The problem with prayer A.K.A Why prayer always works
“Great Spirit is everywhere. It is not necessary to speak to him in a loud voice. He hears whatever is in our minds and hearts.”
Prayer, as far as most of us are concerned, is a desperate S.O.S. reserved for special occasions. We think we’re “praying” only when addressing God directly with some screech for “HELP!” But since God is the force field that runs the universe, every thought we have is a prayer.
Every time we think any thought—be it a silent “God, doesn’t she realize that skirt makes her look like Walter Matthau” to “I’ll commit hari-kari if I don’t get that raise”—we influence the force field. I think I should probably repeat this: every single thought affects the force field.
The only reason we don’t change water into wine or heal cancer with one touch is because our thoughts (our prayers) are scattered all over the place. Instead of being one, constant, well-aimed tuning fork, our thoughts are more like a junior high band of beginning trumpet players.
On one hand, we “pray” for things to work out, but on the other, we worry they won’t. At the same time we speak for good, we secretly smirk that optimism is a bunch of baloney. We want to be committed to so and so, but what if he leaves? We want to make money, but didn’t the Bible say something about rich people, camels, and eyes of a needle?
The force is literally bouncing off walls. Go this way. No wait. Go that way. The force is knocking around like a lightning bug in a Mason jar. It’s being dissipated because we have no clear bead on what we really want. It’s not that God or “the force” isn’t answering our prayers. It’s just that we’re “praying” for too many things.
When you figure the average person has something like 60,000 thoughts a day, you come to realize that your life experience is “prayed” about by a heck of a lot more than the “please, God, let me get out of this speeding ticket” you uttered when you first noticed the flashing red light.
Sure, you begged God for peace of mind today, but you also spent 1200 thoughts obsessing about that damned co-worker who stole your website idea. Yes, you pleaded the money case with God, but you also spent 500 thoughts worrying about your overdue car payment. When you understand prayer for what it really is, it’s easier to understand why that one-time plea to the big guy doesn’t always pan out.
The only reason Jesus could walk on water was because 100 percent of his thoughts (prayers) believed he could. He had overcome the world’s thought system that says, “Only an idiot would be stupid enough to step out of the boat.” There was not one doubt, not a single thought (prayer) in his consciousness that didn’t fully believe it.
Your mind is very powerful, no matter how badly you disrespect the privilege, no matter how ineffectual you feel. Every single thought produces form at some level. Just because those thoughts are screwed up (and believe me, if you’re a human, some of your thoughts are screwed up) doesn’t make them weak or ineffective. Weak and ineffective at getting what you want, maybe, but never weak and ineffective.
Pray? Who me?
“Prayer is a soul’s sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed.”
People often tell me, “I don’t pray. It’s a waste of time. It’s like believing in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy.” My response? It’s impossible to stop praying. Can’t be done. Thomas Merton, the Christian mystic, said “we pray by breathing.”
Take Al Unser, for example. He didn’t call it praying, but when he won his fourth Indianapolis 500, five days before his 48th birthday, he demonstrated the true power of prayer.
That year, 1987 to be exact, he had been unceremoniously dumped from his race team even though he’d won the Indy 500 three times before. For the first time in 22 years, it looked as if he’d be forced to watch the famous race from the sidelines. His sponsors and pretty much everyone else wrote him off as “all washed up.”
But in his mind, in every thought he possessed, he knew he was not too old to race. He knew he could still win. That “prayer” was so strong that when Danny Ongais, one of the drivers who had replaced him on the team, banged himself up in practice, Unser was brought in to race a backup car, a used March-Cosworth.
Nobody except him expected anything. Not only was he driving an older model used car, but when the familiar “Gentlemen, start your engines!” rang through the P.A. system, Unser was stuck back in the 20th position.
But that didn’t phase the three-time winner. In every fiber of his body, he saw himself winning. He expected nothing but victory. Finally, on the 183rd lap, he worked his way up the field, crossing the line for his fourth Indianapolis 500 title. Al Unser never had a doubt. Every single thought “prayed” for victory.
Or think of the mother, who having never before picked up anything heavier than a grocery bag of frozen foods, suddenly lifts a three-ton Plymouth off her first grade son. At that moment, she is so thoroughly engrossed in her urgent need to move that car off her precious child that she has no room for other thoughts. “I’ve got to move that car” was the only “prayer” in her mind. She did not remember, anywhere in her mind, that such an act was impossible.
Newton’s first law of prayer
“I’m 32 flavors and then some.”
