Category Archives: meditation

Thoughts on prayer (and what it means to me)

This is the second in a series I started a little over a month ago on positive scripture (click here to read the first). But first I have to state a very short disclaimer. I’ve said this before but feel I have to say it again. My personal theology is…um, well. Scratch that. Actually I am not quit sure what my theology is these days. But what I wanted to mention is that I take the bible almost entirely as metaphor, and that while I do consider myself a follower of the teachings of Jesus (which I usually fail miserably on a daily basis), I consider Him and His teachings a way, not the only way. That said, please do not send me hate mail or try to “save me.”

Anyhow, the scripture I wanted to highlight is Thessalonians 5:17 where Paul states that they/we should “pray continually.” This is the NIV version; the King James version states to “pray without ceasing.” Well that’s some pretty serious stuff. Or is it?

Over the years, like most I would assume, not only have I changed but so has my spirituality. How I see this now is to really live in a place of gratitude and to be in awe of life in general.

This passage–to pray without ceasing–is often taken and quoted out of context, just as I did. But the couple phrases just before and after this one are just as important, I think. 5:16 tells us that we should rejoice always; 5:18 says to give thanks in all circumstances, and 5:20 advises not to quench the spirit.

My interpretation of this is to really look on the bright side of life and enjoy every minute, and to take nothing for granted because everyday and every moment is a gift. Personally, I do try to do this, and many days I do. But some days are easier than others.

Sometimes it’s just simple things. Such as riding my bike at night and stopping to take photos on a cold night…feeling the wind on my face and being in touch with all that is around me. That to me is a way of praying; being in touch with the universe. Or talking to someone and looking in their eyes as they tell me a story and realizing that we, as everyone is, are all connected in some way. That to me is a form of praying as well. Sometimes at work while I’m juggling 10 or 12 pots on the stove and serving three parties at once and everything is running smoothly–and I am aware that it is running smoothly–I’ll acknowledge this ability that has been given to me, and be thankful for it; that to me is a form of prayer. Heck, even as I type these words–writing and thinking about prayer–can be a form of prayer. Sometimes–I really believe–just saying thank you is enough.

If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”
~Meister Eckhart

So personally I really believe that everything we do can be a form of prayer if we are conscious of it.
My life is my message.
And that is the most difficult part, I believe…is to be conscious of things. Being conscious of our connectedness to one another and what we do and think affects others in some way. Being conscious of the beauty that is all around us, whether you are in the city or country. And of course being conscious of the Divine Spirit, Universe, or Source (or whatever name you choose to use) that is not only our life source but also in what we live, move, and breath.
Prana (prāṇa) is the Sanskrit word for both breath and life-force.

Ahh…but this is the most difficult part isn’t…being actively conscious of it. Sometimes this is so difficult. Sometimes–many times–I forget. And sometimes when this happens I may have an open–if not agitated–mind but a closed heart. I’ll relay a very brief and abridge story about this.

For varying reasons, some events that have happened in my life over the past few days have been the perfect concoction–the perfect storm, if you will–to bring me down. Down so low that I could not feel or see the beauty around me, and the Divine Presence all but got up and went away..or so I thought and felt. It was not quite a feeling of despair but it certainly was not the feeling of gratitude that I so prefer. It was as if I were surrounded by a grey cloud and not sure whether I would scream or cry. 

So tonight I decided to go to the health club for a power swim (to release endorphins) and a steam, which I find relaxing. When I arrived at the club I saw that the pool was closed for repairs. “Perfect,” my negative self muttered aloud, “why doesn’t this surprise me.” But I thought I’d go in and sit in the steam room anyhow. There was no one in there, which was a relief as I didn’t feel like talking. After cranking up the steam I decided to meditate for a few minutes and repeat my personal mantra. This of course is a more formal type of prayer to me. 

And as I breathed in the hot cleansing steam I let it slowly permeate my body and then let it out into the universe. Doing this and slowly repeating my sacred word began to relax me. After doing this for about ten minutes I was lost in my head (so-to-speak) and no longer aware of my surroundings. But then I was brought back when a big hot drip of water dropped from the ceiling and landed squarely on my balding head (no joke). It startled me but also made me smile. Then, being aware of my surroundings but still with my eyes closed, I expanded my senses. I could hear the sound of the steam. Feel its heat and wetness on my skin. And hear the chatter of people talking beyond the door and in the locker room. I emerged from the tiny steam room cleansed in more than the traditional sense.

