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I’ve always been intensely curious about people. What makes them tick, why do they think the way they do, why do they make the choices they make, why do they behave the way they do? Being a good observer of life and human nature is essential to being a good writer, and I know this.

So, why do I have such a hard time shutting up?

I remember a point in college when I realized that I really needed to work on my listening skills — not in the conventional way, or for conventional reasons, perhaps, but the need was there all the same. I was sitting in Critical Approaches to Literature (a course taught by one of the most intelligent women I know). Many of the selected readings for this class had me limping mentally by the end of them — and there was one in particular (by Foucault) that I remember almost succeeded in conquering me, but before I succumbed to frustrated tears, I muscled through. And decided that I wasn’t sure whether I liked Foucault at all — talk about spending ten-dollar words like they’re pennies!

I showed up to class each day, entirely uncertain about my understanding of the readings, but willing to throw my hat in the ring, and offer my best answers. I am unafraid of being wrong — when you’re brave enough to raise your hand and offer your honest opinion, you’ll find out quickly enough whether you’ve got it or not. And if you’re wrong, then you’re wrong, and someone tells you what’s right. I’ve always figured that was pretty much the fastest route to figuring out whether I was on track or way off the beaten path.

This professor, after three classes, refused to call on me. She told me why — because she knew I knew what I was talking about, that I was doing the readings, and that she really needed the others to talk. It was a sign of her courage as an instructor that she was willing to stand at the front of the room and wait them out — it starts to feel really hot up there if no one’s raising their hand — and I’ve been the fallback answer girl for almost every single teacher I’ve ever had, so this was new.

I knew what she was driving at, and why she was doing it — I didn’t feel cheated, because she’d explained her reasoning to me. I don’t know if she realizes that I learned something very important that semester, something that wasn’t on the syllabus: How to shut up.

I’ll tell ya, it wasn’t easy, sitting there class after class, waiting painfully for others to reluctantly raise their hands with all the enthusiasm of someone volunteering for Chinese water torture. Especially when I was sitting there on my hands to keep them from springing, unbidden, into the air.

So, I learned some things. That what I have to say about something is what I already know. That sure, I can volunteer what’s in my heart or on my mind to push others into volunteering what they think or feel, but I also take a chance of intimidating them out of saying something that way. I learned to listen. To value what other people think, in a way that I hadn’t really done before. (I thought I had, but that was a great big fib).

When I started teaching, I had to stretch this newfound ability further. Not everyone pounces to answer a question, or tromps assuredly forward to volunteer their opinion. You have to wait (hard, hard, hard for me). And wait. And give them time to think about what they think. And then hope that they will honor themselves enough, and feel safe enough to volunteer it.

I am not saying I’ve mastered the fine and subtle art of being a good listener, but I’m working on it every day. I catch myself babbling when I’m with friends, and I mentally wrangle myself into a modicum of silence. Because I really do want to hear what they have to say, what they feel, what they think. And when I’m talking, I’m not listening. And I’ve walked away from enough get togethers with people I love thinking, “Crap. I’ve gone and done it again. I wanted to know what she thought about _________ and I didn’t shut up long enough to find out.” You can’t get those moments back, and opportunities don’t always come around a second time, and I don’t like walking away feeling as though I didn’t offer opportunities to share with me. Because, truly, I really do want to know.

I love the way that the Universe (God) works. There are no mistakes, no coincidences — only opportunities to choose. A few weeks ago, Annette (a lovely woman whose joyful spirit is a clever cover for a philosophical mind and mystical soul) said something in one of the Reiki Shares that got me thinking, and stuck with me. That prayer is like talking to God, and meditation is like listening.

I’ve been chewing on that thought ever since. I’ve been asking a lot of questions, saying a lot of prayers. But all of that’s talking, not listening. And I’m realizing that learning how to meditate, how to open up space to receive the answers to those questions is really just another round of me sitting on my metaphorical hands and remembering to be more interested in what God has to say than in what I have to say.

When we pray to God we must be seeking nothing – nothing. (Saint Francis of Assisi)

Tonight I facilitated another Reiki Share, and walked out of there feeling like a brand-new-gal. These gatherings have been one of my greatest joys as a Reiki practitioner (for about a bazillion reasons). Tonight, we got to talking about prayer and prayerfulness. It’s something that’s been on my mind lately, and I was so glad to get the input and thoughts of others as I muse over, ponder over, and chew on the whole concept of prayer, and the attitude of prayerfulness.

