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How Do I Pray?

by Peter Russell

Someone recently asked me how I prayed. I answered that I pray not for divine intervention in the world around, but for divine intervention in my mind, for therein lies the root of my discontent.

We usually think of prayer as an appeal to God or some other spiritual entity to change the world in some way. We might pray for someone’s healing, for success in some venture, for a better life, or for guidance on some challenging issue. Behind such prayers is the recognition that we don’t have the power to make the world the way we would like it to be – if we did, we would simply get on with the task – so we beseech a higher power to change things for us.

Changing the world in some way or another occupies much of our time and attention. We want to get the possessions, opportunities, or experiences that we think will make us happy – or conversely, to avoid those that will make us suffer. We believe that if only things were different, we would be happy.

This is the ego’s way of thinking. It is founded on the belief that how we feel inside depends upon what is going on around us. When the world is not the way we think it should be, we experience discontent. This can take many forms: dissatisfaction, disappointment, frustration, annoyance, irritation, depression, despair, sadness, impatience, intolerance, judgment, grievance, even grumbling. Whatever form it may take, this discontent is actually a creation of our own minds. It stems from how we see things, from the interpretations we put on our experience.

For example, if I am stuck in a traffic jam, I can see it as something that is going to make me suffer later – being late for an appointment, missing some experience, or upsetting someone – and thus begin to feel anxious, frustrated, or impatient. Or I can see it as the chance to relax, take it easy, and do nothing for a few minutes. Same situation; two totally different reactions. And the difference is purely in my mind.

The ego believes it has my best interests at heart, and holds on to its view of what I need. Locked into a fixed perception like this, it’s hard for me to see that I am stuck. I blame the world out there, rather than my beliefs about how things should be. So I tell myself a story of what should change in order for me to be happy, and set about trying to make it so.

When I find I cannot make the world the way I think it should be, then I might, if the need seems sufficiently important, beseech some higher power to intervene and change things for me. I am, in effect, asking it to do the bidding of my ego. Yet as most of us have discovered, the ego seldom knows what is truly best for us.

If, on the other hand, I recognize that my suffering may be coming from the way I am seeing things, then it makes more sense to ask not for a change in the world but for a change in my thinking. Instead of praying for the traffic jam to go away, it might be wiser to pray that my feelings of frustration and tension go away.

The help I need is in stepping out of the ego’s way of seeing. So when I pray, I ask, with an attitude of innocent curiosity: “Could there, perhaps, be another way of seeing this?” I do not try to answer the question myself, for that would doubtless activate the ego-mind, which loves to try and work things out for me. I simply pose the question, let it go, and wait.

What then often happens is that a new way of seeing dawns on me. It doesn’t come in the form of words; it comes as an actual shift in perception. I find myself seeing the situation in a new way.

One of the first times I prayed this way concerned some difficulties that I was having with my partner. She wasn’t behaving the way I thought she should (and how many of us have not felt that at times?). After a couple of days of strained relationship, I decided to pray, just inquiring if there might be another way of perceiving this.

Almost immediately, I found myself seeing her in a very different light. Here was another human being, with her own history and her own needs, struggling to navigate a difficult situation. Suddenly everything looked different. I felt compassion for her rather than animosity, understanding rather than judgment. I realized that for the last two days I had been out of love; but now the love had returned.

With conventional prayer I might have prayed for her to change. But the divine intervention I needed was not in her behavior but in my own mind, in the mindsets that were running my thinking.

The results of praying like this never cease to impress me. Invariably, I find my fears and judgments drop away. In their place is a sense of ease. Whoever or whatever was troubling me, I now see through more loving and compassionate eyes. Moreover, the new way of seeing often seems so obvious: Why hadn’t I seen this before? Asking this simple question allows me access to my inner knowing, and lets it shine into my life.

The answer doesn’t always come as rapidly as in the above example, though. Sometimes the shift happens later – in a dream or when I’m relaxing with nothing to do in that moment. The prayer sows the seed; it germinates in its own time. I don’t always get answers to such prayers. But even if I only get an answer half the time, it makes the asking well worthwhile.

The beauty of this approach is that I am not praying to some power beyond myself. I am praying to my own self for guidance. Below the surface thinking of my ego-mind, my inner being knows the truth. It sees where I have become caught in a particular mindset, and is ever-willing to help set me free.

Moreover, since my prayers are directed within, to my own essence, I have no concerns whether or not they will be heard. The one offering the prayer and the one receiving it are the same.

