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An Introduction to Prayer and Meditation

There are many forms of relaxation and focus. When we say "meditation" people in the United States do not necessarily associate the word with religion. But when we use the word prayer, we do associate it with religion. And yet prayer and medication are very closely linked.

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There are many forms of relaxation and focus.  When we say “meditation” people in the United States do not necessarily associate the word with religion.  But when we use the word prayer, we do associate it with religion.  And yet prayer and medication are very closely linked.

Many people are uncomfortable with the word prayer.  Even those who practice one of the major religions are reluctant to view prayer as an integral part of their plan for success.  The major religions are Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism.  All of these have strong traditions of prayer.

What is prayer and how does it fit into the Relax Focus Succeed® program?

Like meditation, prayer is a relaxing and focusing method.  Unlike meditation, prayer is not inwardly-directed; it is directed to a god who I will call “God.”

Prayer has the following characteristics:

  • It is a dialogue (or at least half of a dialogue) between you and God.
  • There is a natural tension because God should be the center of this activity, but of course this is your prayer and therefore you are the center of this activity.

Prayer often includes these elements:

  • Greeting.  Hi, God.  Dear God.  Oh God.
  • Humility.  In the big picture, I am one of several billion people.  My troubles are not so great in this perspective.  But they are my troubles they burden my heart.
  • Thanks.  I’m grateful for . . .
  • Forgiveness.  For all the things you have done, and haven’t done, you may ask forgiveness.  In particular, for habits that need correcting, you may ask forgiveness.
  • Petitions.  These can include a request of focus, guidance, and inspiration as well as personal and professional specific requests.
  • Conversation.  Prayer can also involve a simple discussion (or at least half a discussion) of what’s going on in your life—personal or professional.  This can be very informal.  Pour out all your thoughts about personal or professional challenges.  You don’t need to be organized and you don’t need to have a request.  It is certainly the time to say “I don’t know what to do about . . . reaching my goals . . . the current project . . . a new employee.”
  • Conclusion.  The conclusion has a bit of everything in it:  Thanks, humility, forgiveness, and petition.  For example:

Thank you, God, for all you’ve done for me.  Please help me to be worthy.  Please help me to conduct my personal and professional business as you would.  Please help me to focus on my goals and to be successful.  Amen.

What separates prayer from meditation?  Actually, not much.  In many parts of the world, meditation is the preferred form of prayer.  Generally speaking, each one is half a conversation.  In prayer we speak to God.  In meditation we listen or focus.

In the United States there is a general misconception that meditation is part of “some whacky religion.”  In fact, meditation has a long tradition in all the major religions.  Somewhere in the American experience we have separated the world of religion from the practice of meditation.

In prayer we speak to God.

In meditation we listen or focus.

Of course there’s been a resurgence in meditation since the 1960’s.  Popular movements introduced people to “Eastern” religions, which are frequently associated with meditation.  For Catholics, Vatican II brought a heightened awareness of other religious practices and long-forgotten Christian practices.  The practice of meditation has deep roots in the Christian tradition.  

A whole generation tried, practiced, and integrated these ancient techniques into their lives.  And so today many people practice meditation without religious overtones.  Today you can buy book and tapes to help you meditate on success, to reduce stress, to solve emotional problems, to make peace with your family, etc.

At the same time, there has been a concerted effort to re-integrate meditation into the modern practice of Christianity.  See the books by John Main and Thomas Keating (listed on the Books page).  There are also thousands of books on Amazon under the topic “meditation.”  Just be sure to look at several before making a choice.

Meditation does not have to be religious for you.  But neither is it anti-religious.  You can practice meditation as part of prayer or in addition to prayer.  I was introduced to meditation as a method for relaxing and dealing with the pain of rheumatoid arthritis. 

I have since embraced it as a way to expand my spiritual life and prayer.

Whether you consider yourself religious or not, I encourage you to try meditation as a method of relaxing and focusing your thoughts.

Prayers can be short, medium, or long.  I suspect most people are familiar with the shortest prayers.

Dear God, let me pass this test.
Oh God, let this plane take off (land) safely.
Thank you, Lord, for not letting that policeman see me run the red light
Etc.

A short prayer is anything you can whip out in a minute or two.  Memorized prayers are a great example.  Such prayers take little thought and involve no real reflection.  Once reflection takes place, the prayer becomes medium in length. 

Reflection may involve examination of conscience, a long list of petitions, an examination of some inspiring event or reading, an act of contrition, or a request for forgiveness.  Basically, if you put some actual thought into your prayer, it becomes reflective and therefore longer.

A medium length prayer might be 5-10 minutes.  This seems like a long time.  But, as with everything else, it becomes easier with practice.  The more you pray with reflection, the more quickly your will find that five minutes has passed.  Or ten.  Or more.

Like an ability or a muscle,
hearing your inner wisdom is strengthened by doing it.
— Robbie Gass

When prayer is more than about fifteen minutes, another element is present:  You stop talking and start listening.  This element is the essence of meditation.

Meditation consists of the thinking part of prayer and the listening part of prayer.  Most people never get to the listening part.  We chatter on telling God our problems and our sins and our needs.  But God already knows all that.

The benefit of short and medium length prayer is that we get in the habit of making communication with God.  The more we do this, the more likely we are to begin making an awareness of God part of our daily lives.

At some point in our prayer lives we will be ready to stop talking and start listening.  Again, practice, practice, practice.

See the Articles page for more information on meditation.  But generally speaking, any prayer that’s 20-30 minutes in length includes a good dose of meditation.

What Should You Pray About?

There are many misconceptions about what is “appropriate” for prayer.  Here are a few.

Misconception:  Prayer should be totally selfless. 

Reality:  Of course not.  I’m not even sure where people get this idea.  In all the major religions, God is portrayed as one who gives to those who ask and fulfills the needs of His followers.

Misconception:  Prayer should be separated from business. 

Reality:  We need to be successful in order to provide for ourselves, our families, our churches, and the less fortunate in our community.  Praying to thank God for the gifts you have and asking God to help you focus on your goals is completely appropriate.

Misconception:  You shouldn’t pray about money.

Reality:  Money is not evil.  There is sometimes evil in the way people go about acquiring money.  And there is sometimes evil in what people choose to do with their money, and in how they treat other people.  But there is also great good in the things that can be done with money.

The interesting thing about prayer–especially meditative prayer–is that the focus it brings to your life will help you to decide where you want to go, what you want to do, who you want to be.  You will gain tremendous clarity on who you are and where you’re going. 

When your life has focus there’s no division between the private you and the public you.  There’s only a division between the ideal you and the current you.  And you move every day a little closer to the ideal you.  You become, every day, a bit more of what you should be.

But that focus is sometimes hard to find and easy to lose.  Prayer is good for keeping us on track.  Meditative prayer is better because it helps us discern the track we’re supposed to be on. 

Give it a try.  When it’s just you and God, you can’t get it wrong.

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Karl W. Palachuk

Karl W. Palachuk

Author of Relax Focus Succeed and 19 more books.

Karl W. Palachuk

Karl W. Palachuk

Author of Relax Focus Succeed and 19 more books.

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