Are prayer and meditation the same?

August 24, 2009


I just re-read a beautiful piece by Adrianne Murchison examining whether there is a difference between prayer and meditation. She questions whether there is a difference because she learned to meditate through prayer. Saying the rosary transformed into silent meditation and the experience of Oneness for her. Here is how she describes her experience:


“I’m Catholic and first learned to meditate years ago by saying the Rosary –a recitation of the “Hail Mary” prayer. I start by whispering the words. After a few minutes I am no longer whispering but, instead, mouthing the words in silence. Soon the words and my thoughts become laboring, because I am with God and they are not necessary. I let my words and thoughts go and simply experience Oneness.”

What I’ve been exploring is at which point did the prayer become meditation? Is prayer the part where she is saying the words, since prayer is usually associated with speech and communication? Does it become meditation at the point when she lets go of the words and thoughts?  Is meditation arriving at the point where she feels “with God” and no longer needs words? But then, isn’t that how some people would define meditation, as a means of getting close to God or becoming one with God? Is it the transition from words to Oneness that defines it as meditation? Perhaps it becomes meditation because the experience of Oneness happens and there is no possibility of prayer in Oneness. If prayer is communication between self and “other”, how could there be prayer when self and other have merged into one?

What struck me about her experience is that, although it occurred in the context of prayer and her religious and spiritual practice, it contains elements common to many meditative practices whose goal is to transcend thought and reach a deeper level of the mind where all is one. Many practices provide an object of attention as a means of allowing the mind to relax its focus, expand and move beyond duality to the experience of Oneness. It can happen with the repetition of a mantra, staring at a candle flame or even watching the breath. Letting go of thought is an essential element of this experience, as meaning keeps the mind engaged in distinctions like self and other, past and future, and in Oneness these distinctions dissolve.

The experience of Oneness can also happen spontaneously without prayer or meditation or any other practice. We love to do things that help that to happen — like sitting and watching the fire in the fireplace, looking at the ocean waves come in and go out, and listening to music that takes us out of our heads and into our hearts.

I’d love to know what you think. Perhaps you meditate but don’t pray. Or you might pray but not meditate. Maybe you do both, and maybe you do neither. But chances are you’ve had the feeling of being at one with everything at some point in your life. Have you experienced Oneness and, if so, do you know how it came about? What is prayer? What is meditation? What, if anything, makes them different?

Related posts:

Do you have to be spiritual to meditate?
Is prayer meditation? Where prayer and meditation meet


24 Responses to “Are prayer and meditation the same?”

  1. Dave on August 24th, 2009 5:37 pm

    It was commented to me by several people that prayer is the act of asking, while meditation is the act of listening.

    I agree with what is written here that whichever brings us into Onesness is where
    Our aim should ultimately be.

  2. Maria Keswell on August 24th, 2009 6:22 pm

    Yes, I have experienced oneness. To the point of comprehending on a very deep level, that we are all one, except expressing ourselves in different ways. Every single one of us are part of a greater whole.

    I do not often pray. I meditate more than I pray. I do feel that meditation gets one quicker into the deeper, healing relaxation states, than prayer does. As prayer is still concentrating on words, forming words so the mind is not quite as free as it is in meditation. Although chanted prayer, I would say, is slightly different and very close to meditaton. One gets lost in the actual chant, which naturally leads to meditation.

    Meditation is more letting go of thoughts, although not forcing thoughts away, but gently bringing the mind back to the mantra, or the breath, or whatever one chooses.

    Meditation and prayer both are extremely valuable to one’s well being on all levels; Mental, physical, spiritual and emotional.

    For me, there is nothing more cathartic than meditation. Prayer comes in a close second. But my first love will always be meditation.

    Maria Keswell

  3. Pamela Couture on August 24th, 2009 7:47 pm

    I realize that meditation is intended to aim at emptying, in its purest “meditative” form, but I have experienced meditation as a vehicle for listening prayer. Too often, prayer is filling a space with words aimed toward God rather than opening ourselves to receive from God. The older I get the less I have to say to God and the more I simply need to be in God’s presence and receive whatever God has to communicate to me. I have found that the opening in meditation creates space in me that has allowed me to receive what I have discovered to be very trustworthy images that I believe are of God and a way of God guiding my life. This certainly does not always happen, in fact, most of the time, meditation is simply focusing on emptying. But it has happened at important times, and I believe those were times when God spoke to me in ways that were life-giving. These are times when some truth–not about decision but just about existence–was revealed that led me to some new places. And when I am struggling the most, I find that the images that come in meditation are trustworthy and true.

  4. Mary on August 25th, 2009 9:30 am

    Thanks, Dave — It does seem many people make that distinction — that prayer is asking and meditation is listening. Seems like both can lead to Oneness…

    Maria — Thank you for sharing your beautiful experience of oneness and the deep understanding you’ve gained from it. It does seem that concentrating on words keeps the mind bound up to some degree, and yet chanting has a different effect. Perhaps it’s because in chanting you are not focusing on the meaning.

