Are prayer and meditation the same?

August 24, 2009

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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:

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“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

Is prayer meditation? Where prayer and meditation meet.

May 20, 2009

I just read a beautiful and thought-provoking quote from Ramesh Balsekar’s Net of Jewels.

“True prayer means not solicitation but communion. Prayer is communion in the same sense as that in true meditation there is neither a meditator nor anything meditated upon.”

When I read it, I felt a “yes!” inside. It was one of those “that-feels-so-true-but-I-can’t-say-why” moments. It seems to describe a state of oneness that could be seen as both the goal and means of both meditation and prayer. What the quote conveys to me is beyond words, and yet usually I associate prayer with words. Perhaps the deepest form of prayer is indeed beyond words. 

What do you feel? What do the words “prayer” and “meditation” mean to you? Is prayer the same as meditation?

Do you have to be spiritual to meditate?

February 16, 2009

In a very interesting, enjoyable blog post, “K” describes her experience with our meditation podcast. Her post is fun to read, and it raises a lot of interesting questions. First of all, she begins by saying “I am not what you would call a spiritual person”. In view of this, she was surprised to find herself listening to the meditations. That raises the question as to whether only spiritual people meditate, or whether meditation is necessarily associated with spirituality. And then, of course, there’s the bigger question of what spirituality, or being spiritual, means. At one point K asks “Was I actually meditating?” (when listening to the podcast). This brings up yet another question — “what is meditation?” These are all interesting questions to explore. My feeling is that asking these kinds of questions can lead to worthwhile self-discovery.

One thing I loved about K’s post is that her bottom line was that whether or not meditation is spiritual and whether or not she is actually meditating — “there’s no way I’m giving it up”. For whatever reason, regardless of whether what she’s doing is spiritual (as a supposedly “non-spiritual” person) and regardless of whether what happens as she listens to the podcast is meditation, she likes it. And isn’t that what really matters? There are so many ideas about meditation and what it is to be spiritual. Often these ideas can become stumbling blocks that keep us from what we are really looking for. They can become “shoulds” that get in the way.

I’d love to hear from you — how do you define spirituality and meditation? Do you consider yourself to be a spiritual person, and if so, why? What makes you spiritual? Do you feel spirituality and religion are one and the same, or are they two different things? Do you feel you have to be spiritual to meditate? Do you feel that meditating makes you spiritual?

Online Sangha

July 7, 2008

This morning I was delighted to learn (from a comment on a blog post) that our Breath in the Heart Meditation would be shared online as part of Plumline‘s Monday morning Sangha.  In fact, it is going on as I write.  

Although Buddhist studies have not been a part of my background, and I have had no training in mindfulness meditation, I am always struck by how much my meditations seem to resonate with those traditions.  As I’ve said before, the deepest truths can be arrived at and expressed through many different paths.  

I enjoyed visiting the Plumline website.  Plumline describes itself as “Building online Sangha in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh”.  For those who don’t know, “Sangha”, roughly translated, means spiritual community.  A community of like-minded practitioners is felt to be essential to support on-going spiritual practice in Buddhism.    

Those interested in Buddhism may want to visit Plumline.  Thich Nhat Hanh, from whom they derive their inspiration, has written one of my all-time favorite poems – “Call Me by My True Names”.  (See Thich Nhat Hanh speaking on mindfulness on YouTube.)

I’ve come to feel our podcasts are like a giant group meditation.  We don’t see and meet each other for the most part, but we truly are meditating together — thousands of us.  I’ve hoped to provide some support for that experience in this blog and on our Meditation Oasis website. Perhaps there are yet other ways that we can create community for those who are interested. I’ve thought of different ways — an online course, a chat group, a conference call.  I’m not sure what will actually manifest, and would be interested in your ideas.

Trust Guided Meditation Podcast

May 28, 2008

Our latest podcast episode is about trust in life and trust in oneself.  It’s about a very fundamental kind of trust.  It doesn’t have to do with trusting people or things, but with a basic sense that everything is all right just as it is in each moment.  Most importantly, it has to do with the sense that we are alright, just as we are.  This trust allows us to relax into the flow of life and living, rather than resisting what is happening.

We can learn this kind of trust in meditation as we learn to relax into whatever comes up in our experience.  You may notice that at times you resist what is happening.  You may feel your mind shouldn’t be filled with thoughts, and a resistance comes up.  Or you might try to push out a particular emotion.  You may also find there are times when you try to be a certain way.  Often people feel that since they are meditating, they should feel peaceful.  There can be an attempt to try to feel peaceful.  A kind of struggle comes up, a struggle with ourselves and with life.  This struggle comes from a lack of trust.

