To begin, I realize “prayer” can be a loaded word: it has obvious religious overtones or connotations of belief in a higher power, may imply expectation of reward, or may perpetuate wishful thinking without action based on hope and fear.
So…for our purposes, not only because we are a non-religious non-profit, I invite you to consider prayer in a scientific and psychological context:
Scientific American defined prayer as “a social interaction with [a higher power].” Turns out this form of ‘social interaction’ – regardless of personal belief (or lack thereof) in anything even remotely resembling a ‘higher power’ has some measurable, positive effects:
- Prayer buffers individuals against mental and emotional breakdown
- Prayer increases social connection through practicing social awareness and shared experience
- Prayer prevents cognitive depletion & increases cognitive endurance
Prayer, according to Psychology Today, “is not just a going out, but also a going in, and it is a practice woven deeply into the fabric of global culture — a rich tapestry of science, psychology, metaphysics and, of course, faith and spiritual sojourn.”
“As a practice, prayer is the setting of an intention; it is not a plea, but a resolution, and that resolution takes many forms. Whatever that form, the psychology that underlies prayer issues forth from two fairly distinct perspectives. On the one hand, God, or the object of prayer, may be represented as an external construct of the ego, or something “out there”. On the other, God may be represented as an interior archetype, or something “in here”.
“The major Western traditions, such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam subscribe in large measure to the “out there” construct; so, God is primarily “prayed to”. The mystic traditions associated with each of these larger traditions — Gnosticism, Kabala and Sufism, respectively – lend the “in here” aspect to this particular container, resonating with the notion of the Self as divine.
“The major Eastern traditions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism issue forth from the other side of this coin, subscribing in large measure to the “in here” construct; so, prayer from this perspective is something more introspective and akin to meditation. Within each of these traditions, there are also reflected varying aspects of the “out there”, compassed by things like the Hindu and Buddhist pantheons, or Tao begetting Yin/Yang begetting I-Ching, in a parallel of Genesis.
“Smaller traditions both East and West, such as Wicca, Jainism, Bon, Native American shamanism, Shinto, Voodoo, Santeria, etc., reflect a similar set of balances within their fundamental psychological underpinnings. Witness the Great Spirit of the Native American Sioux tradition, which also emphasizes the relationship between The People and The Land, anthropomorphizing tatanka, the Buffalo. Similarly, Wicca relies heavily on practitioner’s relationship to the 5 Elements as aspects of the self, but regularly calls The Goddess into the ritual circle, while Voodoo and Santeria hold close association with Christian tradition.”
Click here to read the entire article on Psychology Today
Prayer and meditation access the same areas of our brain, which, thanks to neuroplasticity, can literally rewire our brains. For example, if we suffer from anxiety or depression, simple practices of meditation or prayer can literally rearrange the neuro-transmitters in our brain that are habituated to pathways of anxiety and depression, and toward new pathways of relaxation and inner peace.
Other health benefits of prayer have been measured again and again such as lowering blood pressure, improved digestion, more efficient breathing, endocrine regulation, and sleep pattern stabilization.
But I’ve never prayed before, and I don’t believe in a ‘higher power’
Don’t worry, ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ are not prerequisites for prayer. All you need is a few, quiet moments to yourself, and a strong intention that you wish focus on. One place to start is our homepage which is our Prayer Request page through the end of the month.
Sit quietly wherever you are. Close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths just staying present with the breath. When you open your eyes, focus on the pictures and words on our prayer request page, just looking at them and staying present with your breath. Turning your awareness within, see if you notice a natural response such as empathy, sorrow, grief, peace, loving kindness, or you may even stay neutral. Stay present, and end your prayer with a general intention such as, “may all beings be free from suffering and the cause of suffering, may all beings enjoy happiness and the causes of happiness.”
Send your prayer requests to firstname.lastname@example.org
Please do join us for our annual retreat starting tomorrow, click here to register today!