God speaks in the silence of the heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer. (Mother Teresa)

I have had a complicated relationship with prayer, I think. Maybe most people have – I don’t know. All I know is that I was raised as a Catholic, and that was my religious foundation for a great deal of my life. I don’t even want to get into that whole phenomenon of Catholic anger, or the idea of the “recovering Catholic.” That’s not what I’m driving at here, and I don’t really identify with either of those things. My Catholic upbringing – and my specific exposure to that perspective – gave me one conception of prayer, one way to live prayer, one way to act in prayer. And for a long time, that was the only way I could think about praying.

I believe I am finally in a place where I can actually appreciate the meaning of the word prayerful for the first time in my life. Of sensing the necessary openness, instead of expectation. And I came to it through Reiki.

One part of Reiki is actually providing yourself and others with treatment – that’s the part that most people are familiar with. They’ve seen it on the news, they’ve seen it on Dr. Oz, they’ve read about it online. And, all of that exposure? It’s great. I love it. But it neglects so much.

It’s the other part of Reiki that seems to be unseen, unacknowledged, and undiscussed. The inward part – the part where the practitioner (the one who practices) commits to walking a spiritual path. The part of Reiki that is the act of living prayerfully.

In college, I read Dorothy Day’s biography, and the quote that most struck me was when she said, “I could not go to God on my knees.” For such a long time, I really thought that was pretty much the only option I had – to be penitent, knees bent, head bowed, staring downward.

Prayer is not merely an occasional impulse to which we respond when we are in trouble: prayer is a life attitude. (Walter A. Mueller)

In the intervening years between reading and identifying with that quote and today, my conception of prayer, and my understanding of what it means to be prayerful, has grown and blossomed. Yes, there are times I go to God on my knees, but I let it be in reverence, and not in shame. There are also times I go with arms held high, feeling joyful and embraced. Feeling jubilant.

Eddie Izzard, a rather unconventional comedian, does quite a few skits on religion. (I love his comedy – it’s intelligent and quick and wry.) In one particular skit, he says that one of the things that’s always bewildered him is the way that so many Christians manage to sing praise songs in a dirge tone. That was my experience growing up – attending church each Sunday and watching the congregants sing Alleluia as though they were going to the gallows. And I prayed dirgefully. Uck.

Reiki has brought me a new way to experience prayer – something which I did not expect. I’ve talked about this quite a bit in Reiki Shares and in other gatherings, but not here on my blog. For me, providing treatment for someone becomes a prayerful experience. I tell clients that it feels almost as though the entire session becomes one long prayer. There is peace, and silence, and the space for them to heal and to find resolution. For me, there is inner quiet, and a meditative state that is something quite different than the state I’m in when I grocery shop or watch tv. There is an attentiveness and openness on the part of both myself and the client. We each enter the session with hopes (a form of prayer) and intentions (a kind of petition) and openness (the willingness to hear and receive the results of those hopes and intentions).

Prayer gives a man the opportunity of getting to know a gentleman he hardly ever meets. I do not mean his maker, but himself. (William Inge)

I try to bring more of that into my day (with varying degrees of success). I try to bring myself into a state of mindfulness more often in my everyday life. I try to think prayerfully, walk prayerfully. Be prayerful.

Being prayerful, for me, has come to mean:

  • Being soft like water – able to bend with the flexible and changing world around me.
  • Being passionate like fire – able to feel all the things that it means to be human with depth and meaning.
  • Being open to new ideas, new ways of thinking, new ways of behaving.
  • Being mindful of all the world around me, and the deservingness of everyone and everything to be treated with the reverence that is due one of God’s creations.
  • Being mindful of my speech, knowing that the wrong words have such ability to harm.
  • Being mindful of my attitudes, knowing that I (like everyone else) tend to get “stuck” in them.
  • Being mindful of my part in all things – that even when I feel as though I’ve been wronged, there is something in that experience that is mine, and that I need to own.
  • Open arms. Open hands. Open heart.
  • More listening, less talking.

