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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.
Once upon a time, I was a high school English teacher, and in that life, there was something that I sought out eagerly each day, attempted to create, and leapt upon like a tigress when it appeared – the teachable moment. That happy circumstance when I had attention, interest, engagement, and most importantly, opportunity.
The funny thing is, that when you’re a teacher down to your bones, from the moment of your birth, the way that I am, finding the teachable moment is actually a kind of sixth sense – one that (to the dismay, and eye-rolls, of many of my associates), I can identify and take advantage of no matter the circumstance. I kind of can’t help it – I see the perfect moment to provide illumination, and I take it. I’m a teacher – and I can no more let the opportunity pass by, than I could stop being who I am.
Today I went to my folks’ house to do laundry and hang out with my three-year-old niece, Abby. She’s both the best and most important ‘student’ I’ve ever had, and the best and most important ‘teacher’ I’ve ever had.
We had a great time today – she loves her Auntie, and we have all sorts of adventures together when I’m there. She has an incredibly rich inner world, which she’s pleased as punch to draw me (and anyone else who’s handy) into.
Today, we had one of those unexpected teachable moments. I was in the laundry room folding a load, and she grabbed what she calls her ‘Jesus book’ – a children’s book of Bible stories – and her duckie, and planted herself next to the washer. I sank down onto the floor next to her, and asked her if she’d like me to tell her the stories in her book.
With the dryer humming in the background, and the washer swishing away behind us, we went through the entire book – a rare thing with that three-year-old attention span. I didn’t read what was on the pages, but told her the stories from memory. I pointed out all the major players, and gave her the gist of each tale in a few sentences.
The last story in the book was the one about Jesus and the little children – the one where the man tries to shag off the kids who’ve gathered around Jesus, and Jesus stops him and tells him to let the children stay. Abby was really tuned in, and I could just feel all of the tumblers working in her quick little mind.
She’s had a kind of rough time of things for being only three – nothing horrid, but not a whole lot of stability. I told her that she could talk to Jesus anytime she wanted to, and He would always listen to her, always. I asked her if she wanted me to show her how – she nodded and then got to her feet to stand in front of me. I held my hands in prayer in front of my heart, and I started, “Dear Jesus, I had a hard time today…” She mirrored my every movement, repeated each word, on her own.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me; and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19: 14)
I am her godmother. Once upon a time, when my sister was pregnant, she debated whether, with my unconventional spirituality, I would be a suitable godmother for her child. That was like a dagger in my heart – and I’ve had a hard time healing it. No matter my own personal spirituality, I told her, that God-forbid, if something happened to her, I would do everything in my power to do all that I thought she would have done, and more.
So, I became Abby’s godmother – a role I take seriously, despite my distance from the faith I was raised with. No matter how far away I get from Catholicism, it’s never gone – it’s just become a part of the broad and deep pool of spiritual knowing and experience I’ve built for myself. Every child needs spiritual teachers, no matter what tradition.
Today, I taught my niece to pray. I told her that she did have someone to take all her troubles to – that when she has a hard day, and things feel crummy, she had someone to talk to in every moment. Someone who, though they may not answer back, would hear everything that she told them. She seemed to really take it in. She paused. She was quiet and thoughtful.
Today, I was more grateful for my innate teacher habits than I’ve ever been – today, I had a golden moment with my niece, my goddaughter. Today, I was able to act as her spiritual teacher, the role I was given when she was born, and one I cherish the opportunity to fulfill.
It was especially poignant, because they will be moving in a few weeks, and I know she’s not terribly pleased about it. It will be her third move in as many years. I wanted her to have somewhere to go with all that she will feel about it.
I totally realize that she’s three, and that there’s a whole lot more to prayer than what I was able to tell her today, but this was an important moment. It was the first of many to come.
Tonight I facilitated another Reiki Share, and as I left, it struck me again how grateful I am to be who I am, doing what I am doing, where I am doing it. It struck me again how wonderful it’s been to have this opportunity – how wonderful it feels to be doing something that feels so exactly right for who I am and who I’ve longed to be.
I know that I write a lot about the discomforts of the path of mastery…and not a lot about the blessings. Tonight I thought about those blessings – and about how they are ever-present in my life.
I used to have moments when I felt utterly bereft, as though there was no solace, no corner of comfort for me anywhere, in my entire life. I haven’t felt that way in a long time – I have found my solace, I have found what gives me succor.
Tonight we talked about the Reiki precepts, and we talked about walking the path of mastery and what that means. I think that anyone who’s ever embarked on any kind of spiritual journey, or a journey to self-mastery can say that, at least once, they wished they’d been the kind of person who was content not to question every bloody thing. That they wished for a ‘normal’ and ‘quiet’ life. And tonight I said, “But that is not what it has been given you to do.” And as I said it, I realized that that statement was for me.
There is no way on earth that I could live another life than the one I have. There is no way I could just decide to derail this path, hop off, and get on another one. It is not given me to do. There is no way, because I would be miserable. This is what has been given me to do.