–Ani Di Franco
When you throw a tennis ball in the air, you can count on it coming down. Granted it might fall in the neighbor’s petunias or on the roof of the 7-11 where you’ll need a ladder to retrieve if, but it’s guaranteed to come back down.
Prayer (thought) is just like that tennis ball. It comes back just the way you send it out. Like Newton said in his famous 4th law of energy, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. What you give out, what you “pray” about, you get back in equal measure. If you send out fear thoughts, you get things to be scared of. If you lie, you’ll be lied to. If you criticize, you get criticized. But on the other hand, if you send out love, you get big, bounteous love. If you send out blessings, you get blessed in equal measure.
Everything you “pray” about eventually externalizes. Or to put it another way, your inner thoughts are continually being cut and pasted into your outer life. If you want to know what you’re really “praying” for, take a look around your life. You’ll see your innermost thoughts, the real desires of your heart, the prayers no one knows about but you.
I knew a girl who was paranoid of spiders. She used to worry that she’d reach into her makeup drawer some morning and instead of grabbing a lipstick, put her mitts around a big, fat spider. This unfounded thought passed through her brain every morning for months until….guess what? She reached into her makeup drawer and grabbed a big fat, hairy wolf spider.
To put it another way, thought is creative. The thoughts you hold in your mind, both conscious and unconscious, create what you see in your life. Every thought (prayer) has a certain vibration. It boomerangs back to you according to its pitch, intensity, and depth of feeling. Your thoughts show up in your life in equal measure as their constancy, intensity, and power.
Shoot-Out at the I’m OK-You’re OK Corral or how your mind works
“You always said to be true to ourselves. Which self are we supposed to be true to?” –Buddy (AKA Syndrome) in The Incredibles
Your mind is engaged in an ongoing showdown between different, conflicting parts of yourself. These splintered intentions or prayers, if you will, set all sorts of dynamics into motion. Let’s say you have a conscious intention to buy a new house and you pray to find one. At the same time you set that intention into motion, you simultaneously send out an unconscious, but equally effective, fear of a higher mortgage payment. You start fretting about interest rates, start worrying about the termite contract you inadvertently let expire on your current house, both of which send out even more unconscious intentions. If these unconscious fear intentions are stronger than the conscious desire intentions, well, guess which one wins?
The dynamic of opposing “prayers” (and again, every thought is a prayer) can produce confusion and doubt. As you become open to new perceptions and desires and simultaneously experience fear and anguish, you set up a struggle.
If it keeps up, you start to doubt that prayer even works. Or at least you conclude it doesn’t work for you. You become discouraged and start believing that life and circumstances are more powerful than you are.
Believe me, they’re not. Not even close. Your conflicting “prayers” are simply creating turbulence in the flow of God’s light.
Let me just repeat–prayer is extremely powerful. But it doesn’t respond only to your pleas. It responds to every intention—conscious and unconscious–with opposing sides battling it out. Here are four of most common battle fields:
1. The rut. We humans have this annoying tendency to fall into habit patterns. Remember those 60,000 daily thoughts I mentioned earlier? Well, all but 1000 of those thoughts are the exact same thoughts you had yesterday. Scientists tell us 98 percent of our 60,000 thoughts are repeats from the day before.
I once had a neighbor with an invisible dog fence. You couldn’t see it, but if her little jack terrier even dared step foot outside that fence, he got a painful shock. All of us are like that little jack terrier—stuck in our invisible fences.
Instead of using our prayers to think up new ideas, to ask for meaning to life’s great mysteries, we waste them on trivial, insignificant, thoroughly meaningless things. Look at the cover of a typical women’s magazine:
Lose inches fast
Last-minute strategies for holiday glam
Quiz: Does your mate really love you?
Don’t we have anything better to think about?
If the 7 million readers of Ladies Home Journal would all wonder instead, “What can I do to improve my own soul?” or “How could I make the world more loving?’ the big problems we’re so afraid of would be solved in year. Seven million people concentrating on issues like that are an unstoppable force.
2. The ad man’s copy. U.S. advertisers spend more than $250 billion every year trying to convince you that without their products, you are a complete and total loser. The ad shill’s entire reason for being is to make you and me dissatisfied with what we have and who we are. The average American sees between 1500 and 3000 commercials per day. Even non-TV watchers are constantly being invited to consume. Everything from ATM monitors to dry cleaning bags to stickers on supermarket fruit has been known to bear ads.
The most dangerous ads, as far as I’m concerned, are the new drugs ads that teach people to be sick. Madison Avenue has done a stellar job training us to need deodorant, mouthwash, and Domino’s three medium-one topping pizzas for $5 each. Now, they’re breaking new ground by training us to be sick.