  • cprize May 04, 2011

    Peter you sound like someone trying to recreate the access to the Creator and having a modicum of success. The access has been known for a very long time, it is found in Numbers 12:6, our dreams and visions. You are reaching into a low level of visioning from what you describe. Learning to use the content, whether by visioning at a literal level closer to our thinking or learning how to plumb the depths of the plays on words, symbols, metaphors and analogies in our dreams requires the WORDS (converting the imagery and other sensory content into the Living Word of God). Once you learn there are vistas beyond your current horizons, potentially leading you into the paths that Einstein, Edison, Tesla and countless composers, authors and Nobel Prize winners found.

  • DyckDyck May 04, 2011

    Here is part of a note recently sent to a caring friend who asked, "How are you doing?"

    I've been carrying the question "what does it mean, surrender" for almost two years now, allowing it to mold itself into any shape or sound, no shape or whatever it wanted to be... allowing it to inform me as it wished, whenever it wished. It has not disappointed. As it has been gathering energy and changing me, lately it has accelerated. It is now so generous and abundant it has already made my cancer (& perhaps my life) but a meager offering of thanks.
    Love, Dyck

  • Anonymous Icon

    DougWilson May 05, 2011

    An experiment I've made with the same "Shift away from ego centre" has had satisfying results. We could do this exercise at any time but we might try it in times when we are not feeling satisfied with any part of our lives. Lets say I am feeling like "Nothing is working out" for me. I "shift" by using my power to work things out for others. I sit and bring up pictures of people, family, neighbours, people at the store, everyone that comes to mind and say, "I use my power to make things work out for them - that they get answers and intuition and good times and ease of living and understanding" - pretty much all the things I'd want for myself.

    I say this, in my head, using words - because it's more fun. I also sit and "Use my power" to create a good atmosphere in places where people are. The bedroom, where Rose is sleeping now, the room where a group of people meet every evening. I see these places as filled with peace, light and understanding. The words - peace, understanding, getting answers, intuition - are just examples of what I've used.

    This is pretty much the same, in essence, as what Peter is saying. Shifting from ourselves and the habitual brain noise to an intentional - making things better - for others. Since everything that is, is connected, it's a can't lose exercise.

  • JeremiahStanghini May 08, 2011

    How very simple... "divine intervention in my mind" vs. "divine intervention in the world." It's so short and sweet.

    I appreciate your candor in this post. You've definitely gave me some things to think about (with regard to my mission/vision statement for my life).

    With Love and Gratitude,


  • Anonymous Icon

    NorCalCS May 10, 2011

    Thanks for sharing, Peter. I'm a Christian Scientist and can relate to much of what you shared. I've found many times that a sincere, humble willingness to exchange a limited, material view of things for a more expansive, spiritual view results in all sorts of emotional, personal – even physical – healing. For me this healing process is less about my view of God (although this is key!) than it is acknowledging and accepting God's view of me as His beloved creation. The former can feel pretty uncertain at times... the latter has to be a fixed fact.

  • Anonymous Icon

    Soulweaver May 13, 2011

    I learned a wonderful lesson about two years ago - that true happiness does not come from outside circumstances or environment, but is available from within at any time I choose to seek it out. A natural extension of that is to seek to receive a change in my perceptions, as Peter described, instead of seeking for others to change, but first I had to acknowledge that I cannot make someone change. So the only other choice for a peaceful resolution is to change my own perceptions. A great author once wrote: 'The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes'.

    It's amazng what one sees when one 'sees with new eyes'.

  • Sammi Law May 21, 2011

    I found your sharing to be quite relaxing.

    There is an old family story about my youngest brother that my mother enjoyed repeating many many times. The gist of it is that he was repeatedly asked to make a choice between the donut shop or the Post Office as the first stop on a ride to town with our grandfather. As the story goes, after testing the limits of the elder's patience and being spoken to sternly, he meekly replied, "I have placed the question in my mind and I am waiting for the answer."

    It is a very serene process. It seems to synergistically expand, as well as, deepen one's relationship to themselves. I whole-heartedly support turning inward for answers.

    I had the good fortune of spending a few years with my grandson. He would occasionally work himself into a tizzy because he could not find something he had put down. I suggested he look inside his head for an image of where he last saw the object.

    He reported success with the technique then, but last time I asked about his practice he said he hadn't misplaced much recently. @viasammilaw

  • Anonymous Icon

    Ishmael Jul 12, 2011

    Wow. How do I pray? Often and with a lot of gratitude.

  • charliet Jul 13, 2011

    "Ask and you will receive", we tend to forget that. It is so very true that we oft times do know the answer before we even ask the question. Thanks for the reminder, always trust the inner feeling. The ego is a nice thing to chat with on a long trip but it rarely makes great decisions.
    Thanks again.


  • Anonymous Icon

    gauravsingh18110 Aug 03, 2011

    I never really thought about prayers this way. When I am about to do something, I say in my mind, '' Goddess, I'm going to do my best. You help me too.'' and it gives an emotional support and strength.
    But you have definitely given me something to think about.

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