Getting an answer to “prayer”: four tricks that might help

What about getting an answer to a prayer?

Nobody's picking up

Nobody’s picking up

In my last post, I had a dilemma that was partially resolved. If there’s no anthropomorphic God, what is praying for? I solved part of my dilemma, when I realized that prayer is a way of experiencing love. It felt good to see that, but there was still the issue of answers. What about help for my problems? I pray and feel love and that’s supposed to make it all better? Yeah, right!

As I sit with this part of me that’s clearly skeptical about this whole thing, my insides remind me of some lessons I have learned from Focusing about receiving help, wisdom and guidance. I have experienced that these “other ways of knowing” are not a process of ask-a-question-get-a-clear-direct-and-logical-answer. There are four tricks I have learned about getting “answers.”

Four “tricks” for receiving answers to prayers

1) Step out of the “I asked a question and I want a direct answer.” paradigm.

To do so, you might like to think of everything that comes as a response. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The very act of asking will evoke some kind of reaction, or, we could say, response.

The instruction is to pray (in whatever way you have decided works for you), then pay attention. Treat whatever comes as a response. In the moment or in the following days, whatever comes–thoughts, sensations, memories, emotions, situations–are possible responses.

For example, I was inquiring into how to grow my business. My inquiry was, “What needs to happen in order for my business to move forward?” With a question like that, you would expect a list of rational, logical steps: first you have to get an office; then you have to get clients; to get clients you have to meet regularly, weekly with local referral sources… etc. Certainly, that kind of list, many to-dos long, did show up. I wrote it down and put it in my file along with all my other to-dos. But later that week, as I was engaging in some other creative work: bam! An inspiration landed fully formed in my head. I stopped what I was doing and wrote the inspiration down. In 15 minutes I had my unique offer, an outline of the entire program and a sentence that described what my business is about. As all this was happening, I knew it was the response to the question. “What was needed in order to move my business forward?”. I had been missing the clarity I needed to move forward. When I asked the question, I didn’t know what was missing. I didn’t know I needed clarity. Nevertheless, it was given to me. Indirectly and at a later time, but I still received it.

2) Look behind you

In my experience, responses almost always come subtly and indirectly. If I’m not paying attention, I miss them, or if I do see them, I fail to notice the connection between them and how I made myself ready to receive them. Had I not taken the time to appreciate the inspiration that came in the story above, and if I had not been engaged in a practice of noticing the effects of being open to receiving responses, I would not have made the connection between the two events.

I propose that you regularly take time to recall what you were praying about, or for, and what has been happening in your life in the time around that prayer. You might see some connections. You might then like to take a moment to receive what that’s like, and possibly offer gratitude to all those involved, including yourself.

Now a person could say I’m misattributing cause and effect. Maybe I am. At the same time, over and over, I have noticed that I receive information and guidance from something other than my logical, rational mind (sometimes I would call it the Universe, sometimes I would call it my body, sometimes inner wisdom). Ive noticed that it is more likely to happen when I engage consistently in practices that encourage non-judgmental curiosity and openness and thus make me open to receive what may come.

At one point early in his professional life Ram Dass decided to give up the scientific model. He said he no longer wanted to see things from inside the probabilistic paradigm, taking a stance of doubt. He said, “I realized I’d rather cultivate faith than skepticism. It was a new definition of who I am.”

I’m willing to take the risk of misattribution. I am at a point now where it helps me more to cultivate faith. I live a more aligned life. I am happier and more peace-filled. Cultivating faith helps me live the meaningful kind of life I’ve always wanted. Maybe it’s not for you. Truly, maybe it isn’t. Maybe you might like to take a moment… to pause here… and notice what comes.

My invitation to you is, whatever way you choose to go, notice, notice, notice: what is it like to live this way? To what degree does what I’m doing support me in achieving what really matters to me?

3) Holding and letting

Holding and letting

Holding and letting

This is a kind of inner attitude toward getting an “answer” that makes room for answers to come. For example, take waiting for someone. You can wait with a relaxed body posture, taking pleasure in the spaciousness of the moment that opened wide because the person has not arrived. You could appreciate the clouds, you could take a moment to breathe. You could sit with yourself and appreciate the calm. The word that comes to me to describe this kind of waiting is “calm abiding.”

Then there’s the kind of waiting where your body is tense, you’re drumming your fingers, gritting your teeth, thinking angry or worried thoughts, worried about how this will affect the rest of the things you have planned for the day, etc.

If it feels right, take a moment to sense the difference between these two experiences…. Notice what your whole body feels like when you think of each one.

In these kinds of processes, when we are “waiting” for an answer, I’m suggesting that the first kind of waiting, a calm abiding, is the kind that makes space for something to come. It’s a kind of holding the inquiry, or the question, relaxing, having no expectations, and letting what comes come.

Another analogy is the attitude you would adopt if you wanted a shy animal to know it is safe to approach you. We don’t rush over to it, because it will retreat. We sit still, calmly, with calm breathing, sending body language that communicates receptivity and ok-ness. Similarly, when we are “waiting” for an answer, we can cultivate that same inner attitude.

4) Living the question

A last little trick is to carry the question with you, and keep asking it in your mind and heart, still not expecting an answer, just asking the question as an exercise in asking, in opening. As you walk in nature, as you’re at work, as you fall asleep, as you cook, or engage in creative activities, as you’re journalling, you can place your attention on the question, then notice what comes. (Remember, everything is some kind of response!)

