As we begin another new year, many of us are creating resolutions and setting intentions for the coming months, in hopes that this will be a better year than the last. According to a 2014 survey, the most common resolutions we make include losing weight, getting organized, saving more money, staying fit, quitting smoking, and enjoying life to the fullest -- all worthwhile goals, in my opinion.
However, I believe there is one resolution you could set for the next year that would help you accomplish all your other goals, and that is: to establish a daily practice of prayer. I know that even the word "prayer" is a turn-off to many people because it has been associated with religious dogma and seems to be too old, outdated, and limiting to fit in a modern spiritual life.
But I maintain that prayer is an act of communication that can be performed by anyone with or without religious beliefs. In fact, setting aside a special time every day for quiet contemplation can take your spiritual practice to the next level, bring peace and joy into your life, and help you stay focused on the other goals you want to accomplish. Even if you are not sure you believe in God you can still benefit from a daily practice of intentional solitude.
Furthermore, prayer may be even more beneficial when it is removed from a religious setting to become a private, personal act that is spontaneous and not rehearsed or memorized. Even Jesus admonished his followers to "go into a closet" to pray, rather than pray in public to win the admiration of others.
The Sufi poet Rumi wrote: "When the world pushes you to your knees, you are in the perfect position to pray." This is certainly a time in our planet's history when we have been "pushed to our knees" in many ways. The worldwide economy remains unstable and terrorism, political unrest, poverty, and health crises all threaten mankind's survival while global climate change threatens the environment.
The word "prayer" comes from a root word that means "to ask" and is also the root for the word "precarious." So prayer, in a sense, means to ask for help in precarious times, which is precisely why it is an appropriate practice for today. Pray because it will help you connect with others in the world who are suffering; pray because it will help you tap into the energy of all of life for sustenance and growth; pray because it is an intentional act of goodness that far exceeds doing nothing.
How to pray?
While there is no shortage of issues to consider during a time of prayer, you may feel uncertain about how to actually pray. Here are some pointers for beginning your own practice of prayer:
- Create a quiet space. Try sitting, kneeling or even lying down in a comfortable place where you won't be disturbed.
- Calm yourself by taking a few deep breaths.
- Contemplate the concerns you have and set your intention on holding them in your heart during this time. You may want to begin with concerns for yourself, then expand to others in your life, your community, nation, planet, etc.
- Connect with the flow of energy around you. Allow yourself to sense the pulse of life and creativity that infuses everything. For some this is called Spirit or God or the Divine, but you might simply perceive it as an energetic life force.
- Communicate either silently or aloud by naming your concern, then visualize sending your own love and compassion to that person or place.
What to pray for?
Whenever possible let your prayers arise spontaneously from within you rather than planning them in advance. But if you feel insecure about this at first, here are some specific things you might pray for:
- Growth in wisdom, love, compassion and insight for yourself, others, the leaders of our nation and other countries
- Wholeness of body, mind, spirit and planet
- Peace and understanding -- send your loving energy to the citizens of war-torn countries who are suffering greatly in their quest for freedom
- Guidance for yourself and others to make wise decisions
- Survival skills such as strength, courage, patience and endurance to help you get through difficult times
- Gratitude -- let every prayer begin and end with thankfulness for all creation and the opportunity you have been given to experience life
Even if you've never prayed before, today is the perfect day to start. Open your mind and heart for just a few moments and connect with the breath of life that surrounds you. Let your own love flow out toward others as you receive the shining, pure light that has been waiting for you all along. This is the light that may help you find the very path you have been seeking, so don't turn it away!
About the Author: Dr. Karen Wyatt is a hospice and family physician and the author of the award-winning book "What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying." She is a frequent keynote speaker and radio show guest whose profound teachings have helped many find their way through the difficult times of life. Learn more about her work at www.karenwyattmd.com.