4 ways for non-religious people to explore prayer

One of my wishes for this blog was to reclaim words and concepts which help us express and connect to what is greater than us, but perhaps we have felt unable to claim for some reason.

One of these words and concepts is prayer.

Going inwards, going outwards

Prayer is a remarkably universal concept, something humans have been doing for thousands of years in many different forms – but those who don’t belong to a faith tradition may feel it’s not for them. Perhaps your understanding of prayer derives from your cultural and religious upbringing and doesn’t resonate with you. But I think it’s a concept that can have power for all of us. I would like more of us to feel able to claim our direct connection to the earth, to all living beings, to our source, and to ourselves.

I want us to realise that, as humans living a divine embodied experience, our definitions are valid. We don’t need anyone else to validate them.

What do you understand prayer to be?

Try asking yourself what prayer means to you. I would describe it as a form of communication and connection with that which is both inner and outer. It is a direction of our heart, our consciousness and our body towards something beyond ourselves. I personally don’t have a tight definition for what that is, although god often feels like as good a word as any!

If you would like to connect to what is greater than yourself, but you’ve never quite known how, here’s a few gentle ways to feel into prayer. I’d love for you to add your own thoughts and experiences in the comments.

  1. Don’t get hung up on the words – pray with your body.
Me + dancefloor = prayer of thanks for being ALIVE

If you’ve been raised in an Anglican Christian tradition in an English-speaking country, you may think of prayer as a ‘mental’ act. But we are embodied beings. It’s not possible to separate ourselves from our bodies. And every prayer tradition in the world includes a physical dimension. Like our Muslim family, who adopt a posture of supplication for every prayer; or the Sufis who whirl in ecstatic celebration of the divine; or the pilgrims in many traditions for whom every step on their journey is a prayer of devotion. So if you’re not sure where to start with words, you can place a hand over your heart. You may bow your head. You may bring your body down to the ground in a sign of surrender, or simply to be close to the clay from which you originated. You may put on some Carly Rae Jepsen and dance until the sweat flies. In fact, dance might be my absolute favourite form of prayer. The point is, it’s totally up to you. But you find yourself hung up on the words, move your body in recognition of that which is greater, of that which is good and alive, of that for which you’re grateful.

2. Choose and recite to yourself a simple statement

When unsure what to say, having a phrase which you use and return to can really help. I love ‘I connect to that which is greater than me. I bless all things and seek the blessing of all things‘. In saying it, you direct your attention both inwards and outwards. This might also be referred to as a mantra or an affirmation. What is powerful about it is that, actually, you don’t need many words at all to come into a prayerful state, and the repetition will help your body and mind recognise when you are taking a moment to connect.

3. Build a simple home altar

Place a couple of items which represent connection to you in a calm space in your home. You may include a candle; a flower; a little trinket gifted to you by someone you love; the pebble you took from the beach when you were a child. The lovely thing is that your altar will be entirely unique to you – whatever brings to mind the earth, your loved ones and that which is greater than us. And simply arrive there once a day to centre yourself. You might go there share a few things for which you are grateful at the end of your day. You might stop simply to warm that pebble in your hand and take one very deep breath. You might express your needs and hopes for the day ahead. Having a space dedicated to simple prayer will help you in ‘drop in’ to the moment and reinforces the sense of ritual which can be an aid to prayer.

4. Dedicate your meditation
Prayer and meditation are the same act in that they bring us to the present, which is where all life, energy and spirit exists. There may be a difference of where you are directing your attention – but not neccessarily. If you meditate, consider opening your meditation by dedicating that effort to what is greater than yourself – be that god, the universe, the lifeforce we all share.

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