Today let’s talk about a question I recently received, “Are prayer and meditation the same? What is the difference between them?” In short – no, they are not the same. While both experiences share many similarities and play important roles in our spiritual wellbeing, they also differ quite a bit in their intentions, the different parts they engage in our mind, and the spaces they each create, inspire and nurture within us. Our ability to see how they are each unique allows us not to lose the depth and beauty that each of them offers us.
Meditation is a beautiful and intentional mental practice that I believe anyone can benefit from – and it doesn’t have to look in the way we might traditionally think. I know a man who each night engages in what he calls “nightly reflections”, which I find quite beautiful and meaningful. Each night, before bedtime, he spends some quiet time in which he reflects upon his day, “How did I treat my wife, my children, my parents? How could I be more present and attentive tomorrow? What happened today that I am grateful for, what made my day beautiful and joyful?” He approaches all this from a space of gratitude in heart; and this is not meant to make him feel ashamed nor self critical if he acted in a way he didn’t fully intend to, but it is merely meant for him to acknowledge his day, be grateful, and learn from what happened. So, it isn’t coming from a space of “identity” i.e. I did this wrong therefore I wasn’t good, but rather it comes from intentional contemplation, in which he takes an outside in perspective on his day.
Another way in which we often meditate in our every day life is for example, walking in nature, sitting on the balcony and looking outside, and looking up at the stars at night, disengaged from the internet, to remind ourselves of the beauty that the vast skies are, and to give ourselves some perspective. When we live our life more intentionally, and learn to truly notice all around us, we find that we might even becoming a walking meditation – as everything suddenly begins to look alive, joyful, and interconnected. Everything becomes a meditation, and we are the meditation itself.
At its essence, meditation comes from the intention of living a life, or creating a space within us, that is one of peace, harmony, balance, positive reinforcement, and realization. It can offer many benefits for our health and wellbeing – as it inspires us to take a breather, have some quiet time, and take in gratitude our present moment. Meditation also allows us to open up the doors within our unique inner wildlands – and explore the beauty of the worlds living within us, and the emotional, mental and spiritual lands we walk within us. It can be great for self exploration.
A lot of people may also practice meditation from the perspective of, for example, meditating on a specific word like “love”, “peace”, etc. This then becomes a different kind of experience, in the sense that we are meditating on an abstract concept. And anytime we are focusing on an abstract concept, like “love or peace,” we might also have certain expectations, certain images or ideas, and certain parts of our brain engage. But in prayer, particularly in some prayers, when we are looking for a person like Jesus Christ, or an energy like God which is essentially unnamable nor could ever be touched by us physically, it’s a different kind of experience, and in many ways, it engages a larger part of our brain. The reason for that is because when we focus on a person, it’s much more unknown, open and yet comprehensive and complete at the same time.
The abstract concept of “peace” or “love” as a state of being may become a single track into which we are searching for that experience; where as in prayer, it might seem like it is a “person” but we don’t know what kind of thing or person we’ll find. We might be a little bewildered, unsure, perhaps even uncomfortable in that experience, is anyone even listening or hearing us? And yet we also stay alert, and whatever feelings arise, we pull ourselves in again, and we try again. When a person encounters another person, love can happen.
Meditation inspires within us an inner state, and it is a beautiful and purposeful tool for self realization and inner balance; it offers us an opportunity for deep and intentional contemplation, and to enter into a more peaceful state of mind, as well as be amazing for our nightly reflections, for living in gratitude, and for being more present in our every day life.
Prayer is, essentially, building our bridge to God, to love, to trust, and to loving wholeheartedly and more consciously. Through prayer we learn surrender and submission to that which we do not see nor ever know completely, and yet we learn how to be held. We learn to release some of the burdens of our day and give them to God, to give our worries to God, and to remember that we are not alone. This also reminds us of interdependence, and of being there for one another as human beings also – we engage a part of our brain that is really open, in a way nothing else can do, except when we fall in love with someone so completely and so madly, that we release all control. Because love cannot happen until the boundaries between us dissolve; until we are humble enough to surrender to it. Prayer is a sacred practice; a devoted sacred love life is created and nurtured within us. Prayer nurtures our ability to trust, and allows us an opportunity for a deepening on all levels.