Everything that we experience is an expression of the natural flow of life.  The energy of life flows as thoughts, emotions, sensations in the body, sounds around us.  As we meditate, we can learn to let that flow happen without interference.  We can develop a basic sense of trust in life as we learn to trust what happens within ourselves.

Connecting with nature.

April 21, 2008

I’ve heard from a number of people about how much they’ve enjoyed the Nature Attunement Meditation. After hearing the meditation, freelance writer Amanda Wegner interviewed me for an article she is writing. It’s about how adults can examine their relationship with nature and reconnect with and better appreciate the great outdoors, whether it’s a national forest, city park or their own back yard.

I really enjoyed this interview and wanted to share it with you. You can read the interview below. (Excerpts from the interview will be published in the summer 2008 issue of Successful Living magazine.)

Amanda: What benefits does nature bring to our lives? Why is an appreciation (or, more basically, a recognition) of nature important?

Mary: We speak of nature as if it is something separate from ourselves. Your ask “what benefits does nature bring to our lives”, and I often find myself saying “I love to be out in nature.” It’s interesting that we speak this way when we ourselves are part of nature. The same life force that moves the planets around the sun circulates our blood through our veins, and yet because of the way we experience ourselves as separate from each other and life, we lose touch with our essential nature. When we spend time outdoors and experience the sights, smells and sounds of the natural world, we are awakened to ourselves. Nature is like a mirror in which we see our own reflection and remember who we are. Spending time in nature attunes us to our own life force and rhythms. It helps us to feel more alive.

Amanda: Obviously, some people are much more in tune with nature than others. Do you think it’s important for people to examine their attitudes toward nature? How might one go about this? What questions should they ask of themselves?

Mary: It can be valuable for people to explore their relationship with nature, as well as their attitudes. As we become more intimate with nature, we become more intimate with ourselves. I feel that as we feel our connection with the earth more strongly, we naturally take better care of the earth. There’s no difference between caring for the earth and caring for ourselves. It’s all the same thing. We’re not separate!

One way to explore ones feelings about nature is to spend time outdoors. See what happens when you are in a natural setting. Be aware of how you feel. Let yourself connect with things more than you have been. Listen carefully to the sounds, with you full attention. Notice the smells. Let yourself drink in the sights. Notice how these experiences affect you. You can also try bringing more of nature into your home. Have some plants and form a relationship with them. Find out what makes them happy and helps them to thrive.

As far as questions, you might ask yourself how important nature is to you, and why. Examine your habits about recycling, and if you garden, how you go about it. Do you recycle because it’s “in”? Do you recycle out of guilt? Or do you find your actions motivated by a sense of love for this amazing planet we live on? Watch a bee nestling into a flower and see how you feel about that experience. Observe things closely, noticing how you feel, and ask yourself if it reminds you of how you feel in other parts of your life. You may start to notice that a bird’s song is your own voice speaking its sorrows and joys.

The Nature Attunement Meditation is a great way for people to connect (or reconnect) to nature. For someone who uses meditation, what might be some other ways (if they don’t have an iPod handy) to meditate in nature?

Listen and observe carefully with your full attention. If you’ve been listening to the meditations in our podcasts or CDs, you can treat your experience in nature the same way you treat the experience in meditation. Let the sights and sounds of nature be the focus of your meditation. Don’t strain on it, but if you find yourself getting “into your head” and caught up in your thoughts, gently bring your attention back to nature. Even though all sorts of thoughts and feelings may be going on, you can “favor” the experience of nature and notice how that makes you feel. As you observe nature, let go of the tendency to label and name things, simply experience them directly. You can close your eyes and listen to the sounds of the birds or a running brook. Anything can be a focus for your meditation.

For someone who isn’t “into” meditation, what other suggestions might you offer to even the most urban people to get out and enjoy their natural environment? How can people better “tune in” to their natural surroundings?

I’ve already spoken about ways to “tune in” to natural surroundings. Even in an urban environment, you can find something natural. There’s always the sun to feel and the sky. Clouds are a great focus of meditation. Sit down on a patch of grass somewhere. Feel the grass and earth with your hands. You can also bring nature indoors. Create a natural sanctuary on a patio or balcony, or even inside your home. Plants, small trees are an easy way to start. Construct a fountain with stones you find. Listen to the water in the fountain. Visit the beach or a forest and bring some of it home with you. Grow some bulbs indoors. There is always a way to connect. And when all else fails, you always have your breath. Attending to the flow of your breath brings you in tune with the natural rhythms of life!

