Research shows us that meditation is hugely beneficial to our emotional and mental well-being. If we engage in spiritual practices such as prayer, we might notice those same benefits when tending to our spiritual health. There are many similarities between meditation and prayer, which is why it can be natural to use one to inform and strengthen the other.
What is meditation?
“Meditation” is a broad term that includes many different techniques and exercises all with the goal of focusing one’s attention on the present moment. When we hear the term, “meditation”, our minds might imagine sitting cross-legged on the floor, eyes closed, trying to think of nothing. While that can be a type of meditation practice, it is by no means the only way to use meditation. Different types of meditation are focused on breathing, paying attention to sensory input, thinking about or speaking a particular word or phrase, honing in on a part of the body, looking at nature, and many many other activities. Trying various kinds of meditation can help you choose what you like best ,or what you need in the moment.
Although each type has different effects and benefits, the main goal of every kind of meditation is to bring our attention to one particular thing, calm our bodies, and feel the emotions in our mind and body.
Wait, isn’t that prayer?
Well, yes, kind of. Like meditation, the ultimate goal of prayer is to quiet our own mind and bring our attention to something else. In the case of prayer, the focal point of our thoughts is God or another higher power. Also like meditation, there are many different types of prayer, each with a particular purpose and goal. The following kinds of prayer can also be used as a meditative practice to strengthen your emotional, mental, and spiritual health:
This may be the most similar practice to the image of an eyes-closed-cross-legged-on-the-floor meditation. During centering prayer, we sit in a quiet place to limit distractions while we contemplate a sacred word or short phrase for a period of time. If a thought comes to mind other than the centering phrase, acknowledge it, then let it go. An example of a sacred word or phrase may be, “still,” “love,” or, “Abba.” Typically, it’s best not to mentally or verbally chant the word, but to use it as your centering tool to bring your mind back to the practice if it wanders.
Just as the name suggests, this practice focuses on engaging with or reflecting on something like a text, sound, song, etc., culminating in a request or discovery. Many different mediums can act as the object of reflection such as silently reading a liturgical prayer, listening to a favorite song, or reading a verse or poem aloud. After you’ve read or listened to the text, reflect on what insight or question it can bring you.
When we don’t have the words to express how we feel or what we need, this type of prayer can help. Types of nonverbal prayer can include movements like dance or walking, creating art like drawing or music, and looking at nature or something else awe-inspiring. We don’t even need to be good at these things to benefit from them. Our mind is able to process things through nonverbal methods in ways that we aren’t able to with words, so this type of prayer supports us in wonderfully unique ways.
This type of prayer comes from the Buddhist tradition and has many different variations, each including wishing happiness, health, and peace for yourself and the wider world. An example of a lovingkindness prayer is, “May I be happy. May I be safe. May I be loved,” swapping out yourself for another person’s name, or a group such as, “my family,” or, “those who are hurting.”
Prayer of thanksgiving
Giving thanks or expressing gratitude for blessings is a part of many types of prayer. Focusing on a specific thing to be thankful for can be a great practice even if general thanksgiving is already regularly in your prayer life.
We see prayers of lamentation all throughout the Bible, and it is a staple of all types of religious traditions. Expressing sadness, crying out in pain, and asking for strength or deliverance from hardship can be an integral part of the grieving process.
Like breathing-focused meditation, a breath prayer’s goal is to slow and even breathing. Often, this is done by breaking down a verse or other phrase into breaths and reciting them, silently or aloud, while taking deep breaths. An example of this may look like using a part of a psalm: [Breathe in] The Lord is my shepherd [Breathe out] I shall not want.
Just as it sounds, this prayer is focused on quietly listening for God’s response, insight from an inner voice, or comfort. Unlike the other types of prayer discussed here, listening prayer is not active. There is nothing we do or say other than listen. Similar to a centering prayer, this is best done in a quiet place that can limit distractions. Although the goal of listening may appear to be eventually to hear something, the goal is only to listen. If something comes up, great, if not, also great.
Try it out!
If any of these practices appeal to you, give them a try! Incorporating new or different exercises into our meditative or prayer lives can help support our overall mental, emotional, and spiritual health. If you want or could use some additional help, ask your therapist what practice can best support your goals. We would love to discuss prayer, meditation, and how they can aid your well-being.