    Pamela — What a beautiful progression you describe as you’ve come to be able to receive and listen more. Meditation can be, as you say, a “vehicle for listening prayer”. For many people, this is what meditation is. I’m wondering if emptying and listening are necessarily mutually exclusive. Emptying can allow receiving to happen — not in an active listening way as when you are looking for something, but more that the openness of “emptying” allows something to come in spontaneously. Something to investigate…

  5. chris on August 30th, 2009 4:23 pm

    Again Mary, your blog is well timed for my life. I like Dave’s quote “that prayer is the act of asking, while meditation is the act of listening.” I think I have been listening too much while forgetting to ask specifically via prayer. Just last week I asked someone for help in the art of praying. Thank for the post – thanks Dave for the quote!

  6. Mary on August 31st, 2009 9:02 am

    You’re welcome, Chris. Seems we’re always evolving in our relationship to prayer and meditation. Glad the blog has been timely for you!

  7. Vijay - Meditation Techniques Guide on August 31st, 2009 9:18 pm

    Excellent post! Prayer and Meditation are two excellent means to achieve mental bliss, serenity and peace. Your post points out towards this fact really effectively. While prayer requires some form of belief or faith as a prerequisite, meditation can be practised by anyone by just following the suitable meditation techniques. Keep up the great work, Mary!

  8. Mary on September 1st, 2009 9:39 am

    Vijay, thank you for stopping by to comment. YOU keep up your great work — I enjoyed visiting your website with it’s descriptions of many types of meditation.

  9. yournontoxiclife on September 6th, 2009 6:05 pm

    I meditate regularly and do not pray very often, if at all. I see meditation as me getting in touch with me and improving my life.
    It’s also in indirect sense (or direct, if I am practicing mehta) of the interconnectedness of all.

  10. Mary on September 7th, 2009 9:20 am

    Thanks for weighing in, yournontoxiclife. I love how we find that interconnectedness when we sink into our selves.

  11. Peter on October 3rd, 2009 4:18 am

    For me prayer and meditation go hand in hand. While entering the rest I often pray to get in touch. The prayer usually comes in the form of ‘ I love you’, ‘you’ve always known me, always loved me’. Then there is quiet, as thoughts and feelings and judgments are released. Beyond all these, after a time of just being, a love dialogue happens. This is prayer for me. Its not empty. Its full of love and joy.

  12. Mary on October 3rd, 2009 8:31 am

    How beautiful, Peter! Thank you for sharing this.

  13. Jeff on January 13th, 2011 10:45 pm

    I often find myself lost in the amazing feeling of meditation when i pray. I find prayer to be the way to connect to God. And, of course, meditation is the way to have Oneness with God. I do not doubt that meditation could be reached through the act of prayer.

    When I meditate, I get comfortable so my thoughts can relax. In the same way, I get comfortable to pray. That way I can effortlessly spread my feelings and thoughts to God…Thus, achieving meditation.

  14. Mary on January 14th, 2011 10:37 am

    How beautiful, Jeff. Sounds like prayer and meditation are one thing for you.

  15. sixlin Mambre on October 23rd, 2011 4:59 am

    Thank you Mary I ofthen asked myself if there was a difference etween prayer and meditation because I meditate more than I pray! Meditating is a profound thinking of who God is. Thank you for letting me know the oneness of prayer and meditation. Meditation leads to revelation and manifestation of Gods Love

  16. Mary on October 24th, 2011 9:04 am

    You are welcome, sixlin. Thank you for sharing this beautiful perspective!

  17. Bella on March 1st, 2013 5:46 pm

    I am studying the art of mediation. I always pray throughout the day but I am finding myself more interested in relaxing in God’s presence and recieving what He has to say to me. It is not as easy as I thought to just be still and quiet within my thoughts, but I will not give up. My goal is to practice both art forms regularly, I feel they are both necessary for my relationship with God.

  18. Mary on March 2nd, 2013 9:53 am
  19. Elder Michael Anderson on August 16th, 2013 6:15 am

    Many times I have been in prayer releasing everything that was on my heart unto the Lord. One particular time in prayer the Holy Spirit interrupted my prayer and said be still. That moment is when I learn that;
    Prayer simply is our hearts speaking to God;
    Meditation is our hearts receiving from God.

  20. Mary on August 16th, 2013 9:06 am

    Elder Michael Anderson — thank you so much for sharing this. This is such a wonderful insight!

  21. samuel amebley on December 18th, 2014 11:21 am

    I think meditation is prayer extended, because meditation draws one closer to the answers that God provides. This is because meditation taps into the greater life-force, which is God, to fulfil our prayer requests. There have been instances where one fell into a short sleep just after prayers and had a unique vision -like experience.

  22. Mary on December 18th, 2014 5:37 pm

    Samuel, thank you so much for this thoughtful comment. It adds a great dimension to the discussion.

  23. kris on March 21st, 2015 6:54 pm

    both are spiritual processes to the infinity intelligence,God we pray with our spirit in silence we don t need words to pray
    the faith and the trust is mater. we meditate with our spirit in silence

  24. Constance Lloyd on July 13th, 2015 3:11 pm

    I am a realist and I am on the fence about God and religion. I think people have the power and strength within themselves, not from a higher power.

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