Gratitude Guided Meditation Podcast

February 22, 2008

Gratitude is the highest, most fulfilling, emotion we can feel.  Yet so often we’re focused on what we don’t have, what we want to be different, what we think is wrong rather than on what we can be grateful for. There’s nothing wrong with that — it’s human nature — it happens to all of us. Yet most of us would certainly prefer to feel grateful.

When feeling grateful is so rewarding, what can we do to feel it more often? We can’t manufacture gratitude. It comes on its own. But we can give it more opportunity to appear in our lives, simply by taking time to focus on what is good in our lives, to “count our blessings”.

I feel it’s important, however, not to get caught up in the feeling that we should be grateful. There’s nothing we should feel. Gratitude has become a hot topic among spiritual seekers and often when something is seen to be spiritual, it starts to get associated with being virtuous, or being a good person. I’m not interested in gratitude because it somehow makes one a good person, or because I feel we need to learn to feel only positive emotions. I’m interested in gratitude because it uplifts our spirits and feeds our hearts.

I make this point because when I led a gratitude meditation with my local guided meditation group, it wasn’t until I gave them permission not to feel grateful that they were able to relax and have a genuine experience of gratitude arise. As you listen to the Gratitude Guided Meditation podcast episode, be easy with it. If you don’t feel grateful at times while you are listening, let that be OK. Don’t try to make yourself feel anything. Next time you listen, the experience will be different, or you might find that feelings of gratitude surprise you later on during the day. The meditation is simply designed to give you an opportunity to feel gratitude by taking the time to focus on the things in your life you are thankful for. We’re just giving gratitude a chance to come up naturally. Chances are you will at least feel moments of gratitude during the meditation, and when you do, let yourself sink into that feeling. Notice the details of the experience of gratitude — how it feels in your body, how your energy feels. Let it permeate your whole being when it comes up.

We hope you enjoy this meditation, and would love to hear about your experience with the meditation and with gratitude in your lives.

What is my philosophy and background? Part 2 — Up close and personal.

February 15, 2008

And now for a more “up close and personal” answer to Erica’s question (on the About page of this blog)…

Erica asked about my philosophy of life, and my dilemma is that I don’t really have one in terms of having a set of fixed beliefs. At the same time, it’s fair to say that I’ve spent a good deal of my life philosophizing. After taking a vocational aptitude test in college, my advisor scratched his head and said, “this indicates that you’d do best at being an armchair philosopher”. I love to think about the nature of life and look at things from all sorts of angles. I love to question things. I’ve also had a love of asking the question “why” which doesn’t really have an answer, and I suppose much of my journey has been to give up the need to know answers and to be able to embrace lovingly what is here in this incredible play of life, with all its contradictions and paradoxes, and with all its joy and pain.

So it’s difficult to say what my philosophy is, but I can say something about what’s behind my guided meditations. Behind them is a quest, a quest for greater acceptance, peace and to be more fully alive. My guided meditations are as much for me as for those who listen to them. It’s not like have a specific philosophy to share. It’s more like I see us all on a journey together. Along the way on my journey I started meditating, then teaching meditation and eventually leading guided meditations. It’s in my nature to communicate and share what I learn and experience.

When I create a guided meditation, I close my eyes and drop into a meditative state and see what comes. I am literally meditating with you, and the meditations speak to me in the same way they speak to those of you who enjoy them. What they speak about for me is trust in the natural flow of life and relaxing into that. For want of a better way to describe it, I view life as a flow of energy, much like a river. That flow is governed by the same natural laws as those that move the river along its path. Everything that we do and experience is a part of that flow. Events are a part of that flow, as are our reactions to those events and all of the thoughts and emotions that arise within us. My path has been one of developing trust in that flow. Relaxation is a reflection of that trust.

Some of the guided meditations I lead are simply about that — about relaxing into life as it naturally unfolds. The Relaxation Break, Simply Being, Effortlessness and Letting Go are examples of that kind of meditation. When I first started leading guided meditations, I thought that was all that I would do, because that is the kind of meditation I had always taught. But things evolved and I found it was useful to sometimes direct the attention in ways that helped to create balance and enhance fulfillment in life.

So there are meditations about healing, the chakras, nature, etc. I enjoy the process of creating these new meditations, and a lot of this is happening thanks to the podcast and the requests and feedback I receive. I decided not to restrict myself to just one kind of meditation. All the other meditations, however, are based on starting with a relaxed, open state of awareness. That’s why they all start out in much the same way. Then the meditations that have a specific focus will be much more effective if one starts with that non-resistant, going with the flow, state of awareness. If we are tense and fighting with what’s happening within us (or noise or something going on around us), then all our energy goes to that and we can’t direct our attention in other ways.