I asked for this – longed for it, in fact. As a child, I was fascinated by the Christian mystics, by the hermits, by those who heard a call deep within their souls to take up their banner and march down a rockier, steeper, bendier path than the others around them. I was intrigued by those who held aloft a lantern to light the way for so many others who trudged similarly fraught paths.
The conditions of the path are really immaterial – whether I was a nurse, or a police officer, or a nun, or a coal miner, or a Reiki master, what I could not forsake is this need to look deeply, to question, to ponder, to explore. That is what has been given me to do.
When I finally was able to pursue Reiki training in the way I’d longed for so long to do, it was like a homecoming. It was like some fretting bird finally quieted and was soothed in my soul. Because I’d found it, finally, the lantern I would bear for others, and for myself.
Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky. (Rainer Maria Rilke)
My path has been winding lately, with bends and switchbacks that leave me unable to see the coming terrain. It’s been uphill, and I’m scampering, fighting to keep the progress I’ve made. The pock-marked dirt is littered with rocks that poke through the soles of my shoes. Uncomfortable. I want to get past this part of things, and there’s a part of me that wants to rush through this, and just get it done. There’s another part of me that knows that I need to sink into the discomfort, and BE IN IT.
Every single one of my relationships has been undergoing shift and change – and I know it’s for the best. I know that following this time in my life, I will have found my tribe. I know that I will feel surrounded by people who ‘get’ me and appreciate who I am and what I have to offer – and what they have to offer me. I feel like I have no one to fly to in the night, when I am all alone, and the pressure of everything that I hold up is crushing me to death.
I am seeing everyone around me with new eyes – I misplaced the rose colored glasses that held them all in soft reflection. I see all of their hard edges, all of their faults, all of the places where they take and do not give back. And in seeing it, and taking it in, I cannot return to the time when I chose not to know this about them.
I am making decisions – can I continue the relationships, now that I know what I know, and see what I see? And moreover, do I want to?? Implementing change starts with defining what you DO NOT WANT, so I am doing that. I have a mental list forming, a collection of behaviors that I do not want to put up with anymore. I am trying to be careful not to toss out the baby with the bathwater – a fresh start with something doesn’t require you to throw out all that has come before. It requires you to step forward onto the pebbly path with care and certainty, bearing with you the resolve born out of your growing pains and your fumbles.
I acknowledge that I am not perfect. I admit that there are things about me that become obnoxious, or require understanding, patience, or forbearance. I acknowledge that I tend to hold people to high expectations – I have faith in people, I see their potential, I see the ideal of them. It’s always a little tough when they tumble off the pedestal and turn into the real person that they were all along.
I am actively engaging in the process of excavating my own bullshit and stories to try to figure out the places where I fail others and myself. I am seeking the ways that I could be a better friend, partner, and compatriot. I am trudging along that rock-strewn path because I said to the Universe, “I want to walk the path of mastery,” and that means that you need to get intimate with your inner workings, and pull the wool from your eyes – about yourself and about what it means to be human. So, I’m doing the work – I asked for the work. It’s borne fruit – both bitter and sweet.
I know that I teach people how to treat me – so, I’ve decided to be a better teacher. I’ve identified some of the things that are huge, glowing, red button issues for me. And, I’ve come to realize that just because someone wants a relationship with me, it doesn’t mean I am obligated to return the sentiment – I can be compassionate, and be discerning. They are not mutually exclusive.
For the past few months, I have been trying to get to a place where I could feel good about the evolving nature of my relationships – and I think that I’ve gotten there, but not by the road I thought I’d take. I thought that I would get to a place where I would stop feeling bad for wanting to “prune my friend garden.” That’s not what happened – I got okay with feeling crappy about it, and still being able to step forward and do it anyway – because that was what was good for me. I got to a place where I cared less about ‘what kind of person it made me’ to want to walk away from others – and I got to a place where I realized that self interest is not selfishness, although this society would have me believe otherwise.
So, what follows is partly a wish list for friendship, and partly a manifesto on what it means to be a crummy friend (I do take into account bad days, and humanness – I know that no one can maintain all of this all of the time – it’s a majority thing: can they do this the majority of the time?):
- Do what you say you will do! This is the hugest, glowingest, reddest button issue for me. Talk is cheap – if your actions and your way of walking in the world doesn’t match what you say and how you advertise yourself, I am not interested.
- I am not a free counselor. I am not a sage on the hill, to be sought out to heal your drama, and then to be left alone in the cave again when you don’t need me to straighten out all your crooked thinking.
- I am not a priest – stop coming to me for absolution. I cannot give it. Some things are inexcusable. Some things are wrong, no matter which brush you paint it with.
- I am not a garbage receptacle – stop bringing me all of your emotional effluvia and leaving it in my lap. It doesn’t make me feel kindly towards you. Deal with your own stuff. Sit in your own discomfort, and leave me to sit in mine.
- I am not a fool – stop announcing things about yourself in the effort to get people to not call you on your obnoxiousness. Pulling the curtain off of it doesn’t make it more acceptable – it just exposes it in the effort to appear as though you’re actually dealing with it (I can actually see what you’re trying to do here, and if I can, so can everyone else).