Shortly thereafter, on my ride home my pores were still open as I pedaled and coasted in the late autumn’s night. The chilly air felt jarring at first, but good. I felt lighter. And looking up at the night sky watching as the clouds passed I realized that my grey cloud had lifted, too. Entirely, no, but some. Was I “cured” of my melancholy all together…of course not. But I did feel better in many ways. I felt connected. Connected to nature, to people, but most importantly to our Source.
I guess whet I’m really trying to say in this ramble is that prayer does “work.” I really believe this. It can be transforming and at the same time can mean many things. All of life can be a prayer, the key is to be aware of this (and with this, I speak mostly to myself). And with this I leave you with a simple quote which I think sums it all up…
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“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”
Søren Kierkegaard
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More Positive Scripture

Sometimes a Book Finds You…

I love books and bookstores. When I travel I make a point of visiting used and/or independent bookstores in that city. And I really do believe that books sometimes find you…that they are placed before you for you to find and hopefully read. The book above is a good example (and more on that in a minute) but the one that stands out in my memory was one that found me when I was living in Poughkeepsie, NY.  It was the mid 1980’s and I was a student at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), and was walking down the street on a sunny Spring day when I quite literally tripped over a book…yes it was laying there in the middle of the sidewalk. I picked it up and it was a well-worn copy of The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran. At the time I was not familiar with either the book or the author but was intrigued and kept it and read it. Later I was surprised to learn that we–the author and I–share the same ethnic heritage. Since then I have collected more than a dozen of Khalil’s books (though I haven’t read them all). But I believe that original one–which is also his most famous–found me. Anyhow, back to the book pictured above. As mentioned in an earlier post, I was in Toronto this past weekend with my son, and was in Seekers Bookstore on Bloor Street (which is one of my favorite Toronto bookstores). I have had an interest in Mysticism for many years but do not know anything about Kabbalah (who am I kidding…I don’t know much about anything). Anyhow, I was flipping through the above said book, and read a bit on cause-and-effect, but thought the book was a bit pricy at $9 (CAD), considering its condition. I liked what I was reading but thought I could probably find a better deal on Amazon (I didn’t) or just download it…so I put it back on the shelf and began looking at other books. At this point I was standing near the counter and heard a person ask another (who I’m assuming was the owner of the bookstore) how business has been. He went into a somewhat long dialog on how bad it has been, that even with a mild winter business was poor. Sometimes, he went on to say, that an entire hour would go by and not a single customer will come in, and then when they do they just browse and leave. Between the big chain bookstores and the Internet, he said, he felt his store was dying a slow death. I felt like he was speaking to me though my back was to this person. To cut to the chase…I took the book back off the shelf and purchased it. I love used bookstores and don’t want them to disappear; I felt good to support this one. This book–like the aforementioned title–most definitely found me…I had no choice but to purchase it.

Urban Simplicity.

