In 2009, National Public Radio presented a five-part series on the brain and spirituality. Barbara Bradley Hagerty, the author of Fingerprints of God, explored the “science of spirituality”. She shared how scientists are making serious attempts to better understand “spiritual experiences” – a fairly new field of study called neurotheology. (barbarabradleyhagerty.com)
What some of their research has shown is that individuals who do extensive meditation/prayer often feel “a oneness with the universe” during peak meditative/prayer experiences. They also have a sensation of timelessness or time slipping away. Others have expressed a feeling of a cleansing from their negative thoughts and feelings. Interestingly, when before-and-after brain scans are conducted on these individuals, the scans show a marked change in their brain patterns.
Do you have to be a Buddhist monk who meditates/prays hours a day to experience a change? Actually, you don’t. Studies have shown that dramatic results appeared in individuals after only a few weeks with just minutes of practice each day. Do you have to believe in God? No, you do not. When we pray though, generally, we are praying to a “Higher Power”. Some people use the terms “Universe” or “Great Spirit”. Others refer to a higher consciousness.
All of this seems to make a compelling rationale for taking time each day to meditate/pray. There is an old quote that is quite informative – “Prayer is talking to the universe; meditation is listening to the universe”. For those of us who have been practicing meditation and prayer for a while, we are aware that they both release the mind and body of stress and provide a helpful focus for us in a chaotic world.
We are nature and connected to everything that has life. Spirit moves through all things. Prayer cleanses away stress and anxiety and allows us to get back to our most natural state. It allows to strengthen our connection to all living things.
An earlier post was dedicated to meditation, so here I would like to talk a bit about prayer. Prayer can be a request, a question, an expression of gratitude, a statement of your hopes, dreams and aspirations or your fears, doubts and indifference. Or as the therapist, Christin Whiting, wrote in a post on The Elephant Journal – her prayers are a surrender and an expression of her humility.
The words for a prayer can be formalized – written by someone a longtime ago or even more recently. Or the words for a prayer can come from you and be extemporaneous. There is no right or wrong. They words just express your thoughts and feelings that you want to share with the universe, a higher power or God. What is important is that after sending up your prayer, you would do well to sit quietly and listen carefully for an answer. Some people believe that a higher power is inside each of us, so sometimes those answers might be coming from ourselves.
Some of us pray regularly – whether each morning, each evening, each afternoon, before and after meals, or numerous other times. When you pray is determined by what your beliefs are as well as your needs. How long you pray is also a personal matter. I remember as a child, each night before going to sleep, my parents would have me say a prayer that some of you might have said as well. It started with “Now I lay me down to sleep…” Buddhists pray as preparation for meditation. Where you pray is also a personal decision. I have a colleague who each morning at sunrise heads over to a little lake in the park, sits on a bench and sends up special prayers. He has no formalized prayers – he just expresses what he is feeling in the moment. I consider my time for prayer each day a sacred time, a ceremony. It is also an important indicator that I am taking time each day for my own well-being.
There are many prayers for many things. At a recent conference in New York City, Marianne Williamson shared her morning prayer with the participants: “Where would you have me go, what would you me do, what would you have me say and to whom?”
The highly successful organization, Alcoholics Anonymous, has very specific prayers. This one is for people in their third step: “God, I offer myself to Thee – to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage to self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love and Thy Way of life.”
A historical Buddhist prayer is: “Do no wrong actions, do as much good as you can, purify your mind. This is the teaching of the Buddha.”
Wikipedia on the Efficacy of Prayer notes that research indicates “many people accept that prayer can aid in recovery due to psychological and physical benefits. It has also been suggested that if a person knows that he or she is being prayed for it can be uplifting and increase morale, thus aiding recovery. Many studies have suggested that prayer can reduce physical stress, regardless of the god or gods a person prays to, and this may be true for many reasons.”
Prayer is also connected to our compassion. a wonderful example is a version of the Sick Man’s Prayer- “This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. And so it is.
So whether you are moved to prayer by spirituality or science, it seems that prayer can make a difference. If you would, please share with us your experience with prayer – either through our Facebook page or Twitter page. We would like to hear from you.