To trust is one of our hardest yet most important spiritual lessons in this life. And it is hard to trust, for we often tighten our grips; and in this unstable thing called life, we want to soothe ourselves in some knowing, to give ourselves some stability. Prayer calls us to surrender that and to trust. Prayer, essentially, builds our strong spiritual core – becaue faith is powerful thing and can help us navigate through many challenging situations.
We are not praying, we are being prayed. We are being loved, held, and reminded of our humanness. Through prayer we build a bridge to God, and then strengthen that bridge through love, trust, faith … we build a connection to that which is beyond us and which is undestructible. We open up our palms, for only then we can be held by God, and receive from God; and simultaneously, we actually subtly learn how to hold another person’s hand also when it is needed of us to do so. We actually learn to love – to trust, to give and to receive, and to release control, humbling ourselves and becoming comfortable with not knowing it all. Because we’ll never know all there is to know in another person; there will always be wild unknown parts of the people in our life, our spouse and children and family and friends, and we need to learn to pay attention, always keep re-exploring each other’s inner worlds, and being okay with not always having all the answers.
To humble ourselves in prayer shows that we are humble enough to know we don’t know it all. We were never meant to know it all anyway; the humility of this deserves to be treasured. So I believe that prayer goes beyond a religious practice; it is about our own understanding of our humanness and our ability to love more openly, more honestly, more intentionally. Living a life of prayer means just that: to be humble yet fully aware and conscious of how all is interconnected; to love more consciously, to be more grateful, and to be more kind as human beings.
Now let’s look at an example of a prayer, and I’ll take you to Orthodox Christianity and the Jesus prayer, which is one of the most essential practices in that tradition. The Jesus prayer is a very simple few words prayer, and right from the start you are entering a space of looking for a person. So as a person, we know he is there, but we might be unable to sense him or perceive him – so we seek him within our inner worlds.
The purpose of the Jesus prayer is to accustom us to sensing his presence; to get better at that, to get better in our sensitivity at that. It’s like tea tasters – they train themselves a long time, perhaps even years, to get better at tasting, sensing, smelling and discerning the various flavours and teas. In that way, the Jesus prayer is to train ourselves to see someone who is already with us, but we just are not yet able to perceive that. When we begin this adventure, we don’t know what we’ll find. And it can feel uncomfortable, boring, frustrating … there are many emotions that can come upon us, across us, and we might even doubt, “is anyone there, hey can you hear me?” This isn’t about a search for peacefulness, it is about a person. And it is also about finding that love within us also – where in us is the space he resides in; where is his home within us; where is love calling us to love, returning us to love.
Prayer is a powerful practice, do not underestimate how powerful it truly is. It creates an energy merging intention, purity of heart and sincerity in actions – hands, heart and spirit into one – and this essentially creates your bridge to that which is undestructible.
Now let’s meditate on all this: What did this all sound like? What does it mean to you? What space do you enter through your experiences of prayer and meditation?
There is no specific way to pray, you don’t have to memorize words – it is about speaking from your heart, and speaking honestly, while keeping yourself open enough without expectations. Prayer puts you in a space of mysticism, as through that willingness to open up to the unknown entirely, you push against the boundaries of the mind and its conditions. Through the trust and faith you build within you with prayer, you build a strong spiritual core that will help you navigate through life while keeping you grounded. Both meditation and prayer are beautiful companions to each other; they are not the same, and that’s the beauty of it – because if we view them the same, or as mere mental practices, or as “shoulds”, we might lose their depth, beauty and wisdom that they may offer us.
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