Challenge Day 26- Yoga is Prayer
Everyone prays. Just like everyone worships something. Even the atheists. Just think about the last time you were about to miss a flight. The words, “Please let me make it”, easily roll off the tongues of even the most ardently faithless. Who exactly are you speaking to in that moment? God? The universe? Fate?
And yet, while this type of supplication is most commonly understood as prayer, I would like to propose that there is something deeper in the concept of prayer. The definitions of prayer in the standard English dictionary detail different types of petitions, entreaties, actions, praise, thanksgiving, devotion, and, perhaps of most significant, spiritual or holy communion with one’s object of worship. The Sanskrit word for prayer prārthanā means prayer or seeking, and includes a feeling or reverence or submissiveness.
I have never really connected with the concept of prayer as a request list delivered to God much like a children’s Christmas list is delivered to Santa, with the expectation that if one is good, all desires will be granted. That concept seems entirely too mechanistic to satisfy the grand mystery of the universe and life as I know it. Rattling off all the things you desire in the hopes that a wish-fulfilling deity fulfills them all seems like a story about a genie in a bottle more than a deep and meaningful relationship with the Divine. Most often when we think about all the things we want we are not really engaged in the activity to bring ourselves into alignment with the path of fulfillment. Instead, we focus on what we want and why we don’t have it, grow jealous at others who have succeeded where we failed, become irate at the world and ask for a power outside of ourselves to fix all our problems in miracle.
No matter what religion you follow, it’s all too easy to speak to God, Source, Brahman (whatever name for the nameless Divine works for you) as a kind of wish-fulfilling deity. Christ advises us that all we have to do is ask and it is given, that our Father loves us and will provide for us. A two-dimensional reading of this passage can lead to the cultivation of the prosperity gospel that seems to indicate the wish of God for all be rich, powerful and successful. While I do in fact believe that we are all loved equally in the eyes of God, I do not believe that the purpose of God is simply to grant every desire. Instead, much like a loving parent will not always give their child everything they want, especially, when their desires may potentially lead to irremediable harm, the most powerful force in the universe is in fact always working to support our highest potential. Our wishes and desires are quite often far from alignment with our true purpose. We are not here on this planet, in this body, merely to win the game of material accumulation and worldly pursuit. We are here to awaken, to grow, to evolve both ourselves and perhaps the whole of humanity.
Prayer is a deliberate act of communication whereby the one who is praying seeks to activate a closeness with the object of one’s prayer. It this state of rapturous communion where all things are possible and you are what could be called in popular law of attraction terminology, in the flow. Here, in this immersive state of oneness where your only thought is of God, your will is God’s will and naturally all things will be given. As the Lord’s Prayer states, it is my will that I pray for, but that Thy will be done.
Prayer, in its deepest sense, unlocks the magic of creation itself and can transform your whole life. Prayer is time spent close to all that is sacred. Practice to me a kind of embodied prayer where breath, body and mind unite in a form of worship, entering the inner sanctuary with a humble heart whose intention is not to get anything, but just to be close with the beauty and grandeur of the Divine.
The Sanskrit concept of mantra recitation is the process by which a sacred utterance, syllable, word or group of words brings the practitioner close to God. The word mantra is derived from the root man—which means to think. The most fundamental sacred sound is the holy vibration of Om, denoted by the symbol ॐ, said to be the only true name for God. Patañjali suggests that repetition with reflection on the sound and meaning of Om will bring the practitioner into a state of holy communion with the object of attention. This state of meditation repetition is called japa, derived from the root word jap—meaning to repeat internally. The origin of the popular 108 bead malas stem from the repetition of a japa practice, where a practitioner seeks to enter into a kind of yogic trance state induced by mantra recitation. The japa mala is similar to Christian prayer beads, a tool designed to help spiritual aspirants keep track of their prayers.
There are many types of prayer and many ways to pray, but the deepest form of prayer is to use whatever tools are at your disposal to grow closer and closer to the sacred. Prayer takes many forms—practicing yoga poses, chanting the sound Om, singing hymns, bowing repeatedly, sitting in silence, or any act by which the stream of thoughts ceases. How do you pray? What brings you closer to God? What is your state of holy communion?
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