It seems to me that there are probably as many ways to pray as there are people on the Earth. We also seem to group together according to how similarly we pray, I’ve noticed.
When first I asked the question of myself, “How do I pray?”, the answer was, “I don’t.” Immediately followed by, “Bullshit.” I don’t think it’s possible for someone who proclaims to feel spiritual energy as readily as I claim to, not to pray. There must be some way that I pray, however subconsciously. I need to expand my definition of what “pray” means.
At its most basic, “praying” is whatever method I choose at that particular moment to try to speak to God. I have used many methods of prayer over the years. There’s the regular verbal kind that most people think of, of course, though I don’t see that as the most fulfilling, personally. There’s the musical kind of prayer, with which I am the most familiar. I can play saxophone, flute, and a variety of hand drums, and any of them has felt more like praying than any words than I have ever used. There’s the artistic form of prayer, with which I was intimately familiar for several years until I tried to mix prayer with business and turn my art into a way of living. That turned out badly on both fronts and I have only recently begun to use art as prayer again (due in no small part to Spiritual Nomad).
Gardening is a form of prayer to me, as well as a form of meditation (so is fishkeeping). In fact, music and art are also forms of meditation to me. Maybe that’s why I have found both meditation and prayer so difficult whenever I have tried to pursue each one individually. I think something needs to serve both roles in order to be a truly fulfilling exercise. In any case, yes to gardening and fishkeeping as forms of prayer and meditation. They’re also the things that put me into closest touch with my primary aspect of God, which is Nature itself.
I also pray like a scientist, which is something of a paradoxical notion in our society. Science and God seem to be mutually exclusive in America, and perhaps the Western World in general. I see no difference between the two, though, and am constantly frustrated by the world’s attempts to keep the two separate. We could do even more amazing things if we stopped trying to keep the two things apart. To me, a tornado is not just a series of mathematical equations that describe atmospheric shear, turbulence, potential energy, and wind speed. It’s one of the most powerful forces on the face of the planet and almost certainly ranks up there with the other great meteorological forces of the solar system. Yes, it may just be an artifact of rising and sinking airmasses combined with the Coriolis effect, but that does not diminish its power or beauty nor the feeling in my heart when I see one (though to date I’ve never seen one in person: I’m not sure I need to to appreciate its grandeur). If I had to call a single place on Earth my temple, it would be The Sky.
Two other forms of prayer and meditation: cooking and baking. Each is slightly different. Cooking is more intuitive and is open to the “dash of this, bit of that” method of kitchen things. Baking is less forgiving and is more like chemistry to me (probably because it is). Both demand healthy helpings of love for optimum taste. If you can’t taste the love, I didn’t do it right (read Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel for an excellent fictional treatise on the magic of food). There’s a great deal of peace and calm that come from slowing down enough to really enjoy the processes of cooking and baking. If they’re hurried and are done only for the purpose of physical nourishment, there’s not so much energy in that. We don’t usually enjoy those meals very much.
A form of prayer and meditation that I am remiss in not mentioning yet is karate. It’s difficult to describe the seemingly conflicting energies of force and calm, but there’s a push/pull kind of thing going on that is like waves lapping on a shore. There’s a rhythm at work that will break me if I work against it, but propels me if I don’t. Karate’s very much like yoga in that way, which is yet another form of meditation and prayer that I very much enjoy. It even involves a bit of prostration, which feels a lot like bowing in karate and is calming to me. It is enjoying these two very physical forms of prayer that makes me want to explore yet another physical way of praying and meditating: dancing.
Dancing scares me in much the same way that singing does, though even moreso. If I am frozen into silence by the sound of my own voice, I am petrified to stone by the thought of moving my body in a rhythmic way. I’m not sure what about dancing is different from karate and yoga, though I’m guessing the former is much more freeform and less rigid than yoga and karate forms. And I do have trouble operating without guidelines, which is what dancing seems to demand. Rules and dancing seem diametrically opposed, even though I don’t dance (yet).
So those are more hidden forms of prayer for me. Dancing is also there, but I haven’t used it yet. Unlike the form I am currently using: writing. If writing is prayer, I pray at least every other day, if not more. The more I write, the more I want to write, and the more I like what I write. I use it so often that it now defies description, unlike other more obscure forms of prayer that aren’t hidden to me, but are less well-used: exercising and running. When I do those things, I can feel the rusty bits fall off the cogs and can see down the path to where they can take me, but I do them so infrequently that they never gain any momentum. That’s going to be one of my goals this year: practicing my more physical forms of prayer as often as I can. Of all of them, I feel they’re the best for me in all aspects.
Other ways that I have prayed before are by using mudras in yoga and meditation. Mudras are essentially meditative or prayerful hand gestures. There are tomes filled with the different ways the Hindu deities as well as Buddha will hold their hands, each signifying something different. I’ve also read Tarot cards, though that is another method that doesn’t get used very often and probably should. It’s not such a hard thing to draw a card a day to meditate upon. Along those lines, astrology can be a form of prayer for me if it’s done as a daily reading. It’s a way of opening myself to whatever the energies of the day might bring. Over time, it’s just a generally good method of keeping myself “open”. Which is a good thing for someone who gets really rigid sometimes. I also very much enjoy walking meditating/praying. I can do this with or without a labyrinth. It’s all about putting one foot in front of the other and nothing more.
Perhaps my most powerful method of prayer in the past, has been to do nothing. Others would call it meditation, but either the descriptions I have read of meditation fall as short as my own do, or I’m getting to a place that neither meditation nor prayer can reach by themselves. I have to be in the right space to do this, and when I am in that right space, it happens automatically. I have experienced this in fleeting moments, all in Nature, but every one of them perfect wells of peace, calm, and oneness. I have wished I could bottle those moments and take them with me, they are so perfect. And they are why I yearn to travel to the distant and isolated corners of the world, because that is where those moments happen. In a Texas field devoid of sound save for the blowing wind. In a car bespying distant, purple-hued mountains for the first time. On a plane to a new place and seeing a lightning bolt jag from the sky to a spot on the shore left blazing by the light. Driving through ancient, wet, green forests, or the endless expanse of the desert. They just happen, like striking the edge of a singing bowl and reverberating for days past their experience.
Perhaps I have not been as bad at praying as I thought I was. 🙂