My intention this month was to work at being more prayerful in my daily life. I want to embrace all the ways that prayer has been a blessing to me in both joy and sorrow. I want to walk, knowing that with each step I take, I have an opportunity to walk prayerfully. With each breath, I have an opportunity to breathe prayerfully. Each word, each thought, each action – is an opportunity to be prayerful.

I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. (Abraham Lincoln)

It is of course possible to dance a prayer. (Terri Guillemets)

I wrote about this tonight because it’s occupying my thoughts, and I wanted to write about it to see where I was with it. I fully expect my feelings, thoughts, and ideas about prayer to change and grow – I welcome it. When I “write to discovery,” as I intended to do tonight, I tend not to be as eloquent as when I feel sure of what I’m saying – thanks for bearing with that.

I’d love to hear about what prayerfulness means for others. How do you experience prayer? How do you live prayer in your life? What things have you had to heal about prayer in order to get where you are today?

Part of walking the path of mastery is picking up all the pieces of your life one by one, like stones on the riverbank, and holding them in your hands. Turning them over and over, examining them. Seeing them again and for the first time. My growing relationship to prayer is another of those stones – one which I know I’ll cup thoughtfully in my palm many times as I walk forward.

 

Faith is reason grown courageous. 

Sherwood Eddy

I have always struggled with my faith. I struggle with the very idea of faith – much less putting faith into my life as a practice. I was raised to believe that God helps those who help themselves – and I come from a family of hard-working, do-it-yourselfers, to whom asking for help is anathema.

I remember in college, reading about Dorothy Day – a socialist reformer turned devout Catholic. I really connected with her story, because at one point in her narrative she says, “I could not go to God on my knees.” She could not conceive of surrender – the idea that she must do for herself, that she was the only one on whom she could reliably depend, was too ingrained. She struggled, and eventually she came to a point where she was able to have faith.

To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.
St. Thomas Aquinas

I remember that one sentence, out of all of the things that we had to read for that class. I could not go to God on my knees: I could not arrive in supplication; I could not allow myself to rely on that which was outside of myself; I could not have faith.

In recent years, this struggle has come to the forefront for me. I do believe in God – one who is loving, forgiving, patient, etc., etc. I do believe in mystical experiences, I do believe in miracles. I do believe that God has the power to and the ability to intercede in people’s lives. I guess the problem might be that I have a hard time conceiving of that God ever noticing me enough to intercede in mine?

Whatever my hang-ups, of late, I have been presented time and again with situations that demand my faith, first – and then what I long for materializes. Maybe that doesn’t sound difficult, but it is for me. And, I find it ties into what I am facing on my path to mastery: if you have faith, you do not worry; if you have faith, you can honor others; if you have faith, you have no need for anger. Aack.

In honesty, I long to have the kind of faith that would leave me with the certainty and security of knowing that, like the lilies of the field, I will be provided for. I long to have the sensation and knowing that I am held in the palm of God’s hand – safe, loved, and protected…treasured.

I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching about this. I am trying to discover how to bend, to trust, to allow – instead of being so stubborn, so myopic, so determined to do it my way. Especially since when I do let go of the need to control, things FLOW – things go perfectly, and I am cared for – things materialize, and I have to struggle so much less than when I try to do it all on my own.

Faith is not trying to believe something regardless of the evidence; faith is daring something regardless of the consequences.
Sherwood Eddy

It seems like such a small cost, doesn’t it? Just have a little faith, and invest that faith. For me, that is like asking me to hand over limbs. It’s so safe here, behind my intellect and reason – so safe trusting in only me; no one can disappoint you if you never give them the opportunity to do anything for you. It’s also a very lonely and isolating way to live. One of my refrains is that “I am tired of feeling like Atlas – I am tired of holding up the world.” It’s exhausting to never trust anyone enough to allow them to do things for you – it’s bone-wearying to try to be the God force of your own life.

Along with the soul searching, I have been trying to put my faith into action in my life. I actually used to be rather good at this, but I also used to be very optimistic, and kind of naive. Then, I went through a divorce, and all of that changed for me. I became much more skeptical and cynical – much more negative, and so unwilling to allow people into my sphere, my trust, enough to disappoint me. At that time in my life, I just couldn’t take anymore disappointment. I would have rather been driven to my knees by the sheer weight of the world, rather than bend them willingly in faith.

