Are meditation and prayers the same thing?

Some traditions use the words meditation and prayer interchangeably. You can find Jewish and Hindu and Catholic and Buddhist meditation practices that require the repetition or contemplation of a particular religious passage or concept.

To illustrate, there are those that will say the Lord's Prayer over and over in a similar fashion to how someone practicing Transcendental Meditation® might repeat a mantra. Some Kabbalistic students use the saying of the Shema - the basic Judaic prayer - as a way to connect with the divine and as a way to focus attention.

Prayer, to some people, is when you ask for something specific to happen, such as good health for yourself or another, or good fortune, or help getting over some difficulty.

I believe that the real opportunity with prayer is not in creating more separation or reinforcing an idea that you are different and separate from whatever you are praying to or about. Rather, the opportunity is to let prayer become a tool for creating greater connection.

Here is an example of how any prayer, whether based in a heartfelt longing or a more formal, religious text, can be turned into a prayer meditation. This can be done whenever you feel a need, or practiced daily if you wish.

Locate a quiet place where you can be alone, without being disturbed or seen by others. Someplace out in nature is often ideal for this. But if that’s not possible, find someplace private in your home, even if it’s just a corner or the bathroom.

Start with any prayer. Begin by saying it out loud, as though you are speaking to someone whom you wish could hear and respond to your prayer.

You can allow your body to move while you do this if you like.

You can even sing your prayer. Maybe not to some specific melody, but just to give it the emotional quality that singing has. You can make up the music as you go.

Allow your body and your voice to express your request fully.

When you've done this for a bit, particularly if you really get involved in the prayer, you may start feeling strong emotion. When that happens, start speaking about the emotion. Disclose whatever is coming up for you like you are talking with someone who is very close to you.

Continue reporting this emotional experience while it changes and evolves. Let your body move and your voice shift into other tones along with the emotion so that each and every part of you is expressing the experience.

If you are really going for it, there may come a point when you feel as though, rather than speaking to someone or something external to yourself, you are speaking to someone or something inside of you. Then, you will feel more connected with what you are praying to… and about.

Continue singing or saying whatever you are experiencing.

Eventually, this meditation prayer process will come to an emotional climax, a place where you feel like you are cresting the top of a hill. In that very moment, put everything you have into the prayer, let yourself be fully overtaken by it, and then just… STOP.

Take all the energy you were expressing and feel it inside of yourself. Notice the sense of expansiveness, openness and spaciousness, even if the underlying experience is a sad or distraught or difficult one. You may notice a feeling of being cleansed, the way you do after a good cry. Let yourself enjoy this spacious silence until you naturally feel the movement to return to your regular daily life.

I would love to hear what you experience when you do this practice, or variations you come up with for your own meditative practice.

Author's Bio: 

Steven Sashen began meditation when he was eight years old, was one of the first biofeedback pioneers, and researched cognition and perception at Duke University. In addition to a successful career as an entrepreneur and entertainer, Steven has taught transformational techniques around the world and developed the Instant Advanced Meditation Course, which Dr. Gay Hendricks calls, "Perhaps the fastest and easiest way to relax, expand awareness, and find deep inner-peace."

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Steven Sashen, the Official Guide To Meditation