3. Other people’s heads. Like radio waves that fly around in the atmosphere, other people’s thoughts constantly bombard you. You unconsciously pick up the thoughts of your family, your culture, and your religion, even if you don’t go to church.
I read an article about a guy who had invented dozens of products including many that you and I use on a daily basis. He was regularly dubbed, “a genius.” But if you gave him George Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” test, he’d have been sent back to first grade. The guy never learned to read. And he said that was intentional.
“If I had learned to read,” he said, “I’d pick up other people’s ideas and cement those in my head. I choose not to bother with the interference.”
In fact, the reason most of the spiritual big cheese meditate is because it helps them avoid the interference. It helps them tap into the Universal thought that is goodness, beauty, and light.
4. Your own head. Despite what you may think you’re praying for, it’s quite likely there’s an even bigger prayer getting in the way. Unfortunately, all of us have an underlying prayer that goes something like this:
“There’s something wrong with me.”
“I’m not good enough.”
“I have no talent.”
“I don’t deserve it.”
“I can’t do it.”
“It’s too hard.”
Sweeping negative statements like these are what we call false prayers, the default beliefs to which you march in obedience. The good news is they’re not true. The bad news is they operate as if they were true. They’re your own personal amulet that you carry unwittingly everywhere you go. You wouldn’t dream of plowing through life without them because, well, they’re just so…familiar. But the problem is these particular rabbit’s feet are concrete and weigh 189 pounds. They sap your strength, shackle your potential, and knock your hopes to hell and gone.
When I first began writing for magazines, I had an inferiority complex that wouldn’t have fit in Shea Stadium. Because I was from a small town in the Midwest, I couldn’t imagine that I had anything to say to a fancy editor from New York. Although I sent query after query pitching my many ideas, I didn’t really expect to sell too many. After all, I just “knew” there “weren’t enough” assignments to go around. At best, I figured I might be able to sneak a few under the cracks.
Needless to say, I got a lot of rejection letters, so many that I probably could have wallpapered the city of Cincinnati should they have needed wallpaper. The editors didn’t exactly tell me to drop dead, but they didn’t encourage me to keep writing either.
Then I read a book called Write for your Life by Lawrence Block. In the early 80’s, when his column for Writer’s Digest was at the height of its popularity, he and his wife, Lynn, decided to throw a series of seminars for writer-wannabe’s.
They called the day-long seminars “Write for your Life” and set about booking hotel rooms in cities around the country. Unlike most writing seminars where you learn to write plot treatments or how to get an agent, Block’s seminar dealt with the only thing that really matters when it comes to being a writer. Getting out of your own way. Getting rid of the countless negative thoughts that tell you what a hopelessly uninteresting specimen of humanity you are.
At the seminar, participants meditated, grabbed partners and confessed their greatest fears and did all kinds of things that helped them get to the bottom of why they wanted to write, but didn’t.
The seminars were hugely successful, but Block, who was a writer, not a seminar-giver, eventually got tired of trotting around the country, collecting tickets. Instead, he self-published the book that I ran into about the same time.
I took the book to heart. I did all of the exercises. I wrote affirmations. I consulted my inner child to find out what I was so afraid of. I even sent myself postcards for 30 days straight. On these postcards, I’d write such affirming reminders as “You, Pam, are a great writer.” “You, Pam, have what it takes to sell to New York editors.” “You, Pam, are interesting and people want to hear what you have to say.”
I’m sure the postman thought I was a little cracked, wasting 25 cents or whatever the postage was back then to send myself a postcard telling myself I was fascinating and abundant. But if he knew what a change it made in my life, he’d have been doing it, too.
Suddenly, I started getting assignments from the big national magazines with, yes, the big New York editors. First, there was Modern Bride that wanted a piece on exercises couples could do together. Ladies’ Home Journal asked for a travel story on Tampa Bay. Suddenly, this once-insecure writer from Kansas was getting assignments from big national magazines, the kind of magazines you see in dentists’ offices.
Did I suddenly start writing more fluidly, coming up with more compelling ideas? Probably a little bit (after all, that was one of my affirmations), but mostly I changed the reality of what I thought and said about myself.
I gave up the “prayer” that there “weren’t enough” assignments to go around. I let go of the “prayer” that I wasn’t talented enough to sell to national magazines.
If you’re not getting answers to what you formerly thought of as prayer, you have to take into consideration the other thoughts you formerly “prayed.” To bring about “God’s truth in form” you have to get all those ducks flying in the same direction. Once they’re all quacking for the same thing, you’ll get nothing but health, wealth, love, friends, and perfect self-expression.