I read over these keys and realize the words only point to the practice. They’re not actual instructions in how to do it. I’m thinking you can explore the hows for yourself. You can try something, and notice if it works, and if it does, great! If it doesn’t, you can check to see what else might be more right. I think your insides know!

It can help to get support for engaging in these practices, so you can bring a specific example and ask, “In this situation, how do I practice holding and letting?” Or, “In this situation, how can I live the question?” (I can help with this, if you want to work with me, I can refer you to others who can also help, and I’m sure you know people who can help, too.)

Maybe you’d like to take a moment to share your experiences in the comments below. What are your tricks for “getting answers to your prayers?” Have you tried any of these suggestions above? What was that like?

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If there’s no God, why pray?

What’s prayer for?

I have not yet been persuaded by an anthropomorphic view of divinity. You know, the concept of a kindly, bearded old man who

I hope somebody's up there.

I hope somebody’s up there.

watches over and helps us, or a loving grandmotherly woman who embraces us tenderly when we bring our problems to her. They’re lovely images. They make me think of my grandparents. That’s a nice feeling but I can’t imagine engaging in petitionary prayer with this vision of a deity, either asking for something specific or bringing a problem to them and asking for help solving it.

I’ve always related to prayer as an awareness practice. I’ve understood from various teachers that free-form, “talking to God” type prayer is intended to change the speaker, by bringing hir into awareness of hir situation and what is needed. I’ve also understood that reading a scripted prayer functions to remind the one who reads it of hir values, and to support hir in reconnecting with them. It’s also possible that, reading the text, s/he could have insight into hir life choices noticing it comers. favourably or not, with the ideal.

I’ve participated in scripted prayer at worship services. At times, it has inspired me and, as I mentioned above, served as a wake-up call. I’ve never talked free-form to God. When I’ve considered it, I’ve always felt self-conscious. A part of me says, “What a poseur you are.” Some part of me sees doing it as somehow being insincere. Also, there’s this idea I have that there is no “personal being” “up there” anyway; what an exercise in futility that would be, talking into the void. It would be a kind of echo of my life experience as a child, a left-alone-to-cope situation. So the self-judgement comes back to insincerity and tells me it would be “just for show.” I’ve certainly never asked God for anything.

Maybe I could pray to my Nana

My thoughts come back to grandparent images. It occurs to me: maybe I could pray to my Nana.

As I consider this idea, I remember I have heard people say their dead parent or sibling or grandparent is watching over them and helps them out when they’re in trouble. I always thought it was very nice for them, and felt sad that I couldn’t imagine that for myself. As I consider it now, I think about something

Every facet of life can shine with love, through the beauty of The Beloved.

I read about experiencing God’s love, by Rabbi Shefa Gold, in her commentary on Shir haShirim, the Song of Songs. “The truth of my spiritual life is that I encounter God the most clearly in these three ways: through my body and its expanding senses, through nature and its dramatic and miraculous beauty, and through intimacy with the other.” She says that every facet of life can shine with the love, through the beauty of The Beloved.

What is my dear Nana other than someone beloved to me? Sure, she’s not the beloved, but she is a beloved. And I was beloved to her. Hmmm….
And Georg Feuerstein, on bhakti (love or devotion), says, “Bhakti is all-inclusive, shining through us and into others without qualification. It’s real “object” is the Divine, which is also its source.” This leads me to conclude that when I feel love, it is sourced from the divine spark in me (the same spark that exists in every being). When I feel love, I could say, “God is here.”
So in a way, my Nana, my experience and memories of her, her love that I feel in my body and heart right now as I write, and that moves me to tears, is making it possible, through the spark of the divine in her, for God to come to me, or for me to open to the presence of God/love that was already there and always available, that is in me, my divine spark. When I experience her love, even “just” my memories of it, I’m experiencing God.
Maybe you reached this conclusion long before I did. It’s just hitting me now that maybe people who have been saying they pray to someone who died are accessing divine energy through the metaphor or conduit of their loved one. This thought makes me cry. Like really cry, with a big sigh and warm wave that comes up from the belly and out my eyes in tears. I feel a lump in my throat and I feel a longing in my heart. I feel how much I miss my Nana. She was the most loving and affectionate person in our family. She’s been dead for at least 30 years, and yet, all my life, she has been my point of reference for what love means.
Maybe I can pray to my dear Nana. Then, because I’m bathing in the flow of that loving experience, I will no longer be alone in my questions, problems, suffering or struggles.

But what about getting an answer?

So I’ve solved part of my dilemma. I’m not alone. I am loved. Prayer, done this way, is a way of experiencing love. That feels good, like forward movement and fresh air. I don’t need a deity. My working hypothesis now is to pray to Nana and let my experience of her love for me be the conduit for experiencing God’s love, Divine love, Universal love, unconditional love. Or just plain of Love with a capital L.
But there’s still this question of answers. What about help for my problems? I pray to my Nana and feel love and that’s supposed to make it all better? Yeah, right!
As I sit with this part of me that’s clearly skeptical about this whole thing, my insides remind me of some lessons I have learned from Focusing about receiving help, wisdom and guidance. I have experienced that these “other ways of knowing” are not a process of ask-a-question-get-a-clear-direct-and-logical-answer. There are four tricks I have learned about getting “answers.” You can read about them in my next post, in two weeks.
Meantime, how have you experienced and explored prayer? How did you resolve the question of God? If you didn’t, how are you working with this whole topic? Won’t you take a moment to share in the comments below?

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