Category Archives: Prayer

Conscious Prayer – Finding Refuge in Loving Awareness (retreat talk)



Prayer is a communing with our enlarged being. This talk examines less conscious forms of prayer, and how we can evolve the power of our prayers by opening into the depth of our longing, and reaching toward our true belonging (from the 2016 IMCW Spring Retreat).

How I yearn to belong to something, to be contained in an all-embracing mind that sees me as a single thing.
And I yearn to be held in the great hands of your heart.
Oh let them take me now.
Into your hands I place these fragments, my life, and you my God spend them however you want.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke

A Prayer:
Refuse to fall down
If you cannot refuse to fall down,
refuse to stay down.
If you cannot refuse to stay down,
lift your heart toward heaven,
and like a hungry beggar,
ask that it be filled.
You may be pushed down.
You may be kept from rising.
But no one can keep you from lifting your heart
toward heaven
only you.
~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés


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Discovering the Power of Prayer



We all know the pain of separation and have a longing for connection. When we silently listen to and contact the depth of that longing, we are at the root of transformational prayer. This talk looks at what prayer is, who/what we are praying to, the shadow side of prayer, and ways of cultivating our prayers so that they become authentic vehicles for spiritual awakening.

Refuse to fall down
If you cannot refuse to fall down,
refuse to stay down.
If you cannot refuse to stay down,
lift your heart toward heaven, …
ask that it be filled.
You may be pushed down.
You may be kept from rising.
But no one can keep you from lifting your heart
toward heaven
only you.

A Prayer by Clarissa Pinkola Estés


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Power of Prayer: From Longing to Belonging



When we bring a full presence to prayer, it becomes a powerful pathway of homecoming. This talk explores how prayer heals the pain of separation, and offers practical guidance in what poet John O’Donohue calls “unearthing our ancient belonging.”

“What’s it like if you bow your head and whisper and call on something larger?”

from earlier that evening: Meditation: Relaxed Attentiveness

photo: pixabay.com


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Ask the Friend for Love – exploring living prayer



Prayer, when cultivated consciously, energizes and guides us on the spiritual path. This talk investigates the difference between wanting, with its narrow fixation, and the prayer that arises out of our deep heart’s longing. We explore how living prayer, the prayer that arises from consciously inhabiting longing, can carry us home to loving presence. As John O’Donohue writes, prayer is the bridge between longing and belonging. ~ (a favorite talk from 2010)

photo: Katia_M/Pixabay


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Conscious Prayer – Finding Refuge in Loving Awareness



Prayer is a communing with our enlarged being. This talk examines less conscious forms of prayer, and how we can evolve the power of our prayers by opening into the depth of our longing, and reaching toward our true belonging.

(given at the 2016 IMCW Spring Retreat)

photo: Shell Fischer


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Blog: The Transforming Power of Mindful Prayer



Although not always highlighted in the West, prayer and devotion are a living stream in Buddhism. The earnest wishes expressed in the practices of lovingkindness and compassion—May I be happy, May You be free from suffering—are forms of prayer. The aspiration to find refuge in the Buddha (or Buddha “awakened” nature) is an expression of devotion to truth and freedom.

When we’re suffering and turn to prayer, no matter what the apparent reasons for our pain, the basic cause is always the same: we feel separate and alone. John O’Donohue, in his book Eternal Echoes, writes: “Prayer is the voice of longing; it reaches outwards and inwards to unearth our ancient belonging.” This is a beautiful description of what I call mindful prayer. We reach not just outward to know our belonging, but with mindful prayer we also turn inward and listen deeply to the suffering that is giving rise to our prayer. When we are willing to touch the pain of separation—the loneliness, the fear, the hurt–, our longing carries us to the tender and compassionate presence that is our awakened nature.

I experienced the transforming power of mindful prayer some years ago when I was suffering from a broken heart. I’d fallen in love with a man who lived 2000 miles away, and because we couldn’t weave our lives together, the relationship ended. The loss was crushing, and while I accepted my grieving process for the first month or so, as it went on and on I felt more excruciatingly lonely than I’d ever felt in my life.