A Few Things I Saw Today

I’ve used this comparison before but have to mention it again…you see a lot more when on a bike than in a car but you see ten times that when you walk. Because, like a car, when you ride a bike you have to stay in control–or at  least keep the bike in control lest you fall. But when walking, especially in a neighborhood that is familiar to you, you can walk somewhat aimlessly and take it all in…and that’s just what I did today. I have a couple things laying heavy on me–concerns and decisions to make–and one of the best things to help level my thoughts (besides prayer and meditation) is a good contemplative walk. I really believe that there is art and beauty all around us–even in the middle of a city–and that all one has to do is look. Anyhow, these are just a few of the things I saw today on my short walk (a mile each way) to the health club.
I saw the above squirrel–rather, he saw me first–as I approached it at the corner of  Delaware and Summer Street. It darted from in front of me, forgetting the chestnut it was chewing, then came back–looking at me the entire time–to retrieve it before scurrying onto the fence to finish it’s consumption. He was, I’m guessing 30ft/9m from me–truly taxing the zoom on my little point-and-shoot camera–but I’m sure he was watching me out of the corner of his eye. I watched him for a moment and wondered if he ever worried about money or paying bills or about anything for that  matter. Likely not. His concerns are honed to where his next chestnut is, how secure his shelter, or if there are any predators about.
The photo directly below is the shadow of a fence very near where the squirrel was sitting; the light seemed just right at the moment I was standing there.
The next photo below, and in the middle, is of a flower I’m sure I saw while in full bloom (I walk/ride this route often). In the height of season it was I’m sure, white, fluffy, and full of life. But now, brown and withered, it still stood defiant of it’s decay. T
And the most bottom photo (and this is my favorite) is a little hidden gem in the city. I’ve photographed this path before and in all seasons though not this close up (meaning I walked down it a bit). It’s a private path (a rear entrance to someone’s home) but to me it looks like it could be somewhere in rural Europe. What’s interesting is that it is located on Summer Street in the city of Buffalo.
Walking is good for your physical health but also good for your mental/emotional health, at least for me it is. So the next time you feel anxious or need to work something out internally, go for a walk, you’ll be amazed at what you see in your own neighborhood…but don’t forget to bring a camera.

Urban Simplicity.

I Can Finally Name It

For many years I have enjoyed taking pictures. First with a 35mm camera (never did learn to develop them myself) and more recently with digital. What is truly awesome about digital cameras is that–because there is no developing involved–you are able to take multiple pictures of the same thing, upload them, and pick-and-choose which you like or do not like…an example is the photo above (titled, red berry on moss); that is one of 5 or 6 photos but that’s the one I liked best. Anyhow, I’m getting off topic…as I often do. Taking photos, for me, can be a sense of heightened awareness of the everyday beauty around me…and the internet is an easy and great way for me, or anyone, to share what I see. In many ways I’ve often thought of photography as (with the risk of sounding cliche or hokey) a form of meditation in motion…which you are then able to freeze-frame. And like many things, I incorporate it into my life; I usually carry my little Sony Cybershot with me…someone I know recently said to me that they wished they themselves had time to ride a bike and take photos. I didn’t understand that comment and I still don’t…that to me is like saying I wish I had time to live life; it’s not as if it is something extra in my life, it is part of my everyday pattern. Anyhow, I was reading the magazine Yoga International yesterday and saw and article titled, Contemplative Photography. That’s it, I thought! It was like a light bulb lighting over my head….I can finally name it. I had never heard the term before but it describes it (to me) completely. Apparently it is a style of photography that began with Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and he based it on the Tibetan word, Miksang, meaning “good eye.” He also founded the Miksang Institute of Contemplative Photography. Click any image for a larger view.

I Can Finally Name It

For many years I have enjoyed taking pictures. First with a 35mm camera (never did learn to develop them myself) and more recently with digital. What is truly awesome about digital cameras is that–because there is no developing involved–you are able to take multiple pictures of the same thing, upload them, and pick-and-choose which you like or do not like…an example is the photo above (titled, red berry on moss); that is one of 5 or 6 photos but that’s the one I liked best. Anyhow, I’m getting off topic…as I often do. Taking photos, for me, can be a sense of heightened awareness of the everyday beauty around me…and the internet is an easy and great way for me, or anyone, to share what I see. In many ways I’ve often thought of photography as (with the risk of sounding cliche or hokey) a form of meditation in motion…which you are then able to freeze-frame. And like many things, I incorporate it into my life; I usually carry my little Sony Cybershot with me…someone I know recently said to me that they wished they themselves had time to ride a bike and take photos. I didn’t understand that comment and I still don’t…that to me is like saying I wish I had time to live life; it’s not as if it is something extra in my life, it is part of my everyday pattern. Anyhow, I was reading the magazine Yoga International yesterday and saw and article titled, Contemplative Photography. That’s it, I thought! It was like a light bulb lighting over my head….I can finally name it. I had never heard the term before but it describes it (to me) completely. Apparently it is a style of photography that began with Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and he based it on the Tibetan word, Miksang, meaning “good eye.” He also founded the Miksang Institute of Contemplative Photography. Click any image for a larger view.