Distractions, Prayer, and Mindfulness

Psalm 145:18 throws a great deal of light on the question of how to pray: "The Lord is near to all them that call upon Him, to all that call upon Him in truth." That little expression "in truth" is worthy of study. If you will take your concordance and go through the Bible, you will find that this expression means "in reality," "in sincerity." The prayer that God answers is the prayer that is real, the prayer that asks for something that is sincerely desired. 

 The above reading is from the classic How to Pray by Reuben A. Torrey, published in 1900. 

 At one point, Christ said something like "The Father desires worshipers such as these who worship God in spirit and in truth." It is hard to pray when you are ill with a fever, for example. You are lost in delirium and cannot focus properly. Similarly, it is hard to pray when we are lost in our distractions. 

Many times when I am at Starbucks or at the library to go online I see someone who comes in to study. He or she pulls out a textbook or notebook and begins to study, but after about 5 minutes, s/he inevitably reaches for the iPhone.

It is for this reason that I recommend beginning with the meditation available here. Most of us are lost in a semi stupor or trance state. We don't know that we are but the evidence of it is that everything pulls on your attention, you have difficulty focusing on things and even more importantly, you are lost in thinking. daydreaming, and the thought stream much of the time.>If you cannot study or focus properly, constantly reacting for your iPhone to check text messages or constantly lost in your music or video games, how are you going to pray properly?

Moreover, there is a residual effect that lingers after your texting, music, Internet or video game indulgence.  It is called mental fog or brain fog.Understand this: texting, video games, excessive Internet use, music addiction, and so on are substitutes for the imagination. When you are not lost in your gadgets, then you are lost in daydreaming.

Thinking about what we just did, or what we plan to do, or about what someone said to us, even if only for less than a minute (though most of us daydream for much longer stretches) is daydreaming

When lost in thought, we are not fully there. You can drive right past your freeway exit.

All of this is to say that when the soul is immersed in the thought stream (or lost in emotional thinking) it is in a state where it cannot pray.But the person who learns to meditate properly is restored to objectivity.

In the Garden of Eden, the serpent was on the outside, but when the first humans sinned, the spirit got inside and it has been in people ever since. It is in all the educators, politicians and advertisers who promise you power, glory, greatness and happiness through education and material possessions. It is in all the love songs that sing the praises of naughtiness and carnal delights.

So learning to pray is, as Mr. Torrey properly points out, a matter of asking, of sincerity, and of praying in truth.The person who is not immersed in thinking and feeling, and mentally stands back from the thought stream is subject to God. And it is in this state that the soul is free to pray and free to pray sincerely.

When immersed in the thought stream, you are subject to post hypnotic influence, as well as the powerful imaginings that pull on your awareness. Down there, lost in the Alice in Wonderland world of fantasy and unreality, you are subject to whatever or whoever drove you into the imagination, and to whatever controls your imagination.

Most of our thoughts come from outside, and that is why when we are thus entranced, we are suggestible. Have you ever wondered why you do dumb things, say dumb things or spend too much money on something. later you could kick yourself "Why did I waste my money on that? you wonder.

But if you can regain the objective state (which you had when you were a little child, before you were upset by the world), then you will be free to pray. When you begin to meditate properly, you will discover that you will be able to concentrate for the first time. Before you were merely caught up in one thing or another. When your attention was captured by one thing and another you were distracted. When you fixated on one thing for a long time, you thought you were concentrating, but your attention had been captured.

In the objective state, you will be able to pray. But you will discover most likely that you don't even know what to ask for. You will realize your lack, and wanting to ask the right thing, but not knowing what it is, you are honestly at a loss, yet unwilling to do what is wrong. this sincere humble state calls upon the compassion of the Spirit, and the Holy Spirit will pray for you.

You may also realize, in this objective state, your own insincerity--i.e. you realize your selfishness and something false about yourself. This is good. Why? Because you are realizing in God's Light the truth about yourself. Seeing this truth, you are humbled and you realize your own helplessness. But it is this realization that is a comfort, because you know that it is God who is making your realize a truth about yourself, even though it is negative.In other words, you see the lesser negative truth (with a small t) about yourself in the light of the greater Truth (with a capital T).

You realize that God's Truth is shining a light on your wrong so that you can see it in the light and be repented of it and change for the better.Realizing the truth without resenting it thus frees you of having to put on a show for God or pretend.

You realize in His wordless Light that you are weak and don't know what to ask for, and it is comforting to the soul because it realizes that God knows you, and does not hate you for your wrong or your foolishness. You realize that in you prior state you did not know any better, and God forgives you for your errors. In this state, seeing that you honestly don't know what to do or to say, and yet being unwilling to do wrong, and sincerely yearning to do what is right--God knows what you need even before you ask. That is why there is no need for wordy prayers.

It basically frees you from having to do anything other than to meditate properly to come close to God. Going about your daily activities, you become more spontaneous, no longer feeling compelled or obligated to put on a show for God or anyone else. You have more time to enjoy the closeness to God and to ponder life and learn its meaning. Paul exhorts us to pray unceasingly, and I believe he is referring to the meditative life, where we become objective to thoughts and feelings, closer to the Light, and no longer immersed in daydreams, plans and schemes.

I also believe this is the prized state of mind that Christian mystics such as Madame Guyon, St. John of the Cross, Francois Fenelon, Miguel de Molinos, and Saint Francis de Sales had found. They tried to tell us about it and put it in the verbal coinage of the day. They used words like "prayer or contemplation," but I am sure they were referring to the objective state of awareness, mentally standing back from thought, and there finding communion with God. In a nutshell, ineffectual prayer is praying intellectually or emotionally, from the lower mind and with our consciousness caught up in external things and imagination. This is the state we all live in most of the time.

Occasionally we are awakened from our trance state (which becomes a comfort zone) with a wake up call like the morning after the night before, when we exclaim OMG, what did I do! Some people's wake up call comes y way of a brush with death, a heart attack, the piercing words of an honest friend who tells you the truth, or through the suffering of, say, cancer treatment. But even in such cases, most people do not stay awake. They cannot bear the truth and quickly lose themselves in their treatment, in study, drugs, or get caught up with some group or organized religion.

Perhaps now you can see why it is only the sincere soul, who deep down in a wordless way, yearns for truth and is willing to bear the truth because of a love of truth that can meditate, wake up and stay awake.If you can bear reading what I have been saying, perhaps you are one of the sincere souls destined to become a child of God who will benefit from the meditation.

Try the free meditation for mental clarity. It may be all you need!