In the room where I meditate, I have a Tibetan scroll painting (called a thanka) of the bodhisattva of compassion. Known as Tara in Tibet and Kwan Yin in China, she’s an embodiment of healing and compassion. One morning, as I sat crying in front of the thanka, feeling crushed and worthless, I found myself praying to Kwan Yin, wanting to be held in her compassionate embrace.

For a while, this seemed to help. Yet one morning, I hit a wall. What was I doing? My ongoing ritual of aching, praying, crying, and hating my suffering was not really moving me towards healing. Kwan Yin suddenly seemed like an idea I’d conjured up to soothe myself. Yet without having her as a refuge, I now had absolutely nowhere to turn, nothing to hold on to, no way out of the empty hole of pain.

At that moment, even though it seemed like just another concept, I remembered that, for the aspiring bodhisattva, suffering is the trusted gateway to awakening the heart. I remembered that when I’d remained present with pain in the past, something had indeed changed. I suddenly realized that maybe this situation was about really trusting suffering as the gateway. Maybe that was the whole point—I needed to stop fighting my grief and loneliness, no matter how horrible I was feeling or for how long it continued.

I recalled the bodhisattva’s aspiration: “May this suffering serve to awaken compassion” and began quietly whispering it inside. As I repeated the prayer over and over, I could feel my inner voice grow less desperate, more sincere. I knew it was true—I could awaken to the love I yearned for by directly touching the fullness of this suffering. The moment I let go into that truth, the change began.

That day in my meditation room, as I let the loneliness cut more deep, scarcely able to bear the searing pain of it, I realized that I was longing—not for a particular person, but for love itself. I was longing to belong to something larger than my lonely self.

As I let go into the yearning, I distinctly sensed Kwan Yin as a radiant field of compassion surrounding me, cherishing my hurting, vulnerable being. As I surrendered into her presence, my body began to fill with light. I was vibrating with a love that embraced the whole of this living world—it embraced my moving breath, the singing of birds, the wetness of tears and the endless sky.

Dissolving into that warm and shining immensity, I no longer felt any distinction between my heart and the heart of Kwan Yin. All that was left was an enormous tenderness tinged with sadness. The compassionate Beloved I had been reaching for “out there” was my own awakened being.

Whenever we pray, we might begin by reaching out, and in that way remember the warmth and safety of connectedness. Yet, we ground our prayer by reaching inward to the raw feelings of loneliness and fear. Like a great tree, mindful prayer sinks its roots into the dark depths in order to reach up fully to the light. When the pain is deep, the more fully we touch it, the more fully we release ourselves prayerfully into boundless, compassionate presence.

Adapted from Radical Acceptance (2003)

Enjoy a guide to prayer here (blog).

Enjoy this talk on Lovingkindness

More resources on Intention and Prayer

For more information visit: www.tarabrach.com
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Blog: Prayer in the Face of Difficulty



Ask the friend for love
Ask him again
For I have found that every heart
Will get what it prays for most.
Hafiz

When offered with presence and sincerity, the practice of prayer can reveal the source of what your heart most deeply longs for—the loving essence of who you are. Perhaps without naming it as prayer, in times of great need and distress you may already spontaneously experience the act of doing so. For instance, you might find yourself saying something like, “Oh please, oh please” as you call out for relief from pain, for someone to take care of you, for help for a loved one, for a way to avoid great loss.

If so, I invite you to investigate your experience of prayer through mindful inquiry, asking yourself questions such as: What is the immediate feeling that gave rise to my prayer? What am I praying for? Whom or what am I praying to? The more aware you become of how you pray spontaneously, the more you might open to a more intentional practice. Below are some guidelines I offer my students for deepening their inquiry:

1. Posture for prayer: You might begin by asking yourself, If I bring my palms together at my heart, do I feel connected with my sincerity and openness? What happens if I close my eyes? If I bow my head? Find out whether these traditional supports for prayer serve you. If they don’t, explore what other positions or gestures feel the most conducive to openheartedness.