As for my background, it’s been very eclectic. At first I learned and taught meditation in a style from India. I was trained in a very specific technique and the essence of that technique was effortlessness. This had a great deal of influence on me. After years on one path, however, I began to study with some other teachers and learned other practices and was exposed to a number of philosophies. I also studied and taught energy healing for a number of years and that too has shaped my meditations. I also worked as a counselor in mental health and hospice, and the insights and understanding I gained from that certainly influence the meditations I create.

I’d have to say that my guided meditations today are a synthesis of all of these different influences. Of course, this synthesis is unique because I am a unique individual just as we all are. Ultimately, everything that has happened in my life contributes to the meditations, because everything in life is a teacher.

It’s interesting that people often recognize their paths in my work. Erica asked about whether I have a background in Buddhist Vapassana meditation and I don’t, although often people have found that in my work. People have also found similarities to Christian centering meditations and other traditions. I think that’s because the same principles and concepts are arrived on many different paths.

Often as I am creating a meditation, I am surprised at what comes out. It will not be quite like anything I’ve heard before. That’s part of the fun of it, and part of the reason I don’t relate too much to tradition and what’s gone before. What’s really alive is what is fresh in this moment, in the infinite creativity of the life force as it expresses itself here and now.

What is my philosophy and background? Part 1– Keeping it universal.

February 15, 2008

“Erica” asked a the following question today on the About page of this blog.

“I am wondering if your style of meditation is rooted in any specific philosophy. I have had an interest in Buddhist Vipassana meditation (Insight Meditation) for several years. I seem to hear many of the same principles in your meditations and on your website. Could you share a little more about the origins of your meditations and life outlook? Sorry, I know it’s kind of a big question… I’m just curious.”

I’ve hesitated to write much about my background and philosophy for a number of reasons. One reason is that I’m much more interested in people formulating their own philosophies and having their own unique journeys with the meditations than I am in having people focus on mine. Another reason is that I can’t really say I have a philosophy of life. I’m definitely interested in becoming more alive and more at peace, but when I try to put that journey into words, the words can be misleading. In addition, my philosophy of life, if I have one, is constantly evolving. What I might say today is not what I might say tomorrow…

As for my background, it’s something that happened in the past. True meditation is a fresh, new experience. It is influenced by everything one has done and studied before, but it’s always an opportunity for a new discovery. If I look to the past, I may limit what can happen now and my desire is to become increasingly present to the here and now. I try not to limit myself or anyone else by the past.

I also hesitate to be really specific about my background because I want to leave the door open to anyone who may resonate with the meditations I create. In truth, my background has exposed me to many teachers and teachings, but what I have discovered is that there are common elements among different teachings and those elements that are universal seem the most useful and “true”. For me the experience of meditation is what is important, not the ideas about it and philosophies. What is fascinating to me is how different people can have such different insights and results from the meditations. What we get from meditation or a teacher is based more on our own process and intentions than it is on what is put forth by the teacher.

Erica did ask me to share something about my background and philosophy, however, and we do learn something from hearing each others’ journeys and experiences. So now that I’ve told you some of the reasons I like to avoid talking about these things, I think I’ll go ahead with Part 2 of this post and get a bit more “up close and personal”. Thanks for asking, Erica!

Nature Attunement Meditation

January 16, 2008

Why is time spent in nature so revitalizing and nourishing? Why does it make us feel so alive? Is there more to it than just taking a break and getting away from it all? My sense is that nature is like a tuning fork fork that attunes us to our life force, to our very being. Nature is like a mirror that reflects back to us the qualities that make up our bodies, minds, emotions and spirit. Depending on the kind of work we do and how we spend our time, we may become disconnected from those qualities and life can become somewhat dry and flat. Time spent in nature wakes us up, makes us feel more alive.

River rocksThe Nature Attunement Meditation is meant to bring much of the benefit of time spent in nature to us wherever we may be. This meditation focuses on the earth itself, creating an experience of grounding and strengthening. Water, sun and moon light, and plants also play a part in the meditation, as we attune to the essential elements that make up our lives and imbibe the energy and life of the vegetation of the earth.

This meditation is quite different from any of the previous ones on the podcast. It was a new experience for me to create it and I really enjoyed it. It will be interesting to hear how some of you respond to it.

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