If I purport to be actively walking on a path to mastery, then I cannot allow myself to continue this faithlessness with consciousness, and I recognize the need for a shift. The question is how? How to willingly bend, how to let go control? How to master the fear that relinquishing control creates? How to have faith that I can allow it all to fall out of my hands, and into God’s?

I have been presented with some very strong lessons in this in the past year (a kind of wonderful-terrifying, fabulous-frightening year). Situations kept coming to the forefront. On the one side, I stood there, with a white-knuckled grip on things, and deeply unhappy. In order to obtain the things I deeply wanted, I came to see that the only way to get from here to there was to have faith, and to take a leap – a nigh impossible task. The fact that I did it at all is due to the fact that I cannot stand the idea of being a hypocrite (I’m always telling people to take risks and really live their lives – how can I do less?) and that the potential happy outcomes were beyond enticing.

Faith is courage; it is creative while despair is always destructive. 

David S. Muzzey

The most confounding part of all of it is that I have had burning bush moments – times in my life when I knew without a doubt that I walked with the Divine, that God was a presence and active force in my life. I have seen the joys born out of having faith in that Divine wisdom and will and power, and experienced them firsthand. So, why is it so hard to bend to that faith time and again?

All of my questioning, all of my soul-scouring searching, all of this struggle . . . and at the end of the day, I must face the fact that I already know what I must do – get out of my own way, get out of God’s way, and allow. To stand in the knowledge that faith has moved mountains in my life – and that if I can relinquish control long enough, my entire reality could shift.

Namaste,

One Seeking Faith

 

Ahh, Mother,

I walked awash in your light,

gently enshrouded

tenderly kissed

all of the nights of my life.

 

A silent witness

to every howl, sob and sigh

to each time I’ve stood –

as solitary as yourself –

and stretched my arms wide

spun circles in dewy glades

closed my eyes

and rejoiced,

knew what it meant to feel blessed.

 

And hail their queen, fair regent of the night.

Erasmus Darwin

 

I should have spent today in bed.

Today was a day to spend ensconced in creamy white sheets – the cotton ones my mother bought for me, the ones that feel deliciously smooth on my bare legs.

Today was a day to spend propped up on pillows clad in my favorite pillowcases – the ones my great-grandmother embroidered with the blue thread that remind me of crisp, clear fall skies.

 

To lie there,

lissome, languid,

And contemplate.

To stare at the ceiling without even seeing it.

 

To think.

To push aside plans, and release clocks and schedules.

To open my heart to dreaming,

To drop slowly, stone after stone, ideas, forms, thoughts,

subtle meanderings

Into the stillness inside me.

 

To get nothing done.

To be away.

To let everything take care of itself for one day,

To let the phone go unanswered,

The mailbox go unchecked,

The to-do lists go undone;

to just be.

 

To respect the cozy haze

To allow myself to ensorcelled by my own energy

To be mellow.

 

Today, even books (my weakness) would have felt intrusive.

I wanted to sit,

Allowing silence to press in

To circle round,

To embrace me –

To transport me.

 

To be contemplative.

To feel prayerful –

With each breath,

Each movement of my fingers along the embroidery –

To read the Braille of those stitches and divine meaning.

 

To revel in a state of happy-aloneness,

Knowing the comfort of never being alone.

To commune with myself,

With God.

 

To honor my own body and mind

To allow respite,

To enjoy rest, and the act of resting.

 

To enjoy my quiet heart,

To not speak, and not need to speak.

To listen, instead.

 

To be prayerful –

To praise on each breath

And honor with each movement.

 

To be prayerful –

To think about the things for which I have no words –

The things that need to be felt to be experienced.

 

To be prayerful –

To have a peaceful heart

A quiet mind

A resting body

A listening spirit.

Come have a look through my kaleidoscope eyes. Come walk with me, as I make my way down the Path of Mastery (complete with fits and starts and pitstops and potholes). Our very impermanence is what makes us burn so brightly, and struggle so valiantly, and feel so deeply – it’s what makes us seize the day, and the moment. Come in, settle in, share a moment with me.

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"Who are YOU?" said the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, "I--I hardly know, sir, just at present-- at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then." (Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 5)