2. Arriving: Even when you’re in the thick of very strong emotion, it’s possible and valuable to pause and establish a sense of prayerful presence. After you’ve assumed whatever posture most suits you, allow yourself to come into stillness, then take a few long and full breaths to collect your attention. After a while, as your breath resumes its natural rhythm, take some moments to relax any obvious tension in your body. Feel yourself here, now, with the intention to pray.

3. Listening: With the intention of fully contacting your felt experience, bring a listening attention to your heart, and to whatever in your life feels most difficult right now. It might be a recent or impending loss, or a situation that summons hurt, confusion, doubt, or fear. As if watching a movie, focus on the frame of the film that’s most emotionally painful. Be aware of the felt sense in your body—in your throat, chest, belly, and elsewhere. Where are your feelings the strongest? Take your time, allowing yourself to fully contact your vulnerability and pain.

You might even imagine that you could inhabit the most vulnerable place within you, feeling it intimately from the inside. If it could express itself, what would it communicate? Buried inside the pain, what does this part of you want or need most? Is it to be seen and understood? Loved? Accepted? Safe? Is your longing directed toward a certain person or spiritual figure? Do you long to be held by your mother? Recognized and approved of by your father? Healed or protected by God? Whatever the need, let yourself listen to it, feel it, and open to its intensity.

4. Expressing Your Prayer: With a silent or whispered prayer, call out for the love, understanding, protection, or acceptance you long for. You might find yourself saying, “Please, may I be better, kinder, and more worthy.” Or you might direct your prayer to another person or being: “Daddy, please don’t leave me.” “Mommy, please help me.” “God, take care of my daughter, please, please, let her be okay.” You might feel separate from someone and call out his or her name, saying, “Please love me, please love me.” You might long for your heart to awaken and call out to the bodhisattva of compassion (Kwan-yin), “Please, may this heart open and be free.”

As you express your prayer in words, while staying in direct contact with your vulnerability and felt sense of longing, your prayer will continue to deepen. Say your prayer several times with all the sincerity of your heart. Find out what happens if you give yourself totally to feeling and expressing your longing.

5. Embodying Prayer: Often our particular want or longing isn’t the full expression of what we actually desire. Similarly, the object of our longing, the person we call on for love or protection, may not offer what we truly need. Rather, these are portals to a deeper experience, an opening to a deeper source.

As you feel your wants and longing, ask yourself, “What is the experience I yearn for? If I got what I wanted, what would it feel like?”

Use you imagination to find out. If you want a particular person to love you, visualize that person hugging you and looking at you with unconditional love. Then, let go of any image of that person and feel inwardly that you are being bathed in love. If you want to feel safe, imagine that you are entirely surrounded by a protective presence, and really feel that peace and ease filling your every cell. Whatever you’re longing for, explore what it would be like to experience its pure essence as a felt sense in your body, heart, and mind. Finally, discover what happens when you surrender into this experience, when you become the love or peace that you’re longing for.

6. Throughout the Day: While your formal exploration of prayer can create the grounds for weaving shorter prayers into your life, remembering to pray in the midst of daily activities can help you become aligned with the kindness and wisdom of your heart. Here are some suggestions:

At the beginning of the day, set your intention by asking yourself, What situations, emotions, or reactions might be a signal to pray?

Before praying, take a moment to pause, breathe, and relax. While it is helpful to become still, there’s no need to assume a particular posture.

Pay attention to your body and heart, contacting the felt sense of your emotions. What are you most longing for? What most matters in this moment, and in your life, to open to—to feel and trust?

Mentally whisper your prayer. The words might come spontaneously, or you might express a prayer you’ve already discovered that’s alive and meaningful to you.

Adapted from True Refuge (January 2013)

More resources on Intention and Prayer.

For more information visit: https://www.tarabrach.com/
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