- I am not an indentured servant – stop mistaking my natural helpfulness. I owe you nothing. I do things for others out of a heart-centered desire to be of help – when this is taken for granted, I take it back.
- I do not exist in a vacuum – stop neglecting the relationship, and believing that it will exist there, as you left it. Relationships cannot be sealed neatly into time capsules. If you think your neglect of me makes you a bad friend, it does.
- I am not dull-witted – stop peeing on my leg and telling me that it’s raining. I am a frigging writer. I am intimate with stories – the ones I tell myself, the ones I tell others, and the ones I try to live out. The difference? I know, or try to figure out, which of my stories serve the highest good, and which ones I just tell myself to decrease my own discomfort. Why are you telling them?
- I am not blind, deaf, or dumb – I see you, no matter what you choose to clothe yourself with. I hear you – what you do say, and what you don’t. Circle-speak, double-speak, and non-speak – I am really good at hearing it when you say a bunch of stuff that really doesn’t say anything at all.
I love wholeheartedly. I reach out to others. My natural instinct is to comfort. I am faithful, and I have faith in people. I am giving. I am trusting. I want to live a vibrant life. I want to live each day of my life as deeply as I can. I take chances – on people, in life.
Once I’ve held someone in my heart – no matter how we part ways – I tend to hold them there forever. I am an elephant: I never forget – but as time passes, no matter the indiscretion, I let it get fuzzy so that I can wish you well on your journey.
One of my dear, dear, heart-friends said something the other day that twanged my heart’s deepest corners: “where are all the people who were supposed to love me forever?” I second that. Where are you? I threw my hat in the ring, I showed up, ready to play – where are all of you?
I want to be able to love the distance between us. I want to be able to look at you whole and unbroken, cast upon the skies that span our outstretched hands.
We are misled from early childhood to think that life is something you get through. Life is something to be in. (Dustin Hoffman)
I am trying to be IN the moment. I am concentrating on it. I am working to be grateful for all of the opportunities that life offers me in each day – whether they’re for happiness or healing, and whether they are comfortable or uncomfortable.
Lately things have been uncomfortable. And that’s okay. I mean, it doesn’t feel great, but I know that stuff is being brought to my attention because it’s a good time to address it, whatever it is.
It seems like the older I get, the fuzzier righteousness becomes. Things just are. I just am. We just are. Morality gets clearer, and simultaneously harder to verbalize. Soapboxes seem ricketier, and look far less appealing, as perches go.
Fighting with people at this stage of the game seems silly. Doesn’t mean I don’t still do it. I do. I just try to do it differently. I try not to be underhanded. I try to be as clear as possible, and to leave anger out of it. There are times I think I do pretty well, and there are other times I suit up for battle with the intent to make known how irate I am. That’s being human, I guess.
I’ve had a series of conversations over the past several weeks with someone who is very, very close to me. The reason we’ve had to repeat the conversation is because each time we enter into it, it’s like I am speaking Greek, and they are hearing French. Frustrating. Maddening. Infuriating.
Today, I came to them again, and I needed to just say the things that I’d been afraid to say – I hate hurting people’s feelings (I’m empathic: it just hurts me right back). At the onset, I could see defensiveness in every line of their face and body. I called attention to it, and I said, “I can see that you’re defensive right now. We’re just going to talk. I am not angry, and I am going to work very hard not to get angry.” Calling it out like that seemed to help a little bit.
And I realized something important. I was able to leave emotion outside the door. I was able to be calm and to articulate what I needed to. I was able to honor them and their need to respond in whatever way that they needed to. And, we still did not come to resolution. It seems we are at an impasse. I see green, they see purple – and we’re both looking at the same vista.
It’s frustrating. But a part of me feels very, very clear – a part of me knows that I do need to keep affirming that it is green, because that is my truth, that’s what I see. A part of me knows that if I back down this time, I will betray myself knowingly and without any excuse other than to make the other person comfortable – and this is hard, because I’ve spent the better part of my life attempting to make others comfortable. It’s instinctive.
Part of that realization was that I’m no longer willing to ensure their comfort at the expense of my own. I’m still a big fan of finding the middle ground, and of compromise…I’ve just been able to see the line where bending becomes enabling a little bit more clearly.
So, I’m trying hard not to look at this impasse as something to be gotten through. I’m trying to see it as something that is a part of our lives in the now, and that I should appreciate because it is teaching me some pretty important lessons…even if they are uncomfortable ones.
I’ve been reading Pema Chodron on and off the past few months, and it’s helped. She talks about how we human beings have a very low threshold for discomfort, and that we allow ourselves to follow the impulse to get away from whatever’s causing us that discomfort. This time, I am trying to be IN the discomfort – and I’m trying to use it. I want to see where it will lead me, because I know that this situation cannot remain unresolved, and running away will solve nothing. There is no true escape, only delay.
I don’t want to push things off anymore. I want to follow this rabbit hole to see where it leads. Even if I get a little battered on the way. Wish me luck.