I’m currently exploring the application of resonant language, or prayer, when distressing thoughts or feelings arise.” Smith recommends the following process, ideally accompanied by a flower essence such as calming, relaxing Bach Aspen or FES Red Clover, which encourages calm and presence amid collective anxiety.
1 - Identify a thought or feeling that is causing you stress, for example, “Everything is such a mess, I feel hopeless.”
2 - Notice where you feel this in your body, and just acknowledge it. It’s also ok if you’re not sure.
3 - Staying connected to your breath and your body, see if you can reframe your statement into something affirmative but realistic, such as, “I acknowledge that a part of me feels overwhelmed by the state of the world, and I allow myself to be open to feeling hope and guidance.”
4 - When you feel you’ve arrived at a reframe that lands right with you, write it down and say it aloud. Take three drops of a flower essence of your choice along with a few deep breaths.
5 - Notice how you feel in your mind and your body, and repeat as needed to feel more calm, steady, and present with yourself. We learn through repetition, so it may take a few rounds of this exercise to notice a difference.
A Daily Prayer for Surrender - From Kim Pence
This prayer came to me while I was in the depths of despair early one morning many years ago and I have been saying it every morning since:
Beloved, come and be with me in the place you already exist. I offer you my day and my life to use for your highest purpose. I surrender my will to Divine will. Let me be a clear and open channel for divine wisdom and healing grace to flow through me. I surrender, I surrender, I surrender. Please show me the way Beloved. Please show me the way.
This prayer was a gift from the Divine letting me know I am never alone and that I am valuable beyond measure. The devotion to saying this prayer everyday has changed the way I perceive the world and what is truly possible for me and for all of humanity. It is a gift that I treasure and hope by sharing it that it will have the same impact on others who choose to use it in their practice.
A Prayer to Remove All Beings from Suffering - From Mikyö Black-Wangmo
In my lineage of Dzogchen Tibetan Buddhism, we approach all of our practices with opening and closing prayers. I especially love the closing prayer:
May all beings be free from suffering.
May all beings experience joy and its true cause.
May the fruit of our practice and all of our activities be to accomplish the highest benefit for all beings and all things everywhere.
May all beings and all things everywhere experience the joy, clarity, dignity, and fearlessness that is peace.
May all beings and all things everywhere have peace.
This prayer, and any non-spontaneous prayer, is most powerful when we connect with the part in ourselves that deeply means it. The part in us that is pure altruistic intention. So with this prayer we are taking whatever meditative practice we’ve done and directing that energy towards our highest values. This communicates to life what is most important to us, what our beings are devoted to. And this is the source of our creative power in conjunction with Life.
A Prayer for Rest from Tracee Stanley
Yoga Nidra teacher and best-selling author Tracee Stanley suggests the following to give yourself permission to rest:
Dear Mother, please take me in your arms and hold me. Remind me that it is from you that I have come and will return. It helps me to have the courage to lay down and imagine dissolving into the infinite. Then I can truly rest. Please guide my journey with your morning light, stars and moon. This helps me to remember that I am lit from within. May your sacred waters purify me, so I can ride the ebbs and flows of life with discernment and clarity. Your graceful love and abundance is unconditional. Thank you. Your power can be fierce and this teaches me respect. May I always remember to cherish, honor and protect you.
Gayatri Mantra, A Prayer for Attonement - From Ramesh Tarun Narine
Strange to share this, and yet my oldest memories are of sitting at the floor before my father's mother, learning to chant the Gayatri Mantra. For some, the Gayatri Mantra is considered one of the most powerful collection of sounds, removing darkness from this shared reality. Kundalini Yogis appreciate the sounds of sa ta na ma, Buddhists Om Mani Padme Hum, Catholics recite rosary of the Holy Father or Ave Maria, these but a few of the ways traditions teach us to reach towards Spirit via prayer.
Om Bhur Bhuvah Svah
Tat savitur varenyam
Bhargo devasya dhimahi
Dhiyo yo nah prachodayat
Om. I meditate on the radiant and most venerable light of the Divine, from which issues forth the triple world (the bhuh, bhuvah, and svaha). May the Divine light illuminate and guide my intelligence.
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